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NFL 2023 Wild Card Round Preview

After an up and down NFL season filled with great rookie play, controversial officiating, and elite performances from star-studded vets, we finally made it to the playoffs! With most top teams playing below expectations, and other teams rising above adversity to squeak into the postseason, we're in for a great batch of games over the next month. Let's dive into the first set of matchups coming this weekend!


Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

 

Super Wild Card Weekend

*winner noted in italics*


Cleveland Browns vs Houston Texans


The Browns took on a CJ Stroud-less Texans squad a few weeks back and emerged victorious 36-22. For the Browns, Flacco has been slinging the rock since stepping in as the starter in Week 13. On the other side, CJ Stroud has surprised many, and not only was the best rookie QB this season, but had the best rookie QB season of all time. With both QBs playing at a high level, this game will surely come down to the defenses, with the Browns boasting potential DPOY Myles Garrett, and a vicious secondary with Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, and Martin Emerson. Houston, on the other hand, has breakout star Derek Stingley, vicious rookie Will Anderson, and Coach of the Year candidate DeMeco Ryans calling the shots on D.


It'll be a tighter game than earlier this year, but I give the Browns the edge again with a mostly healthy defense for the first time since mid-season, 27-24.


Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs


The Chiefs have been sputtering offensively all season, and the Dolphins have struggled lately with multiple star defensive players injured. To make matters worse, this game will be one of the coldest on record, with wind chills being predicted as low as -30 degrees! Both teams offenses will have to channel their run game, and I think that will help the Chiefs calm things down offensively. Isaiah Pacheco is a load to handle, while Dolphins speedy backs, Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane, are one of the best one-two punch duos in the league. If Mike McDaniel can get this run game rolling and only pass when needing to, the Dolphins can march out of Arrowhead victorious.


With that being said, the Chiefs defense has been fantastic all season and will shut down Miami in arctic weather conditions. Kansas City wins this one with ease, 24-7.


Pittsburgh Steelers vs Buffalo Bills


This could be an incredibly fun (or not so fun) matchup. Pittsburgh's offense has found new life with Mason Rudolph at the helm, and the Bills defense is finally getting back to their early season form. On opposite sides for each team, the Steelers will be missing TJ Watt, but they'll still have a nasty pass rush with underrated Alex Highsmith on one side, and rookie Nick Herbig will finally get a chance to show he is NFL material on the other, as he's recorded a pass rush win rate of 18.2%, which ranks second for rookies with more than 70 pass rushes, and tied for 19th overall in the entire league. Offensively for the Bills, Josh Allen will need to minimize mistakes to win in a lake effect game.


If the Bills lean on their run game, they'll wear out a battered Steelers defense. I'll take my chances with Buffalo in this one, in a grueling 12-9 bout.


Photo: Joe Sargent/Getty Images


Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys


We have our first revenge game of the 2023 playoff slate, as Mike McCarthy takes on his old team for the second time since becoming the Cowboys coach in 2020. Dak played at an MVP level for most of the season, while Jordan Love has been one of the best QBs in the league since Week 8. With that, the Packers have one of the youngest teams in the league, but they play like veterans. Look for Love to lean on Jayden Reed to get the offense moving. For Dallas, they've been unreal at home, posting an 8-0 record, while averaging 425.8 yards and 37.4 points per game. CeeDee Lamb has solidified himself as a true elite weapon, and the offensive line can move mountains.


I think Green Bay will give Dallas a run for their money, but the Cowboys offense will light up a lackluster Joe Barry led defense; Dallas wins 34-28.


Los Angeles Rams vs Detroit Lions


We get our second revenge game with Matt Stafford returning to Detroit, and Jared Goff faces the team that started their rebuild around him. The Rams surprised a lot of people, myself included, by finishing the season on a 7-1 run after starting 3-6. Puka Nacua had an OROY level year, as he broke the rookie receptions and yards in a season record. On the defensive side, a pair of rookies in Byron Young and Kobie Turner have stepped up massively for the defensive line, and it's made the lives of the secondary much easier. The Lions, on the other hand, are playing their first home playoff game in 30 years, and had one of their best seasons in recent memory. Goff played at a high level, and this offense featured a ton of unique playmakers between Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, and stud rookie Sam LaPorta.


This is the game of the week for me, and the Lions get their first home playoff win in three decades, by a score of 28-21.


Philadelphia Eagles vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers


This Eagles team reminds me very much of the Pittsburgh Steelers a few years back. Despite starting 10-1, the Eagles finished 1-5, and the offensive play calling was a large reason for that. This Philly offense has gone stale, and they have no creativity as they rank dead last in the league in pre-snap motion. Similarly, their play-action game is awful, seeing as they run the vast majority of their plays from shotgun. Defenses have picked them apart, and that can't be overstated after getting worked by the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants. For the Bucs, Baker has been playing through multiple injuries, and their offense has been hit or miss all year. It'll be up to the defenses to cause some turnovers and put points on the board.


Tampa is the better team as of right now, and they get their revenge against the Eagles, 17-14.


Photo: Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports

 

Final Notes:


Next week, I'll be releasing The House NFL Season Awards, where various members of the House Enterprise contributors voted on different NFL Awards, some of our own awards, and the All-House Teams. Be on the lookout for that, as well as my Division Round Preview.


Enjoy the games this weekend, and I hope everyone had a great holiday and new year!

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