NFL Postseason Preview: The Bears, the AFC South and the Perennial Patriots

During the last week of the year, playoff speculation takes its place alongside the return of unwanted gifts and anticipation of the New Year

With one week left to go in the regular NFL season, the playoff picture is nearly in focus. Quite amazingly, the Chicago Bears are part of the conversation for the first time since 2010. As a Windy City native, I hardly know how to adjust to an adult life where the Monsters of the Midway are no longer a source of ignominy and shame. But having handily clinched the NFC North division title on December 16 against long-time rivals the Green Bay Packers, the worst-to-first Bears look to be strong playoff contenders under the leadership of all-but-certain Coach of the Year, Matt Nagy.

At the beginning of 2018, if you’d told me that the Chicago Cubs would completely choke in the quest for a second World Series this decade, but the Bears would end up no worse off than 11-4, I would have demanded a breathalyzer test. Yet here we are…

I digress. This past weekend was a particularly wild one as the NFL barrels toward postseason action. And a lot of the tumult came courtesy of teams from the Keystone State, though perhaps not always in their own favor. Writer Kevin Seifert of ESPN gives us the skinny in three sentences:

“The Pittsburgh Steelers diminished their own postseason chances, while shaking up the rest of the AFC, with their loss in New Orleans. The upshot: The Baltimore Ravens now have the inside track on the AFC North championship, and there will be two AFC South teams in the playoffs. The Steelers’ loss came a few hours after the [NFC’s] Philadelphia Eagles extended the drama in both conferences and kept alive their own playoff hopes.”

Multiple division titles and wild-card spots across the league will come down to the wire, but as reliably and death and taxes, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are ready to begin another presumed march to the Super Bowl. The team clinched its tenth consecutive AFC East crown last weekend. The only drama that remains is whether Belichek and his guys will finish the season with a Number One seed. The fact that this is an utterly boring mystery to fans who don’t live along the Eastern seaboard is immaterial.

Maddeningly, the Patriots aren’t particularly outstanding this year. Yet most pundits are treating a trip to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia as a foregone conclusion. Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report makes the case:

“The 2018 New England Patriots are not special.

Quarterback Tom Brady…has lacked consistency and seen his numbers decline over the course of one of the worst statistical seasons of his career…

Yet it remains inevitable: New England is going to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last five years…

That’s because this is the perfect year to be less than perfect.”

If you’re like me, you look forward to the day, like cycling’s Lance Armstrong, and baseball’s A-Rod before him, when Brady is exposed as the creative doper and career cheater that he is. I wrote it. Come at me bros.

Floatation therapy, my rosy red behind. The story of Tom Brady’s disgraced body coach and business partner Alex Guerreo is far from over, and there’s more to the quarterback’s anger surrounding it than the indignation of a close friend. But for now, we’ve no choice but to swallow the absurd notion that a 41 year-old man can take that many hits and stay at the top of his game, naturally, for 19 years.

While non-Patriot fans await the inevitable post-career schadenfreude that will accompany Brady’s public defrocking, as 2018 closes, we must wonder if any team can stop New England from marching through the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC’s Number One seed, and could end the Patriots Super Bowl hopes, even after losing their last two games. The team is that good.

And should the San Diego Chargers have to settle for Fifth Seed, I wouldn’t count them out of the Super Bowl running either. It would be quite satisfying to watch fellow old man Philip Rivers (37 years old), who led his team to six out of seven road victories this year, put the Patriots away at home.

During this last, slower week of the year, NFL playoff speculation takes its rightful place alongside the return of unwanted gifts and anticipation of the New Year ahead. What are your armchair quarterback calls for postseason play spots?

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Becky is an award-winning journalist, Op-Ed columnist and blogger. On March 29, 2018 her first book, Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, will be published by Eckhartz Press. She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob. Check out her collected work at BeckySarwate.com, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.

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