NFL WILD CARD PREDICTIONS

2023-01-11 · 7 min read · NFL/Football
Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes and Eagles A.J. Brown

Chris Unger/Getty Images | Eric Hartline/USA Today

Playoff time is here at last, as the field of Super Bowl contenders is down to 14, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles waiting in the wings to see who they’ll face next week.
Following a regular season which came down to the wire, it seems as though the race for the Lombardi Trophy is wide open in 2022-23.
Here is a look at each Wild Card matchup this weekend and my predictions.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers overcame some enormous odds offensively this season, losing their top two quarterbacks, but Brock Purdy has turned out pretty well so far as Mr Irrelevant has won his only four starts behind centre.
Kyle Shanahan’s crew have been the stingiest defensive unit this season, allowing the fewest yards per game, but Purdy’s been a big part of their offensive resurgence, throwing for multiple scores in every game that he’s featured, helping San Fran end the campaign with the fifth-most yards per game (365.6).
They look scary good at the moment and seem to have gathered momentum as the season has gone on, leading the league in turnover differential (+13), while Nick Bosa led the NFL in sacks (18.5), and we haven’t even mentioned the fantastic bounce-back campaign of Christian McCaffrey as he and George Kittle have found the end zone at least once over the past four games.
In the end, they snuck in through the backdoor, but the Seahawks are in the playoffs nonetheless, thanks to some clutch throws from Geno Smith against the Rams as he set a Seattle record for passing yards in a single season, surpassing his predecessor Russell Wilson.
Pete Carroll and company have been successful on offense when the ground game is working, going 9-3 in 2022-23 when rushing for at least 75 yards in a single match.
Rookie sensation Kenneth Walker is coming into the playoffs red hot, having hit the century mark on the ground in three consecutive outings.
On the other side of the ball, though, they’ve allowed the third-most rushing yards per game (150.2) and have three turnovers in their last three encounters.
  • Prediction- Seattle Seahawks 20-27 San Francisco 49ers
We may see Purdy struggle given the magnitude of this encounter, but he has plenty of dependable offensive weapons that can bail him out, along with a defensive unit that only allowed a 53-yard rushing average in two victories against Seattle over the regular season.
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Chargers didn’t leave it up to chance in 2022-23 and are entering the postseason with four wins in their last five encounters.
Justin Herbert finished the regular season second in the NFL regarding passing yards, throwing for four touchdowns in his last two outings, while veteran receiver Keenan Allen has five or more catches in each of his previous eight games.
What’s perhaps the most incredible part about Brandon Staley’s Chargers is that they made the postseason despite allowing the sixth-most rushing yards per carry (5.42) since the 1933 NFL campaign, though they have created at least one turnover in four consecutive games.
Speaking of things that don’t seem to make sense, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars hosting a playoff game; who’d have thought that after their opening eight games of 2022?
Trevor Lawrence has not looked spectacular over the past two games but has thrown for over 200 yards in four of his last five encounters, while he and his team put up 151 yards rushing in a comfortable 38-10 victory over the Chargers in Week 3.
LA can’t seem to stop the run, but Jacksonville’s defensive frailties are in the secondary, with Doug Pederson’s team allowing the fifth-most passing yards in the NFL this season, so we could see two contrasting offensive approaches on Saturday.
  • Prediction- Los Angeles Chargers 34-37 Jacksonville Jaguars
I went back and forth on this encounter, and honestly this could be a game where whoever fails to score on a possession might lose because they each have their share of deficiencies on the defensive side which I believe will be exposed.
Ultimately, I feel like Brandon Staley’s lack of experience might prove to be the Chargers downfall, while Doug Pederson always seems to have a trick play up his sleeve that throws us all for a loop.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Mike McDaniel got the Dolphins into the playoffs, but boy, have they suffered, putting up just 4.7 yards per play in a snooze fest victory versus the New York Jets.
Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are a formidable two-headed monster in the receiving game and will of course garner plenty of attention.
Still, it’s hard to have much confidence in them offensively given that they’ll either have to go with a banged-up Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, who’s nursing an injured finger or an inexperienced Skylar Thompson, and now Raheem Mostert is doubtful with a broken thumb.
The running game kept things close when they visited Buffalo in mid-December, while they’ve been better against the run lately, conceding under 100 yards in three straight contests.
Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense seem to be back on track with 30+ points in their final three games of the regular season, averaging 397.6 yards per game, the second-most in the NFL.
They’ve managed over 400 yards offensively in two of their previous three affairs, and Buffalo has not allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown since late November.
Buffalo was sixth in yards allowed this season, and the secondary has produced four interceptions in their last two games, three of which came against New England’s Mac Jones in their regular season finale.
  • Prediction- Miami Dolphins 20-34 Buffalo Bills
Miami has not won a game in Buffalo in over a decade, and there’s nothing to suggest they can end that streak on Sunday, given the uncertainty at quarterback and going up against a sentimental favourite in the Bills who are outstanding across the board.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
While the Vikings won 13 games in 2022-23 and captured the NFC North, they still ended the campaign with a negative point differential and had to have their share of miraculous comebacks.
Justin Jefferson might be the hardest receiver to cover in the NFL, as he led the league in receiving yards on a team that ranked fifth regarding passing over the regular season.
Kirk Cousins always seems to throw for big numbers on a team that struggled on the ground in 2022-23, ranked 27th in rushing.
However, their veteran QB has been off and on from one game to the next, tossing three picks against the Green Bay Packers eight days after throwing for three scores in a victory over the New York Giants (27-24).
The Giants are back in the postseason thanks mainly to the play of running back Saquon Barkley, who finished fourth in rushing in 2022-23.
If Jefferson is genuinely unstoppable, then perhaps the only way to slow him down is to prevent the ball from getting to him, and the Giants have been outstanding along the line of scrimmage, producing three or more sacks in five of their last six outings.
They come into this encounter having lost four of their last five road games, while they rank a dismal 26th in the passing game.
  • Prediction- New York Giants 27-30 Minnesota Vikings
I do believe the Giants have a shot at creating an upset in this one, and while the Vikings can be a bit of a roller coaster offensively, there seems to be something magical about Minnesota that propels them to win games they shouldn’t, and I suspect that will be the case this weekend.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
John Harbaugh’s Ravens get a second shot in successive weeks to take down the Bengals after dropping a 27-16 affair against them last Sunday in a game that saw Anthony Brown throw a pair of interceptions.
Lamar Jackson might be back, and it seems they need him in the worst way, as their offense has scored less than 20 points in their last five games.
They have been able to run the ball effectively in his absence, with over 100 yards in five consecutive outings, while they have created a turnover in two of their last three encounters.
The reigning AFC champions come into the playoffs on a roll, looking nearly unstoppable offensively, with Joe Burrow tossing a touchdown pass in every encounter this season.
Cincinnati finished fifth in passing during the regular season thanks to many receiving threats, such as Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, to name a few.
Most of the talk around Cincy centers around Burrow and his receiving corps, though many would be surprised to know that their defense was the seventh-best in the NFL, allowing fewer than 20 points in two of their previous three home games.
  • Prediction- Baltimore Ravens 14- 34 Cincinnati Bengals
Lamar or not, Burrow and that receiving corps make too many big plays, and while I think the Ravens’ defense can contain them for a while, I don’t see Baltimore’s offense being able to give the Bengals’ defensive unit much difficulty.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Dallas Cowboys typically wait until the playoffs before their performances decline, but it seems Mike McCarthy’s team are already there, losing two of their final four games.
Dak Prescott does not look like the QB of old since returning from a thumb injury, throwing 11 interceptions since Week 12, though they’ve posted over 350 yards offensively in nine of their last 10 games.
They ended the regular season with the third-most sacks (54), including three against the Commanders last Sunday, losing 26-6.
A 30-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons means that Tom Brady will have endured the first losing season of his NFL career, though the G.O.A.T. at least didn’t toss a pick in limited action for a second straight contest after tossing multiple interceptions against the 49ers, Bengals and Cardinals respectively.
Brady has had to throw the ball it seems, with every snap, as the Bucs were dead last in the run game this season, while they ended the campaign by allowing 20 or more points in four of their previous five encounters.
Defensively they have at least one sack in their last four games, while they did not allow one against the Falcons last Sunday.
  • Prediction- Dallas Cowboys 17-20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Neither team have been convincing down the stretch, but I give the Bucs a slight edge because the Cowboys have struggled on grass fields, going 1-4 on those surfaces in 2022-23, while Tom Brady is a perfect 7-0 in his career versus Dallas.
Combine that with the number of poor decisions being made by Prescott lately, and it appears that it’ll be another one-and-done postseason for America’s Team.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Joel Lefevre

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