Last year during my playoff preview, I successfully predicted eight of the final 14 playoff teams. This season, I took a step back. Since I predicted seven of 14 (50%) playoff teams this year, my prognostication skills continue to be slightly better than a coin flip (If there were 16 playoff teams, than it would be just as accurate as “heads” or “tails”.) I was able to nail all six winners during Super Wild Card Weekend last year but missed on all the teams playing in the Conference Championship except for one (LA Rams). The LA Rams ended up winning Super Bowl LVI (My prediction was the Green Bay Packers) and sent me into a temporary state of delirium as I came around to enjoying the 2nd Super Bowl championship of my lifetime, the first in Los Angeles. With the LA Rams collapsing due to injury and becoming the inheritor of the worst NFL defending champion of all-time record (5-12), the playoff field changed significantly this year. There were a large number of surprises (the rise of the Eagles and the NFC East, the combined AFC and NFC South divisions only having one team with a winning record (Jacksonville 9-8), and the collapse of the Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Green Bay Packers) and a few events that went according to plan (Buffalo and Miami’s records were exactly as predicted, San Francisco dominated the west, and the AFC West has two Super Bowl contenders). Now that the playoffs are here, I am giving you my uninformed picks on who will hold the Lombardi Trophy in February. In 2023, I am going with the teams that have the hot hand. And please, don’t bet on anything that I say.
AFC Wild Card Games
#2 Buffalo over #7 Miami
This game is not as clear cut of a victory for the Bills as many would perceive. With Tua Tagovailoa starting at QB, the Dolphins defeated the Bills and lost by 3 points in their other matchup. Plus, divisional games are always unpredictable. If Tua plays, expect the Dolphins to hang in there. If not, the Bills win going away.
#3 Cincinnati over #6 Baltimore
Cincinnati is red hot. Since losing and falling to 4-4, they have won 8 consecutive games. Baltimore’s defense has been the primary reason for their playoff appearance as they have had to win close games due to injuries to their star quarterback Lamar Jackson. With Jackson’s status unknown, the defense is going to be the primary reason that the Ravens advance. But since Cincinnati is playing well, I don’t think the Ravens can win this game unless Lamar Jackson goes “Super Saiyan.” This isn’t going to happen.
#4 Jacksonville over #5 LA Chargers
The Jaguars have won five straight to become the only team from either Southern division to post a winning record. This division title allows them to host the Chargers, a team that went 10-7 and lost to the Jaguars 38-10 earlier in the season. The betting money will likely lean heavily towards the Chargers due to their talent. But it feels like Jacksonville has turned the corner as a franchise as Trevor Lawrence has become a respectable quarterback and the defense continues to get better. I expect a close game that the Jaguars will win at the end.
AFC Divisional Round
#1 Kansas City over #4 Jacksonville
This game feels like a potential upset. I will even say that the Jaguars could very well jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first half. But as he has done in multiple postseasons since 2018, Patrick Mahomes will figure out the Jaguars and win this game going away in the second half.
#3 Cincinnati over #2 Buffalo
This was the game that was canceled during the regular season due to Damar Hamlin’s tragic heart attack. Cincinnati had a 7-3 lead and was at midfield driving when the game was halted. Before the season, I would have said that Buffalo had the superior talent and would win this game easily. Now, I am reversing my prediction. Cincinnati will go into frigid Buffalo and pull off the upset of the postseason. Cincinnati felt jilted for how the NFL handled the postseason after the earlier game cancellation (Think about this. If Cincinnati had beaten Buffalo, they would have gotten the #2 seed over Buffalo). So this game will provide the revenge they have been seeking.
#3 Cincinnati over #1 Kansas City
In a repeat of the 2021 Season AFC Championship game which Cincinnati came back from a 21-3 deficit just before halftime to score 4 times and 21 points to take a 24-21 lead late. Kansas City tied the game to send it to OT where Mahomes threw an interception and Cincinnati drove 42 yards to win the game on a field goal. Expect another close game. But this time, Joe Burrow (Reinforcing his Joe Cool label) will outduel Mahomes and win this game late. This will give Cincinnati its 2nd consecutive AFC Championship and another appearance in the Super Bowl
Now, lets move to the NFC.
NFC Wild Card Games
#2 San Francisco over #7 Seattle
Seattle maybe the worst wild card team to make the playoffs in awhile (Comparable to the 8-8 Chicago Bears in 2020). The 49ers beat the Seahawks 48-20 in an easy season sweep in 2022. This game will likely be much worse. Of all the wild card games, this one could very well be over by halftime. 49ers roll.
#3 Minnesota over #6 NY Giants
If there is one upset to pick, this is the game. The Vikings beat the Giants earlier in the season on a 60+ yard field goal as time expired. Expect another close game. The Vikings are 11-0 in close games this year. They won 12 games total. So winning a close game has been in their nature all year. I expect the Giants to actually control this game. But I feel the Vikings good fortune (Clutch passes from Cousins, Justin Jefferson doing something amazing, a key turnover) will pull them through in the end. The Vikings’ season will continue for at least one more week.
#5 Dallas over #4 Tampa Bay
Dak Prescott has not been great this year. But the Dallas defense and the running game has been excellent. Tampa Bay is in decline and due to a couple of miracle comeback wins against Carolina, the LA Rams, and New Orleans, the Buccaneers are stumbling into the playoffs with a pathetic 8-9 record as NFC South champions. The Cowboys are the much better team. Even if they make a few mistakes, they should still win this game by multiple scores. Tom Brady’s season will end during wild card weekend this year.
NFC Divisional Round
#5 Dallas over #1 Philadelphia
The Eagles have been the best team in the NFC all year. But for some reason, due to Jalen Hurts injury and a defense that has not been as effective at the end of the season, the Eagles look vulnerable. This week, the Cowboys will put it together and shock the Eagles and eliminate them from the playoffs. Dak will play his best playoff game to date and the duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will control the clock and the defense will do just enough to win this game.
#2 San Francisco over #3 Minnesota
Like the Seahawks game the week earlier, the 49ers should roll easily in this one. Minnesota’s losses have all been ugly this year. It will not surprise me if San Francisco leads by 4 scores at halftime and easily moves into the NFC title game.
#2 San Francisco over #5 Dallas
After playing well the previous two weeks, Dak Prescott will start having some of the problems he had during the regular season. This game could also spiral out of control badly very early. Whatever the case, the red-hot 49ers will roll into the Super Bowl hardly having been challenged during this postseason run.
Super Bowl LVII
Cincinnati Bengals wins their first Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers. They will become the 21st team (Out of 32) to win a Super Bowl championship. This game will probably be a tight defensive battle, but two things stand out to me. First, I believe Joe Burrow will figure out the 49ers defense in the 2nd half. Second, the 49ers were not really tested in tight games during the postseason. They are also starting a rookie QB Brock Purdy due to injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garappolo during the regular season. The pressure will finally get to the kid as he delivers a bad pass into the hands of a Cincinnati defensive back during the last drive of the game which is runback for a touchdown in a 27-17 victory. This will also be revenge for Cincinnati’s two previous Super Bowl losses to the 49ers (Super Bowl XVI when San Francisco beat Cincinnati 26-21 and Super Bowl XXIII when “THE DRIVE” led to a 20-16 San Francisco win on a Joe Montana pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left).
Enjoy the postseason! Feel free to criticize me at will as my predictions begin to fall apart during Wild Card weekend!
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