Postseason play is upon us, and before things get rolling in Wild Card weekend on Saturday, I wanted to document my picks for each game of this round and beyond.
This year's bracket is somewhat tough because it feels like both sides are rather top heavy, but those top contenders seem tough to pick between to win it all. Still, like we saw last season when the Cincinnati Bengals unexpectedly reached the Super Bowl, you can't discount anyone to make a deep run at this point in the season.
I'll first give you my full bracket that displays each pick in every round, and then I'll talk a little bit about the notable aspects and selections of each round. Without further adieu, here's who I have advancing to and and winning the 2023 Super Bowl:
Wild Card Round
This round was tough to pick because, frankly, most of the results seem like the obvious choice. However, as we've seen many times in sports, it's not always wise to pick the obvious choice. Still, I'll start with the teams that I think will absolutely win their respective games this weekend. (Knock on wood.)
The 2/7 and 3/6 matchups on both sides are picks I'm very confident in. The Bills and Bengals will get the advantage of playing against teams with backup quarterbacks, and they've both been so dominant themselves that I see almost no way either of them lose barring a significant injury of their own. San Francisco has been playing better than anyone for the last half of the season and is built for a long postseason run even with a rookie QB, Brock Purdy, under center. While Minnesota seems rather hit or miss this season, I like Kirk Cousins in an afternoon slot to get the job done versus a sneaky good Giants team. If one of these four teams is to lose, though, I would think it would be the Vikings in a close one.
I went back and forth on both of the 4/5 matchups for a while before I decided to take the Jaguars and the Buccaneers to win. The interesting thing here is that while both of these teams are the higher seed, they are actually both underdogs at home, which makes these both upset picks despite what the seeding may suggest. I love what Jacksonville has been doing down the stretch of the season and don't fully trust Justin Herbert and the Chargers yet in what has been a pretty mediocre season for them. On the other side, as hard as it is for me to do, I just can't bet against Tom Brady at home in the postseason regardless of what his team has looked like in the regular season. I expect Tampa's defense to force some turnovers and make things tricky for Dallas, who ended the season on a very wrong foot in Washington last week.
This is sure to be the most exciting round of the playoffs this year with four quite evenly matched games. Remember, the teams will be reseeded after the opening round so that each 1-seed will take on the lowest seeded team remaining. And since I picked no seed upsets in the Wildcard Round, both sides will consist of a 1/4 and a 2/3 matchup.
Let's start with the AFC.
As much as I like Jacksonville, I don't think they'll be able to knock off the top-seeded Chiefs in Kansas City. I think it'll be a closer game than many people will expect, but I like Patrick Mahomes too much in the postseason. As for Bills/Bengals, I think there's a good chance that whoever wins this game will end up being the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. Although the Bengals looked primed to nab a win over Buffalo before the game was cancelled after Damar Hamlin's scary injury a couple weeks back, I view the Bills almost as a team of destiny with everything that's happened to them this season. Therefore, my AFC Championship matchup will be another rematch of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, this time played indoors in Atlanta.
As for the NFC, I think the Eagles and 49ers are going to both be too much for their opponents, regardless of who they end up being. I am a bit worried about the Bucs getting hot at just the right time and putting an unfortunate end to a spectacular season in Philadelphia, but the Eagles are so good on both sides of the ball that I find that to be very unlikely. We're setting up for a an absolute heavyweight battle in the NFC Championship game.
These could be two of the best matchups we've had in recent memory for Conference Championship Weekend.
Buffalo and Kansas would be played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta due to the NFL's rule changes following the forced cancellation of Buffalo's regular season game against Cincinnati. This neutral site affair would be a first in NFL playoff history and the indoor atmosphere would allow both quarterbacks to come out swinging with no impact of the cold or other negative weather conditions. But like I alluded to earlier, I just have a feeling that the Bills will get revenge on the Chiefs for last year's brutal defeat and find a way into their first Super Bowl appearance in three decades.
It's really tough to pick between the Niners and Eagles on the NFC side. Both teams run the ball exceptionally and are the top two defenses in the league in terms of yard allowed per game. But while Philadelphia has the advantage of a more experienced and established quarterback, San Francisco's defense is so elite that I give them the edge here. I think it will ultimately come down to the final possession and a well-timed forced turnover, missed field goal, or other defensive stand from the Niners to secure their spot in the Super Bowl.
I picked the Buffalo Bills as my Super Bowl winner back in the preseason, and I'm sticking to that. However, I do think it'll be a very close game throughout. The Bills are still building back to full strength and should have all the guys back that they've been missing during the regular season. Where I envision the Niners getting a clutch stop in the NFC Championship to get to the Super Bowl, I think Josh Allen orchestrates a last-minute drive à la his lead-taking drive against Kansas City a year ago to obtain a lead from which San Francisco cannot come back. My score prediction is 27-24 in favor of the Bills.
I can't wait to see how the postseason unfolds and I'm expecting some classic finishes in each round this year. Be sure to check the "Betting" tab of this website every week where I'll give out a few of my favorite picks prior to kickoff on the weekends. Good luck to everyone who's still cheering on their favorite team, and may the best team hoist the Lombardi trophy in Glendale, Arizona a month from now.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.