• Thu. May 23rd, 2024

NFL playoff bracket: Schedule, Super Bowl odds, stats, more

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The 2023 NFL playoffs are here, and the No. 1 seeds in each conference — the Ravens in the AFC and the 49ers in the NFC — will receive first-round byes. The remaining 12 teams will play in next week’s three-day wild-card round. Two games will be played Saturday, three Sunday, and the action will culminate in a Monday night finale that will be broadcast by ABC/ESPN.

Our playoff primer will preview the wild-card matchups and take a broader look at what each team must do to reach Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder identified a key stat to watch for each team, and we’ll also preview which opponent each playoff team could see, along with those teams’ updated chances via ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Odds are via ESPN BET.

AFC:
1. Ravens
2. Bills vs. 7. Steelers
3. Chiefs vs. 6. Dolphins
4. Texans vs. 5. Browns

NFC:
1. 49ers
2. Cowboys vs. 7. Packers
3. Lions vs. 6. Rams
4. Buccaneers vs. 5. Eagles

AFC

Odds to win Super Bowl: +325
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 54.8%

First game outlook: The Ravens earned the AFC’s bye and home-field advantage and will play the lowest-seeded remaining wild-card team Jan. 20 or 21. They will either face the winner of the Browns-Texans game, the Dolphins or the Steelers. The Ravens split their season series with Cleveland, beating the Browns in Week 4 while losing the Week 10 rematch. They were swept by the Steelers, losing to Pittsburgh in Weeks 5 and 18, and trounced Miami 56-19 in Week 17.

Reason for hope: The Ravens have played their best against the best. With quarterback Lamar Jackson, Baltimore has gone 7-1 against teams that entered the game with a winning record. Baltimore creates so many matchup problems with the combination of Jackson’s unique playmaking style and the stingiest defense in the league. In December, the Ravens routed three division leaders — the Jaguars, 49ers and Dolphins — by an average of 22.3 points. “We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen said.

Reason for concern: The Ravens’ unsettling playoff track record. Since 2018, Baltimore has the NFL’s second-best record in the regular season (66-32) and one of the worst marks in the postseason, losing four of its five playoff games. Jackson has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions in the postseason, and his 41.5 Total QBR in the playoffs is the worst among quarterbacks who have played at least three playoff games over the past five years. The only other time the Ravens were a No. 1 seed was in 2019, when they were upset by the Titans in the divisional round. — Jamison Hensley

Stat to know: Zay Flowers has a key attribute that the Ravens needed: He gets open. The rookie wideout already ranked 15th out of 106 wide receivers in open score (72) entering Week 18. The improved play at wide receiver (including but not exclusive to Flowers) this season has been crucial to Baltimore’s improved offensive play. Especially with tight end Mark Andrews out (ankle), Flowers has played and will play a key role getting open for Jackson. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +600
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 25.8%

First game outlook: The Bills are making their fifth straight playoff appearance and start this postseason by hosting the Steelers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Bills and Steelers did not play this season and have not faced each other in a playoff game since the 1995 divisional round, when Pittsburgh prevailed. This is their fourth postseason meeting, with the Steelers holding a 2-1 advantage.

Reason for hope: The Bills got hot at the right time and have plenty of playoff experience. The Bills have won five straight games and six of the past seven with the team basically in playoff mode with so little room for error. The Bills’ defense is playing well and getting healthy at the right time with starting defensive tackle DaQuan Jones back from injured reserve. On the experience side, this team has a significant number of players that have been around the organization for a while and know what the playoffs bring, as they have won four straight AFC East titles and made five consecutive playoff appearances.

Reason for concern: Offensive inconsistency. This offense has shown how good it can be — look to wins against the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Dolphins in Week 4 for examples — but it has also struggled to get going early in games and suffered from miscommunication. The Bills have allowed teams that they should beat convincingly to stick around, like the Patriots and Chargers, because of offensive miscues and not putting points on the board early. Drops are an issue (16 of their 24 coming between Weeks 10 and 17) and quarterback Josh Allen had a career-high 18 interceptions this season. At its best, this offense is unstoppable, but avoiding mistakes will be paramount if they want to make a deep postseason run. — Alaina Getzenberg

Stat to know: Buffalo ranked fourth in pass block win rate this season, and one big reason has been Dion Dawkins, whose 93% pass block win rate ranked fourth among all tackles. Dawkins was deservingly selected to the Pro Bowl. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +900
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 8.2%

First game outlook: The Chiefs will host the Dolphins in the wild-card round Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Peacock). Kansas City won the Week 9 meeting between the teams, holding off the Dolphins 21-14 in Frankfurt, Germany. This game will be the 14th consecutive home playoff game for the Chiefs since 2016. They haven’t faced Miami in the playoffs since the 1994 wild-card round, a game the Dolphins won 27-17.

Reason for hope: The Chiefs have a defense that keeps them in games. Kansas City had the second-best scoring defense in the league, giving up 17.1 points per game. It gives the Chiefs a chance to win every time. When needed to protect a narrow lead late in the game, the defense has flourished.

Reason for concern: Offensive sloppiness. Kansas City led the NFL in dropped passes, often in crucial situations or leading to turnovers, and was among the leaders in offensive penalties and turnovers. There’s arguably no bigger reason they lost four of their past eight games. Such mistakes seem baked into their collective DNA. — Adam Teicher

Stat to know: The Chiefs’ offense has problems, but the interior of their offensive line is not one of them. That unit — comprising guards Joe Thuney and Trey Smith and center Creed Humphrey — is as stout as ever in pass protection. The guards rank first and second in pass block win rate at their position, and Humphrey is first among centers, too. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +4000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.7%

First game outlook: The Texans will host the Browns on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC) in the first playoff meeting between the teams and the Texans’ first playoff game since 2019. Houston lost to Cleveland 36-22 in Week 16 at NRG Stadium in a game that quarterback C.J. Stroud missed with a concussion. The Texans gave up 368 yards passing to Browns quarterback Joe Flacco.

Reason for hope: At its best, Houston has beaten playoff contenders. The Texans have wins against the Jaguars, Buccaneers and Bengals with Joe Burrow — who were on a four-game winning streak at the time. With Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Stroud under center, Houston believes it can beat anybody.

Reason for concern: The Texans have lost to the bottom-tier teams of the NFL. They gave QB Bryce Young and the Panthers their first win of the season in Week 8. They lost to the Falcons in Week 5 and allowed QB Desmond Ridder to have a career day. And the Jets in Week 14, who have the 29th-ranked scoring offense, dropped 30 points against them. While Houston won’t face those types of teams in the playoffs, it’s hard to know which Texans team will show up. — DJ Bien-Aime

Stat to know: Wideout Nico Collins ranked in the top 10 in both catch score (sixth with 84) and YAC score (tied for second with 71) in ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics entering Week 18. In other words, he is making catches and generating yards after the catch at a very high rate relative to expectations based on the plays in question. Collins’ breakout has been a crucial component of Houston’s success. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +2500
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 2.4%

First game outlook: The Browns’ first playoff game in three seasons will come in Houston, as they play at the Texans on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Cleveland trounced Houston in a Week 16 matchup at NRG Stadium, a game in which wide receiver Amari Cooper caught 11 passes for a franchise-record 265 yards and two touchdowns.

Reason for hope: The Browns roll into the postseason with arguably the NFL’s top defense. Myles Garrett is one of the league’s elite pass-rushers, while cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson Jr. have locked up opposing wideouts all season. Cleveland’s defense is a problem for any style of offense it will face in the playoffs.

Reason for concern: The Browns have committed a league-high 37 turnovers. They’ve somehow overcome them to this point, in part, because the Cleveland defense has forced the sixth-most turnovers (28). But will the Browns be able to continue overcoming their turnover issue in the playoffs? History suggests that will be tough. — Jake Trotter

Stat to know: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah ranks second among linebackers in run stop win rate and recorded an excellent 31% pass rush win rate on his 78 pass rushes this season. He hasn’t been on the field 100% of the time for Cleveland, but when he’s been out there, he’s been strong. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +1800
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 6.5%

First game outlook: The Dolphins are making back-to-back playoff appearances and will try to win their first postseason game since 2000 when they play at the Chiefs on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Peacock). The Dolphins lost to the Chiefs in Week 9 in Frankfurt, Germany, falling behind 21-0 early before their comeback fell just short in a 21-14 loss. Miami is 3-0 against Kansas City in the playoffs, including a double-overtime win on Christmas Day in the 1971 divisional playoffs.

Reason for hope: Their offense, at even 80% strength, features some of the best playmakers in the NFL. If the Dolphins get into a rhythm and are allowed to dictate the tempo of a game, there aren’t many teams that can contain them. RB De’Von Achane‘s performance in Week 17 inspired some confidence that he can provide a potent one-two punch with Raheem Mostert. Their explosiveness, coupled with that of receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, give Miami a chance to score anytime its offense takes the field.

Reason for concern: Miami’s defense kept itself afloat after losing Jaelan Phillips to a torn Achilles but losing Bradley Chubb in Week 17 to a torn ACL may prove too difficult to overcome. Without their top two pass-rushers, the Dolphins will turn to Andrew Van Ginkel, Melvin Ingram and Emmanuel Ogbah — which isn’t a bad contingency plan. But there’s no depth at the position beyond those three, at least not with a proven NFL track record. Waddle’s ankle will take an undetermined amount of time to heal, and Miami is still missing middle linebacker Jerome Baker (knee). Injuries aren’t generally an excuse in the NFL, but these will be hard to overcome. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Stat to know: There’s no way around it: Losing both Phillips and Chubb — who was having a really nice season with a top-10 pass rush win rate at edge and six forced fumbles — hurts Miami’s chances of making a deep playoff run. The player to watch to replace them is Van Ginkel. He hasn’t been quite on their level but is solid, with a 18% pass rush win rate at edge (along with 6.0 sacks) that is at least average for the position. But then in that game he got hurt, too. With or without him, Miami is going to need other players to step in pass rush.. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +15000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 0.6%

First game outlook: The Steelers haven’t won a postseason game since 2016 and will try to change that when they play at the Bills on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Steelers didn’t play the Bills this season but have a 2-1 record over Buffalo in the playoffs, though this will be their first time playing a postseason game in Buffalo.

Reason for hope: QB Mason Rudolph. Yes, you read that right. Once the scapegoat and punchline in Pittsburgh, Rudolph’s resurgence over the season’s final three weeks has the Steelers back in the playoffs. His willingness to throw the deep ball — and success doing it — has opened up the offense and led to a balanced attack. Under Rudolph, the Steelers’ offense scored more than 30 points in back-to-back games (Weeks 16-17) for the first time since Weeks 5-6 of the 2020 season.

Reason for concern: Once the strength of the team, the Steelers’ defense has been marred by injuries, including an MCL sprain to T.J. Watt in the third quarter of Saturday’s win against Baltimore that will make him almost certainly unavailable in the first round of the playoffs. All three of the Steelers’ free agency additions at inside linebacker have missed time because of significant injuries, including season-ending injuries to Kwon Alexander (Achilles) and Cole Holcomb (knee), which has the Steelers leaning on three players who were either retired or on practice squads for significant snaps. And All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick suffered a knee injury against the Colts in Week 15 and hasn’t played or practiced since. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: Rookie CB Joey Porter Jr. allowed 0.9 yards per coverage snap as the nearest defender heading into Week 18, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the fourth-lowest mark by an outside corner with at least 250 coverage snaps. He has allowed 75 yards via penalty, but his numbers this season were mighty impressive. — Walder

NFC

Odds to win Super Bowl: +225
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 59.3%

First game outlook: The 49ers locked up the NFC’s bye in Week 17 and will face the lowest-seeded wild-card winner in the divisional round either Jan. 20 or 21. That opponent will be the winner of the Eagles-Buccaneers game, the Rams or the Packers. The 49ers have played three of those four teams this season, splitting two games with the Rams (winning in Week 2, losing on Sunday) while notching wins over the Bucs and Eagles in Weeks 11 and 13, respectively.

Reason for hope: The 49ers have one of the NFL’s best and most balanced rosters paired with plenty of playoff experience and a much-needed bye. With the exception of their Christmas night letdown against the Ravens, the 49ers have been a juggernaut when boasting a (mostly) healthy roster. In the final few weeks, San Francisco looked like a team in need of a bye. Getting the top seed and the week off that goes with it should bode well for the Niners’ health and chances at a deep playoff run. Following their Week 9 bye, the Niners played arguably their best football of the season during a six-game winning streak in which they won by an average of 20 points.

Reason for concern: What happens if they fall behind? It’s not so much that the Niners are incapable of winning if their opponent gets an early lead so much as they have rarely been in those situations. When they have, they’ve been unable to forge a comeback and win. The 49ers had a halftime lead in 11 of their 12 victories and were tied in the other one. They’ve trailed entering the third quarter three times and lost all three. The 49ers have a good habit of jumping on opponents and putting them away early, but it’s fair to wonder how key young players, such as quarterback Brock Purdy and kicker Jake Moody, will respond if they get in a close postseason game in which they have to deliver under pressure. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: Brandon Aiyuk‘s 3.3 yards per route run ranks third in the NFL heading into Week 18, behind only Tyreek Hill and Nico Collins. But it also ranks fifth among wide receiver seasons since 2007. We should not sleep on just how absurdly efficient Aiyuk’s season has been and what a playmaker he has become for San Francisco. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +750
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 25%

First game outlook: The Cowboys are making their third straight playoff appearance, and this one starts against the Packers in the wild-card round Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox). While the teams didn’t face each other this season, this will be the ninth time they’ve met in the playoffs. The postseason series is tied 4-4, but Dallas has dropped the past two, the most recent a 34-31 walk-off loss to the Packers at home in the 2016 divisional round.

Reason for hope: The Jimmy Johnson curse has been lifted now that the coach has been put in the Ring of Honor. Hey, when a Super Bowl drought reaches 27 years, you have to try anything. But QB Dak Prescott has had his best season, receiver CeeDee Lamb has been unstoppable since Week 5, and the defense is capable of shutting teams down when it gets to work with a lead with its pass rush and ability to take the ball away.

Reason for concern: Until they do it, how can you be convinced this is the Cowboys’ year? The offense has sputtered some down the stretch as the competition has improved, and the run defense continues to be an issue (ranked 16th after Week 18). If the Cowboys have to play in San Francisco, is there confidence they can beat the 49ers when they have lost in the playoffs each of the past two seasons and were bludgeoned by them 42-10 in the 2023 regular season? — Todd Archer

Stat to know: It’s no surprise that cornerback DaRon Bland leads all outside corners in lowest EPA allowed as the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, given his five pick-sixes. But the number that stands out: Despite the picks, Bland has allowed 1.5 yards per coverage snap heading into Week 18, the 21st highest (worst) by an outside corner with at least 250 coverage snaps. Put those two numbers together, and what does that say? Bland is a boom-or-bust corner who is the definition of an X factor for Dallas in the playoffs. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +1800
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 5.1%

First game outlook: The Lions will host the Rams in the wild-card round Sunday (8 p.m. ET, NBC), the first playoff game Detroit has hosted since 1993. The Lions are making their first playoff appearance since 2016 and haven’t won a postseason game since 1991. While the Rams and Lions did not meet this season and have only played one postseason game against each other, Lions quarterback Jared Goff spent his first five seasons in Los Angeles, leading the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018.

Reason for hope: The Lions have a ton of targets who can go off at any moment in wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown, running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta (he suffered a hyperextension and bone bruise injury in Week 18), among others. They have proved they are more than capable of putting up points against any team with Goff, who has playoff and Super Bowl experience, guiding the ship. That makes this team dangerous, and it’s motivated behind a strong-willed coach in Dan Campbell to change the history of a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1991 season.

Reason for concern: Are the Lions legitimate? Yes, they’ve played superbly in the regular season, but the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016. Many of its players are young and lack postseason experience, so will they show up on the big stage? Also, the defense has issues stopping big plays in the secondary and giving up rushing yards to mobile quarterbacks, which won’t be a factor in the wild-card round but could be a concern further down the road. — Eric Woodyard

Stat to know: Among slot corners with at least 250 coverage snaps, rookie safety Brian Branch has the fourth-best EPA allowed as the nearest defender (minus-17) and a better-than-average 1.0 yards per coverage snap heading into Week 18. He’s an asset for the Lions’ defense. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +7500
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.4%

First-game outlook: The Buccaneers are making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and start it with a familiar opponent, as they will host the Eagles on Monday, Jan. 15 (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/ESPN+). These teams met in Week 3 at Raymond James Stadium, a 25-11 Eagles win in which the Bucs were held to 174 yards of offense. Tampa Bay has done well against the Eagles in the playoffs though, winning three of five meetings.

Reason for hope: The Bucs found a brand of winning football that culminated in a four-game win streak prior to their Week 17 loss to the Saints. In that streak — particularly the wins over the Packers and Jaguars — they were able to sustain drives and score on offense, averaging 28.5 points per game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was at his best in that span too, throwing nine touchdowns and just one interception. The defense — marred by inconsistency midway through the season — regained some of its lost swagger and surrendered just 18.8 points per game in that span.

Reason for concern: Which Bucs team will show up? They’ve been wildly inconsistent this season between offensive coordinator Dave Canales’ growing pains and a defense that gives up big chunk plays but somehow remains stout in the red zone. The offense’s momentum came to a screeching halt in Week 17, and the Bucs were back to self-inflicted wounds with penalties, drops and fumbles. Plus, Mayfield is dealing with a rib injury that could affect his ability to throw. — Jenna Laine

Stat to know: Safety Antoine Winfield Jr.’s numbers are, to put it simply, ridiculous. We’ll start with the box score numbers: He has forced six fumbles, recorded three interceptions and delivered six sacks. But the advanced numbers back his impact, too: His run stop win rate ranks first among all defensive backs with at least 50 qualifying plays. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +1400
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 4.1%

First-game outlook: The Eagles start their third straight playoff campaign with a wild-card matchup at the Buccaneers on Monday, Jan. 15 (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/ESPN+). The Eagles face a team they handled easily in Week 3 en route to a 25-11 victory. This is the sixth postseason meeting between the teams, with the Bucs owning a 3-2 advantage. Philadelphia has lost its past two playoff meetings with the Buccaneers, the most recent a 31-15 defeat in the 2021 wild-card round.

Reason for hope: The Eagles’ offense remains one of the most talented units in the NFL. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, an MVP candidate prior to the team’s recent slide, operates behind one of the best offensive lines in football and alongside arguably the top receiver duo in franchise history in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The play design could use more creativity, and the untimely penalties and turnovers need to stop, but this group is capable of putting up big numbers even against the league’s best.

Reason for concern: The defense. A switch from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia as the defensive playcaller has not led to the desired turnaround to this point. The Eagles struggle on third down, in the red zone and in pass defense, and now the strength of the unit — rush defense — is faltering as well. Philadelphia will likely exit the postseason early if there isn’t marked improvement. — Tim McManus

Stat to know: Amid plenty of disappointment, one Eagles stalwart has kept his level of play incredibly high: Lane Johnson. The Eagles’ right tackle came into Week 18 ranked first and ninth in run block win rate and pass block win rate, respectively, among all tackles. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 3.8%

First game outlook: The Rams will play at the Lions in the wild-card round (8 p.m. ET, Sunday, NBC) in quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s first game in Detroit since being traded from the Lions to the Rams in January 2021. The Lions and Rams have only met once in the playoffs, with Los Angeles losing to Detroit 21-18 in the 1952 division playoffs.

Reason for hope: The Rams’ offense has played its best football of the season since its Week 10 bye. Los Angeles has averaged 29.9 points per game in of its past seven games and has had that success against some of the league’s top defenses (Cleveland, Baltimore and San Francisco). The Rams have a well-balanced offense, led by Stafford, second-year running back Kyren Williams and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Puka Nacua.

Reason for concern: The Rams rank 32nd in special teams DVOA and have missed 16 combined field goals and extra points, the most of any team this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Week 17 against the Giants, the Rams missed two extra points and allowed a 94-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. After that game, Los Angeles made another change at kicker, cutting Lucas Havrisik and re-signing Brett Maher. The Rams are trying to fix their issues on special teams, but it’s an area that could cost them a game in the postseason. — Sarah Barshop

Stat to know: Ernest Jones ranks fourth among linebackers in run stop win rate. The fact that the Rams have even had an passable defense (24th in EPA per play allowed, 21st vs. the run) is a testament to players such as Jones given how many unknowns this unit started the season with. — Walder


Odds to win Super Bowl: +10000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.3%

First game outlook: The Packers will take on the No. 2-seeded Cowboys in the wild-card round at AT&T Stadium (4:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, Fox). These two are frequent playoff combatants, as this is the ninth postseason meeting between the franchises. The series is tied 4-4 with the Packers winning the past two, the most recent coming in the 2016 divisional round when the Packers defeated the top-seeded Cowboys 34-31 on a walk-off, 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.

Reason for hope: Quarterback Jordan Love might not yet be Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers 3.0, but it sure looks like he’s headed in that direction. What’s more, he has a group of young pass-catchers who — while perhaps lacking a dominant No. 1 option — offer several capable options, especially when healthy. Rookies Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft all have had big games to go along with second-year receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson. And don’t forget about veteran RB Aaron Jones, who showed late in the season that he still has it.

Reason for concern: The defense did just enough down the stretch, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not capable of melting down. It almost did so in the Week 16 win at Carolina; the Panthers just ran out of time. There are still major questions about whether defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme, game plan and playcalling can hold up and whether the players on that side of the ball can execute it in the biggest moments. This is still the same unit that has allowed the most 200-yard rushing games. — Rob Demovsky

Stat to know: There’s real reason to buy the late-season breakout of Wicks. The rookie fifth-rounder recorded a 66 overall score in ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics and was above average in all three facets — open score, catch score and YAC score. While other young wideouts, such as Watson and Reed, have flashed some success, they could use all the help they can get. Wicks looks like he can provide some now and going forward. — Walder

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