January 14, 2023
It took three tries, but the Philadelphia Eagles eventually locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and one of their rewards for doing so is that they get to sit home and watch the wildcard round of the playoffs while the rest of the playoff teams in the NFC play elimination games. Here we'll take a look at the wildcard round playoff games and determine the ideal winners for each of them.
• (7) Seahawks at (2) 49ers: First, let's look at the NFC playoff seeding:
The Eagles will play lowest remaining seed after the wildcard round of the playoffs has concluded. If the Seahawks beat the 49ers, they will be the Eagles' divisional round opponent, and Nick Sirianni can begin preparing for them in earnest.
The Seahawks got out to a 6-3 start to the season, but then lost five of six games, bringing them to 7-8 with two games to play. To make it into the tourney, they needed to win each of their final two games and get some additional help around the league, which they did. To start the season, the Seahawks weren't thought of as a playoff contender, as they were rebuilding after the trade of Russell Wilson to the Broncos, but they unexpectedly got solid play from Geno Smith and a number of their rookie draft picks made immediate, positive contributions. Still, they have the longest odds of winning the Super Bowl among the NFC playoff teams, at +8500. They would absolutely be an ideal playoff opponent for the Eagles in the divisional round.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' biggest threat to making it to the Super Bowl is the 49ers, who currently hold the longest winning streak in the NFL, at 10 games. They have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 304-144 (+160 point differential) during their streak. If some other team could do the dirty work for the Eagles and knock the Niners out, they'd be perfectly fine with that.
• (6) Giants at (3) Vikings: The Eagles smashed both the Giants and Vikings earlier this season when they were at full strength, and I don't think that one is a more ideal opponent than the other. However, there are ideal winners in this matchup, depending on who wins the Seahawks-49ers game.
If the 49ers win, the 7-seeded Seahawks would be eliminated, which would make the Giants the lowest remaining seed after the wildcard round has concluded, should they advance. If the 49ers and Vikings both win, they would face each other in the divisional round and the Eagles would face the winner of the Cowboys-Buccaneers game.
If I'm the Eagles, I would rather face the Giants than either Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, or the Cowboys, thus making the Giants the ideal winner of this matchup if the 49ers win on Saturday.
(6) Giants at (3) Vikings: Again, as noted above, if the Seahawks win on Saturday, they would play the Eagles in the divisional round. That would mean that the winner of Giants-Vikings would play the winner of Cowboys-Buccaneers. If the Vikings beat the Giants, they would get a home game against the Bucs or Cowboys. If the Giants beat the Vikings, they would have to play on the road in either Tampa or Dallas.
If I'm the Eagles, I would prefer to play the Vikings, who, again, they already smashed this season, over the Bucs or Cowboys. But also, if the Cowboys were to advance all the way to the conference championship round to play the Eagles, they would be on their fourth straight road game. (Actually, it would be their fifth straight road game, but the first of those road games was followed by a mini-bye after a Thursday night game). Facing a team that road-weary would be a big advantage.
• (5) Cowboys at (4) Buccaneers: I have not watched a Buccaneers game this season and thought, "They look impressive." They're 8-9 in an awful division for a reason — they're just not very good. The Cowboys are the second-most threatening team to the Eagles in the NFC, though a distant one in my opinion to the 49ers. It's better if they got knocked out in favor of a team that really has no business even being in the the playoffs. But also, watching Cowboys playoff failures is always fun.
There are three powerhouses in the AFC in the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals. It's hard to imagine anyone other than those three teams representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Of those three teams, I've decided that the Bills are most ideal potential Super Bowl opponent, on the premise that the Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow would be content to slice and dice Jonathan Gannon's defense in a "death by a thousand paper cuts" manner, while Josh Allen feels more like a wildcard who might get bored by that approach and make a big mistake. Allen also has 13 fumbles this season vs. six for Burrow and five for Mahomes, so if the Eagles' pass rush can get home, they can maybe win another Super Bowl with a strip sack.
So on that premise, it's probably best if the Bengals lose to the Ravens and the Bills beat the Dolphins.
But I think for now, even looking at the AFC teams is getting a little ahead of ourselves.
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