Every week SB Nation asks its team sites a question to see how every fan base is feeling. This week’s question: What are your predictions for the 2017-18 NFL playoffs?
1. RB Dion Lewis will make a lot of money
Did you know that Lewis finished the season #1 in Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric for rushes? No running back gained more yards over expectation than Lewis. Now when you add in value from receptions, Lewis falls behind Saints running back Alvin Kamara (532 yards over expectation) and Rams running back Todd Gurley (500 yards over expectation), but Lewis is still one of the best in the NFL with 361 yards over expectations.
Lewis is a pending free agent and should be considered the second-best free agent prospect behind Bell. A strong postseason will go a long way to securing Lewis a top dollar contract in the offseason.
In the eight games since the bye week, Lewis has gained 781 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns, in addition to returning a kick for a touchdown. That’s excellent production for someone playing just 46.8% of the snaps over that span.
Over the past two weeks, with James White, Rex Burkhead, and Mike Gillislee dealing with injuries, Lewis has 286 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns playing 65.6% of the snaps.
I predict the Patriots will run with the hot hand and allow Lewis to continue to play such a high percentage of snaps in the postseason- and that he’ll rise to the occasion, earning a nice contract in the offseason.
2. TE Rob Gronkowski will score 3 touchdowns before the Super Bowl
Gronkowski had himself a “down” year from a production standpoint. I say that with sarcastic air quotes because he didn’t play in two games and wasn’t targeted in the finale before being benched and put in bubble wrap. His 69 catches for 1,084 yards isn’t too far off his career pace.
If you remove the regular season finale (or keep it in), Gronkowski’s receptions per game was roughly his career average, as was his yards per catch and yards per game.
The only stat that was “down” was his touchdowns, with a mere 8 receiving touchdowns. He collectd a touchdown on 7.6% of his targets and 11.6% of his receptions, both the second-lowest of his career, ahead of only his injury-plagued 2013 season.
Gronk caught just 10 of 21 (47.6%) of his red zone targets and 4 of 9 (44.4%) of his targets inside the 10 yard line, too. His career-average catch rate is roughly two-thirds (63-64%) in both categories, so he’s having a down season.
So I’m predicting a regression back to his mean, with Gronkowski emerging as a huge red zone threat for the Patriots in the playoffs, catching 3 touchdowns and 18 passes over his first two games in the AFC playoffs.
3. A surprising wide receiver will emerge
Gronkowski finished the regular season with 1,084 receiving yards. Brandin Cooks finished with 1,082 receiving yards and a team-high 1,122 yards from scrimmage. These two players are expected to carry the offense.
Danny Amendola finished with 659 yards, his most in a Patriots uniform. Chris Hogan picked up 456 yards from scrimmage in only 9 games. These two are expected to supplement the two main receivers.
But some other receiver is going to emerge in the postseason as a depth option for Tom Brady. Maybe he won’t crack 100 yards per game, but like Chris Hogan dropping 180 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers in the championship game or Malcolm Mitchell collecting 70 yards in the Super Bowl, this receiver is going to be responsible for pushing New England over the top in one game.
Is it going to be Kenny Britt or Phillip Dorsett or Mitchell, again? My prediction is that Dorsett is finally going to have his day with a big touchdown grab.
4. QB Tom Brady will throw a surprising number of interceptions
Brady might have ended his interception streak at five games, but he’s going to throw a few more interceptions than expected in the playoffs. While Brady is one of the best at avoiding turnovers in the regular season- he’s thrown interceptions on just 1.3% of attempts over the past five seasons- he a little more reckless with the football in the postseason.
Since winning three out of four Super Bowls to open his career, Brady’s interception rate has exceeded 2.0% in 10 of his next 11 trips to the playoffs. The lone exception was 2013, when he didn’t throw a single pick.
Brady has thrown 9 interceptions over his past 8 playoff games; that hasn’t stopped the Patriots from winning two Super Bowls over that time, but it certainly hasn’t helped.
So I predict that Brady will average an interception per game this postseason.
5. The defense will hold their divisional round opponent to fewer than 17 points
Over the final eight games of the season, the Patriots defense allowed:
- the fewest points in the NFL (103); the offense allowed two touchdowns.
- the second-lowest yards per pass attempt (5.67).
- the fourth-lowest touchdown rate (2.74%).
- the seventh-lowest completion rate (58.6%).
- the seventh-lowest passer rating allowed (77.8)
This is a very good defense, thank you very much, and they’ve allowed more than 17 points just once in their past 12 games. One of those games was the Patriots thirteenth annual What The Heck Just Happened?! Game against the Miami Dolphins in week 14 and the other was against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots divisional round opponent will be the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, or Buffalo Bills. The Bills offense scored an average of 6 points per game against the Patriots, while the Titans have averaged 18.8 points per game over their past ten. The Chiefs are the wild card, but I trust the Patriots in a rematch with revenge on the brain.
I predict the Patriots defense will stand out in their first game of the playoffs.