NFL Playoff Preview

By Nick Murray

AFC Division Winners

  1. Buffalo Bills – East

The Buffalo Bills currently sit atop the AFC with a record of 10-3, overtaking the Kansas City Chiefs in week 12 with a win over the New England Patriots. Despite struggles on offense with Quarterback Josh Allen tied for the second most interceptions in the NFL, the team still averages the third most points scored per game and fourth fewest points allowed per game. The Bills look to clinch a first round bye and make a deep playoff run as the Vegas favorite to win super bowl 57.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – West

The Kansas City Chiefs are nearly guaranteed to claim the division for the 7th year in a row behind MVP favorite, Quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The team holds a record of 10-3, tied with Bills for most wins in the conference and has the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the league. Barring catastrophic injury to multiple key players, the Chiefs stand unchallenged for a 7th straight divisional title with the Chargers second in the division at 7-6.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – North

The Ravens currently lead the division, tied at 9-4 with the Cincinnati Bengals. However, The Ravens are 3-0 against divisional opponents compared to the Bengals 2-4. Projecting forward, the Ravens have the 8th easiest remaining strength of schedule compared to the Bengals 28th ranked remaining strength of schedule suggesting Cincinnati will struggle to pass the Ravens both in and out of the division. If backup Quarterback Tyler Huntley can step up in Lamar Jackson’s temporary absence the Ravens look to take back the division.

  1. Tennessee Titans – South

Despite ranking twenty-sixth in team points per game, the 7-6 Tennessee Titans are almost guaranteed to win the AFC south for the third year in a row thanks to their putrid divisional opponents. The Titans division rivals, Colts, Texans, and Jaguars have a combined record of 9-29-2 through week 12. Despite being a near playoff lock, the team will likely flop as head coach Mike Vrable discovers for the third year in a row that Derrick Henry is not capable of single handedly defeating teams in January.

AFC Wildcard

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – North

The AFC North poses a challenge to project as the division remains strongly contested between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, tied at 9-4. While the Bengals have a strong argument for divisional champs, not the least of which being their recent victory over the 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs and 2022 Super Bowl run. However, the Bengals difficult remaining schedule and pathetic 2-4 divisional record will make it difficult to surpass Baltimore.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers – West

The Chargers jumped into a wildcard spot with a key victory over the Miami Dolphins paired with a Jets loss in week 13. The Chargers trail the Dolphins by one win entering week 14 but have the second easiest remaining strength of schedule and finally have a semi-healthy roster with the return of Wide Receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen and All-Pro Center Corey Linsley. Thus far in his career, Herbert has achieved everything the Chargers could ask of him: winning rookie of the year and shattering rookie and sophomore records. After being denied a playoff berth last year in a bizarre overtime field goal loss to the Raiders, Justin Herbert should be playing the best football of his career to finally prove his worth in the playoffs.

  1. Miami Dolphins – East

Under new head coach Mike McDaniel, the Miami Dolphins rapidly became a contender to win the AFC East, at one point passing the Bills in seeding. In games with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins are 8-2. On the other hand, the team has the ninth hardest remaining schedule. Miami remains to play the Jets and Bills who are both well equipped to handle the wide receiver tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. One key piece to securing a wildcard spot: defeating the New England Patriots. The Patriots are knocking on the door for an AFC wildcard spot with a record of 6-6 just 2 wins trailing the 8-5 dolphins. The Dolphins will have already determined the result of their week 14 matchup before the release of Issue 5 but play the New England Patriots week 17, the day this issue is released, posing potentially massive implications for AFC Wildcard seeding.

NFC Division Winners

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – East 

The Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 11-1 thanks to both an elite defense and incredibly efficient offense. The defense has allowed the second fewest yards per game and the seventh fewest points per game. Under Head Coach Nick Sirianni, the Eagles are tied for second most rushing yards per game resulting from the combined efforts of an elite offensive line, running back Miles Sanders, and mobile threat Quarterback Jalen Hurts. The perpetual rushing threat is also allowing Hurts to have the fourth highest completion percentage and lead the league in passer rating. As a result, the Eagles have the third highest scoring drive percentage behind only the Bills and the division rival Cowboys. The primary concern with the Eagles is their ability to compete with the highest tier of teams such as the Bills and Chiefs who could pose a threat to the rushing based Eagles if they fall behind early.

  1. San Francisco 49ers – West

The 49ers enter week 14 on a six game win streak, now led by undrafted rookie quarterback, Brock Purdy. San Francisco finds themselves on their third quarterback of the season after losing Trey Lance to a broken ankle a week 2 loss to the Bears and Jimmy Goroppolo to an ankle sprain mid way through their week 12 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs but are somewhat unpredictable in terms of playoff performance. Purdy was drafted with the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft: this year’s Mr. Irrelevant. He is the first Mr. Irrelevant to throw a forward pass in NFL history and has been more than sufficient in Goroppolo’s absence. However, Purdy has barely any starting experience, much less playoff experience. While the 49ers are not reliant on a quarterback for success considering their elite defense and offensive weapons, much remains to be seen whether the 49ers can find playoff success with a third string quarterback and the loss of wide receiver one Deebo Samuel.

  1. Minnesota Vikings – North

The Minnesota Vikings are an unusual team. Despite holding the second best record in the NFC at 10-3, the team also has a -1 point differential on the season. The team has the third-second ranked defense in yards per game and twenty-fourth ranked in points per game. The offense is seventeenths in yards per game and tenth in points per game. Of their 10 wins, 9 are by a single score or less. The Vikings can be expected to win in the wildcard round as current seeding projects them to face the Washington Commanders who they already defeated in another single score victory earlier this season. However, when facing teams currently in the playoffs, the Vikings are 2-4 suggesting they are unlikely to make it any further than the divisional round.\

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – South

The NFC South sits wide open while this article is being written. The Buccaneers currently hold the division with a record of 6-7 while the Panthers and Falcons trail close behind at 5-9 each. Considering Tom Brady has only missed the playoffs once in his career, and the Buccaneers possess a far more talented roster than any division rivals, expect to see a wildcard game held in Tampa Bay in January. The Buccaneers have struggled to find success as the defense has failed to perform as the same top 3 defense of the past 3 years and the offense ranks eighteenth in yards per game and twenty-eighth in points per game. While logic suggests little should be expected of the Buccaneers in the playoffs, Tom Brady will be a Super Bowl contender until retirement.

NFC Wildcard

  1. Dallas Cowboys – East

The Cowboys are tied for the second best record in the NFC at 10-3 but find themselves in a wildcard spot as the division rival Eagles have the best record in the NFL and should be expected to claim the first seed. The Cowboys seemingly have the whole package with averaging the third most points per game and allowing the third fewest points per game in the league. However, the Cowboys had the same elite defense last year and were defeated in the Wildcard round. If the seeding remains the same and Dallas finds themselves playing at home against the declining Tampa Bay Buccaneers, its difficult to project a winner between the narratives of the much stronger Cowboys always choking against the significantly worse Buccaneers who are led by Tom Brady.

  1. Washington Commanders – East

The Commanders are the third NFC East team projected to make the playoffs. Currently sitting at 7-6 through week 13, it is entirely plausible the team experiences a fall off and is out of playoffs by the time this article is published. Currently, they are holding the Seattle Seahawks at bay, who hold the same number of wins but a singular extra loss. Washington has the third hardest remaining schedule and will have played a key game against the divisional opponent and wildcard competitor, New York Giants in week 14. The Giants and the Commanders are tied in record at 7-5-1 which would give a massive lead to the team that wins their week 14 matchup. If they maintain their current record, Washington looks to play the Vikings in the wildcard round who defeated them 20-17 in week 8. However, almost every single Vikings win has come by a score or less suggesting Washington has a solid chance to upset the second seed.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – West

The Seahawks have wildly surpassed expectations in a season where some analysts predicted they would not win a single game. The Seahawks led by projected Comeback Player of the Year, Geno Smith, hold a record of 7-6, one win outside of a wildcard spot currently. With the battle of the NFC wildcard between the Commanders and Giants in week 14, expect to see the Seahawks leapfrog the loser into a wildcard spot. The Seahawks have largely been propped up by their offense which has scored the sixth most points per game in the league while the defense has allowed third most points per game. With the seventh hardest remaining schedule, the wildcard is a toss up between the Commanders, Giants and Seahawks but Geno Smith may just be the deciding factor once again giving the Seahawks the winning advantage.