The Zone Read: Saying goodbye and a playoff primer

Well, it’s been quite a year, both for the Zone Read and the NFL as a whole. I’d like to thank the league for providing endless content, and the paper for giving me a space to spill all my thoughts to the world. I want to close out coverage of the regular season with a playoff primer, where I walk you all through my projected bracket and how the games might play out come January. 

I’m really excited for this to age horribly, and substantially less excited to pour some salt on my Dallas Cowboys. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2019 NFL playoffs.

AFC playoff prediction and breakdown:

  1. Baltimore
  2. New England
  3. Houston
  4. Kansas City
  5. Buffalo
  6. Tennessee

NFC playoff prediction and breakdown:

  1. New Orleans
  2. Seattle
  3. Green Bay
  4. Dallas
  5. San Francisco
  6. Minnesota

Team by team breakdown: NFC

The NFC playoff field boasts a lot more parity than the AFC. The No. 6 seed could easily hand it to the No. 1 seed. Nothing feels certain, especially with some incredibly tight division races coming down the stretch.

Minnesota can’t always tie it together, but they have the most talented roster of a potential No. 6 seed I’ve seen in a while. They can beat any of the teams on this list, but the question lies in Kirk Cousins and his performances in big moments.

San Francisco is a great team that will likely lose another close game or two to other great teams. Don’t let that fool you, though. Its defense is downright suffocating, and its run game can score in bunches. They’re the first team on this list that has a Super Bowl ceiling.

Dallas made me sad on Thanksgiving, which is hard to do. Jason Garrett should get fired for limiting this roster’s ceiling so much. Come back next year and don’t disappoint me. The less said about this season the better.

Green Bay will likely get the better side of Aaron Rodgers come playoff time, and its defense has the ceiling to smother an opposing offense. The team has some kinks to iron out but has proven capable of doing so on the fly.

Seattle is putting together a transcendent run. The team wins situational football, and they win close games. Russell Wilson is getting them to both spots every time. The roster could collapse at some inopportune time, but right now they’re playing out of their minds with a formula that works.

New Orleans feels primed for a run to the Super Bowl. Playing at full strength with talent oozing out of every spot in the roster, the team has a coach and quarterback that get it all done. They’re playing angry after some truly heartbreaking moments the past two years, and I see that as the best motivation to win a ring.

Team by team breakdown: AFC

The AFC has been a top-heavy conference for a while. There are still some lesser teams scrambling for the final spots, but I think this bracket will hold due to how all of these teams are playing right now.

Funny how taking Ryan Tannehill out of Miami and into Tennessee led to playoff-caliber quarterbacking out of the 31-year-old. However, the Titans feel like the best of the mediocre field, and likely wouldn’t make it past the wild card. Good story for Tannehill, though.

Congrats to Buffalo for being both from the AFC East and also not being the absolute property of the Patriots. The team has a great defense that is burdened by the unenviable task of carrying Josh Allen’s offense. The defense will keep them in games, but a high-flying offense is needed to have a true playoff ceiling.

Kansas City has Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Their defense is kind of thrown together, but it doesn’t really matter when you can put up 40 points on anybody. This team is filled with playmakers groomed for the playoffs, and it feels like they’re saving their best football for January.

Houston is riding Deshaun Watson through the regular season, a quarterback who should be discussed more in this MVP race. He is playing lights-out football, and this team has proven more than capable of overcoming its roster holes.

New England angers me. Anyone who’s been winning fantasy football with their defense angers me. The team looks awful against upper-echelon teams but will probably turn it around and go on another deep playoff run. I refuse to count them out until they’re beaten and dead on the side of the road to the Super Bowl.

Baltimore has the best quarterback in the league right now in Lamar Jackson. His athleticism is dangerous to any defense and impossible to properly game-plan against. He can make any team look silly on the field, and he’ll likely do that for most if not all of the playoffs.