2019 NFL playoffs preview – Schedule, bracket, Super Bowl chances for every team

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And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers’ exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

The win gave the Niners the No. 1 seed in the conference, while the Ravens’ season-long domination secured them the AFC’s top spot. The Packers and Chiefs also receive first-round byes.

Our playoff primer breaks down what all 12 teams must do to reach the Super Bowl in Miami. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) also provides such chances for every playoff-bound team.

NFC:
1. 49ers | 2. Packers
3. Saints | 4. Eagles
5. Seahawks | 6. Vikings

AFC:
1. Ravens | 2. Chiefs
3. Patriots | 4. Texans
5. Bills | 6. Titans

NFC

And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: vs. lowest remaining seed in divisional round (Jan. 11 at 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 49.3%

Reason for hope: The 49ers obviously have an impressive win total, but their losses have actually been among their most impressive games of the year — which bodes well for postseason competitiveness. They took the Ravens to the final play in Baltimore. They went to overtime in their first game against the Seahawks. And in their one “letdown,” they lost to the Falcons at home in the final seconds. In other words, this team always shows up.

Reason for concern: Because of injuries and other personnel issues, the 49ers’ defense didn’t replicate its first-half success in the latter stages of the season. It has ranked No. 24 in points allowed since Week 9. Most concerning was a three-game stretch between Weeks 14 and 16 in which they allowed an average of 35.3 points per game, second-most in the NFL during that period. There are still some elite-level players and disruptors on this defense, but its overall performance has trended the wrong way over an extended period.

X factor: Coach Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling. Of everything the 49ers have going for them, the best might be Shanahan’s ability to set up defenses and choose the perfect time for an unconventional play. It’s no accident when you see 49ers receivers running wide open across the field. It’s also not surprising to note that 49ers running backs have ranked among the NFL’s top five all season in average yards gained before contact. Shanahan on game day might be the 49ers’ best weapon of all.


And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: vs. highest remaining seed in divisional round (Jan. 12 at 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 20.6%

Reason for hope: The Packers won 13 games without needing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to carry them in any of them. There are plenty of theories about his subdued statistics this season; he entered Week 17 ranked No. 21 in QBR. Had he lost a step? Was he simply subordinating himself to a new value system set forth by first-year coach Matt LaFleur? Regardless, the Packers enter the playoffs with a quarterback who has a long and proven history of willing teams to big, championship-level victories.

Reason for concern: The Packers beat only two teams that will finish the season with a winning record: the Vikings (twice) and the Chiefs when they were playing without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Packers have offered no excuses about “winning ugly,” nor should they. Thirteen wins is no joke. But not all wins are created equal. In the one game they faced a championship contender at full strength, in Week 12 at San Francisco, they lost by 29 points. In short, a 13-win team has entered the playoffs without showing us that they are a dominant team.

X factor: Tailback Aaron Jones. Why hasn’t Rodgers been asked to carry the team? The biggest reason is Jones, who finished the season with 1,084 rushing yards — the most by a Packers player in five seasons. Jones also caught 49 passes, the most by a Packers running back in 16 seasons. The Packers will need to get him going in the playoffs if they want to recreate their regular-season success.


And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: vs. Minnesota in wild-card round (Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 15.4%

Reason for hope: The Saints overcame the biggest obstacle a team can face — the extended loss of a starting quarterback — and still finished with one of the top records in the NFL. Winning all five games quarterback Drew Brees (thumb) missed is not only an enormous confidence-booster, but also a demonstration of the team’s depth, balance and ability to adjust. All three qualities are critical to making a playoff run.

Reason for concern: On the other side of receiver Michael Thomas‘ record-setting season lies a fair question: What would the Saints’ offense look like if he was injured or otherwise sidelined. Any team would be set back by the loss of a No. 1 receiver, but the Saints’ offense runs more directly through him than any other receiver in the game. Thomas led the league in targets by a mile and had at least 120 more targets than every other Saints receiver. Regardless of their ability to adapt, the Saints don’t want to have to answer this question.

X factor: Linebacker Demario Davis. One of the best free-agent signings in Saints history, Davis is the rare three-way linebacker who is a sure tackler against the run, can cover running backs and tight ends in space and also blitz effectively. His versatility allows defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to use playcalls that would leave other teams vulnerable.


And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: vs. Seattle in wild-card round (Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET, NBC) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 4.8%

Reason for hope: Quarterback Carson Wentz pulled off quite a feat in leading the Eagles into the playoffs after a 5-7 start. In fact, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards without a single wide receiver who finished the season with at least 500 receiving yards. Such was the revolving personnel door Wentz and the Eagles dealt with, one caused mostly by injuries.

Reason for concern: The Eagles’ injury list is ridiculous. They finished up a Week 17 win over the Giants without their top three wideouts, their No. 1 tight end, their top two running backs and right tackle Lane Johnson. Playing at home is preferable to being on the road, but next weekend’s starting lineup might well look more like what we would see for a preseason game than in the postseason.

X factor: Tight end Dallas Goedert. The responsibility for replacing Zach Ertz (ribs, kidney) and preserving the Eagles’ tight end-centric offense falls on Goedert. He was targeted on a team-high 10 passes in Week 17, catching four for 65 yards. It is hard to imagine the Eagles advancing without an Ertz-like performance from Goedert.


And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: at Philadelphia in wild-card round (Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET, NBC) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 3.5%

Reason for hope: Quarterback Russell Wilson has played at an MVP level for much of the season and has been the NFL’s best at completing passes with high degrees of difficulty. He has rescued them in playoff games before and can do it again.

Reason for concern: Losing left tackle Duane Brown and the majority of running back depth in late December could be a crippling blow. It’s possible Brown could return for the playoffs, and it’s fun that the Seahawks brought back Marshawn Lynch. But the Seahawks have absorbed a late personnel crisis that will make a deep playoff run more difficult.

X factor: Pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. When on the field, Clowney is the defensive game-wrecker the Seahawks haven’t had in recent seasons. The Seahawks just need to keep their fingers crossed that he can stay healthy.


And so, after 256 games over four months, we finally know who will compete for the Super Bowl LIV trophy. The 49ers' exciting 26-21 victory Sunday night over the Seahawks finalized the NFC bracket and set in motion the next five weeks of NFL playoffs.

First game: at New Orleans in wild-card round (Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox) | Tickets

Chance to make the Super Bowl: 6.4%

Reason for hope: Running back Dalvin Cook is expected to return after missing two weeks because of a chest injury. Cook has previously been limited by a shoulder injury and averaged 3.1 yards per carry in his final four games of the regular season. But the Vikings’ offense runs through his ability to hit the outside zone and to be a productive outlet receiver, and there is optimism that he’ll be fresh and ready for the playoffs.

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