The 2023 NFL playoffs are upon us, starting with the highly anticipated Wild Card weekend. After adding a 7th team to the NFL playoffs, 12 teams will compete in Wild Card weekend, and 2 teams will watch with a first-round bye.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs entered the postseason with the best record in their respective conferences. These 2 teams have a first-round bye and wait patiently to see their matchups in the divisional round.
The other 12 teams that made the playoffs will go head-to-head this weekend. This is just the fifth time that every Wild Card game will feature a regular-season rematch. Here are my predictions for this weekend and my analysis of the team’s seasons thus far.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Sunday 1/15 – 12:00 CT)
The Buffalo Bills have some of the highest expectations from fans coming into the playoffs. They finished the regular season 13-3 and won the AFC East by a wide margin. They played in one of the best games in NFL history in last season’s divisional-round game, just barely losing to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills are red hot and are looking to take their momentum into this divisional matchup.
The Dolphins took a different route into the playoffs. They finished the regular season 9-8, finished 2nd in the AFC east, and didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last day of the regular season.
With a brand new head coaching staff, it’s understandable that a team would struggle as the Dolphins did, but injuries and concussions are what plagued the team all season. Starting QB Tua Tagovailoa suffered 3 different concussions throughout the season and has missed at least 4 games because of it. Tua is still suffering from his 3rd concussion, and will not play in this game. Miami’s backup QB Teddy Bridgewater is also likely to not play as he is dealing with a fractured pinky.
It is likely that rookie Skylar Thompson will suit up to try and upset the Bills.
Because both of these teams are in the AFC East, they have played each other twice this season. Both games were close and came down to the last minute, with Miami coming out on top 21-19 in week 3, and Buffalo taking the win 32-29 in week 14.
The Dolphins have been struggling as of late, losing 5 of their last 6 games. The Bills, on the other hand, have won their last 7 straight (excluding the canceled matchup in week 17 versus Cincinnati). The Bills offense led by Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs is hard to stop, and I don’t think Miami’s average-level defense and rookie QB are up to the task.
My prediction: Bills 27-Dolphins 16
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday 1/15 – 7:15 CT)
Much like the Bills-Dolphins matchup, this game is between the 1st and 2nd place teams in the AFC North. The Ravens took a 19-17 win over Cincinnati in week 5, and the Bengals took a 27-16 victory over Baltimore in week 18.
Both teams should be well prepared for this matchup, as the Bengals and Ravens faced each other in week 18, exactly 7 days before this game. Back-to-back matchups between these teams should provide an interesting watch.
The Ravens starting QB Lamar Jackson has missed the last 5 games with a sprained PCL, and it is likely that he won’t be able to return in time for the first playoff game. In this scenario, third-string Anthony Brown could suit up, given backup Tyler Huntley misses another game with injuries.
The Bengals have won their last 8 in a row (excluding the canceled matchup in week 17 versus Buffalo), and are looking for a Super Bowl do-over, after losing to the Rams in Super Bowl LVI.
Cincinnati is on fire, and Joe Burrow is looking better than ever at quarterback. Offensive weapons like Ja’Maar Chase and Joe Mixon are hard to stop and the Bengals have one of the better defenses of teams in the playoffs. Baltimore is struggling with offensive injuries and has lost 3 of their last 4 games. Because of this, Baltimore will struggle to keep up, and Cincinnati will take the victory.
My prediction: Bengals 23-Ravens 14
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Saturday 1/14 – 7:15 CT)
Young quarterbacks play a huge role in the future of the NFL, and this matchup is between 2 of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert are both making their playoff debuts this weekend.
It’s not exactly clear how the Jaguars ended up turning their season around enough to make the playoffs. Jacksonville won the AFC South with a 9-8 record. In the first half of the season, the Jaguars lost to some of the worst teams in the league, including the Colts, Texans, and Broncos. They turned it around quickly, however, beating teams like the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Ravens in the second half of the season.
The Chargers finished just 1 game higher than the Jaguars, at 10-7, and 2nd in the AFC West. Both teams have had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season, with both teams playing only 6 opponents above .500.
While I don’t believe either team will make it beyond the second round, I think the Jaguars will pull off a first-round upset. Jacksonville has won 6 of their last 7, with Trevor Lawrence having multiple games with 300+ passing yards. The Jaguars defense has been on fire, holding their last 3 opponents to an average of 7.3 points. In my opinion, this should be enough to hold Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams to a minimal number of points, despite their success this season.
My prediction: Jaguars 17-Chargers 14
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (Saturday 1/14 – 3:30 CT)
It’s not often that a brand-new rookie quarterback is so highly favored over a veteran quarterback, but 49ers QB Brock Purdy has led the team to a remarkable end of the season and deserves all the praise he’s getting. The 49ers won the NFC West and the second seed with a record of 13-4.
Brock Purdy didn’t start for the 49ers until week 14 against the Buccaneers, but hasn’t lost a game yet. The rookie “Mr. Irrelevant” stepped up as third-string after multiple QB injuries, and is making the 49ers offense look better than ever. Another thing helping the 49ers offense excel was the trade for Christian McCaffery after week 6. McCaffery has 736 rushing yards since he joined San Francisco.
On top of the rising offense, the 49ers are widely viewed to have the best defense in the NFL. Defensive end Nick Bosa is leading the defense to one of their best seasons and leading the NFL in sacks with 18.5 this season.
On the other side of this game, the Seahawks sit at 9-8, second in the NFC West. After trading Russell Wilson in the offseason, many projected the Seahawks to win very few games and be one of, if not the worst team in the league.
Veteran backup QB Geno Smith stepped up this season, however, and led the Seahawks to the 7th seed. This season, Smith threw for 4,282 yards, which is more than ⅓ of his total passing yards in his 9-year NFL career.
Geno Smith’s career season won’t be enough to take the Seahawks any farther this season. The 49ers combination of stellar offense and defense makes them the NFC team to beat in the playoffs, and the Seahawks will fall in yet another division matchup.
My prediction: 49ers 33-Seahawks 14
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday 1/15 – 3:30 CT)
At 13-4, nobody is quite sure what to think of the Minnesota Vikings this season. The offense has some of the biggest stars in the league, including star wide receiver Justin Jefferson and top-ranked tight end TJ Hockensen, and yet the Vikings have just 2 wins by more than one score.
The Vikings season has been full of painfully close, heart attack inducing games for Minnesota fans, and yet the Vikings are 11-0 in one-score games.
With games like week 14 against the Colts, where the Vikings completed the largest comeback in NFL history, and week 9 against the Bills with one of the most shocking endings to a game ever, it’s hard not to think of Minnesota as a true contender. Minnesota’s losses, however, put doubt in many NFL fans. With only 4 losses, the Vikings will finish the season with a point differential of -4.
The Giants are the third team from the NFC East to make the playoffs, sitting with a record of 9-7-1. First-year head coach Brian Daboll has led this New York team to a season beyond expectations, and Giants fans are more than satisfied with the season they’ve had thus far.
Minnesota and New York competed on Christmas eve at US Bank Stadium, and Minnesota pulled off a 27-24 win with a game-winning 61-yard field goal.
I believe the Vikings will come out of this game with a victory, as Minnesota has more playoff experience, veteran experience, and a record that shows they know how to win, no matter how close the games may be.
My prediction: Vikings 24-Giants 22
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Monday 1/16 – 7:15 CT)
The Dallas Cowboys have the 4th best record in the NFC, and yet they find themselves in a wildcard position as the 5th seed, while the Buccaneers have the 9th-best record in the NFC, and have home-field advantage as the 4th seed.
Tom Brady in the playoffs is not an unfamiliar sight, but Tom Brady leading a team to an 8-9 record definitely is. Brady has a stellar 22-year NFL career with 7 Super Bowl victories and 3 MVP awards. This, combined with the Cowboys performance in week 18, is a slight glimpse of hope for Bucs fans when it comes to advancing past this round.
Tampa Bay’s 8-9 record does not bode well for them in the playoffs, however, the Cowboys have shown signs of weakness as the season comes to an end. Losing to the commanders 26-6 in week 18 what not a positive sign for Dallas fans entering the postseason, and Dak Prescot has struggled. In week 18, Prescot completed 14/37 for a 37% completion rate.
I have struggled to pick a winner of this game more than any other, despite the vast difference in records this season. Because of the Cowboys’ performances against the Commanders in week 18, I do not have faith that Dallas will be able to turn things around, and Tampa Bay will win in a major upset.
My prediction: Buccaneers 31-Cowboys 26