The first 17-game NFL regular season was a great success, and everyone is ready for what should be a fantastic edition of the playoffs. After the Los Angeles Chargers-Las Vegas Raiders finale last Sunday night, how could we not expect unprecedented drama in the postseason?
Last year, four out of six lower-seeded teams pulled off upsets in the wild-card round. How many will surprise in the first round this season? There are seven new playoff teams this year and countless storylines to keep track of. Could Aaron Rodgers become the first player to win MVP and the Super Bowl in the same season since Kurt Warner did in 1999? And could the Philadelphia Eagles find a way to upset Tom Brady in the playoffs yet again?
Below, we will try to predict the entire NFL playoff bracket game by game. We’ll update this each week as we march further and further into the postseason. Let’s jump in.
All NFL odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.
Super Wild Card Weekend(5) Las Vegas Raiders at (4) Cincinnati Bengals
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders’ improbable journey to the playoffs was capped by a game-winning field goal in overtime last Sunday night. Under interim (maybe not for long) head coach Rich Bisaccia, this team is riding momentum into the postseason, but the defense will have to stifle one of the most explosive passing attacks in the NFL. Interestingly enough, it was actually the run game that carried Cincy to a win vs. Vegas back in November.
Joe Mixon rushed 30 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the 32-13 win while Joe Burrow had season-lows in passing yds (148) and yards per attempt (5.1). Containing the Bengals offense will be important for the Raiders, but so will offensive efficiency. Over the Raiders’ four-game winning streak, there’s been a commitment to the run game. Josh Jacobs is averaging 21 carries per game since Week 15, and recorded a career-high 132 rushing yards last week. I’ll take a flier on the Raiders to upset the Bengals and build on their four-game win streak.
The pick: Raiders +5Projected score: Raiders 24-20
(6) New England Patriots at (3) Buffalo Bills
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)
These two teams split the regular season series, with the Patriots winning in Buffalo and the Bills winning in Foxborough. Bill Belichick was able to out-coach Sean McDermott in a game dominated by wind and bad weather, but he got beat by double digits a few weeks ago. It’s going to be another cold game, but not as windy. That means Josh Allen can do more through the air.
Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones has completed 16 passes in two games vs. the Bills with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. I see the Bills as the better team and believe they will advance in the first round of the playoffs.
The pick: Bills -4Projected score: Bills 24-14
(7) Philadelphia Eagles at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
These two teams played in October, with the Buccaneers winning, 28-22. The game felt much more lopsided than the final score indicated. There’s good reason to believe this Buccaneers team won’t repeat as Super Bowl champions. While they are getting Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette back, the losses of Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown should be felt in the passing game. It will be up to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans to shoulder the load there. With rainy weather expected, I think the Eagles and their rushing attack can keep it close, but there’s no way I’m picking against Brady in the first round of the playoffs.
The pick: Eagles +8.5Projected score: Buccaneers 27-23
(6) San Francisco 49ers at (3) Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)
The winner of a Cowboys vs. 49ers matchup in the playoffs has gone on to win the Super Bowl five out of seven times. That’s quite a stat, but I’m not sure it’s applicable this season. The 49ers’ postseason hopes were up in the air until late Sunday afternoon, and the Cowboys went 3-4 against eventual playoff teams while racking up wins against lesser opponents. They finished 6-0 against division rivals and 6-5 against everyone else!
Dak Prescott and this offense are more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but are the 49ers able to do that as well? Last week against the Los Angeles Rams, they scored 21 points in the second half and the game-winning field goal in overtime. Yes, the 49ers got what they wanted on the ground, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s wideouts had quite a day. Deebo Samuel racked up 140 total yards and a touchdown. He also threw a touchdown to Jauan Jennings, who caught six passes for 94 yards and two scores. Brandon Aiyuk then made several big plays as well, as he caught six passes for 107 yards. I think Kyle Shanahan could get very creative in the postseason and put the Cowboys defense in a very awkward spot. Give me the 49ers with the upset.
The pick: 49ers +3Projected score: 49ers 30-27
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
What an amazing run for Ben Roethlisberger. Not many saw this team making the playoffs when it was 6-6-1 last month. Still, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs aren’t losing this game.
The pick: Steelers +12.5Projected score: Chiefs 28-17
(5) Arizona Cardinals at (4) Los Angeles Rams
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Los Angeles Rams
While the Rams lost their Week 18 matchup against the 49ers, they won five straight before that. The Cardinals, on the other hand, lost four out of their past five, including one against the Rams. While Kyler Murray was the MVP frontrunner before his ankle injury, he’s really struggled against L.A. He’s 1-5 against the Rams with seven passing touchdowns and six interceptions. Arizona had its worst defensive performance of the season last week against the Seattle Seahawks, which is not something you want to see right before the playoffs. I’m taking Matthew Stafford and the Rams to advance to the divisional round.
The pick: Rams -4Projected score: Rams 28-23
Divisional round(5) Las Vegas Raiders at (1) Tennessee Titans
The Raiders have had a magical season up to this point, but the Titans are the No. 1 seed for a reason. Despite not having Derrick Henry for half the year, injuries all across the board — Mike Vrabel had to use a record-setting amount of players in a single season — and bad losses to teams like the Houston Texans and New York Jets, the Titans have found themselves atop the AFC. Nashville will be juiced up with the return of Henry. Titans win.
Projected score: Titans 30-23
(3) Buffalo Bills at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. Actually, these two teams faced off in October, and the Bills blew out the Chiefs by 18 points in Kansas City. The Chiefs fell to 2-3, and people really began to question Mahomes and Co. As we know, Kansas City bounced back and finished the year on an 8-1 run.
I imagine this could be one of the best games of the postseason, but I’m going to give the edge to the Chiefs. They have made the AFC Championship three years in a row, and they will make it four.
Projected score: Chiefs 35-31
(6) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Green Bay Packers
The Packers have the best odds to win the Super Bowl, and for good reason. Rodgers had another incredible season and should win his second straight MVP award. The Packers are also expected to return pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith after he played just one game in the regular season. The only thing in my mind that can hold the Packers back from yet another NFC Championship appearance is Rodgers’ toe. He’s optimistic about the injury, however, and said that he will be 100% by the divisional round. Green Bay defeats San Fran by controlling time of possession.
Projected score: Packers 26-20
(4) Los Angeles Rams at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stafford recorded what was probably one of the biggest wins of his career in September against Brady, as he threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns in the Week 3, 34-24 victory. Brady threw for 432 yards but just one touchdown. He was also the leading rusher with 14 yards and one score.
I say this is where the Buccaneers not having Godwin and Brown hurts. The Rams jump out to a quick lead and ward off a late comeback.
Projected score: Rams 33-25
Championship round(2) Kansas City Chiefs at (1) Tennessee Titans
A rematch of the AFC Championship game from two years ago. These two teams also played earlier this season, as the Titans upset the Chiefs in Week 7, 27-3. It was one of the most bizarre outcomes of the entire season, as the Chiefs were held to their fewest points scored since 2012. The Titans had just upset the Bills less than a week earlier on “Monday Night Football” and were down several starters on defense, yet came out and completely dominated. Tennessee’s best cornerback, Kristian Fulton, was placed on IR, first-round pick Caleb Farley tore his ACL earlier in the week and then safety Amani Hooker and reserve cornerback Chris Jackson were inactive with injuries. While they were undermanned, the Titans allowed just 41 passing yards in the first half. It was Kansas City’s secondary that struggled mightily, as A.J. Brown broke loose for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are much better than they showed Oct. 24, and they will prove it on Championship Sunday. This game goes to overtime, and the Chiefs kick a game-winning field goal.
Projected score: Chiefs 30-27
(4) Los Angeles Rams at (1) Green Bay Packers
As for the NFC side of things, we get a Week 12 rematch. Back in late November, the Packers beat the Rams, 36-28, at Lambeau field. The final score was much closer than the game actually was, as the Rams scored 11 unanswered in the fourth quarter.
That morning, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that Stafford was dealing with pain in his throwing arm, his elbow, a sore ankle and chronic back pain. He was noticeably off in this game, while the Packers offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Randall Cobb caught four passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in just the first half!
The Packers are too good. While they have lost two straight NFC Championship games and three in the past five years, Rodgers finds a way to get it done.
Projected score: Packers 35-26
Super Bowl LVI(2) Chiefs vs. (1) Packers
This is the Super Bowl we have been eyeing for the past two years. These two teams were supposed to face off in the regular season in 2021, but Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19! Mahomes was set to face Rodgers in 2019 as well, but dislocated his kneecap the week before. The football gods have actively tried to stop a matchup between these two signal-calling deities from occurring, but they won’t be able to this year.
Two explosive offenses and two capable defenses. The emotional roller coasters both of these fanbases have been riding over the past few months rival any amusement park’s creation — especially when it comes to the Packers. They really thought they were about to lose their legendary quarterback, but he returned, won another MVP and led them to the Super Bowl. It just seems fitting that they win, right? Rodgers hoists the Lombardi Trophy again, and he remains with the Packers for the rest of his career.
Projected score: Packers 30-28