Welcome to NFL Wildcard Weekend! Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns did not make it to the postseason, and are instead focusing their efforts on the offseason, including the hiring of a defensive coordinator. It will be nice to enjoy a weekend full of playoff action, though, with games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Our staff picks are at the bottom of this post, but let’s go game-by-game to assess who I think will emerge victorious, and also don’t forget to check out all the latest odds according to DraftKings Sportsbook:
Saturday - January 14, 2023
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers - 4:30 PM (FOX)
With the departure of Russell Wilson, Seattle ended up starting Geno Smith at the beginning of the season. I didn’t think Smith could take the Seahawks very far, but he re-invented himself, stunning the world with by far the best season of his career. Consider the fact that Smith has been in the NFL since 2013, so this is his 10th season. As a rookie, he threw for 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. In 2014, he threw for 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Since then, he’s been a backup, seeing very little playing time. This year, starting all 16 games, he threw for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 366 yards and 1 touchdown. Incredible.
Seattle did start the year at 6-3, and then ended the year 3-5 — but they pulled off two straight wins against the Jets and Rams to somewhat back into the playoffs after the Packers lost the final regular season game. This team runs hot and cold — they aren’t a team that does one particular thing well, but they are usually competitive. However, they weren’t a good matchup against the 49ers twice this year (losing 27-7 and 21-13), and the 49ers are the hottest team in football, having won 10 games in a row and playing lights out on both sides of the ball. I’m predicting a convincing win here for the 49ers. 49ers 31, Seahawks 17.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars - 8:15 PM (NBC)
The Chargers were among the teams who Cleveland failed to put away early in the season, having a 14-0 first quarter lead on them, and then missing a game-winning field goal as time expired. Nonetheless, I have always liked Justin Herbert and feel like he’s right up there with the top tier quarterbacks who can will his team to victory if he gets hot in the playoffs. He will be without receiver Mike Williams, but on defense, Joey Bosa is good to go.
The Jaguars were 3-7 heading into their bye, and then 4-8. They did the unthinkable then, winning their last 5 games, including a sweep over the division-leading Tennessee Titans to leap over them. Jacksonville actually blew out the Jaguars 38-10 way back in Week 3 — that’s so early in the year that I’m willing to write it off, but maybe the Jaguars have their number? Trevor Lawrence has been great down the stretch this season, and it’s a feel-good story to see the Jaguars put things together after years of struggles. This is the toughest matchup to pick of the weekend, but I’m going with Herbert being more polished. Chargers 23, Jaguars 20.
Sunday - January 15, 2023
Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills - 1:00 PM (CBS)
Tua Tagovailoa is out, and Skylar Thompson will get the start as Teddy Bridgewater is still banged up too. If Bridgewater was starting, I would think there was a slight chance that Miami could pull this game out, and if Tua was starting, I’d have to give it a lot of thought. Without them, Miami’s offense is lost, and the Bills are too tough to stop. It’s possible Miami’s defense delivers in a major way, but I’m not counting on it, especially if they aren’t set up with favorable field position. Bills 30, Dolphins 17.
New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings - 4:30 PM (FOX)
What are we to make of the Minnesota Vikings? They were 8-1 before laying a major egg to the Cowboys, losing 40-3. OK, it was one bad game. But then, they barely put away the Patriots and Jets before losing by multiple possessions to the Jets. They were losing 33-0 at halftime to the Colts before having the biggest comeback in NFL history to beat them. While that is a fantastic story...the 33-0 losing effort at halftime is concerning, right?
They beat these Giants 27-24 in December in what was an exciting back-and-forth fourth quarter, including Greg Joseph nailing a 61-yard field goal to win it. But that was followed up by them losing to the Packers, being down 41-3 at one point in the fourth quarter. Their offense ranks near the top of the NFL, but the defense has been the worst basically. The Giants struggled the whole second half of the season in their own right, so I’m taking the Vikings to pull off this game — but given what we’ve seen, Minnesota doesn’t seem like a favorite to make it very far. Vikings 24, Giants 20.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals - 8:15 PM (NBC)
Tyler Huntley gets the start this week with Lamar Jackson still out. You saw how the Browns’ defense was against Huntley — Baltimore has virtually no shot against the Bengals, unless their defense steps up to stop Joe Burrow and company. Cincinnati won 12 out of their last 14 games, with those two losses coming against Baltimore and Cleveland. The Bengals beat the Ravens in the final week, with Anthony Brown under center for the Ravens.
It’s unique for these teams to run it back a week later, but the Bengals’ offense was pretty crisp even without them being on their A-game, so-to-speak. I think Cincinnati will cruise away with this one. Bengals 27, Ravens 17.
Monday - January 16, 2023
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 8:15 PM (ABC)
I know the Cowboys had an awful final week of the season, with only 182 yards of offense in a game they weren’t trying to lose. It was pretty bizarre. If you also go back to Week 1, the Buccaneers opened Sunday Night Football with a 19-3 win over Dallas. Over the season, though, Dallas has re-gained their spark for the most part, while Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense has struggled to get things going.
As of a couple weeks ago, we were thinking the Panthers were about to vault over the Buccaneers despite having just six wins, but then Brady turned back the clock with a 400+ yard passing performance, including 200+ yards and 3 touchdowns for Mike Evans. That’s not what I expect to see this week, though — the Buccaneers fall flat and Dallas rolls. Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 10.
Below are our Wildcard Weekend NFL staff picks: