Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) rolls out against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Predicting this weekend’s NFL playoff matchups
The NFL’s three-day, six-game Super Wild Card Weekend, as the league promotes it, features some intriguing confrontations with tremendous offenses and terrific defenses as teams compete to win Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
After finishing 14-3, Kansas City and Philadelphia earned first-round byes and home-field advantage in the playoffs. If the Chiefs reach the AFC Championship Game against the Bills, who had their game against Cincinnati cancelled after safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, Kansas City and Buffalo will play at a neutral site, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
For the first time, playoff games that go into overtime will give both teams an opportunity to get the ball, even if the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown.
The last top-seeded team to win the Super Bowl was the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, whose head coach, Doug Pederson, has guided Jacksonville to the playoffs in his first season. It’s been 18 seasons since New England was the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champion. Pederson, Brian Daboll (Giants), Kevin O’Connell (Vikings), Mike McDaniel (Dolphins), and Todd Bowles (Buccaneers) are in their first season with their current team.
Of the 12 teams playing Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, seven missed the playoffs in 2021 – Jaguars, Vikings, Chargers, Ravens, Dolphins, Giants, and Seahawks. Five teams enter the playoffs with winning streaks of at least five games: 49ers (10), Bengals (eight), Bills (seven), Chiefs (five), and Jaguars (five).
Now, let’s make predictions for this weekend’s games:
Seattle (9-8) plus-9 ½ at San Francisco (13-4): 49ers 24-13
Kyle Shanahan continues to work miracles with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, a seventh-round pick and the last player drafted. Purdy has 13 touchdown passes, four interceptions, a 67.1 completion percentage, and a 107.3 rating. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who’s expected to get a head coaching job, has the league’s best defense that’s allowed the fewest yards and points per game. Christian McCaffrey is trying to become the third running back in NFL history to have at least 100 yards receiving in multiple playoff games. McCaffrey and Seattle quarterback Geno Smith are leading candidates to be voted the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Replacing the traded Russell Wilson, Smith threw for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns with a 100.9 rating. The Seahawks are trying to avoid a third loss to the 49ers this season.
L.A. Chargers (10-7) minus-2 ½ at Jacksonville (9-8): Chargers 30-27
In Doug Pederson’s first season replacing Urban Meyer, the Jaguars went from worst to first in the AFC South, including defeating the Titans for the division title in the last game of the season. This is their first playoff game since 2017. If they beat the Chargers, the Jaguars will be the first team in league history to win a playoff game after posting a record that was the NFL’s worst or tied for the worst. This game features two of the league’s most talented young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. Herbert has thrown for more yards (14,089) and completions (1,316) and the second-most touchdown passes (94) for a quarterback in his first three seasons in league history. Keep an eye on Chargers’ touchdown machine Austin Ekeler, a running back, and an excellent receiver. He had 20 touchdowns last season and 18 this season.
Miami (9-8) (plus-13 ½ at Buffalo (13-3): Bills 31-13
What a mismatch this should be. Josh Allen versus rookie Skylar Thompson, a rookie seventh-round pick pressed into action again because of injuries to Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater. Even with Tagovailoa missing games because of concussions, the Dolphins still finished sixth in offense and fourth in passing. Of the playoff teams, they had the worst turnover differential (minus-7) and the fewest takeaways (14). The Bills have balance. They were second in offense, including seventh in rushing and seventh in passing. They were sixth in defense, including fifth against the run. They also have the best red zone defense (44.9%) of any playoff team. Last season, Allen threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdown passes in their two playoff games.
Giants (9-7-1) (plus-3) at Minnesota (13-4): Vikings 21-19
The surprising Giants have the fourth-best running game (148.2-yard average), led by Saquon Barkley (1,312 yards, 10 touchdowns), and a passing game that features quarterback Daniel Jones protecting the ball (15 touchdowns, five interceptions). They’ve turned the ball over 16 times, fewest among playoff teams. The Vikings ran away with the NFC North but scored fewer points than they allowed. They’re seventh in offense (361.5) and sixth in passing (263.8). But they’re 31st in defense (388.7), including 31st against the pass (265.6). Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw 29 touchdown passes, has to prove he can win a big game. He’s got the league’s most prolific receiver in Justin Jefferson, who caught 128 passes for 1,809 yards and eight touchdowns.
Baltimore (10-7) plus-8 ½ at Cincinnati (12-4): Bengals 23-17
John Harbaugh has won eight playoff games on the road, more than any coach in history. The Ravens made the playoffs despite serious injury problems at quarterback. Lamar Jackson hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in early December. Backup Tyler Huntley was limited in practice because of a shoulder injury. Undrafted rookie Anthony Brown will have to start again. The Ravens are second in rushing (160-yard average) and 28th in passing (178.8). Their red zone offense is terrible (49.8%), but their red zone defense is terrific (46.4%). Led by quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals have an eight-game winning streak. He gets all the attention, but their defense has forced a turnover in the fourth quarter in five consecutive games. The Bengals’ running game has dropped to 29th with only 95.5 yards a game. They’ll go as far as Burrow can take them.
Dallas (12-5) minus-2 ½ at Tampa Bay (8-9): Cowboys 27-24
Will the real Dak Prescott please stand up? He threw 15 interceptions in 12 games, tying the Texans’ Davis Mills for most in the NFL. Prescott has a touchdown passing and rushing in his last three playoff starts. The Cowboys were 5-3 against playoff teams. Their defense forced a league-high 33 turnovers and registered 54 sacks. The Cowboys were plus-10 in turnover differential. They finished 11th in offense and 12th in defense. They lost the first game of the season to Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ running game was the worst in the league, so they have to rely on Tom Brady. As bad as their running game was this season, running back Leonard Fournette has a touchdown rushing in each of his last five playoff games. Brady, who had 25 touchdown passes and nine interceptions during a disappointing season for the Bucs, is the NFL’s career playoff leader in victories by a quarterback (35), yards passing (13,049), touchdowns (86), Super Bowl wins (seven) and Super Bowl MVPs (five).
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).