The NFL’s Wild Card Weekend commences Saturday afternoon with the Seattle Seahawks facing the San Francisco 49ers on the road and concludes on Monday night with the Dallas Cowboys playing a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Each of the six first-round games is a rematch from the regular season. In the case of division rivals Seattle-San Francisco, Miami Dolphins-Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals, it marks their third meeting of the campaign.
Here, we make our 2023 NFL Playoff predictions, forecasting how the bracket will play out through the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz., home of the Cardinals.
San Francisco and Kansas City are favored to reach the title gamem according to odds at DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and PointsBet. For most of the season, Philadelphia and Buffalo topped the odds boards.
“It’s because the Chiefs got an advantage with a bye and San Francisco has been surging,” Johnny Avello, Director of Race and Sportsbook Operations for DraftKings, said of the move on his board. “Philadelphia was (surging) early, but it’s not playing its best football right now.”
2023 NFL Playoff Bracket Predictions
Predicting the NFC Wild Card Round
No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
The Philadelphia Eagles have a bye.
No. 7 Seattle Seahawks (9-8) at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
The 49ers, the hottest team in the league with 10 straight victories, shouldn’t have too much difficulty vanquishing their West Division rival — a team that squeaked into the postseason last Sunday with an overtime win over the downtrodden Rams and also thanks to the Green Bay Packers’s loss to the Detroit Lions that night.
The 49ers have flourished since rookie QB Brock Purdy took over for injured Jimmy Garropolo in Week 13. He has 13 TD throws and only three interceptions. If he had enough qualifying passes, he’d be the league’s top-rated quarterback (107.3).
It helps immensely that RB Elijah Mitchell and WR Deebo Samuel have recovered from injury. Thus, they are a heavy favorite here after going off as a 3.5-point pick in Seattle four weeks ago.
“They are a much better team than they had been (after a 3-4 start), and the Seahawks don’t seem as good as they were,” Avello said.
Seattle QB Geno Smith is the league’s fifth-rated qualifying passer but had two of his most inefficient games in losses to the 49ers earlier this year. On 20 drives against San Francisco’s No. 1-ranked defense, the Seahawks scored one TD. In all other games, the offense totaled 41 touchdowns.
The 49ers will move on, but they should beware: The last time a team faced a division rival after sweeping it in the regular season was last year’s 49ers when they traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the conference title game. Los Angeles won 20-17, erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in the process.
Another thing: Rain is expected throughout the game.
No. 6 New York Giants (9-7-1) at No. 3 Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
The Minnesota Vikings have one of the most productive offenses in the league (fifth overall), with WR Justin Jefferson leading the way with league-highs of 128 receptions and 1,809 yards while teaming with QB Kirk Cousins.
On the ground, there’s RB Dalvin Cook with 1,173 yards, who ranks sixth.
Minnesota should have more than enough firepower against a New York Giants team that feasted on squads with double-digit losses this season, going 6-0-1, but only 2-6 against squads that qualified for the playoffs, including a 27-24 loss in Minnesota two weeks ago.
The Vikings do have the league’s 31st-ranked defense, but such a ranking didn’t stop Kansas City from reaching the AFC title game four years ago or the 2011 New England Patriots from getting to the Super Bowl.
No. 5 Dallas Cowboys (12-5) at No. 4 Tampa Bay Bucs (8-9)
These teams met in Week 1 with the Bucs thumping the Cowboys 19-3 in the JerryDome and with Dallas QB Dak Prescott suffering a right (passing) thumb injury that required surgery.
Even before getting hurt, Prescott had his worst game of the season… until last week, that is, when the Cowboys were ambushed at Washington, 26-6. He went 14-for-37 and threw his third pick-six in the past four weeks.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is the fourth team in league history to win a division with a losing record. Two of the previous three then won their playoff opener, including Seattle’s stunning 41-36 win over New Orleans in the 2010 season as a 10-point underdog.
If standout DT Vita Vea (calf) is able to play, all the better for the underdog Bucs who should have enough to slow the Cowboys’ ground game and send Dallas to its ninth-straight road playoff defeat since 1994.
It sure was encouraging for TB fans to see Brady and WR Mike Evans team for three TDs two weeks ago after going three months without a score.
Even if Dallas happens to win here, it would still face an uphill battle this postseason. This is their third-straight game on the road, almost surely be on the road again next week and will indeed be playing on short rest, and probably against the league’s top seed coming off a bye.
Predicting the AFC Wild Card Round
No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
The Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) have a bye.
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) at No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)
The Los Angeles Chargers are a small favorite on the road against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that pummeled them 38-10 in LA in Week 3.
The Jaguars, who lost six of their first eight games and saw their Super Bowl odds lengthen to +500 at one stage, closed with five straight wins to earn their first AFC South title since 2017. Also having extra-long odds during various stages of the season were Seattle (+55000) and the Giants (+20000).
“We took substantial action on all of them at those prices — nothing big — but in $10, $20, and $50 increments,” Avello said.
The running game is a concern for Jacksonville which got only 19 yards on 14 carries last Sunday in its division-clinching win over the Tennessee Titans. That’s the fewest yards for any winning team in the past five years. The Jags also won earlier this season with a 38-yard ground total. No other team had even one win with less than 40 rushing yards this season.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are much improved since the Jaguars administered that beatdown in September. Much has to do with QB Justin Herbert getting back to full strength after suffering a rib cartilage fracture the week before taking on Jacksonville.
LA is concerned about injuries to WR Mike Williams and Joey Bosa, but the Chargers played most of the year without them anyway.
Of course, there’s also concern about the Chargers traveling coast-to-coast on short rest to face a team that’s on normal rest. But that’s exactly what the Rams did last year for the divisional round before beating Tampa Bay, 30-27, as a 2.5-point underdog.
Not to mention that the Chargers have gone 6-1 straight up (SU)/against the spread (ATS) on cross-country trips in the past two seasons.
No. 7 Miami Dolphins (9-8) at No. 2 Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Buffalo is a heavy favorite over a banged-up Miami team that will be without star QB Tua Tagovailoa (concussion protocol).
He currently hasn’t been cleared for football activity, which means backup Teddy Bridgewater (who dislocated the pinkie on his passing hand two weeks ago) or third-teamer Skylar Thompson will start. Thompson led the Dolphins’ playoff-clinching victory against the Jets last week, but Miami did not score a touchdown. That win ended a five-game losing streak.
There’s more: Star WRs Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill were seen limping off the field last week with ankle issues. Standout RB Raheem Mostert suffered a fractured thumb last week and is doubtful for this game. Good grief!
Although Buffalo did lose to Miami early in the season, the Bills dominated play by outgaining the Dolphins by 285 yards and running an outlandish 51 more plays.
Buffalo should move on with relative ease, especially if Tagovailoa is out.
Oh, and the forecast calls for 28 degrees at kickoff.
No. 6 Baltimore Ravens (10-7) at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
The Bengals are coming off a 27-16 home victory over the Ravens last week that enabled them to play host to this game instead of having to deal with a coin flip to decide the venue.
The Ravens’ hopes center on the availability of injured QB Lamar Jackson, who injured a knee in Week 12 against Denver and hasn’t practiced since. Over the past two seasons, Baltimore is 15-7 when he starts a game and is able to finish, but 4-8 in others.
The Ravens’ initial injury report is scheduled to come out on Wednesday. Last week, they inserted third-team QB Anthony Brown into the lineup because second-teamer Tyler Huntley also was hurting.
“Jackson’s probably going to be a game-time decision,” Avello said. “But we expect him to play. And if does start, we’ll lower the line.”
Even in the game Jackson played Cincinnati earlier this season, Baltimore had only a 19-17 victory, the second-fewest points the Ravens scored in his 11 complete outings.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won eight in a row behind QB Joe Burrow but has a major concern with the hip pointer suffered by 1,000-yard receiver Tee Higgins last week. His status is unclear.
In our NFL Playoff predictions 2022, the Bengals move on.
NFC Divisional Round Predictions
No. 4 Tampa Bay Bucs at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles, who rank third on offense (yards gained) and second on defense this season, weren’t the same dynamic team down the stretch — even before star QB Jalen Hurts sprained his right (throwing) shoulder.
He’ll no doubt start this game, but it’s whether he’ll be 100% healthy after two weeks of rest. Also, will he be asked to handle his normal heavy diet of scripted runs?
Over its final four games, Philadelphia had a minus-6 turnover margin after going plus-14 in the first 13 games. Included was a two-INT game by Hurts in Week 15 against Chicago’s 29th-ranked defense, the game before he got injured.
The Eagles also will be counting on the return of ORT Lane Johnson, who suffered an abdominal injury in Week 16 and missed the final two games.
If the Bucs weren’t operating on a short week, they probably would have the veteran savvy and playoff experience to prevail. But the last time they had only five days off between games, they suffered their worst loss of the year (35-7 at San Francisco).
Maybe that was just a coincidence against a strong team. Or maybe not.
The well-rest Eagles move on as Philly fans boo Brady goodbye.
No. 3 Minnesota Vikings at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
If Purdy can keep up his strong play with the playoff spotlight on him, the Vikings should be handing in their gear after this meeting.
Cousins, in particular, could be in trouble going against a 49ers defense that’s tied for the league lead with 20 INTs this season. Cousins has thrown 14, which is tied for third-most in the league.
The 49ers should have an edge in coaching with veteran sideline boss Kyle Shanahan (who has coached in the Super Bowl) going against Kevin O’Connell (who was an assistant for the Super Bowl Rams last season but is in his rookie year as the main man).
Standout Vikings WR Justin Jefferson will get his yards, but much of it could be in garbage time.
In our 2022 NFL Playoff bracket predictions, the 49ers move on.
AFC Divisional Round Predictions
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs
On the surface, it would appear to be a mismatch, but Herbert and the Chargers have played the Chiefs extremely close the past two seasons. Both losses in 2022 were by three points.
A key for the Chargers will be if LB Joey Bosa (groin) is able to play. Ditto for WR Williams.
As good as KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes is, he and the Chiefs have had some close calls this season and even were losers at Indianapolis.
Andy Reid has a standout record after a bye week, but it didn’t appear to help his squad earlier this year when KC needed overtime to take a 20-17 win as a 14-point favorite over a Tennessee team using rookie QB Malik Willis as an emergency starter.
In our NFL Playoff predictions 2022, the Chargers move on and Mahomes can rest up for Pro Bowl festivities.
No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 2 Buffalo Bills
In their aborted game two weeks ago, the Bengals marched down the field with ease on the game’s first possession against a Bills defense that has had issues in the secondary, even with star Tre’Davious White having returned from injury.
Somewhat surprisingly, Cincinnati has the league’s top defensive passer rating. One of these days, all those interceptions in enemy territory by Buffalo QB Josh Allen will prove extra costly.
If the Bengals do win here and face the Chargers, all that chatter about games being played on a neutral field won’t mean a thing.
2023 NFC Championship Prediction: 49ers at Eagles
The Eagles pass defense has been heralded most of the season but not of late.
That unit will be hard-pressed to track down 49ers stars Samuel, TE George Kittle, and RB Christian McCaffrey. If Philly does get a handle on SF’s air game, then it probably will be hurting trying to stop the running of Elijah Mitchell and Co.
For San Francisco, its experience of getting this far in last year’s postseason pays off.
A key will be for QB Purdy to get rid of the ball quickly and not let the Eagles’ league-leading pass rush drag him down.
In our 2022 NFL Playoff bracket predictions, the 49ers move on.
2023 AFC Championship Prediction: Chargers at Bengals
No more going out on a limb with the Chargers, especially when facing a Bengals team that’s on the path to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
The wear and tear of four straight weeks on the road, including this flight across three time zones, will be costly for the Chargers with regard to rest and prep time.
RB Joe Mixon could be the Bengals’ meal ticket here against a defense that’s giving up 5.4 yards a carry, which is the worst in the league.
If by chance Bosa isn’t playing, that’s more time for Burrow to get comfortable in the pocket.
In our NFL Playoff predictions 2022, the Bengals move on.
Super Bowl 57 Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. San Francisco 49ers
This would be the third meeting between the squads in the Super Bowl, with Joe Montana and the 49ers beating the Bengals in the 1981 and 1988 postseasons.
This time, the Bengals will win behind Burrow and his stout receiving corp led by Ja’Marr Chase and the running of Mixon.
It will be Cincinnati’s defense — led by linemen Trey Hendrickson, DJ Reader, and Sam Hubbard — that finally causes Purdy to play like a rookie.
After the game, get ready for non-stop Who Dey chants.
In our 2022 NFL Playoff bracket predictions, congrats in advance to all of you folks who had faith in the Bengals after their 0-2 start to the season and bet on them at +3500 to win the title.
Read more: Super Bowl 57 MVP odds