NFL Playoffs Wild Card Weekend Matchups Breakdown and Early Predictions

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonContributor IJanuary 9, 2023

NFL Playoffs Wild Card Weekend Matchups Breakdown and Early Predictions

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    Josh Allen
    Josh AllenAP Photo/Adrian Kraus

    On Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks locked in the final playoff spot (via a Green Bay Packers loss) to cement the 2023 NFL postseason picture for Wild Card Weekend, though we saw some action with seeding on the line earlier in the day.

    In the first wave of games, the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers had a shot to claim the No. 7 seed in the AFC. With a Patriots loss, the Dolphins stood first in line to punch their ticket to the playoffs, which left the Steelers on the outside despite their 28-14 win over the Cleveland Browns.

    With all the matchups set, we'll break down the six wild-card games and predict which teams will move on to the divisional round. First, stay up to date and check out the playoff bracket below.

Playoff Picture Through 18 Weeks

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    Patrick Mahomes
    Patrick MahomesAP Photo/Ed Zurga

    AFC

    No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

    No. 2 Buffalo Bills (13-3)

    No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

    No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)

    No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)

    No. 6 Baltimore Ravens (10-7)

    No. 7 Miami Dolphins (9-8)


    NFC

    No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

    No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

    No. 3 Minnesota Vikings (13-4)

    No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)

    No. 5 Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

    No. 6 New York Giants (9-7-1)

    No. 7 Seattle Seahawks (9-8)

AFC: No. 2 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 7 Miami Dolphins

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    Josh Allen
    Josh AllenAP Photo/Joshua Bessex

    The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins will square off for the third time in the 2022 campaign. They'll break their 1-1 season series tie in a playoff setting.

    The Bills have the clear edge in this matchup if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa doesn't pass concussion protocol. He's missed the last two games. In his place, the Dolphins can roll out rookie seventh-rounder Skylar Thompson, who led them in an 11-6 victory over the New York Jets to clinch a playoff berth, or Teddy Bridgewater, who missed Sunday's contest because of a dislocated right pinky finger.

    The Dolphins' unsettled quarterback situation isn't an ingredient for a recipe that results in an upsetโ€”not against an opponent who will bring a little extra to the field going forward.

    According to quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills played with their emotions still attached to Damar Hamlin, who's recovering from cardiac arrest. With Hamlin able to communicate with teammates and tweet throughout Sunday's game, Buffalo will play inspired football through the postseason, and no one should underestimate that motivational factor.

    Furthermore, the Bills scored 35 points against the New England Patriots' fifth-ranked scoring defense to clinch the No. 2 spot in the AFC. In that game, Nyheim Hines emerged as a special teams playmaker, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. Allen threw for three touchdowns, and Buffalo's defense registered three takeaways.

    If the Bills avoid turnovers, they'll bring too much for the Dolphins to handle in this wild-card battle.

    Prediction: Bills 31, Dolphins 20

AFC: No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 6 Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Burrow
    Joe BurrowAP Photo/Jeff Dean

    On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 27-16, so the league doesn't need a coin flip to determine home-field advantage as proposed for playoff scenarios following the cancellation of the Bengals-Buffalo Bills game.

    The Bengals looked sharp following last Monday's scary turn of events, with Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffering cardiac arrest on their field. Fortunately, his condition has improved, and he's able to function without a breathing tube.

    Even though the Bengals took advantage of a matchup with Ravens' third-string quarterback Anthony Brown, intercepting two of his passes, Cincinnati has gone on a hot streak over the past two months, winning eight consecutive outings, excluding last week's no-contest with the Bills.

    Meanwhile, the Ravens don't know if quarterback Lamar Jackson will suit up for this matchup, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Without him, Baltimore would likely turn to Brown in the event that Tyler Huntley misses back-to-back weeks with shoulder and wrist injuries.

    Jackson missed the last five games of the regular season because of a sprained PCL. In that stretch, the Ravens didn't score more than 17 points in a single game. Even if he's back under center, the dynamic signal-caller may not be close to 100 percent.

    The Bengals advance over the Ravens, who desperately need Jackson healthy just to compete with their red-hot division rival.

    Prediction: Bengals 24, Ravens 14

AFC: No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers

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    Justin Herbert
    Justin HerbertSean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    While many of us will pay attention to the quarterback matchup between Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert in this wild-card contest, the Jacksonville Jaguars have found different ways to beat opponents en route to their first division title since 2017.

    The Jaguars have won six out of their last seven contests. In that stretch, quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a few outings with 300-plus passing yards and three or more touchdown throws, running back Travis Etienne Jr. put together a couple of 100-plus-yard rushing performances, and the defense held the team's last three opponents to an average of 7.3 points.

    Lawrence must play at a higher level against the Los Angeles Chargers' sixth-ranked pass defense. He's thrown for just one touchdown and an interception with one rushing score over the past three weeks.

    If Lawrence struggles, the Jaguars will probably rely on Etienne on the ground against Los Angeles' 27th-ranked run defense, which gives up the most yards per carry (5.4). Perhaps Joey Bosa's return (if healthy) shores up the Chargers' front line to make it difficult for the Jaguars to run on early downs.

    Los Angeles' fifth-ranked aerial attack should have some success against Jacksonville's 27th-ranked pass defense. So, Herbert will likely have a more productive outing than Lawrence, which may be the difference in this game. On Sunday, Chargers wideout Mike Williams suffered back spasms, but he's expected to be available for this game, per ESPN's Lindsey Thiry.

    In the battle of ascending quarterbacks, Herbert lifts his team to a road victory. The Chargers avenge a 38-10 Week 3 home loss to the Jaguars.

    Prediction: Chargers 24, Jaguars 23

NFC: No. 2 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 7 Seattle Seahawks

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    Christian McCaffrey
    Christian McCaffreyAP Photo/Godofredo A. Vรกsquez

    The Seattle Seahawks can thank the Detroit Lions for knocking the Green Bay Packers out of the playoff picture, which opened up the No. 7 spot in the NFC.

    The San Francisco 49ers will host the Seahawks, whom they beat twice this season. These teams have trended in opposite directions over the past couple of months.

    The 49ers have the league's longest current win streak at 10 games. On the flip side, the Seahawks have gone 3-5 since Week 10, but they won their last two contests to gain some momentum.

    Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith has put together a season that's worth Comeback Player of the Year consideration, but he's struggled against the 49ers defense this season, throwing for just one touchdown and an interception in two games. Don't expect him to turn the tide against the league's stingiest unit in points allowed.

    Seattle deserves some respect in a division battle between familiar opponents, but its 30th-ranked run defense won't stop San Francisco's ninth-ranked ground attack, which features star running back Christian McCaffrey.

    By the way, 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has played well, throwing for at least two touchdowns in six consecutive games. Through the air, he'll complement San Francisco's effective run game.

    Prediction: 49ers 33, Seahawks 20

NFC: No. 3 Minnesota Vikings vs. No. 6 New York Giants

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    Daniel Jones (left) and Saquon Barkley (right)
    Daniel Jones (left) and Saquon Barkley (right)Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    Despite a sparkling 13-4 record and an NFC North title, the Minnesota Vikings look shaky going into the playoffs. Last week, they went down in NFL history as the first 12-win team with a negative point differential, per Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders.

    For starters, the Vikings don't blow out opponents in victory. Before Week 18, they hadn't won by more than eight points since their Week 1 triumph over the Green Bay Packers.

    Secondly, the Vikings hit rock bottom when they don't play well. Minnesota has lost all four of its games by at least 11 points, which includes two defeats by 24-plus points over the past couple of months.

    Can we trust quarterback Kirk Cousins in a big game with question marks at two positions across his offensive line? Minnesota placed right tackle Brian O'Neil and interior offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann on injured reserve. Center Garrett Bradbury (back) hasn't played since Week 13.

    Because of issues in the trenches, running back Dalvin Cook may not be effective against the New York Giants' 28th-ranked run defense. The Vikings may have to rely heavily on their defense, which doesn't bode well for them with the league's 31st-ranked scoring unit.

    According to The Athletic's Dan Duggan, the Giants have trusted quarterback Daniel Jones in a "more conventional passing offense rather than relying so heavily on bootlegs."

    Jones has completed at least 71 percent of his passes in his last two starts. On top of that, running back Saquon Barkley can run wild on a run defense that's allowed an average of 138.7 yards over the last six weeks.

    Big Blue avenges its Week 16 loss to the Vikings in an upset.

    Prediction: Giants 28, Vikings 24

NFC: No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. No. 5 Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Pollard (left) and Ezekiel Elliott (right)
    Tony Pollard (left) and Ezekiel Elliott (right)Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown an alarming number of interceptions since Thanksgiving, turning the ball over 11 times through the air over the past seven weeks. Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers field a bottom-third scoring offense, Dallas cannot afford to give them more opportunities to put points on the board with Tom Brady under center.

    Brady's passing yards and touchdown totals have dipped from his previous two years in Tampa Bay. Yet going into Week 18, he still ranked second across the league in yards (4,610) with five game-winning drives, which is tied for second in the NFL.

    In Week 17, against the Carolina Panthers to clinch the NFC South title, Brady clicked with his top wideouts, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who racked up 120-plus receiving yards apiece. The former caught three touchdown passes. With that performance, the seven-time Super Bowl champion showed why you cannot count him out in a high-stakes matchup.

    All things considered, the Buccaneers will face a much tougher opponent that can rack up points in flurries. Going into Week 18, Dallas fielded the No. 2 scoring offense. To limit Prescott's mistakes, the Cowboys can run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard against the Buccaneers' middling run defense, which ranked 15th in yards and 17th in yards per carry allowed before Sunday's games.

    The Cowboys will take the ball out of Prescott's hands and trust their ground attack to lead them to victory.

    Prediction: Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 21


    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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