The road to Super Bowl LVIII
⚙️ The setup
Under the NFL’s expanded playoff format (which was first implemented in 2021), nearly half of the league’s 32 teams have a chance at a Super Bowl run. The postseason opens with a “super” wild card weekend slate featuring a whopping six games today through Monday.
- Winners advance to next weekend’s divisional round, followed by the conference championships on January 28th. And it all culminates with the reason for the season: the Usher concert Super Bowl on February 11th.
The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers secured the No. 1 seeds in the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC), respectively, earning them byes to next week’s divisional round.
- But there’s plenty of football to be played over the next three days, with 12 teams in action across Super Wild Card Weekend.
🔴 AFC Wild Card
No. 5 Cleveland Browns vs. No. 4 Houston Texans — Today at 4:30 p.m. ET
- It’s old dog vs. new tricks with suddenly resurgent Browns QB Joe Flacco squaring off against Texans rookie standout QB C.J. Stroud. When these teams last met on Christmas Eve, Cleveland routed Houston, but, that was when Stroud was sidelined with a concussion.
- Even with the rookie back in action, it’ll still be hard for the Texans to carve through the Browns defense (which surrendered the fewest passing yards in the league this season) and keep up with “January Joe,” a seasoned vet tied for the most road playoff wins in NFL history.
No. 6 Miami Dolphins vs. No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs — Tonight at 8 p.m. ET
- Another regular-season rematch, defending Super Bowl champs Kansas City won by a touchdown (TD) back in Week 9, a game in which both standout QBs (Patrick Mahomes for KC and Tua Tagovailoa for Miami) uncharacteristically struggled.
- Something to keep an eye on in this one? Taylor Swift, of course, but also the weather. It could be one of the coldest games in NFL history, and the warm weather Fins are notoriously bad in chilly temps.
No. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No. 2 Buffalo Bills — Tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET
- These squads personified “down but not out” this season, both overcoming injury and dismal stretches to reach the postseason. Steelers backup QB Mason Rudolph fittingly took the reins on Christmas Eve eve, leading his then 7-7 squad to three straight dubs and a playoff berth.
- But the Bills are on a five-game win streak of their own, and Buffalo QB Josh Allen won’t have to worry about Pittsburgh sack machine TJ Watt, who’s out with a knee injury. Hide your tables — the Bills should roll in this one.
🔵 NFC Wild Card
No. 7 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 2 Dallas Cowboys — Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET
- Home is where the wins are for the ’Boys — Dallas is undefeated at AT&T Stadium this season, and their QB Dak Prescott–led offense is averaging over 37 points per game on home turf.
- The Pack, meanwhile, will rely on red-hot signal caller, aforementioned QB Jordan Love. Aaron Rodgers' successor was strong down the stretch, tossing 18 TDs in his last eight games, but will face perhaps his biggest challenge yet in a solid Big D defense.
No. 6 LA Rams vs. No. 3 Detroit Lions — Sunday at 8 p.m. ET
- Cue Katy Perry because the NFC North–winning Lions are hosting their first playoff game in 30 years, but it’s coming against their former franchise QB.
- Get this: The Lions and Rams swapped QBs in a blockbuster 2021 deal, with Detroit sending Matthew Stafford to LA in exchange for Jared Goff, making this the first game in NFL playoff history that both starting QBs will be facing their former team at the same time.
- And Stafford might just be the difference-maker in this one as he and his powerhouse offense take on a Lions defense that’s allowing far too many passing yards per game.
No. 5 Philadelphia Eagles vs. No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Monday at 8 p.m. ET
- This is far from the same Eagles team that walloped the Bucs 25–11 back in Week 3. The defending NFC champs have lost five of their last six and look out of sorts on offense and defense.
- Lucky for them, Tampa Bay also comes limping into the playoffs averaging a measly 11 points in their last two games. May the least bad team win.
💪 More players to watch
Puka Nacua, LA Rams, Wide receiver (WR): A fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Nacua has taken the league by storm in his debut campaign, breaking the rookie receptions and receiving yards records this season.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions, QB: The aforementioned Goff has been cruising since joining the Motor City, quietly posting the second-most passing yards in the league this season. Revenge game, loading?
Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers, RB: He won’t take the field until next weekend, but we can’t not mention CMC. Mr. Miss Universe leads the league in rushing yards, and he can haul them in, too — CMC has seven receiving TDs this season, by far the most of any RB.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs, tight end (TE): That guy on the football team isn’t putting up his usual jaw-dropping numbers this season, but he does have plenty of playoff experience, including 16 TDs in 18 career postseason games. Expect him to make Arrowhead Stadium shimmer.