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Super Bowl LII Predictions: APC likes Saints & Vikings from NFC, Steelers & Patriots in AFC

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Eight APC writers are split evenly on which teams will represent the two conferences in the Super Bowl.

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL Playoffs set to start on Saturday, the Green Bay Packers are idle in January for the first time since after the 2008 season. That leaves us at Acme Packing Company in the odd position of covering a team that missed the playoffs.

In fact, none of our writers were affiliated with the site the last time the Packers missed the postseason.

This leaves us to pick this year’s Super Bowl teams without the option of picking our own team, which is quite a drag. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are a legitimate threat to win the NFC and advance to Super Bowl LII — which will be played on their home field at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Check out our picks below for the teams that will represent each conference in Super Bowl LII, as well as each writer’s pick for who will win that matchup.

Evan “Tex” Western

Super Bowl Matchup: New Orleans Saints vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

This pick is somewhat dependent on whether or not Antonio Brown can return in time for the AFC Championship Game. If he can, I think he’ll be the difference for Pittsburgh against New England’s poor passing defense. In the NFC, I can’t get behind the Eagles with Nick Foles under center and I might just be unwilling to pick Minnesota for divisional rivalry reasons. I think I have to go with the Saints as the best of the remaining teams. I think they’ll have a tough test in the Wild Card round against Carolina, but if they can find a way to contain the Panthers’ run game they’ll go to Philly in the divisional round, where their defense and running game will do the job.

Ultimately, Pittsburgh is my pick to win it all, as they’ve just got too many weapons for New Orleans to defend. Maybe Big Ben will hang up his cleats after the game, too.

Jason B. Hirschhorn

Super Bowl Matchup: Minnesota Vikings vs. New England Patriots
Winner: New England Patriots

The NFC has set up quite well for the Vikings, who look like the de facto top seed in the conference after Carson Wentz's season-ending knee injury. Assuming the Eagles don't pull off an unexpected win in their divisional-round game, Minnesota could host each of their games during the postseason -- including Super Bowl LII. Only two teams (the 49ers and Rams) have so much as played in their home market with a Super Bowl on the line; no franchise has played for one in their home stadium.

Meanwhile, the AFC title game looks likely to feature the Patriots for the umpteenth time, and it seems a fait accompli for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to return to the Super Bowl. Though the Vikings (and the Saints and Rams for that matter) present an imposing challenge, betting against the Belichick-Brady dynasty doesn't seem wise.

Bob Fitch

Super Bowl Matchup: Minnesota Vikings vs. New England Patriots
Winner: New England Patriots

I really wanted to pick the Rams as the NFC representative, but I just don’t think it’s quite their time yet - give Sean McVay another year at the helm and a bit of seasoning on Jared Goff and they’ll be there. The Vikings defense is the most complete in the league, and their offense has actually been solid considering the staggering losses at quarterback and running back. The Panthers can’t seem to pass the ball at all, Nick Foles isn’t in 2013, and I think the Vikings have a slightly higher overall talent level than the Saints.

On the AFC side, Kansas City is incredibly inconsistent, Buffalo’s sole contributor on offense just got hurt, Jacksonville has Blake Bortles at the helm, and Tennessee has the least talented team in the playoff picture. Mariota has regressed, and the ‘exotic smashmouth’ style of Tennessee’s offense hasn’t lived up to expectations. Pittsburgh against New England is really 50/50 for me, but I think Pitt’s tendency to play at (or below) the level of their opponents will come back to haunt them, leaving room for another Bill Belichick & Tom Brady comeback win on the back of their X-factor, Rob Gronkowski.

As for the Super Bowl, I can’t pick against Tom Terrific. The Pats have the most playoff experience, and Atlanta knows how it feels to count out this team. Besides, I live in Vermont and I’m a Packers fan - if I went with Minnesota, I’d either get stabbed by a Pats fan or not be able to live with myself by betting on a division rival.

Shawn Wagner

Super Bowl Matchup: Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

They say defense wins championships and that’s why I think the Steelers and Vikings will end up matching up for a title this February.

Minnesota finished first in total defense and scoring defense this season and Pittsburgh wasn’t too far behind. The Vikings’ opportunity to also potentially host each game of the playoffs gives their defense a definite edge in their new dome, the sight of this year’s Super Bowl. New Orleans is my second pick in the NFC with a great offense and improving defense, but the road to the playoffs against Carolina and Minnesota or Philadelphia (cold game away from the dome) may prove too difficult to overcome. I see Atlanta making a push against Philadelphia after beating the LA Rams in the first round, but not enough to defeat Minnesota.

In the AFC, Pittsburgh is a highly successful team on both sides of the ball and a healthy Antonio Brown may be detrimental to a porous New England secondary. The ability for the Steelers to pass effectively while also running with Le’Veon Bell is a weapon most cold-weather teams can only wish for when they already have a stout defense. I’m not sold on the Patriots this season and see the Steelers sprinting to the Super Bowl. But they will have to fend off a streaking Kansas City squad that’s won four straight heading into the playoffs.

Paul Noonan

Super Bowl Matchup: New Orleans Saints vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

The smart money probably goes to the Patriots who basically never screw up, but they played a paper tiger of a schedule, and while their defense improved a bit down the stretch, it’s still bad and not stopping a truly good offense. The Steelers almost lost to a Brett Hundley-led Packer team and maddeningly play at the level of their opponents, but they’re also the most balanced team in the AFC, finishing the season 3rd in offensive DVOA and 9th on defense. They even play pretty good special teams, and weather won’t bother them as they can win in multiple ways.

I’m also tempted to take the upstart Rams in the NFC, who grade out well across the board, but I don’t care for their passing offense, and there are a few potential Gurley-stoppers out there. Instead I’ll take the Saints, behind a much-improved defense, a stellar passing attack anchored by Brees and the underrated Michael Thomas, and the one-two punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Saints have the horses to hang with anyone regardless of matchup, and every other NFC team has significant warts. I like Pitt slightly better head to head, and will take them to win it all.

Mike Vieth

Super Bowl Matchup: New Orleans Saints vs. New England Patriots
Winner: New Orleans Saints

Even with the Packers missing the playoffs, I think this season’s playoffs will be much more intriguing than seasons in the past. I think we could see a lot of scoring and the potential for a few upsets. I think the NFC could be just about anyone while the AFC may be a little easier to predict who survives to the end.

I can see Buffalo taking out Jacksonville and then New England, for the third time this year, will easily beat the Bills in the Divisional Round. On the other side, I think Kansas City is getting hot at the right time takes out Tennessee and gets revenge on a Pittsburgh squad that will be looking ahead to a rematch with the Patriots. However, Brady and company will be too much for the Chiefs as the Pats punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four years.

I think the NFC is a crapshoot right now. I believe all but the Falcons could have a legitimate shot at making the Super Bowl so I’m going to go with the New Orleans Saints. This season feels like another season where Drew Brees will make some magic and the Saints get by the Panthers in round one and then dispatch, since Carson Wentz is out, the Eagles in the Divisional Round. On the other side, the Rams will struggle initially but have enough juice to get by the Falcons but then won’t be able to handle the defense of the Vikings. This will set up a showdown for Minnesota to have a chance at a home field advantage for the Super Bowl. The Saints offense will struggle against the Vikings but will be able to score just enough to ruin a dream scenario for the Vikings and cause much rejoicing amongst Packer fans.

The Super Bowl will be a match up between two of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, Brady vs. Brees. These two won’t disappoint as it will be a back and forth game but I see Brees having enough magic to score late in the fourth quarter to give the Saints the Lombardi Trophy. Then Brees could be the quarterback riding off into the sunset as a two-time Super Bowl Champion soon after the game is over.

Kris Burke

Super Bowl Matchup: New England Patriots vs Minnesota Vikings
Winner: New England Patriots

For all the wackiness that we have endured this season, it will end on a familiar note: the Patriots hoisting yet another Lombardi Trophy.

It’s pretty clear it will come down to the Steelers and Patriots in the AFC. No other teams come close to the talent on both of those rosters. Their game in Week 15 was a classic that saw the Patriots score 11 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to sneak out of Heinz Field with a victory. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AFC Championship was another barn burner.

As for the NFC, it’s wide open. The Eagles might seem dead in the water without Carson Wentz and Nick Foles struggling, but this is a balanced roster. The Saints finally gave Drew Brees a competent defense and could make a run. The Rams might be a year away from a deep playoff run, but anything can happen in the postseason. Sean McVay’s team has been defying expectations all season so a run at the Super Bowl shouldn’t be ruled out.

It’s the Vikings however that have the best defense in the conference and as the old adage goes, defense wins championships and the Vikings will the be the first team ever to play a Super Bowl on it’s home field.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, it’ll be another classic involving Tom Brady and company. Look for the Patriots to utterly shatter the hearts of the entire state of Minnesota as Stephen Gostkowski kicks the game winning field goal.

Peter Bukowski

Super Bowl Matchup: New Orleans Saints vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: New Orleans Saints

I’m far more confident about the former than the latter. The Saints are the most complete team in the NFC and potentially in football. They have a top run offense with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Drew Brees has plenty of weapons in the passing game, and this defense took a mega-step forward this season as rookie Marshon Lattimore broke out as one of the league’s best corners.

Here’s what this comes down to for me: There’s no way I’m picking Case Keenum over Drew Brees in a playoff game, even as good as that Vikings defense has been. What’s more, Minnesota plays in a dome, which mitigates some of the questions we may otherwise have about Brees on the road in January.

On the other side, it’s hard for me to believe the Patriots have enough defense to get back to the Super Bowl. It will only mean beating one half-decent team (the Steelers) but even if Antonio Brown isn’t healthy, JuJu Smith-Schuster has been one of the best slot receivers in football this season even as a rookie and Martavis Bryant has once again become part of the offense.

Pittsburgh does have a defense, particularly with Joe Haden back, and should be able to do enough to beat the Patriots even in New England.

The difference will be Alvin Kamara in the Super Bowl. No one in football has someone who can match up with him and that will be especially true for the Steelers without Ryan Shazier. It’s doubly true for the Patriots if they win the AFC.

Overall Votes

NFC Champion

Saints 4, Vikings 4

AFC Champion

Steelers 4, Patriots 4

Super Bowl Champions

Steelers 3, Patriots 3, Saints 2