The National Football League playoffs are a sports rebirth, an athletic phoenix rising from the smoldering ashes of the regular season. Not for teams that did not qualify for the postseason, of course, but certainly for three members of the “Pigskin Pundits” and their guest who get another opportunity to knock the regular-season champion off his perch.

Well, in the first week of the “tournament” that happened, as three pundits, including regular-season champion Reade Brower, and their guest tied after six games, while one weekly football guesser gained a smidgen of an edge just when games become the most important.

Reade Brower

Ken Waltz finished 5-1 during the Super Wild Card Weekend, while Brower, Mark Haskell and Zack Miller, among the pundits, and guest Ryan Verrill, ended 4-2.

Now the fun begins as the playoffs are down to the elite eight, with berths in the conference championship games, and perhaps the coveted Super Bowl, in the balance.

The NFL season is slowly, but surely, winding down. There were 18 weeks (17 games) of regular-season games and the first of four weeks of playoffs are in the books.

From September through January, and despite plenty of injuries, ups and downs and COVID-19-related issues for teams, the regular campaign put 272 games — and now the first six postseason games — in the books

Brower, who played an impressive .670 ball during the regular season, will see if he can stay on top of his game and field during the postseason and through Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

Brower stared down challengers and, in reality, was never truly tested down the stretch.

Ryan Verrill of Warren emerged as the best guest picker at 12-2 in Week 14. Scott Cournoyer of Swanville held that distinction 10 weeks before being overtaken by Verrill.

Ken Waltz

Thus, Verrill will predict the win/loss outcomes of games against the “Pigskin Pundits” through the playoffs and Super Bowl.

Through 18 weeks of the regular season, Brower finished 181-90-1 (.668 winning percentage); Haskell, 175-96-1 (.645); Waltz, 172-99-1 (.635); and Miller, 167-104-1 (.616). The guests finished 170-101-1 (.627).

In the playoffs, Waltz is 5-1 and Brower, Haskell, Miller and Verrill 4-2.

Overall, Brower is 185-92-1; Haskell, 179-98-1; Waltz, 177-100-1; Miller, 171-106-6; and guests, 174-103-1.

Waltz was the top weekly picker among the “Pigskin Pundits” at 14-2 in Week 17, as he edged Brower’s 13-2 mark in Week 8.

The guests’ records this fall, with name, town, record and week listed, included: Howard Fogg Jr., Monmouth, 8-8 in Week 1; Troy Smith, Waldoboro, 11-5 in Week 2; Scott Cournoyer, Swanville, 12-4 in Week 3; Bradley Strong, Rockland, 10-6 in Week 4; Mike Curtis, Thomaston, 10-6 in Week 5; Jason Karam, Warren, 10-4 in Week 6; and Meagan Miller, Warren, 8-5 in Week 7; David Page, Winslow, 10-5 in Week 8; Mike Fuller, Islesboro, 4-10 in Week 9; Kristin Falla, Tenants Harbor, 7-6-1 in Week 10; Garrett French, Warren, 10-5 in Week 11; Donald Prescott, Rockland, 8-7 in Week 12; Joshua Toothacker, Stockton Springs, 10-4 in Week 13; Ryan Verrill, Warren, 12-2 in Week 14; Jeff Hart, Camden Hills, 9-7 in Week 15; Jared Porter, Thomaston, 9-7 in Week 16; Casey Holmes, Dixmont, 11-5 in Week 17; and Rachel Coor, Warren, 11-5 in Week 18.

Mark Haskell

The “Pigskin Pundits” of MaineStay Media/VillageSoup are in their 23rd year as they make weekly game selections, with a guest.

Each year during the pro football season, Waltz (sports director), Haskell (associate sports director), Zack Miller (community editor, former sports reporter), Brower (company owner) and a weekly guest go head-to-head to pick the winners (no scores or points spreads involved) of that week’s slate of games.

During the regular season, readers/fans are invited to test their football wits against the “pros.”

Those interested in being a weekly guest emailed Haskell at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

For decades, the weekly picks were featured in MaineStay Media newspapers The Courier-Gazette, Camden Herald and The Republican Journal. Now, those picks are made exclusively on the organization’s websites — knox.villagesoup.com and waldo.villagesoup.com — and appear most Thursdays.

For nearly a quarter century, the media foursome and guests have returned for the harder-than-it-looks weekly guessing games.

After 18 weeks, with the regular season extended to 17 weeks and one bye week, the guest with the best weekly record return to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower for the playoffs and Super Bowl. The guest with the best weekly record also will receive a year’s subscription to one of the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup newspapers or one of the organization’s websites.

Zack Miller

The NFL’s Divisional Round playoff schedule includes:

Saturday, Jan. 22

AFC: Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers.

Sunday, Jan. 23

NFC: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

AFC: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs.

The following are the Divisional Round picks of the Courier Publications/VillageSoup “Pigskin Pundits” and guest:

Brower — Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs.

Waltz — Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills.

Haskell — Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills.

Zack Miller — Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Verrill — Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills.

Ryan Verrill

History lesson

Last year’s top guest picker was Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth. He earned a 13-3 record in Week 2 to earn the distinction. As the defending guest champion, he returns as the Week 1 guest in 2021.

After 17 weeks of the 2020-21 regular season, Brower finished 166-89-1 (.651 winning percentage), Waltz, 164-91-1 (.643); Haskell, 163-92-1 (.639); and Miller, 160-95-1 (.627). The guests finished 159-56-1 (.624).

Ultimately, after 256 gridiron clashes from September to January, that included one tie, Brower prevailed by two games over Waltz, three over Haskell and six over Miller, as well seven over the guests.

In the postseason, Haskell proved the top picker with a 10-3 record, while Waltz and Fogg finished 9-4; Miller, 8-5; and Brower, 6-7. Waltz, Miller and Fogg correctly picked the Buccaneers to win Super Bowl LV.

For the media crew, Miller and Waltz finished tied with the best weekly records at 14-2 in Week 2, while, for the guests, Fogg earned the best weekly mark at 13-3 in Week 2, thus will pick against the media members in the playoffs.

In 2019-20, Waltz finished 165-90-1 (.647 winning percentage), Brower, 159-96-1 (.624); Haskell, 158-97-1 (.620); Miller, 155-100-1 (.608); and guests, 158-97-1 (.620).

Among the ‘Pigskin Pundits,’ Brower had the best weekly records at 14-1 in Week 8 and 13-2-1 in Week 1, while Brad King finished 12-3-1 in Week 1 for the best mark among the guests.

In the playoffs, Miller went 9-2, Waltz and Haskell 7-4, Brower 5-6 and King 3-8. Miller, Waltz, Haskell and Brower correctly picked the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, with Haskell’s prediction of 33-23 the closest to the 31-20 final score.

In 2018-19, Waltz was the “top dog” in the regular season as he finished 161-93-2 (.634 winning percentage), thanks to a 16-0 final week, while Miller was second at 157-97-2 (.618), Haskell third at 151-103-2 (.594) and Brower fourth at 142-112-2 (.559). The guests finished 148-106-2 (.583).

Overall, Waltz finished 167-98-2, Miller 162-103-2, Haskell 158-107-2, Brower 150-115-2 and guests 159-110-2.

Brad King of Rockland, who went 11-4 in Week 12 and earned the right to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower in the playoffs.

In the postseason, Brower finished 8-3, Haskell and King 7-4, Waltz 6-5 and Miller 5-6. All five correctly picked the Patriots to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com.