Don’t forget, it’s SUPER Wildcard Weekend since the expansion that added one extra team in 2020. And frankly, it’s been a bit disappointing in the couple years since adding the adjective. A few games ended closer than they actually were, and more than a few ended in blowouts. Luckily for the NFL, the divisional round the following week always puts out bangers, but we’re not there yet. So let’s clear out the riff-raff.
Times listed are all Central Daylight Time (CDT) because that’s where I live and I don’t wanna confuse myself. I’m already confused most of the day cause my wall clocks never got changed, and they won’t get changed.
Saturday, January 14th
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers, 3:30 pm
Prediction: 34-32 Seahawks
Did I get your attention? Yeah, yeah I did. Keep reading, cause I promise my takes aren’t just for attention. Though I do love attention.
While I firmly believe momentum is a powerful force heading into the playoffs, I also think there are cases where it can backfire. The Niners could very easily just dominate this game with their pile of weapons and Geno will never have a chance against that vaunted defense. But if Seattle can find some way, any way, to force Brock Purdy to put it on his shoulders, we’ll finally get a real look at the young QB. Even if tempted, Purdy should try very hard to not let that happen. Stick to the script, believe in the offense, get it to your playmakers. But he’s also a 23 year old in his first playoff game playing the hardest position in sports in front of a massive crowd chanting his name. That’s some make-or-break atmosphere.
His fans will tell you the pressure isn’t that great cause he’s Mr. Irrelevant and the expectations weren’t that high from the start. But if you think he’ll get a pass for having a bad game on Saturday, you haven’t been paying attention all season. He’s in a very fragile spot. He’s had good games but no great games; more importantly, he hasn’t had a bad game. He’s the portrait of consistency, and that has allowed his legend to grow at a consistent rate. What happens when he does have a bad game? The kind of bad game literally every QB has at some point? And what if it happens in the first round of the playoffs?
I’m just saying, ask any 49ers fan who next year’s opening day starter is and many will say Brock Purdy. Ask them again if he throws 3 picks this weekend and they lose, and don’t be surprised to hear a lot of “maybe we should see Trey Lance again… would Jimmy G come back?… wonder if we could get Brady or Rodgers for a year… “
Brock will have that pressure for at least the first 2 rounds of the playoffs. He can come out of January as a legend or career backup. No pressure.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars, 7:15 pm
Prediction: 27-16 Chargers
I don’t know why I’m betting against momentum this weekend. It’s just a gut feeling, like momentum has become this curse because over the years, we’ve trained our brains to see it as the most important aspect of a playoff run. But just as important is health, and despite the complaints by Chargers fans about playing the starters last week against Denver, it looks like Joey Bosa will be a full go. They’re also getting Rashawn Slater off IR. He won’t play this weekend, but he could make a playoff impact if the Bolts can put together a win or two.
Unfortunately, Mike Williams is out with a back fracture apparently suffered last week against Denver. And so, out come the fans calling for Brandon Staley’s head because he had the gall to play his starters in a meaningless game. The same fans who would be calling for his head if he had sat the starters and then they came out slow this week against Jacksonville. Universal rule with fans: You can’t win unless you win (with the exception of Mike McCarthy, who can never win with fans). If you lose, it doesn’t matter what decisions you made before the game because fans will tell you why those decisions were wrong.
As for the Jags, I didn’t love how they closed the season in a must-win game. Despite having a huge comeback season after a disastrous rookie year, Trevor Lawrence hasn’t looked great since week 15. He was on absolute fire before that but has really leveled off. They barely got by Tennessee, who ran out Josh Dobbs on two weeks of practice.
I’m still excited for them and I still think they have the potential to go on a run, but I’m less excited than I was 3 weeks ago. Chargers aren’t fully healthy, but they’re healthy enough.
Sunday, January 15th
Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills, 12 Noon
Prediction: 38-7 Bills
Miami is not winning this game with Skylar Thompson. To have a chance, Mike McDaniel will have to pull out the trick play book and go deep into it. Don’t think he won’t… but I also don’t think he’ll put too much of his mad genius on tape unless he really thinks he’s got a team that can run the playoff table. That team will not be led by someone named Skylar. At least not this year.
Bills need to take care of business. Nothing crazy. Just keep Josh Allen healthy.
New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings, 3:30 pm
Prediction: 30-23 Vikings
It seems like this should be a no-brainer for me given my reluctance to accept the Giants as a legitimate playoff team, but I’ll admit, I hedged a bit here. The Packers wrote the script for shutting down Jefferson and it looked like the Vikings might go into the playoffs with a vulnerability. But KJ Osborn has really picked things up and looks like he’ll be a legitimate #2 receiver.
Oh, and the Giants secondary… there’s no Jaire Alexander back there to stop Jefferson. Not even close. Jefferson and Hockenson lit them up last time, and now they know they can shift to Osborn if JJettas is triple covered. Pro Football Focus has the Giants second-to-last in pass coverage. Their secondary is just not very good.
To pull this off, they’ll need 30 touches from Circle Button Saquon, and he’ll need to hit that circle button (spin move, for the non-Maddeners out there) quite a bit. Chunk play runs. 30+ yards at least twice. If the Vikings stack the box, Daniel Jones needs to make them pay, and I don’t think he can with this WR group.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals, 7:15 pm
Prediction: 24-19 Bengals
If Lamar Jackson is out, Baltimore has no shot. *Update: He’s out, and Huntley is a game-time decision* If he plays, they have slightly more of a shot *Update: They don’t* But I don’t see anyone stopping the Bengals train. I’ve had them at the top of my power rankings for a few weeks now. Every perceived weakness from last season, where they came a play away from a Super Bowl win, has been addressed. Their defense is solid, and often more than solid. Their offensive line is meshing. They have multiple #1 receivers on any other team, and Burrow is an absolute technician.
Baltimore finally has some healthy running backs back, but they can’t seem to line up having them plus Lamar all at the same time. Roquan needs to earn every penny of that extension and keep Cincy under 20 points, and maybe score a few on defense, if the Ravens want any chance in this.
Monday, January 16th
Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7:15 pm
Prediction: 45-35 Cowboys
Think Dak is sick of hearing it? It’s time to put together that defining game and outgun the GOAT. He’s got the weapons, so no excuses this time. The most important thing is if they can build a lead, they can’t let up. Brady can come back from a lot, so the 4th quarter lead has to be more than a lot. Pedal to the floor until 8-4-4.
Conventional wisdom is to never bet against Brady, and I get that, which is why oftentimes this season, I didn’t bet against Brady. And he was not good. I mean he wasn’t bad, he still threw 25-9 and 4600 yards, but he also needed more throws and completions than any other year of his career in order to get those numbers, all for 8 wins. Think about that, 45 years old and he just threw the most passes of his 23-year career, and that allowed them to win all of 8 games. Just enough to hold onto the putrid NFC South, and the first time (outside of his injury year) that Brady has had single digit wins in a season since 2002. Win-loss record as a QB is one of those things I don’t really put much thought into unless it’s absurd one way or the other… Brady’s is bonkers. 20 years of double digit wins, soured only by a blip season in the middle where his season-ending injury led the league to literally create a rule to prevent the play that caused his injury. And he’s carried this particular team as far as they can go. Brady may be immortal, but I don’t think the rest of the old bones on that team are as driven to play through to February.
So this is it, Dak. Get Tony Pollard 30 touches and at least 3 will go to the house. Screens, draws, pitches, reverses, slot routes, direct snaps, whatever. Get him the ball. A lot.
I’ve said enough. We can speculate and break down so much about every team, but it’s game day and anything can happen. As the old adage made famous by Chris Berman goes, “That’s why they play the games!”
May all your teams win or your coaches get fired.
One thought on “NFL 2023 Super Wildcard Weekend Preview & Predictions”
Outside of the first and last games of the weekend, we’re thinking along the same lines. It’s too bad the Ravens and Dolphins will probably both have 3rd string QBs out there, though I don’t think it would’ve made a difference against the Bengals and Bills. I’m curious to see how the Cowboys-Bucs game unfolds because I do think you could be right in it just being a high scoring affair with the Cowboys running away with it.