The road to Super Bowl 57 has been months, if not years, in the making for some teams. The 2022-23 NFL playoffs invite the best 14 teams in the league […]
The road to Super Bowl 57 has been months, if not years, in the making for some teams. The 2022-23 NFL playoffs invite the best 14 teams in the league to a postseason bracket, but only team can be crowned Super Bowl 57 champions.
Can Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs get back to the NFL’s biggest stage after a year off? Could Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills break through to the next level? Or will Joe Burrow and the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals run it back in the conference?
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles had a wire-to-wire stranglehold on the conference’s top record. But there are other contenders they’ll have to overcome, including the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and two NFC East rivals: the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Here I’ll share my projected bracket, taking my Wildcard Round results and filling in the potential later round matchups.
Please note that team records include potential wins in the playoffs. For example, if a 10-7 team wins in the Wildcard Round, I will list that team’s record as 11-7 in the Divisional Round.
Read on for my Wildcard Weekend Picks. If you’d like to debate or discuss any picks, or want to follow for more weekly NFL content including Picks and Power Rankings, be sure to connect with Sak Sports Blog on Twitter or on Facebook!
12 teams square off in six games over three days for the NFL’s 2022-23 Wildcard Weekend. Check out my picks to see who I think will advance to their Divisional Round, and why.
#5 Los Angeles Chargers (11-7) at #1 Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
Following a Wildcard Weekend littered with divisional rivalries, this potential Divisional Round matchup would feature two AFC West squads going at it.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers gave us two intensely close games during the regular season. The Chiefs came out on top by just a field goal in each matchup, winning 27-24 in September 15 in Kansas City and 30-27 on November 20 in Los Angeles.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs earned the top seed in the AFC, so this game would take place back at Arrowhead Stadium: where Kansas City is extremely tough to beat.
There’s certainly a chance Justin Herbert and the Chargers keep it close once again, and Los Angeles is hardly an easy draw for Kansas City’s first playoff matchup of the year.
But there are only two teams in the AFC that I think could give the Chiefs a run for their money, and Los Angeles falls just short of joining that group.
Chiefs win 27-20
#3 Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) at #2 Buffalo Bills (14-3)
After one of the most highly-anticipated games of the season was cancelled altogether due to a scary situation with Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, fate would have it that these two teams might meet again in the postseason.
The key difference is the location: the suspended game took place in Cincinnati, but this potential Divisional Round game would be played in Buffalo, in January.
In other words, it would be a tough road environment.
I think the Cincinnati Bengals are incredibly talented, and I’d almost like to take them to win it all. If Joe Burrow can outlast Josh Allen on his home turf, I do believe the Bengals could reach back-to-back Super Bowls, even if that means defeating Mahomes in the playoffs once again.
But as it stands, Buffalo’s incredible home-field advantage, paired with an elite offense and smash-mouth defense, should be expected to pull out this playoff victory.
Bills win 27-23
#6 New York Giants (10-7-1) at #1 Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
The top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles are likely to draw the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or Minnesota Vikings if the chalk holds, but thanks to a Wildcard Weekend upset pick, Philadelphia finds themselves playing the New York Giants for a second consecutive game.
Of course, the Eagles didn’t play a full-strength Giants squad in Week 18, with some key starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, sitting out. But even with a half-strength New York team and Jalen Hurts returning to the lineup for Philadelphia, the Eagles won just 22-16.
I’m almost tempted to push the Giants through to the NFC Championship Game, but looking back at a Week 14 matchup at MetLife Stadium that held more meaning: Philadelphia decimated New York 48-22.
Brian Daboll has done an incredible job in his first season as Giants head coach and should win Coach of the Year honors. But the Giants roster can only take them so far this season, and the Eagles are simply more talented.
Eagles win 33-17
#4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-9) at #2 San Francisco 49ers (14-4)
I have Tom Brady pulling off some playoff magic and upsetting the Dallas Cowboys in the Wildcard Round, but make no mistake: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not a great team this season. The Buccaneers certainly aren’t the same team that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, and are quite obviously not as strong as last season either.
Tampa Bay struggled to secure the NFC South, earning an 8-8 record through 16 games prior to a meaningless Week 18 loss. The Buccaneers mostly beat up on their weak divisional opponents, and can’t be trusted to make a deep playoff run with this roster. Could Brady do something absolutely jaw-dropping and lead the Buccaneers to a Cinderella run? It’s within the realm of possibility, but it’s not too likely.
In Week 14, the San Francisco 49ers trounced the Buccaneers 35-7 in Brock Purdy’s first NFL start. Purdy has improved to 5-0 as a starter since then, and the 49ers are 10-1 since acquiring Christian McCaffrey, losing only the first game after the trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With a well-rounded roster, Purdy shouldn’t need to do too much to push San Francisco to back-to-back NFC Championship Games.
49ers win 30-13
AFC: #2 Buffalo Bills (15-3) vs. #1 Kansas City Chiefs (15-3)
Note: This game would be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia due to the Bills and Chiefs playing an uneven number of games during the regular season.
The popcorn matchup everyone around the NFL would be waiting for, the “Super Bowl Lite” if you will: Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs going toe-to-toe with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, I thought the same thing last season when the Chiefs and Bills met in the Divisional Round, and that turned out to not be true (it wasn’t the “real Super Bowl matchup,” as the Bengals ended up winning the AFC.) But in this scenario, a Super Bowl trip would literally be on the line.
Throw in the fact that this particular matchup would be played at a neutral site, and Bills-Chiefs would be a highly exciting AFC Championship Game.
Who would win? Overall, I’m a bit higher on the Chiefs as a team. But Buffalo did pull out the head-to-head regular season victory, and at risk of making a pick with my heart over my head, I think it’s about time Buffalo broke through to the next level.
Give me the Bills in this neutral site game, but winning will be anything but easy. I expect nothing less than a game-winning score in the final minute, if not in overtime.
Bills win 33-30
NFC: #2 San Francisco 49ers (15-4) at #1 Philadelphia Eagles (15-3)
The San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles have not squared off yet this season, and at this point, both teams can make a case that they’re the best in the NFC.
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles started the season 8-0, and finished the season 14-3, with only one loss on record in a game that Hurts started (to the Commanders.)
But the 49ers have been on a tear, winning 10 straight and dominating on both sides of the ball. With weapons like Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, rookie starter Brock Purdy shouldn’t have to do anything extravagant in order for San Francisco to control the pace of the game.
Obviously, I think San Francisco’s roster is pretty special, and therefore I feel comfortable pushing the 49ers through to their second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
49ers win 27-23
Super Bowl 57
#2 Buffalo Bills (16-3) vs. #2 San Francisco 49ers (16-4)
While neither the Buffalo Bills nor San Francisco 49ers finished atop their conference in the regular standings, the argument can be made that these are the two most well-rounded teams in football. It’s only fitting they meet in Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, Arizona.
Oddsmakers would certainly favor Buffalo, barring any major injuries, simply due to the lack of experience at quarterback for San Francisco.
But if the 49ers reach Super Bowl 57, it will mean that Brock Purdy had improved to 8-0 as a starter. San Francisco would also push its 10-game winning streak to close out the regular season to a whopping 13-game win streak if they just reach the Super Bowl.
I’ve harped on it before, but the 49ers just have so much talent: I think this years team is better than the San Francisco team that nearly won Super Bowl 54.
But this Bills team is pretty special too, with a stellar defense and an elite offense. Losing standout safety Damar Hamlin definitely hurts on the defensive side of the ball, but Allen has plenty of weapons on offense to compensate if the defense lets up a couple scores.
I’m going with my preseason pick, and honestly I think this team has been due for more than one season: the Buffalo Bills.
Bills win 28-20
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Header Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated