So the curtain has finally come down on the 2023 NFL regular season. Now, the proper stuff gets underway. The playoffs.
Wildcard weekend takes place on January 13th and there are plenty of mouthwatering clashes just around the corner. The Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning champions, but they have looked far from their usually imperious selves in recent weeks. They face off against the Miami Dolphins – who have been one of the stars of the show in the regular season at Arrowhead – and they will be hoping to avoid a potential banana skin en route to reaching the Super Bowl for the fourth time in as many years.
They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to lift the Lombardi at State Farm Stadium in Arizona last February, and they had been the team to beat all year long. However, in recent weeks they have been in free fall, and a blowout defeat against the lowly New York Giants on the final day of the regular season has left them reeling ahead of the postseason. They face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Linc, and they will need to somehow return to their very best form if they are to progress to the Divisional Round.
But ahead of the playoffs getting underway, it is time to look at all 14 teams and see who the front-runners for glory truly are.
In recent weeks, the San Francisco 49ers distanced themselves from the chasing pack and established themselves as the firm favorites for glory. In fact, the NFL odds providers have made them exactly that, pricing them as short as +180 for glory. They have picked up victories against the Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys en route to securing top-seed status in the NFC, but the playoffs haven’t been a happy hunting ground for them in recent years. Four of their last six visits to the conference championship game have ended in defeat and on the two occasions they reached the big game they also lost.
Over in the AFC, it’s the Baltimore Ravens that have gained top-seed status and secured safe passage to the Divisional Round. Lamar Jackson has returned to the kind of form that saw him win the MVP award unanimously in 2020, and they will be hoping that continues into the postseason. However, they have another front-runner among them in their conference in the form of the Buffalo Bills.
Josh Allen and Co. have hit form at the perfect time and they have somehow managed to usurp the Dolphins at the summit of the AFC East. They will be aiming to put their recent playoff heartache behind them and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in almost 30 years.
Neither the Chiefs nor the Eagles can ever be ruled out, despite their recent toils and tribulations. Patrick Mahomes for the former and Jalen Hurts for the latter are two of the finest quarterbacks in the league and both are capable of winning games on their own. But it is the reigning champions that have experience on their side. They know that the regular season is firmly in the rear-view mirror and all that matters now is the playoffs. The Eagles meanwhile may be somewhat more fragile, and while they are contenders, we could also see them suffering an early exit as well.
The Dallas Cowboys managed to top the NFC East ahead of the Eagles and they too should be considered contenders. We all know how it usually goes for the Lone Star State side. Have an impressive regular season, get the fans excited, and then crumble in the postseason. Will that be the case this term as well?
The Cleveland Browns have reached the playoffs for just the fourth time in the last three decades. They have embarked on a stellar campaign and with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco in the form of his life since his acquisition, they have the potential to beat anybody. If the 38-year-old can continue sprinkling pixie dust all over the gridiron, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Ohioans made it all the way to the Big Game for the first time in franchise history.
Another team that is featuring in the postseason without much pedigree is the Detroit Lions. They are without a postseason victory since the 1991 season, but they have topped the NFC North and also have that special something lingering around Ford Field. Can they continue their fairy-tale campaign into a deep postseason run?
Our last outsider is the Miami Dolphins. Despite their woes in recent weeks, they have been the entertainers in the league this year, racking up points left, right, and center. They have a tough test in the wildcard round against the Chiefs, but if they can defeat them, that may very well be the catalyst that propels them toward the Lombardi.
For the remaining sides, we can’t see them having much hope. That might seem unfair to the likes of the 2021 champion Los Angeles Rams and the AFC South champion Houston Texans. Both have chances to progress from the wildcard round, but we see them losing out to the Lions and Browns respectively. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and the Buccs, making their way past the Bills, the Cowboys, and the Eagles will likely prove too much of an obstacle to overcome.