The college football season came to an end this past week, allowing football fans to turn their focus to the upcoming NFL playoffs and Super Bowl LVII. Fans may notice something different about the big game this year, as Apple Music will replace Pepsi as the sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show. Pepsi has sponsored the highly sought-after show for the past 10 years, with last year's show garnering over 120 million viewers. Another shock to fans was when Anheuser-Busch ended their 33-year-long exclusive deal with the Super Bowl, meaning that for the first time since 1989, other alcoholic brands will be able to advertise during the game.
The NFL has also implemented a supplier diversity initiative program to help meet the needs of Super Bowl LVII. This program, called “Business Connect,” aims to connect local businesses that are minority, women, LGBTQ+, and veteran-owned to contract opportunities as a Super Bowl supplier. These businesses will be essential in the functionality of operations on gameday, supplying things such as food and beverages, staffing, transportation, security, and more. The NFL has a history of supporting its host cities, and this program shows progress in its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
As the 2022-2023 NFL regular season concludes, 14 teams advance to the playoffs in hopes of winning Super Bowl LVII. Among these 14 teams, 7 return from last season’s playoffs, while the other 7 hope to make it a recurring theme. This year's Super Bowl takes place in State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona for the first time since 2015. While there’s no shoo-in for a winner this year, the teams competing to take home the Lombardi Trophy are all strong contenders and we have our eyes on a few to go all the way.
NFC Playoff Participants
The Philadelphia Eagles enter the playoffs as the NFC’s number-one seed, boasting a record of 14-3. The Eagles dominated the league for much of the season, winning their first 8 games and 13 of 14 to start the year. However, an injury to star quarterback Jalen Hurts in week 15 halted the team’s momentum and spurred back-to-back losses. Hurts’ healthy return into the playoffs is a huge boost for the Eagles offense, as Hurts has accounted for 35 TDs – 13 of those coming via his legs. The Eagles also possess two of the league's strongest units in the trenches. The offensive line has powered the Eagles rushing attack, ranking number five in yards and number one in TDs. The defensive line has wrecked opposing quarterbacks all season with a league-leading 70 sacks, 15 more than the next-best team. The Eagles will rely on a first-round bye, dominant play in the trenches, and Jalen Hurts’ dynamic playmaking to propel them on a deep playoff run. All eyes are on the Super Bowl in South Philly.
The number two seed in the NFC belongs to the San Francisco 49ers, winners of their last ten games. There is perhaps no roster in the entire league with more talent across the board than the Niners. A loaded offense secured even more ammo when they acquired running back Christian McCaffrey from Carolina, who has scored 10 TDs since coming over in week 7. The one looming question for the Niners is whether rookie Quarterback Brock Purdy, “Mr. Irrelevant”, can handle the pressure of the playoffs. With their top two QBs getting hurt in the regular season, the Niners turned to Purdy in week 13, and they haven't missed a beat. On the defensive side of the ball, San Francisco has the top-scoring defense. Their pass rush is led by defensive end Nick Bosa, who is in the conversation to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. If the Niners' defense can limit their opponent’s scoring and keep the pressure off rookie QB Brock Purdy, they should be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.
The number 3 seed Minnesota Vikings may have one of the most deceiving records in NFL history. Minnesota enters the playoffs with a 13-4 record despite having a point differential of -3. When Minnesota wins, it’s almost always close, as 11 of their 13 victories have come in one-score games. But when Minnesota loses, they tend to get dismantled with their 4 losses coming by a combined 89 points! Additionally, two of those losses have come to the Eagles and Cowboys, who block Minnesota's path to the Super Bowl. Minnesota has playmakers on offense headlined by QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook, and WR Justin Jefferson. However, Cousins has a perceived inability to win big games, and the numbers back it up. Cousins has a career 1-3 record in the playoffs and a startling 10-40 career record against teams that finished the season with a winning record. The Viking defense doesn’t provide much hope either, as their pass defense ranks 31st in passing yards allowed. The Vikings have a good record, but their luck will likely run out in the playoffs.
Tom Brady’s Buccaneers are back in the playoffs in 2023. The team secured a number 4 seed by winning the feeble NFC South division despite an unimpressive 8-9 record. It was a challenging season for the Bucs. Until their clinched week 17 win against the Panthers, they struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Although Brady was able to connect with receiver Mike Evans for 3 TDs in that game, it’s hard to believe an offense ranking 25th in points scored has miraculously figured it out. The Bucs have been an average team, but if the defense can keep the game close, Brady can’t be counted out as he chases ring number eight.
The first wild card spot and number five seed in the NFC belongs to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have been led this season by a high-powered offense that ranks 2nd in the conference in total points scored. They have home run hitters on offense with receiver CeeDee Lamb and running back Tony Pollard. QB Dak Prescott tied for a league-worst 15 interceptions, but the Cowboys have maintained enough talent on both sides of the ball to overcome his turnovers. The Cowboy defense is led by outside linebacker Micah Parsons who has a knack for making impact plays. The defense leads the league with 33 takeaways, which prove valuable come playoff time. Dallas hasn't lived up to the reputation of “Americas Team” in recent history, winning only 3 playoff games in the last 25 years. But that could change this year as their talent-packed roster faces a juicy first-round matchup with Tom Brady’s Buccaneers.
Perhaps the most unexpected team to qualify for this year's playoffs is the New York Giants. After failing to win more than 6 games in any of the previous 5 seasons, first-year head coach Brian Daboll has seemingly resurrected the franchise. He’s now led the team to a 9-7-1 record and their first playoff berth in six years. Quarterback Daniel Jones, also known as “Danny Dimes”, played the best season of his career, accounting for 22 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, while throwing to receivers most fans have never heard of. Jones’ evolution into a dual-threat option has given the Giants’ offense a much-needed boost. After battling injury the past two years, running back Saquon Barkley rebounded this season with a career-high in rushing yards. The Giants have also secured the ball, as they have the lowest turnover percentage in the league. On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants’ game plan is defined by one word: BLITZ! They have the highest blitz percentage of any team in the league and are led by a ferocious defensive line which is the best unit on the entire team. Big Blue may not possess as much talent as the other playoff teams, but their toughness and ability to capitalize on opponent mistakes may be enough for them to surprise some people and go on a run.
After trading away franchise quarterback Russell Wilson and releasing linebacker Bobby Wagner, many believed the tank was on in Seattle. The Seattle Seahawks, a team many predicted to be one of the worst in the league, now holds the final playoff spot in the NFC with a little help from the Detroit Lions. The Lions defeated the Packers in the NFL’s regular-season finale, allowing the Seahawks to retain their wild card spot. QB Geno Smith surprised fans when he earned Pro Bowl honors in his first season as a full-time starter since 2014. Similarly, the defense has relied on several players outperforming their expectations. Fifth-round draft pick Tariq Woolen tied for the league lead in interceptions in his rookie campaign, providing a much-needed spark in the secondary after veteran Jamal Adams’ week 1 injury. The Seahawks are playing with house money at this point in the season, which makes them a dangerous opponent. They will need the defense to create turnovers and allow Geno Smith to air it out to continue their storybook season.
AFC Playoff Participants
The first-round bye on the AFC side belongs to the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl and the AFC’s number-one seed, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs finish the regular season 14-3 behind the right arm of likely MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes had another stellar season leading the league in both passing yards (5,250) and passing touchdowns (41). His favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce, is the premier player at the position and makes the duo nearly unstoppable. Kansas City’s defense is a middle-of-the-pack unit, but there are question marks on that side of the ball. The Chiefs have allowed the most passing touchdowns in the entire league, which is cause for concern when competing in a conference that is loaded with QB talent. A Super Bowl will be the expectation every season that Mahomes lines up under center, but a deep playoff run depends on the defense’s ability to defend the pass.
The last two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for the number two seed Buffalo Bills. Week 17’s game was canceled after safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field. Thankfully, Hamlin’s health continues to improve, which gives Buffalo a chance to refocus on their playoff goals. It was unknown how such a traumatic event would impact Buffalo on the field, but that question was answered in week 18 with an emotional victory over the Patriots. The Bills are led by physically gifted quarterback Josh Allen, who has totaled 42 touchdowns this season. As good as the Bills’ offense is, the defense may be even better. The defense ranks 2nd in points allowed per game and 4th in takeaways per game, giving their potent offense even more opportunity to capitalize. Buffalo is one of the most complete teams in the league and should be making a deep playoff run as long as Allen can limit red zone turnovers, which have haunted him of late.
An eight-game winning streak accompanies the number three seed Cincinnati Bengals into the playoffs. Cincinnati is looking to avenge last season’s Super Bowl loss and prove to everyone that it was no fluke. Quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase maintain chemistry from their days together at LSU to power the Bengals’ offense to 26.1 points per game. The Bengals’ stellar defense in last season's Super Bowl run carries momentum into this season. They rank 6th in points allowed per game but have struggled to rush the passer this season, tallying only 30 sacks, which ranks last among all playoff teams. The Bengals will rely on Burrows' right arm and a strong red zone defense to try and represent the AFC in the big game once again.
AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars claimed the number four seed after defeating the Titans in a week 18 thriller. The defense propelled them to victory after scoring a late touchdown to give the team their first lead of the game. The Jags needed to win each of their final five games to have any chance of winning the division, and they did just that. Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence has proven why he was the first overall pick in 2021, amassing 25 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions with an almost entirely new receiving core. The defense relies on their pass rush which generates the 5th highest hurry percentage while only blitzing on 21% of plays. Jacksonville is a young team with a lot of momentum, making them a dangerous opponent despite a less-than-stellar 9-8 record.
Many people selected the Los Angeles Chargers as a Super Bowl sleeper before the season, but a rocky start caused the Chargers to settle for the first wild card spot with a 10-7 record. Injuries were a common theme early on as the Chargers seemed to battle them at nearly every position. However, as the team got healthy down the stretch, they were able to win four straight games before dropping a meaningless game to the Broncos in week 18. Young stud QB Justin Herbert powered through a rib injury while leaning on running back Austin Ekeler to supply much of the scoring. Ekeler accounted for 18 total touchdowns this season, the most of any player in the league. The defense relies on veterans across the field, headlined by pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. The Chargers have the talent to go on a run, but it will be difficult given the premier teams at the top of the conference hold the home-field advantage over Los Angeles.
The second wild card on the AFC side belongs to the 10-7 Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens come into the playoffs with a huge question mark surrounding their most valuable player. Former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury in week 13 that has kept him out ever since. The team has gone 2-3 in his absence and failed to find any rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. It is still unknown if Jackson will be ready to play in the first round of the playoffs, and if he is, how effective he will be running the football. The Ravens’ outstanding defense has been the main reason behind their winning record. They held opponents to 18.5 points per game and the least rushing yards of any AFC playoff team. For the Ravens to go on a run, they will need Jackson to be explosive with his legs and lean on the defense to smother their opponents, which seems like a longshot considering the uncertainty surrounding Jackson.
The Miami Dolphins claimed the final playoff spot in the AFC after an ugly week 18 victory over the Jets. Miami was without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa after multiple concussions cast doubt on the future of his career. The Dolphins have an elite receiving duo in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but 3rd string QB Skylar Thompson has not been able to get them the ball consistently. The defense does not provide much hope either, as they allow more points than any other AFC team in the playoffs. Of all the teams in the playoffs, Miami is the least likely to advance past the first round as they await a brutal first-round matchup with the Bills.