THE FINAL WORD: Four bold predictions for the 2017 NFL playoffs

MARSHALL – With a sharp whistle blown from the sideline referees, the regular season has ended. Thirty-two teams entered this point when the season started back in September, but now only 12 remain.

The NFL playoffs are officially upon us, which means it’s time for interesting storylines, key matchups, and visions of the Lombardi Trophy dancing through our heads.

I’m no expert when it comes to making sports predictions, but that’s not going to stop me from making some bold predictions about the NFL playoffs.

1. Kansas City will be in the Super Bowl this year.

Year after year, the NFL playoffs come around, and the New England Patriots have earned themselves a first-round bye before they make a Super Bowl – or somewhere close to it – run.

For years, the Patriots have sat on their metaphorical thrones as kings of the AFC conference.

But this year, I believe one team will rise from the cracks and knock off Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from the top: the Kansas City Chiefs.

Last year, the Chiefs pulled off an improbable comeback in the middle of their season to vault from 1-5 to winners of 10 straight and a spot in the AFC Divisional Round. The Chiefs then ran into the red-hot Patriots, who defeated KC and advanced to the AFC title game.

This year, the Chiefs have only improved. Alex Smith has proved himself as a veteran quarterback who can lead his team down the field in clutch situations. Tight end Travis Kelce is having a breakout season, hauling in 1,125 receiving yards and rookie wideout sensation Tyreek Hill has taken the NFL by storm, earning the title of the most dangerous kick/punt returner in the world – just ask your local NFL team’s special teams unit.

Finally, although their defense isn’t as strong as it shows in the statbook, the Chiefs have players on the defensive end that can make opposing teams pay for its mistakes. Led by linebacker Derrick Johnson and cornerback Eric Berry, Kansas City will make a serious run this year.

2. The Dallas Cowboys will have an early exit.

All season long, the Dallas Cowboys have been at the top of the NFC Conference. Despite suffering the loss of Tony Romo at quarterback in the third week of the preseason, the ‘Boys have ridden the play of two rookies in Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott all the way to the NFC East division title and a No. 1 seed.

But if the ghost of season’s past has given us any indication, Dallas is in for a rude awakening. Each season, the Cowboys have struggled come playoff time and it usually comes at the hands of their defense. This year Dallas has been better on the defensive side of the ball, averaging just the fifth-fewest points allowed in the entire league at 19.1. But Jerry Jones and Co. might put too much pressure on the offense, specifically their two rookies, which will cause wear-and-tear and force the defense to play more than they’ve been used to.

Sorry Dallas, as much fun as it is to watch two rookies shred defenses every game, the only “X” you’ll be putting up is the one after you’ve been eliminated.

3. Detroit’s magical (fourth quarter) run will come to an end.

Let’s face it: the NFC North division is one of, if not the toughest divisions in the NFL. Every team in it is capable of upsetting the other, and as the Vikings brutally showed us, no lead is safe.

Detroit has seen its fair share of futility over the years, from being at the bottom of the division to being the only team since the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs to go 0-16 in a season (the Browns can thank the Chargers for not joining the list this season).

However, something magical happened in Detroit this season, particularly in the fourth quarter. With the Lions trailing in nearly every game they played in, quarterback Matthew Stafford somehow led his team down the field each time and found a way to win the game. As a result, the Lions posted a 9-7 record and nearly won its first division title since 1993.

The last few games have not been kind to Detroit. Stafford suffered torn ligaments in his throwing hand and hasn’t been the same since, and the Lions lost their final three games of the regular season.

Now the Lions enter the playoffs with another unfortunate roll of the dice: playing the Seattle Seahawks on the road.

The Seahawks take great pride in their home-field advantage, as their stadium crowd have broken the Guinness World Record for loudest decibel noise in an outdoor facility – twice. The Lions are 0-8 on the road in their history in wild card games and have never won on the road in the Super Bowl era.

The clock has struck midnight on Detroit, and their Super Bowl glass slipper won’t be fitting their cleats this season.

4. Aaron Rodgers will “Run the Table” all the way to the Super Bowl.

Plug your ears, Vikings fans: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will make a Super Bowl run this year.

I apologize if those words have left a bitter taste in your leftover New Year’s Eve champagne, but as much as it pains me to say it, Rodgers is really good at football.

The green-and-gold man under center not only led his entire team, but also his chances of an MVP award to a whole other stratosphere. In his last six games, Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns, zero interceptions and had a passer rating of 121.0, all of this resulting in Green Bay victories and launching the Packers from 4-6 to 10-6 and NFC North division champs.

Now, Green Bay’s biggest problem has been injuries to their secondary defense, including recently hurt Quinten Rollins, Damarioius Randall and Makinton Dorleant. If all three of those players sit out Sunday, the Packers defense is in big trouble. They already finished second to dead last in the NFL in passing defense this year, and they face Eli Manning and the New York Giants, who love to throw the football.

I think the Giants have a legitimate shot at upsetting the Packers on Sunday but if last season’s Hail Mary’s and nine years of defeating my Vikings have shown anything, it’s that Rodgers and Green Bay are capable of doing some unbelievable things.

As I prefaced earlier in this column, I’m not an expert with predictions. I’m not going to guarantee these ones will be right, unlike Bears’ wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey guaranteeing a Super Bowl in Chicago next season. But I did say they were going to be bold, didn’t I?