There are only eight teams left in the NFL postseason, and while the remaining field includes some that were expected to be here – the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills – there are also some surprises.
The teams include teams that have exceeded expectations, such as the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers – the NFL's youngest team this season – as well as the Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. With some surprising twists on the field in the wild card round, here are five bold predictions about what will happen in the four games spanning Saturday and Sunday.
1. Jordan Love leads the Packers to defeat their longtime playoff nemesis: the 49ers
Another week for the Green Bay Packers in the postseason makes for another classic NFC playoff matchup. The seventh-seeded Packers became the youngest team (average age: 25 years, 214 days) to win a playoff game since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 when they defeated the second-seeded Dallas Cowboys 48-32.
The postseason victory was Green Bay's 37th all-time, tied with the New England Patriots for the most in league history. On Saturday night, the Packers face the NFC's top seed, the 12-5 San Francisco 49ers, marking an NFL-level showdown in the 10th playoff between the two franchises.
The Niners – who have 36 playoff victories in their history, just one behind the Packers – lead the all-time postseason series between these two historic heavyweights at 5-4, with four straight postseason wins over Green Bay, all against the former Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Now the Packers have a new pilot at the helm of their offense in freshman starter Jordan Love. He threw the second-most passing touchdowns (32) in the NFL regular season and has helped the Packers win seven of their last nine games, including the playoffs, while throwing 21 touchdowns and just one interception during that span.
Love and 49ers starting quarterback Brock Purdy are two of only five quarterbacks to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 4,000 passing yards in their first seasons as full-time NFL starting quarterbacks, joining Kansas Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999). City Chiefs to quarterback Patrick Mahomes (2018) and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (2020).
In Love's last three must-win games with the Vikings, against the Bears and against the Cowboys, he has posted a perfect passer rating (158.3) under pressure with 290 yards and four touchdowns on 17 of 21 passes. Love was 5 of 7 for 152 yards and two touchdowns when pressured against the Cowboys. On Saturday, he'll continue to pull off impressive pass breakups to lead the Packers to their first NFC Championship Game appearance since the 2020 season.
2. Josh Allen goes nuclear on the Chiefs' second-ranked scoring defense
The Kansas City Chiefs have allowed 17.3 points per game this season, the second fewest in the NFL and the best by an Andy Reid-coached team since the 2004 Eagles (16.3). They have yet to allow a 300-yard passer this season and their press coverage rate of 81% is the second highest in the NFL.
Josh Allen is coming off the first ever playoff game with three passing touchdowns, at least 70 rushing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in Monday's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 44 total touchdowns are the most in the NFL this season. He also leads the league in both total touchdowns (174) and turnovers (75) over the last four seasons.
So what happens when the Bills' star quarterback collides with the Chiefs' defense? Allen crushed Kansas City's “D” that loves to play with his back to the quarterback, producing just enough to overcome a big day from Patrick Mahomes in his first career away playoff game.
3. Ravens intercept Texas rookie CJ Stroud multiple times
Texas rookie quarterback CJ Stroud, the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, led the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season (23-5). He also has the best touchdown-to-interception ratio (21-2, 10.5) against winning teams in NFL history (at least 250 pass attempts), including playoffs.
That changes against the AFC's top seed, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore leads the NFL in scoring defense (16.5 points per game), takeaways (31, tied with the New York Giants) and sacks (60). They are the first team in NFL history to lead and/or tie for the league in these categories in the same season. Stroud and the Texans faced them in both teams' regular season opener, with the rookie quarterback going 28 of 44 with no touchdowns or interceptions.
On Saturday, the Ravens' top defense shut down Stroud in his first road playoff game, handing him off twice, with at least one going to Geno Stone, whose seven interceptions were the second-most in the NFL in 2023.
4. Lions keep Buccaneers out of the end zone
The Tampa Buccaneers gave up 13 missed tackles to the Philadelphia Eagles in their 32-9 win on Super Wild Card Weekend as Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield rushed for 337 yards and three passing touchdowns.
However, that won't happen in Detroit, where the Lions are looking to win two postseason games for the first time since 1957. Dan Campbell will step up his defense against a Tampa Bay team that has trouble staying in line, especially defensive end Aidan Hutchinson on the ball.
Hutchinson is the first player in team history to have three consecutive games with multiple sacks. He is the first player since at least 2006 to record at least multiple sacks and five or more quarterback hits in three consecutive games. Hutchinson's quarterback pressure rate of 39% is the highest of any player in the last five postseasons with at least 20 passes. He led the NFL in quarterback pressures (110) and natural pressures (74) this season.
This means it will be a tough day for Mayfield in Detroit as Tampa Bay fails to score a touchdown.
5. Packers intercept Brock Purdy multiple times
Brock Purdy had a great season. The former Mr. Irrelevant broke the record for yards per attempt (9.6) in a season (minimum 350 attempts) and led the NFL in passer rating (113.0). He was the favorite for league MVP for a time, as his 4,280 passing yards this season are the most in 49ers history, making him their first Pro Bowl quarterback since Jeff Garcia in 2002.
However, Saturday won't be Purdy's day against a Green Bay defense that has been terrible at times this season (they allowed 30 points to the CAROLINA PANTHERS) but has been strong of late. The Packers held their last two regular-season opponents to 10 points or fewer, then held the Cowboys' strong first-half offense to just 7 points in last week's upset (though Dallas scored 32 points with a strong second half).
They'll continue to rise against the 49ers as Jaire Alexander and the Green Bay defense come away with two interceptions – Purdy has thrown a few in bigger games, with 4 against the Ravens and 2 against the Vikings and Bengals – as the Packers get a win .