It’s playoff time in the NFL, and 14 teams have a chance to win Super Bowl LVI. It kicks off this weekend with six wild card games, before the winners join the Packers and Titans in the divisional round next weekend. Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. Just ask the Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl a year ago coming off the No. 5 seed in the NFC, winning three games on the road en route to their title. So how will the next few weeks unfold? Will the favorites live up to their hype, or will the underdogs pull off some unlikely surprises?
We asked 15 of our NFL analysts for their best prediction for the postseason as a whole and what will happen in the games leading up to the Super Bowl. Which team is best prepared to win it all and who will help them do it? Will it be Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or some other leader in the NFC? And will the Titans hold off a lot of talented AFC teams? Let’s predict this season’s playoffs, starting with how far the top-seeded team in the AFC can go.
Are the Titans the top contender in the AFC?
Sam Acho, NFL analyst: I’m doubling down on my mid-season pick. After three wins to end the regular season and a 12-5 record, Tennessee will make it to the Super Bowl. And he won’t be the only No. 1 seed. I got the Packers and Aaron Rodgers to take on the Titans in the biggest game of the year.
Stephania Bell, NFL Fantasy Analyst: The Titans will win the AFC Championship with a run-heavy offense behind the return of Derrick Henry. For those who might scoff at the notion of a modern offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in passing game percentage through the Super Bowl, may I introduce the 2018 Patriots? Yeah, they had this guy named Tom Brady, but they also ran the ball 43.1% of the time, fifth in the league that year. The 2021 Titans rushed on a league-high 46.1% of snaps and did so without Henry for half of their games after he suffered a major foot injury. Henry’s return adds power to his running game and a huge red zone rushing threat (10 TDs prior to his injury), which will prove to be too much for the Titans’ AFC opponents.
Jeremy Fowler, NFL writer/reporter: Henry will pick up right where he left off and lead the playoffs in rushing. Rarely does a star player get two months to rest his legs before the postseason, especially a 247-pound running back with a 2,000-yard season on his resume. The No. 1-seeded Titans have battled injuries and are ready for January football, which means Henry will touch the ball 20 times or more. I’m not sure I’m ready to put Ryan Tannehill in the Super Bowl, but this team has the ingredients to get there behind Henry, wide receiver AJ Brown and an opportunistic defense.
Can the Bills or Chiefs get back to the AFC Championship Game?
Dan Graziano, NFL writer/reporter: The Bills will play in the Super Bowl. This is a team that’s been together for a while, and they’re still smarting from last year’s AFC Championship Game loss in Kansas City and longing for a chance to get revenge. The December 26 game in Foxborough, Massachusetts was a turning point for his season. Running back Devin Singletary told me, “We knew we have what it takes to get where we want to go, but that game gave us even more confidence and made us even hungrier.” The Bills’ running game is in a much better place than it was last season, which should help offensive coordinator Brian Daboll avoid the trap of being too one-dimensional. And I don’t think people really appreciate how good his defense is with Leslie Frazier. I know it was the Jets and their season was over (week 18), but holding another pro football team to 53 total yards of offense in a game is really something. This team is well coached, believes in itself, has the most weather-resistant quarterback in the league and has been moving toward this for a few years. I say they charge it.
Jason Reid, the undefeated writer: Kansas City will advance to its third consecutive Super Bowl by defeating Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game in Tennessee. A 34–31 road loss to Cincinnati in Week 17 cost Kansas City the top seed in the conference and a chance to host the AFC title game for an unprecedented fourth straight season. But there’s still a lot to like about the Chiefs, starting with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The superstar learned to operate more patiently this season as teams were content to play Cover 2 and rarely attack him, hoping to avoid missing the big plays that defined the historic start of his career. But the Chiefs’ biggest change occurred on defense. Often outplayed during the team’s 3-4 start, Kansas City’s defense laid the groundwork for their eight-game winning streak. During that span, the Chiefs allowed the fewest points per game (12.9) and had the most points (21) in the NFL.
Marcus Spears praises Andy Reid for the job he has done coaching the Chiefs this season.
Seth Walder, analysis writer: The winner of the Bills-Chiefs divisional round matchup will win the Super Bowl. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), they are the second and third best teams in the league, respectively. The Bills have the best point differential in the league and the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes at quarterback; Either one is a great sign for a deep playoff run. And while I still believe in Tampa Bay, and it’s FPI’s No. 1 team, the model doesn’t know that of the trio of great wide receivers the Bucs started the season with, only Mike Evans is still fit and healthy. the list
What can we expect from the Cowboys and Bengals?
Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse will make a difference in the playoffs. Dallas has playmakers on all three levels of Dan Quinn’s defense in Demarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. But don’t forget about Kearse. He’s a long, lanky safety with versatile features, and in Quinn’s heavy-man system, Kearse is the tight end matchup player. First for Kearse: George Kittle of the 49ers.
Mike Clay, NFL analyst: The Cowboys and Bengals will win multiple playoff games and are legitimate contenders to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. Dallas is No. 1 in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, fifth in offensive scoring and sixth in touchdowns allowed. The Cowboys have one of the deepest and most talented offenses in the league, along with a great defense. And the Bengals are playing their best ball of the season, and if they beat the Raiders and things go well, their path to the title game could include a trip to Tennessee in the divisional round and a rematch with a team from the The Chiefs they beat while racking up 34 points just two weeks ago. With a solid defense and quarterback Joe Burrow playing at a high level, Cincinnati would have a chance to win all three games.
Eric Moody, Fantasy/Sports Betting Writer: The Bengals will make it to the Super Bowl. During Weeks 16 and 17, Burrow threw for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, helping Cincinnati win the AFC North title. With positive momentum, a quarterback that excels under pressure to overcome mediocre offensive line play, an offense that uses a trio of talented receivers (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd) to vertically threaten opposing defenses and a defense that can apply pressure with only four linemen, the Bengals have all the elements necessary to contend for the Super Bowl.
Mike Tannenbaum, NFL analyst: Dallas will run and win at least two, and maybe three, games. The Cowboys are made for the playoffs and have three elite pass-rushers in Lawrence, Parsons and Randy Gregory. If their offensive line is healthy (particularly Tyron Smith), they’ll be good on offense and elite on defense.
Will the Packers live up to the hype?
Doug Kezirian, sports betting analyst: The Packers are the betting favorites for good reason. The NFC once looked like a gauntlet, but warts have cropped up with inconsistencies and injuries. And the AFC is full of questionable contenders. I expect Green Bay to lift the Lombardi Trophy, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still playing the position with no issues.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: The Packers will hold serve at home this time, advancing to a Super Bowl championship. This isn’t exactly taking chances, but this team feels different from last year’s iteration that entered the playoffs with high expectations. With Green Bay’s balanced offense and a defense that could return with several key starters (including pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander), count me among those expecting the Pack to play at SoFi Stadium in mid-February.
Seth Wickersham, NFL writer/reporter: This is just a hunch, but I predict this will be the last playoff run for three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks with their current teams. We know the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger is retiring. But I think Tom Brady will too. And finally, Aaron Rodgers will leave Green Bay after another season without reaching the Super Bowl.
Domonique Foxworth describes why she might see Aaron Rodgers retire early, then decide to return later.
Tom Brady’s Bucs back in the Super Bowl?
Anita Marks, Fantasy/Sports Betting Analyst: It will be Bill Belichick vs. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. The only two wild-card games I have conviction in are the Bengals over the Raiders and the Chiefs over the Steelers. The remaining matchups are mine, so to steal a line from Jalen Rose: Let’s give the people what they want. I think the Patriots are a complete team. They can hit the rock in the fourth quarter on Saturday night against Buffalo, and then they would match up well against the Titans and Chiefs en route to the Super Bowl. And in the NFC, Brady and the Buccaneers could see the Eagles, Rams and Packers on their way to the Super Bowl, and they have the roster to beat Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst: Brady will help the Buccaneers become the first consecutive Super Bowl champions since the Patriots in 2004 and 2005, who also had Brady at the helm. At 44, he just had arguably one of the best seasons of his career with a league-high 5,316 passing yards and a league-high 43 touchdowns. Tampa Bay is on a three-game winning streak entering the playoffs, and despite not winning the No. 1 seed, Brady has the necessary experience, including in the elements in case they see the Packers at Lambeau Field.