6. Washington Redskins (10-6) at 3. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Everyone is familiar with this story. Alex Smith is capable of getting teams into the playoffs, but has trouble winning come January. It would be especially difficult to see him prevail in Lambeau against a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Packers 30, Redskins 20
5. Carolina Panthers (11-5) at 4. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
The Panthers dominated the 49ers in Week 1 of 2017, but San Francisco had neither Jimmy Garoppolo nor Reuben Foster (the stud linebacker got hurt in the second quarter.) Foster being on the field for the entire game will be great, but Garoppolo will prove to be the difference. The weak part of Carolina's defense is the secondary, and Garoppolo should be able to pick it apart.
49ers 27, Panthers 23
6. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at 3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
It would be easy to envision the Chiefs choking in the playoffs as usual if Alex Smith were still their quarterback. Patrick Mahomes, however, isn't limited like Smith. He'll have success throwing to Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce versus the Chargers' weak linebacking corps. The Chiefs have dominated the Chargers over the years, and that's unlikely to change this year.
Chiefs 23, Chargers 20
5. Oakland Raiders (10-6) at 4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
The Steelers have made the playoffs only because the AFC North is a dumpster fire. They were woeful following Ryan Shazier's injury, and given that they have failed to replace Shazier, they'll continue to struggle to meet expectations. The Raiders are going to be much better this year, and they shouldn't have any issues moving the chains versus Pittsburgh's defense.
Raiders 34, Steelers 27
2018 NFL Playoff Predictions - Divisional Round
4. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) at 1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
It's great that Jimmy Garoppolo has gotten the 49ers this far, but this is the end of the road. It'll be clear that the 49ers need to make a couple of significant upgrades to their defense if they want to contend with the very best teams like the Saints in road playoff games.
Saints 38, 49ers 31
3. Green Bay Packers (11-5) at 2. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Green Bay's secondary will be better this year, but it's still a weak point that a fully healthy Carson Wentz will be able to exploit. Wentz may not be ready by the season opener, but it's possible that he might be 100 percent by the playoffs. If so, he should be able to throw all over the Packers. Aaron Rodgers will keep things close, but Philadelphia should be able to prevail.
Eagles 30, Packers 27
5. Oakland Raiders (10-6) at 1. New England Patriots (14-2)
The Raiders are a nice bounce-back story, but their defense is not up to par to contend with the Patriots in a playoff game in Foxboro. Hopefully this game doesn't involve an apparent Tom Brady fumble that's not ruled a fumble because of some sort of archaic rule.
Patriots 34, Raiders 16
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at 2. Houston Texans (12-4)
Both Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are exciting, young quarterbacks who will be contending for Super Bowls for years to come. Both were selected near each other in the 2017 NFL Draft, and it's pretty close as to who is better right now. What's not close are the two defenses. Kansas City's stop unit will be better than it was last year because of Eric Berry's return, but Houston's is superior overall. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney will make things very difficult for Mahomes, and Tyrann Mathieu will clean things up with a turnover or two.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) at 1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
A big reason why the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year was because of home-field advantage. Had they played in Atlanta, or even Minnesota, they may not have gotten to the Promised Land. They could certainly return this year, but going through New Orleans will be a different story. These are the two best teams in the NFL, so the Superdome will prove to be the equalizer. Plus, there's a chance Carson Wentz may not be his complete self, so odds are that the Saints will have the healthiest signal-caller in this game.
Saints 31, Eagles 27
2. Houston Texans (12-4) at 1. New England Patriots (14-2)
Will the Patriots make yet another trip back to the Super Bowl? It's certainly possible, but the Texans also have a great chance of pulling the upset in Foxboro. They almost did last year, and that was with Deshaun Watson making his second career start! Watson, who has been working extremely hard this offseason, will be ready to take down Tom Brady. But it'll be the defense that will prove to be the greatest difference-maker. The Patriots have some question marks on their offensive line, which does not bode well versus Houston's dominant front. The Texans have the personnel to pressure Brady without blitzing, and that will prove to be the key to victory.
Texans 26, Patriots 23
2018 NFL Playoff Predictions - Super Bowl LIII at Atlanta
New Orleans Saints (13-3) vs. Houston Texans (12-4)
The Saints are probably slightly better than the Texans. The biggest difference is the offensive line. New Orleans protects Drew Brees well and also opens up lots of holes for Alvin Kamara. The Texans, conversely, have a putrid front with lots of unproven and miserable blockers. This did not matter in the middling AFC South, and they didn't have to battle any premier pass-rushers during their playoff games thus far, aside from Justin Houston. Blocking Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins will prove to be difficult.
Deshaun Watson will do whatever it takes to keep this game close, but the Saints have the superior roster overall. That's why they are the projected Super Bowl LIII champions.