By Sam Morris
Sam Morris is from Madison Heights, Michigan, and is an undergraduate student at BGSU majoring in Sport Management. He has a passion for sports writing and journalism. In his free time, he volunteers in the strategic communications department at BGSU at various sporting events and he also performs, writes, and produces his own raps for the music industry club at BGSU.
January 14th, 2023
As a result of the Damar Hamlin situation that occurred on January 2nd, the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have each played one fewer game than the rest of the teams in the playoffs. Because of this, the NFL decided that if the Bills and Chiefs make the AFC Championship game, the game will be held at the neutral site of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. Even with this scheduling change, the complete playoff field seeding is set with 6 games that are rematches of previous games in the regular season. Below are my predictions for each of the games being played this weekend. Next week, I will be posting a playoff prediction for the divisional round as well as responding to my predictions from this week and breaking down why I might have gotten certain predictions right or wrong.
- 1 seeds, Kansas City Chiefs (AFC)and Philadelphia Eagles (NFC) both have byes in the wild card playoff round
2. San Francisco 49’ers (13-4) VS. 7. Seattle Seahawks (9-8) (Saturday, January 14th, 4:30)
Breakdown: The opening playoff game features two teams that have taken very different routes to get to the playoffs. The 49’ers started the season 3-4, while the Seahawks started 6-3. The 49’ers have since lost starting quarterback Trey Lance to a season-ending injury and Jimmy Garoppolo to an injury that appears to have cost him the season. They have landed on third-string option Brock Purdy and he has performed exceptionally well, going 6-0 as the primary quarterback for the Niners this year. In total, the Niners have won 10 straight games to end their season and are currently the hottest team in the NFL.
The Seahawks on the other hand have gone just 3-5 since the last time they were leading the West and have barely sneaked into the playoffs because of an overtime victory against the injury-riddled Rams and help from the Lions who beat Green Bay in week 18. Despite Geno Smith’s success story and revenge tour this year, I think the firepower of McCaffery, Kittle, Samuel, Aiyuk, and the number 1 ranked defense in the NFL, will be too much for Smith and Metcalf to handle on their own.
Prediction: 49’ers: (34) Seahawks: (14)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) VS. 5. LA Chargers (10-7) (Saturday, January 14th, 8:15)
Breakdown: This AFC matchup features two young quarterbacks on the rise in the NFL in Jacksonville’s second-year man, Trevor Lawrence, and LA’s Justin Herbert. The Jaguars are coming off back-to-back seasons of having the worst record in the entire NFL. Because of this, they have added two number one picks to their roster in the last two drafts in Lawrence and linebacker Trayvon Walker. Despite this young talent, their season looked rough early on, going 4-8 in their first 12 games. However, one of these 4 wins was a 38-10 blowout against the Chargers. After this stretch, a 5-game winning streak was fueled by their improving defense and the ability of skill players Christian Kirk and Travis Etienne to make significant plays down the stretch of games. This streak coupled with an absolute collapse by the Tennessee Titans made the Jags only the 4th team in the Super Bowl era to go from having the worst record in the league to winning their division the following season. The Jaguars have been so bad in recent years, clinical psychologist Dr. Justin D’Arienzo said in the beginning of the season fans began seeking therapy for their severe disappointment in their team.
I am predicting that Jaguars fans will not have to go back to this disappointment for at least another week as I think they will beat the Chargers at home. Despite Justin Herbert having a career year this season, the Chargers have had an absurd number of injuries this season effecting star players like wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen as well as defensive end Joey Bosa and left tackle Rashawn Slater. While Allen and Bosa are back, Williams’ absence severely effects the passing game and Slater’s absence has consequently caused increasing pressure on Herbert when he is in the pocket. While the Jags’ offense isn’t as potent as others in the playoffs, the biggest reason I think the Chargers will lose is that their run defense has been awful this season ranking 28th in rushing yards allowed. This will allow Etienne and Lawrence to establish a run game and make their passing attack even more effective as the Chargers will be focused on stopping the run.
Prediction: Jaguars (24) Chargers (17)
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3) VS. 7. Miami Dolphins (9-8) (Sunday, January 15th, 1:00)
Breakdown: Like the NFC 2 VS 7 matchup, this is a divisional rivalry game that has happened twice before. Unlike the Seahawks-49’ers where the Niners have blown out the Seahawks twice, both Buffalo-Miami games have been extremely close with the Bills losing the first matchup by 2 and winning the more recent matchup by 3. After Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on a tackle of Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins in week 16, the Bills’ organization has seen enormous support from other teams in the NFL to help them get through that tragic experience. The game was cancelled, and the Bills slipped to the 2 seed. It looks as if the Bills have been motivated to play for Damar the rest of the season and this motivation showed with Nyhiem Hines getting a 96 yard kickoff return to start off week 18 vs the Patriots. This motivation combined with the Bills’ solid defense and Josh Allen should be more than enough to beat the Dolphins.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Tua is yet again injured with a concussion and won’t play causing Skylar Thompson to start. I have previously written an article on how the Dolphins have mishandled Tua’s injuries earlier in the season and how this could come back to haunt them come playoff time. No offense to Thompson, but he is definitely not the answer as he has thrown for one touchdown all season while throwing three interceptions.
Prediction: Bills (27) Dolphins (10)
3. Minnesota Vikings (13-4) VS. 6. New York Giants (9-7-1) (Sunday, January 15th, 4:30)
Breakdown: The Minnesota Vikings have been very impressive in their ability to win one-score games this season as they are 11-1 in such contests. Their offense is statistically comparable to the Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers in the NFC with star receiver Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins having one of the best seasons in their careers. However, what is not at all impressive is their defense. The Vikings definitely have the worst defense out of all playoff teams as they rank 20th in rushing yards allowed, 24th in rushing touchdowns allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed, and dead last in number of 1st downs allowed. This has led to the Vikings either winning close shootout games or getting destroyed. For example: they lost 40-3 against the Cowboys, 41-17 against the Packers, and needed the largest comeback in NFL history to beat the Colts who didn’t even have star running back Jonathon Taylor.
The Giants on the other hand, despite only ranking 27th in passing yards and 25th in passing touchdowns, rank 4th in the NFL in total rushing yards 4th in the NFL in total rushing touchdowns. Saquon Barkley and this rushing attack should feast on the Vikings’ defense in what will likely be a high scoring game because of the Vikings’ pass attack. While each team has their own strengths and weaknesses, I am predicting that the Giants win this game, ironically within one score in a slight upset because of how favorable Barkley will be against the Vikings’ rush defense.
Prediction: Vikings (34) Giants (37)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) VS. 6. Baltimore Ravens (10-7) (Sunday, January 15th, 8:15)
Breakdown: The third and final divisional rivalry of the wild card round features the Ravens and Bengals. These teams have split the season series causing the Bengals to have the slight edge in the AFC North. Despite the 0-2 start, the Bengals have proven that last season was not a fluke by any measure. Joe Burrow has somehow managed to improve from his career year last year while JaMarr Chase has continued to be an excellent number 1 receiver. Tee Higgins has also improved this season and has given the Bengals a good second option to Chase. The Bengals are 4-2 against playoff teams this season including a narrow win against the number one seeded Chiefs.
The Ravens on the other hand have had an interesting season to say the least as they have led the AFC North for the majority of the year but are 2-5 against playoff teams this season and have had issues on their offensive line. The Ravens still have one of the best defenses in the AFC but their issue is with Lamar Jackson. It now seems highly doubtful Jackson will play as his knee is still unstable leaving it up to Tyler Huntley who is also dealing with an injury himself. Even if Huntley can play I think there is only a slim chance the Ravens’ defense can lead them to a win. However, if it is third string Anthony Brown making his first career start, I see no shot that the Ravens beat the Bengals and their potent Burrow-led offense.
Prediction: Bengals (28) Ravens (13)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) VS. 5. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) (Monday, January 16th, 8:15)
Breakdown: Monday Night Football will feature a marquee-matchup of Tom Brady VS. America’s team. This is also a matchup of week 1 where the Buccaneers trounced the Cowboys 19-3. If you are looking at this matchup and thinking that I have misprinted the Buccaneers’ record, you are incorrect. The Buccaneers have made the playoffs with an 8-9 record as they have won the dreadful NFC South by one game over the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons who all finished 7-10. The Cowboys for one night were avid Carolina Panthers fans as all they needed was for the Panthers to win but they blew the game in the last quarter giving up 3 touchdowns via Brady-Mike Evans. Because of this, Brady is back in the playoffs at age 45. Despite Brady’s up-and-down season, his leadership has taken a team decimated by injury and poor secondary play to the playoffs by winning just enough crucial games down the stretch. Fournette and White can make up a great running back duo if they are consistent and if Brady-Evans can be as dominant a connection as they were against Carolina, anyone would be scared to play the Bucs.
However, these are big “ifs” and the Buccaneers this season have proven to be one of the most unreliable and inconsistent teams despite their high talent level. Because of this, I think the Dallas Cowboys will pull this game out in what I believe to be the closest game this weekend. I know it isn’t usually wise to pick against Tom Brady, but Dallas’ top tier offense could shred Tampa Bay’s underperforming secondary. Lamb, Gallup, Noah Brown, and even veteran T.Y Hilton, have all played very well this season as wide receivers. The Cowboys also have a great one-two punch at running back with Pollard and Elliott. Micah Parsons’ defense has been inconsistent this season but if they don’t focus too heavily on blitzing, they will be fine against Tampa’s offense.
Prediction: Buccaneers (27) Cowboys (30)