Theo is an enthusiastic Seahawks fan, while Zach is a loyal 49ers fan. Here, they predict the 2023 NFL Playoffs by analyzing team structures and dynamics and figuring out the possible outcomes of each and every game.
Niners (2) vs Seahawks (7)
Brock Purdy versus Geno Smith: The star-studded quarterback matchup no one was expecting.
In his nine seasons in the NFL, Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith has never established himself as a reliable starting quarterback. When the Seahawks traded away superstar quarterback Russell Wilson in March, many “experts” thought the Seahawks to be doomed. Yet, while Wilson sputters and flails with the Broncos in Denver, Geno Smith has excelled with Seattle, breaking many of Wilson’s own single-season records.
Purdy, the Niners’ 262nd pick in last year’s NFL draft — the last overall selection — was thrown into the fire after two bona fide starters went down with injury. The storyline is picturesque: Trey Lance, a promising young talent that the team mortgaged their future for, and Jimmy Garoppolo, a consistent winner and a well-seasoned veteran, both ready to drive a playoff-ready team to success. Yet it is Brock Purdy, deemed “Mr. Irrelevant” at the time of the draft, who is now the face of this second-seeded playoff juggernaut.
The 49ers are no doubt the better team in this matchup. The Seahawks barely squeaked into the playoffs after a stretch of incompetent defense and inconsistent offense. The 49ers, meanwhile, are on a 10-game win streak, with the best defense in the NFL and a young quarterback that has surprised everyone. Although the 49ers have already defeated Seattle twice this season, this may be a trap game. Last year’s playoff loss against the LA Rams — a team they had also swept in the regular season — still hangs in the back of Niner fans’ heads. However, with the likely Defensive Player of the Year winner Nick Bosa and star linebacker Fred Warner leading the best defense in the NFL, Geno Smith and company will have a tough time against San Francisco unless Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll can outsmart 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
Prediction: 49ers 30 – 20 Seahawks
Vikings (3) vs Giants (6)
Despite a 13-4 record, the Vikings could prove themselves to be one of the most disappointing teams in the playoffs. At certain points, they have looked to be among the best in the NFL. Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, TJ Hockensen and Dalvin Cook lead one of the most potent offenses in the league. Yet, at other times, the Vikings have looked no better than a bottom-feeding team, getting blown out by the Packers, Cowboys and Lions in recent weeks. Yes, they managed to pull off the largest comeback in NFL history, coming back from a 33-0 deficit against the Colts, but they are still a very unpredictable team that can lose on any given game day.
The Giants are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL, behind new head coach Brian Daboll who has revolutionized the team. They could easily pull off an upset against an inconsistent Vikings team.
Prediction: Giants 24 – 20 Vikings
Buccaneers (4) vs Cowboys (5)
Despite a 8-9 record and one of Tom Brady’s worst seasons in his career, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed back to the playoffs as NFC South winners. The Bucs have one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL behind a struggling offensive line. That will be a serious problem for the Bucs against a Cowboys defensive line that has the third most sacks in the NFL behind a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Micah Parsons. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has been inconsistent at times, turning the ball over often at a concerning rate. It is hard to face off against Brady, but the combination of one of the best rushing attacks and offensive weapons like Ceedee Lamb should be enough for the Cowboys to win.
Prediction: Cowboys 28 – 17 Buccaneers
Bills (2) vs Dolphins (7)
Defensive back Damar Hamlin’s recent cardiac arrest has lit a spark in this Bills team. Behind superstar quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Bills will have plenty of offensive firepower, along with a defense that gave up a seventh-best 319 yards per game. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are missing their breakout quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has revitalized Miami’s offense alongside receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. If Skylar Thompson is at the helm against a stout Buffalo Bills defense, the Dolphins will have a very tough time against a star-studded and motivated Buffalo squad. Expect Buffalo to get out to a big lead early, and make it too difficult for Miami to mount any type of comeback.
Prediction: Bills 38 – 10 Dolphins
Ravens (3) vs Bengals (6)
There’s nothing like two division rivals facing off in the playoffs. Ravens-Bengals has the potential to be the best game of the first round. Both teams are in conflict over the top spot in their division due to late-season drama after the cancellation of Bills-Bengals due to Damar Hamlin’s injury. This will no doubt add some extra motivation for both teams to bring their best.
The Ravens often look like a one-man show. Lamar Jackson’s supreme athletic talent at the quarterback position gives Baltimore high entertainment value, and, more importantly, the upper hand in any given game. However, his injury status is in question at the moment and his absence would almost certainly leave the team in shambles.
Joe Burrow mans the Bengals’ squad, which is armed with a high powered offense that is largely the same as last years’ AFC championship team. Cincinnati is no doubt trying to return to the show and Burrow has proven he is a gamer. Even if the Ravens are forced to start backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, both teams will bring it in this game. But, the Bengals are the more complete team with more consistent performances down the stretch, and that gives them the advantage in this matchup.
Prediction: Bengals 38 – Ravens 28
Chargers (4) vs Jaguars (5)
The Chargers rolled into the season with high expectations after adding a number of defensive players to a squad that already had a dynamic offense with former Rookie of the Year quarterback, Justin Herbert. They didn’t quite live up to all the hype, but they quietly had a great season in a loaded AFC conference.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, on the other hand, are viewed as quite the opposite. The whole team was a huge question mark after possessing the No. 1 overall draft pick two years in a row following two seasons where they went through coaching drama and won a measly 4 out of 33 games. Luckily, all that losing landed Jacksonville a bigger face of the franchise than the team has ever had: quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
If there’s one thing to know about playoff football, the team that gets hot at the right time typically finds the most success. The Jaguars have surprised everyone in the final stages of the season, winning 5 straight games and coming out of nowhere to take the AFC South title, so it may be time to gear up for a Trevor Lawrence breakout performance. Prepare for a down-to-the-wire game, where the Jags will sneak through on a game-winning kick.
Prediction: Jaguars 31 – 28 Chargers
Eagles (1) vs Cowboys (5)
The Cowboys-Eagles divisional rivalry is historic, so this matchup will be all the rage. The Eagles started off the season 8-0 and continued to prove that they were among the best offenses in the league even after dropping a game to a mediocre Washington Commanders team. They have tailed off slightly since then, but largely only due to the injury of their MVP-caliber quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who will return after their first-round bye. The Cowboys have been an incredible sight to watch at times this season, but their volatility will have to come back to bite them at some point. The Eagles’ defensive back duo in Darius Slay and James Bradberry should be able to expose Dak Prescott’s inconsistencies, so look to see some late-game drama to give the Eagles momentum.
Prediction: Eagles 26 – 18 Cowboys
49ers (2) vs Giants (6)
Everyone seems to be asking, “When will Brock Purdy’s magic end?” It would be no surprise if this is the game where the lights get too bright; however, the 49ers’ suffocating defense has proven to be more than capable of picking up any offensive slack. The New York Giants are unimpressive on offense, with a bottom-tier receiving core and a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in Daniel Jones. They do, however, have a dynamic playmaker in running back Saquon Barkley. If anyone can stop the fourth-best rusher in the league, it’s San Francisco’s front seven, captained by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner. Expect a low-scoring game with an impressive show of the universal ‘bend don’t break‘ defensive principle that the Niners have effectively showcased in 2022.
Prediction: Niners 17 – Giants 7
Chiefs (1) vs Jaguars (4)
After their (predicted) first playoff win since 2017, The Jaguars will be riding high and looking to reach the Conference Championship just as they did that season. However, in their way will be former MVP Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Despite losing star receiver Tyreek Hill, Mahomes has not skipped a beat and he will undoubtedly cook the Jaguars defense. On the other hand, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is turnover-prone, fourth in the NFL with thirteen fumbles. This could get ugly for Jacksonville.
Prediction: Chiefs 41 – 14 Jaguars
Bills (2) vs Bengals (3)
The two teams that faced off in the canceled game with Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest will play again in the best matchup of the divisional round. The Bills will be motivated to perform after the traumatic incident and their offense may be too much to bear for the Bengals’ defense. The Bengals have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but their weakness is the offensive line, which may run into trouble against a stout Bills defensive line. Anticipate this game to go down to the wire, with the Bills winning on a game-winning touchdown drive and defensive turnover to close the lid.
Prediction: Bills 27 – 25 Bengals
49ers (2) vs Eagles (1)
The two most physical teams in the NFL will face off to take home the NFC crown. These teams are similar to each other in many ways: both teams have potent offenses, clever head coaches and multifaceted rushing attacks. The top receivers on each team are both famed for their physicality and strength, while the second receivers have similar play styles centered on route-running expertise. San Francisco and Philadelphia also have incredible defenses who are first and second in the NFL, respectively. Where these teams differ is in their quarterback play. While Brock Purdy has impressed, Jalen Hurts has morphed into a star trademarked by elite athleticism and mobility. Historically, the Niners have struggled to contain running quarterbacks, which may come back to bite them late into the playoffs.
Prediction: Eagles 38 – 30 49ers
Chiefs (1) vs Bills (2)
This will be a rematch of last year’s divisional matchups, in which the Chiefs won 42-36 in what many called the greatest NFL game of all time. In the most anticipated matchup of the playoffs, expect more of the same. More impact of the Damar Hamlin incident finds its way into this game as well, which will take place in a neutral setting. Neither team will have a home-field advantage, which is an unfortunate disadvantage for two teams that have incredible fan representation and game atmosphere.
Prediction: Bills 57 – 54 Chiefs
Bills (2) vs Eagles (1)
The Buffalo Bills appeared in a lot of preseason Superbowl predictions, and they have certainly lived up to the hype. They possess the no. 6 defense and the no. 2 offense driven by certified star quarterback Josh Allen. The real potential difference maker here is the team chemistry. The Bills have been rolling as of late, and any fan of the NFL admires the quarterback-wide receiver relationship that Allen shares with Stephon Diggs. Furthermore, this team is riding on each others’ backs as the rest of the NFL shows their support for Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin and his road to recovery. It seems like something out of a fairy tale — but if there’s any team that has the all-around talent to make that a reality, it’s the Buffalo Bills.
On the other side of things, the Philadelphia Eagles will have remained rock solid even after fan and media-driven allegations that they weren’t all that their record said they were. Although expected to take a big step forward as their young quarterback Jalen Hurts developed, this team was not a favorite ahead of the season. Nonetheless, Hurts stepped up to the plate with the aid of a first-ranked offensive line, a developing mastermind head coach in Nick Sirianni, and trade-acquired wide receiver AJ Brown. Yet even with all that, it seems like the defense is the strength of this team, finishing off the season ranked second.
By no means is this an easy choice. Both teams are famed for their passionate fan bases who will pull for their squad until the bitter end. At this point, the Buffalo Bills have proven their strength, showcasing a collection of elite playoff performances in the last few years. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts has been more than impressive, carrying the weight of success for millions of football fans’ fantasy teams. However, the NFL playoff is no fantasy, and the more experienced team is often the one to pull through. In dedication to a beloved teammate, expect the Bills to string together a historic run to 2023’s National Football League crown.
Prediction: Bills 41 – 35 Eagles
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