We’re now officially nine weeks into the NFL season, and we know considerably more about the league than when we tried this exercise in the preseason. The Chiefs once again look like the Chiefs, Geno Smith and the Seahawks are shocking the league, and new superpowers have emerged in the NFC. So with a half-season of knowledge under our belts, here are the Ringer staff’s midseason NFL playoff predictions.
Kevin Clark: Why did I pick the Packers before the season? First, I’m a dumbass. Second: I thought the roster was good enough that another MVP-type season from Aaron Rodgers would help them break through. Rodgers has fallen well short of that sort of performance, and the roster hasn’t been good enough to compensate (and to be clear, most rosters would suffer the same fate if their elite QB struggled). Instead, the best quarterback in football is Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s roster is good enough to win a Super Bowl so long as he keeps playing like this, which he will. The Chiefs have scored more points per game than anyone else in football, and that won’t stop anytime soon.
Nora Princiotti: If I could guarantee I won’t have to say the words “ulnar collateral ligament” multiple times on podcasts over the next three months, I’d stick with my preseason pick of the Bills as the AFC’s Super Bowl representatives. But Josh Allen’s injury to his throwing elbow is enough of a concern that I’m putting the Chiefs in. Kansas City may have lost some of that “score from anywhere” ability it had with Tyreek Hill, but it still has the most efficient offense in the NFL and Patrick Mahomes playing at his peak. I’ll take that combination against the less-experienced Eagles, the most complete team in the NFC.
Steven Ruiz: I picked the Chiefs to win it all back in August and they’ve given me no reason to change my mind. If anything, the rest of the league has given me plenty of reasons to feel more confident. I would have considered a switch over to Buffalo, especially after its win over Kansas City earlier this season, but injuries to the secondary and Josh Allen’s sprained UCL are red flags I’m not willing to ignore. My pick on the NFC side changes by the week, and this just so happens to be one when I’m feeling the 49ers. When healthy, they can match the undefeated Eagles in terms of talent, and I’m taking Kyle Shanahan (and DeMeco Ryans) over Nick Sirianni (and Jonathan Gannon) without hesitation. My heart wanted to pick Geno Smith’s Seahawks to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and I honestly think they have a chance, but I was too much of a coward to do it.
Ben Solak: Picking the Chiefs is boring. Is picking the Chiefs boring? It feels like we’re always trying to figure out which team can contend with the Chiefs, and the answer is: the team that gets lucky! The Chiefs haven’t been resoundingly beaten in an AFC playoff game since Mahomes took over, so I’ll take them against the field. And if that means we get a historic Lamar Jackson run or Justin Herbert run or Josh Allen run or Tua Tagovailoa run, how exciting! But for my money, give me Mahomes.
Sheil Kapadia: I picked the Bills to win it before the season, and while the Allen elbow injury makes me nervous, I’m sticking with them. The Bills lead the NFL with a +102 point differential. The defense should get healthier, and the offense is one of the toughest in the NFL to defend. If Allen’s injury turns out to be serious, I think I would switch to the Chiefs. Why not the Eagles? I couldn’t do that to listeners of The Ringer’s Philly Special, who would (probably correctly) blame me if I picked them and they choked. Glad I could give you a window into my thought process here. Hopefully it all makes sense.
Lindsay Jones: I feel less confident in this pick now than I did in the preseason for two reasons: (1) the current uncertainty surrounding Allen’s elbow and (2) Patrick freaking Mahomes. But I still believe that when healthy, the Bills have the NFL’s best roster from top to bottom, a super freak at QB, solid coaching, and a significant home-field advantage if they’re able to secure the no. 1 seed. If Buffalo is indeed able to win the AFC, it’ll be battle tested in a way the Eagles, my NFC pick, haven’t been.
Danny Kelly: The Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill over the offseason and their offense has somehow … gotten way better? At this point last year, Kansas City was averaging 24.6 points per game, which ranked 15th. They’re averaging 30.4 points per game this season, tops in the NFL. They’re averaging more points per drive (where they also rank first), more expected points added per play (also first), and have doubled their offensive DVOA compared to this time last year. Mahomes is some sort of sorcerer. I’m just gonna roll with that guy.
Danny Heifetz: I’m sticking with the Bills as my Super Bowl pick despite the chance that Allen’s arm might fall off between now and February. Offensively, the Bills have more ways to get a bucket than any other team. Defensively, it’s easiest to compare the Bills to other sports: Buffalo’s defensive line can rotate linemen like a hockey team and Von Miller is its All-Star closer. The only things that could slow this team down are injuries and the crushing weight of reversing a generation of Buffalo Sports Sadness.
Rodger Sherman: I picked the Bills at the start of the year and I’m still picking them now. (I would NEVER change my opinions about Josh Allen.) (Don’t fact-check me on that.) They have the best point differential in the NFL (+102) and average the most yards per play (6.5, making them one of the top 20 teams of all time). And they’ve done it while committing about two turnovers a game, including some of the funniest Allen interceptions of his career—and he’s had a number of those. The Bills are the best team in the league and they aren’t even playing to their full potential. They’re still in line to get home-field advantage—Buffalo in January is going to be fun.
Austin Gayle: The AFC wild-card race will be must-watch TV over the second half of the season. The Bengals, Jets, Patriots, Chargers, and Dolphins should all be vying for one of the three wild-card spots, and that doesn’t even factor in three-win teams like the Broncos or Browns. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, New England and Cincinnati face the first- and second-hardest remaining schedules while New York faces the second-easiest. I have the best offenses (and best quarterbacks) of the bunch making the postseason, which leaves Mac Jones’s and Zach Wilson’s teams on the outside looking in at playoff football.