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 September. The slow-starting Bengals are surging, early-season standouts like the Dolphins and Chiefs look vulnerable, and who knows what’s happening in the NFC. So with a half season of knowledge under our belts, here are the Ringer staff’s midseason NFL playoff predictions.
Nora Princiotti: I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl in the preseason somewhat because I am a rational person, but mostly because I am a coward. The Ravens, though, make me brave. Baltimore’s latest pair of 30-plus-point victories against NFC contenders shows how dominant this team can be, and the Ravens look balanced enough to make it all the way—they’re currently plus-115 in net points, best in the league by a wide margin. The defense is not just the best in the NFL, but also good enough to be drawing historical comparisons to the 2000 Ravens, an elite unit that played in an era when it was basically legal to give a quarterback a swirlie at midfield. The offense has proved that spreading out and passing the ball more won’t diminish the advantages of the run game and Lamar Jackson’s mobility. And Jackson leads the league in both completion percentage and rushing yards per game among quarterbacks. It’s hard to pick anyone other than Kansas City coming out of the AFC, but the eye test says that the Ravens are a better football team right now.
Ben Solak: The AFC is going to be an absolute bloodbath this year, and I can’t imagine feeling confident in any AFC champion pick at this time. Accordingly, I’ll pick the team I’ve enjoyed rooting for the most: That’s the Baltimore Ravens, who have finally built a functional passing game led by Jackson and paired that offense with a versatile, suffocating defense. Nobody has played better ball through nine weeks than the Ravens. Why not them?
Steven Ruiz: I’m sticking with my preseason pick: Chiefs over 49ers in the Super Bowl. Both teams have issues—San Francisco can’t stop the run, and Kansas City is giving guys you’ve never heard of targets in crunch time—but that’s nothing a few minor schematic tweaks won’t fix. The 49ers will also need to get healthy for this prediction to work out. Whether the Chiefs can hold up their end is contingent on Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid finding workarounds for the offense’s personnel weaknesses. I trust them to do so.
Sheil Kapadia: This was my pick before the season, and I decided I don’t want to change it. The Bengals had a rough start with Joe Burrow’s calf injury, but he got healthy and now few quarterbacks are playing better. The Bengals should be able to score on anyone, and while their defense has been up and down, I trust Captain Lou (Anarumo) to cook up something good in the playoffs. As for the Eagles, they’re in the driver’s seat for the no. 1 seed in the NFC, and as we know, that’s a huge advantage. Their upcoming schedule is brutal, so nothing’s guaranteed, but this is a weird season and the Eagles seem like the most battle-tested team in the NFC.
Danny Kelly: The Eagles are the league’s most deep and talented team from top to bottom and just have too many advantages over their opponents, in both personnel and scheme. With a strong offensive line and a uniquely talented quarterback in Jalen Hurts, the tush push essentially changes the math for Philly, giving the team an extra down with which to work—both in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. It also helps to have A.J. Brown as a near-automatic ball winner downfield, and DeVonta Smith is one of the best no. 2 receivers in the league. Plus, they’ve still got a great rotation of pass rushers that can help them close out games. Put it all together, and this squad is built to win it all.
Danny Heifetz: Every Eagles series is first-and-9. As long as they keep converting the tush push at roughly the same rate that Steph Curry makes free throws (better than 90 percent), they are the favorite in a weak NFC. It’s hard to pick against a team for which fourth-and-1 doesn’t feel dramatic.
Lindsay Jones: I will probably come to regret moving off my preseason Chiefs pick, but for as much as I’ve enjoyed watching the Kansas City defense over the first half of the season, I can’t shake the feeling that the offense, even with Mahomes continuing to play at an MVP level, just won’t have the juice to finish off another playoff run. I have the Bengals as a wild-card team, so getting to a Super Bowl, let alone winning it, would be quite a feat, but now that Burrow appears to be healthy again, there isn’t an overall team I think I trust more to win a big game than Cincinnati.
Austin Gayle: It was always the Chiefs. Even though the offense ranks just seventh in EPA per drive and 12th in points per game—a considerable drop-off from first in both categories at this point last season—I believe in Mahomes and Reid’s ability to steadily improve through the playoffs. I’ve yet to doubt Mahomes since his first full season as the Chiefs’ starter, and I won’t start now. Add in the fact that the defense is the best it’s ever been in the Mahomes era, and there’s simply no reason not to back Kansas City right now.