By Zach Ganshaw
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
The home stretch of the NFL season is leaving teams with playoff aspirations with little room for error as they try to solidify their playoff spots. I will be trying and predict which teams will win the home stretch of the season and punch their ticket to playoffs and compete for a chance to raise the Lombardi Trophy in February. Also along with myself some select people will be predicting which teams will participate in the Super Bowl and will win along with a score prediction
New England Patriots: Sitting atop the division it is Pats' spot to lose as they look to coast to their 10th straight division title (16 of the last 18 seasons). This is due in large part to the Brady-Belichick combo. Record prediction: 12-4, Playoff Percentage: >99 percent
Pittsburgh Steelers: Sitting on top of the division, Pittsburgh has a comfortable lead in the north. It would take a drastic turn of events for them to blow their lead so it is safe to say the Steelers will win yet another AFC North division title under Mike Tomlin. Record prediction: 11-4-1, Playoff Percentage: 94 (Steelers week 12 loss cost them big in playoff push.
Kansas City Chiefs: They are currently the one seed in the AFC, and with an easy rest of season schedule coming out of their week 12 bye, they have a good chance to lock up the #1 seed. The only question is not if they make the playoffs, but which week they can rest their starters. Record Prediction: 13-3, Playoff Percentage: >99 percent
Houston Texans: After starting 0-3 the, Texans have battled back to take the lead in the South due to re-emergence of their defense and leader JJ Watt. Look for them to maintain momentum and win the South. Record Prediction: 10-6, Playoff Percentage: 96 percent
AFC Wild Card No. 1
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are a team no one is talking about. Their offense is one of the best in the NFL. A defense to boot and one more divisional game against the Chiefs, LA has a chance to get Rivers the ring he has always wanted. Plus, with the return of star pass rusher Joey Bosa looming, this team will get even more dangerous. Record Prediction: 12-4, Playoff Percentage: 88 percent
AFC Wild Card No. 2
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are riding game-winning streak and their defense is starting to come together at the perfect time to go along with their offense. The reason the Colts are in this position is re-emergence of Andrew Luck, who is coming back from his shoulder injury, and head coach Frank Reich. Record Prediction: 10-6, Playoff Percentage: 29 percent
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys once thought to be dead in the water, now look to be in the driver's seat in the East. Dallas is getting hot at the right time of the year and will ride this momentum to winning the East and clinching a playoff sport. Record Prediction: 9-7, Playoff Percentage: 60 percent
Chicago Bears: Currently at the top of the division and with a comfortable lead over the second-place Vikings (who they get to play one more time). The only issue the Bears have is to make sure they don't get too ahead of themselves. If their defense keeps playing at a high level they should have no problem getting into the playoffs. Record Prediction: 11-5, Playoff Percentage: 96 percent
Los Angeles Rams: Sitting on top of the West by a comfortable lead the Rams have one of the most explosive offenses in recent memory. There is no reason to believe they won't clinch the west along with a first-round bye. It is the Rams spot to lose at this point, with all the talent they possess on both sides of the ball. Record Prediction: 14-2, Playoff Percentage: >99 percent
New Orleans Saints: The Saints are the hottest team in the NFL after losing their season opener. Their offense can strike at anytime with a plethora of weapons, and their defense is playing well enough to get the job done. This team is for real and the rest of the league is on notice. Record Prediction: 14-2, Playoff Percentage: >99 percent
NFC Wild Card No. 1
Seattle Seahawks: Seattle has been riding a hot streak and they will carry this momentum into the later half of their schedule, has very winnable games, which they can use to secure a playoff spot. Also working in their favor is key wins over other NFC opponents who are vying for playoff spots. Record Prediction: 10-6, Playoff Percentage: 75 percent
NFC Wild Card No. 2
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are in second place in the NFC north. With key upcoming divisional games, they have a good chance at getting that sixth seed in the NFC and clinching a spot. The Vikings will need to rely on QB Kirk Cousins to play well down the stretch in their big games. Record Prediction: 10-5-1, Playoff Percentage: 63
AFC Wild Card Round
No. 6 Colts at No. 3 Texans: The Texans win this game at home, which makes the difference in this game
No. 5 Chargers at No. 4 Steelers: Chargers upset the Steelers behind the high-powered offense of the Chargers be too much for the Pittsburgh defense.
AFC Divisional Round
No. 3 Texans at No. 2 Patriots: Patriots at home along with their playoff experience, compared to the Texans
No. 5 Chargers at No. 1 Chiefs: This game will be closer than people will think, but the Chiefs take this one at home.
No. 2 Patriots at No. 1 Chiefs: The Chiefs end New England's bid for a third straight Super Bowl. Home-field advantage plays all the difference here, as Kansas City was close to winning earlier in the season, but it was in Foxborough. With this game being home, the Chiefs will be able to dictate the tempo of the game.
NFC Wild Card
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Dallas Cowboys: Seattle takes the win here, as history shows the teams getting hot at the right time are a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. Dallas might not be able to keep up in a shootout if it comes to that.
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 Chicago Bears: The Bears win this one due to the home-field advantage and the sheer dominance of their defense to force opposing offense into mistakes. Their pass rush will be too much for Cousins to overcome.
NFC Divisional Round
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 1 New Orleans Saints: New Orleans and it is not even close. The Saints look unbeatable and that continues at home.
No. 3 Chicago Bears at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay can find a way to use his offensive talent to outscheme the Bears defense.
No. 2 Los Angeles Rams at No. 1 New Orleans Saints: This game will be much different that their earlier meeting during the regular season with the game much closer and low scoring. The experience in players and coaching staffs is the difference in this game. The combo of Payton and Brees triumphs over McVay and Goff this time.
•Zach Ganshaw: Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: This game will feature two of the most prolific offenses in recent memory, which can score at any moment with any player. The real difference is the Saints defense, which will play well enough to force some turnovers. This will be key in this game. I have the Saints winning this game 31-20 giving Brees and Payton their second Lombardi Trophy.
Fellow football purists also for the most part shared their belief in the Saints beating the Chiefs, except for one who had a different take on the Super Bowl all together.
•Austin Daul: The Saints will beat the Chiefs, 41-34. New Orleans defense will be here as they can get key stops that will allow their offense to put up a bunch of points. Both teams will be able to make it to the Super Bowl due to their home-field advantage and high-powered offenses.
•Anthony Forcucci: Saints beat Chiefs, 33-28. The experience of Brees gets the Saints to the Super Bowl and the Chiefs weapons prove to be too much for the Patriots dynasty. The Chiefs defense proves to be their downfall as they can't contain Brees and the Saints. After winning his second Super Bowl, Brees announces his retirement and rides off into the sunset.
•Josh Martin: Rams vs. Patriots: The Rams will defeat the Patriots, 44-31. Much like Super Bowl 52, the Pats will score points and put up a fight, but the Rams defense will get key stops to allow them to pull away. They will be able to manage the clock with Gurley and can score at will when they need to in order to secure the win.