The NFL playoffs kick off this weekend, live on Sky Sports NFL, with Super Wild Card Weekend – six mouth-watering matchups stretched over three days – but ahead of all of the thrills and spills of the postseason, here’s your guide to each of the 14 teams set to battle it out for the Super Bowl this season…
1) Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
Head coach: Andy Reid is into his 10th season with the Chiefs, and this team has known only success since he’s been there, missing out on the playoffs just once in 2014 – albeit still securing a winning record at 9-7, the only time his team failed to reach 10 wins.
Key man: The uber-talented Patrick Mahomes, of course. The 27-year-old is favourite to win a second league MVP title this season in just his fifth year as a starter in the NFL.
Mahomes set a new record for the most offensive yds (5,614) in NFL history this season – breaking down as 5,250 passing yards, 358 rush yards and six receiving. He also leads the league in passing TDs, with 41, six greater than the 35 of both Josh Allen (Bills) and Joe Burrow (Bengals). And he’s done it all despite the team trading away his best receiver, Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, in the offseason.
NFL Super Wild Card Weekend live on Sky Sports
|Saturday double-header||NFC: Seattle Seahawks (7) @ San Francisco 49ers (2)||Saturday, 9.30pm, Sky Sports NFL & Main Event|
|AFC: Los Angeles Chargers (5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4)||Sunday, 1.15am, Sky Sports NFL & Main Event|
|Sunday triple-header||AFC: Miami Dolphins (7) @ Buffalo Bills (2)||Sunday, 6pm, Sky Sports NFL|
|NFC: New York Giants (6) @ Minnesota Vikings (3)||Sunday, 9.30pm, Sky Sports NFL & Main Event|
|AFC: Baltimore Ravens (6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (3)||Monday, 1.15am, Sky Sports NFL & Main Event|
|Monday Night Football||NFC: Dallas Cowboys (5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4)||Tuesday, 1.15am, Sky Sports NFL & Main Event|
Form guide: It couldn’t be much better. The Chiefs won the AFC West division title for a seventh-straight season – not only the longest active streak in the league, but tied for the second-longest in NFL history behind only the 11-straight years the Patriots won the AFC East from 2009 to 2019.
They have a first-round bye in the playoffs due to clinching the No 1 seed in the AFC with a 14-3 record. Though, two of those defeats came against the Bills and the Bengals, both their biggest challengers in the conference as they look to reach the Super Bowl again.
Playoff history: Kansas City lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy on their first visit to the Super Bowl in 50 years when they beat the 49ers to cap the 2018 season, with Mahomes named MVP after engineering a comeback from 20-10 down midway through the fourth quarter.
They have made it all the way to the Super Bowl on four occasions, losing to the Packers in the very first Super Bowl, before triumphing over the Vikings three years later. After their Super Bowl LIV win over the Niners, the Chiefs missed the chance to go back-to-back as they were beaten by Tom Brady and the Bucs in the big game. Last year it was the Bengals who proved their undoing in the AFC Championship game.
Playoff prospects: The Chiefs live for that conference title game. They’ve hosted it in each of the last four seasons. That will surely be the case again this year, except if they were to meet Buffalo. That potential matchup will instead take place at a neutral site in Atlanta due to the Bills missing out on the chance to themselves claim the No 1 seed (and home advantage) as their Week 17 game against the Bengals was cancelled following the cardiac arrest suffered by Damar Hamlin on the field.
2) Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Head coach: Sean McDermott has shown incredible leadership this year, not only in leading the team to another impressive record this season, but particularly in rallying his team over the past fortnight following the traumatic events of that Monday night game against the Bengals in which Hamlin was hospitalised. Thankfully, the team were able to celebrate Hamlin’s remarkable recovery last weekend with an emotional win over the Patriots in which Nyheim Hines incredibly returned TWO kick-off return touchdowns dedicated to his team-mate.
Key man: Speaking of the leadership, Josh Allen also continues to show remarkable poise on and off the field. On it, he finished this year with 4,283 passing yards and 35 touchdowns – second only to Mahomes – as well as a massive 762 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Form guide: Shock back-to-back losses at the Jets and at home to the Vikings (in an overtime thriller) – just a couple of weeks removed from beating the Chiefs in Kansas City – dropped the team to 6-3 on the season. It not only sparked concerns that Buffalo had again blown their chance to boss the AFC, but that they might not even claim the division title in a competitive AFC East.
But they’ve not lost since, winning seven in a row, though that cancelled Week 17 game against Cincinnati ultimately cost them the No 1 seed to guarantee that the road to the Super Bowl ran through Buffalo. Should they make it to the AFC Championship game, they will at least swap Arrowhead for Atlanta, however.
Playoff history: Not great. The Bills are one of only two teams, along with the Vikings, to have lost four Super Bowls and not win one… all of theirs coming in succession too in four heart-breaking near-misses in the early 1990s. Since then, just making the postseason has proven a problem – Buffalo suffered a drought of 18 years that was finally ended in 2017.
Since drafting Allen with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 Draft, he has propelled this team into another stratosphere, but they are still yet to get over the hump and reach a fifth Super Bowl – let alone win a first. Mahomes and the Chiefs have been their undoing the past two years, firstly in the AFC Championship game before they then lost 42-36 in an overtime epic in last year’s divisional round – a game in which the Bills had led by three with just 13 seconds left!
Playoff prospects: Many people have the Bills pegged as this year’s ‘team of destiny’. It’s impossible to watch the Hamlin tributes – and Hines kick-off TDs – that stirred up such a sensational atmosphere in Buffalo last weekend and not also get swept up in it. Could this finally the year the Bills go all the way?
3) Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
Head coach: Despite the astronomical success the Bengals have enjoyed over the past two years, Zac Taylor hasn’t always convinced the masses, with many believing last year’s run to the Super Bowl and their 12-4 record this season is owed more to the brilliance of Joe Burrow at quarterback. Into only his fourth year as a head coach, Taylor certainly has time on his side to prove the doubters wrong – with Burrow firmly in his corner, he’s going nowhere anytime soon.
Key man: A third team in the conference and a third quarterback to highlight. You need a three-sided coin to split these QBs, with Joe Burrow joining Allen tied for second with 35 passing TDs this season (a new career high), trailing only Mahomes’ 41.
Burrow’s first career meeting with Allen was ultimately cancelled due to Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field early in the game, but he is the only QB in the league to face Mahomes multiple times and be undefeated, winning all three of their previous matchups – including when knocking the Chiefs out in last year’s AFC Championship game.
Form guide: The Bengals are second only to the 49ers’ 10-staight wins in terms of form heading into the playoffs, themselves riding an eight-game win streak into Super Wild Card Weekend. That run includes a win over Kansas City in Week 13 as well as a comfortable 27-16 triumph over their opponents in the opening round of the playoffs, the Ravens, last Sunday.
Playoff history: The Bengals are one of the 12 teams in the NFL to have never won the Super Bowl, while their three defeats without having tasted victory in the big game is second only to the Bills and Vikings’ unwanted record of four.
After falling foul of the 49ers twice in the 1980s, Cincinnati sensationally made it all the way back to the Super Bowl last season, following a barren run of 31 years without so much as even a playoff win, but Burrow an co ultimately came unstuck against the Rams, despite having held a 10-point lead at one point midway through the third quarter.
Playoff prospects: The Bengals figure to be a contender yet again this year, though the road to the Super Bowl likely runs through both Buffalo AND Kansas City. They’ll need Burrow to come up clutch for them yet again against Mahomes should they successfully navigate both the Ravens and the Bills in the early rounds.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)
Head coach: Doug Pederson has engineered quite the turnaround in Jacksonville after the desperate debacle that was Urban Meyer’s one-year tenure with the team. The former Eagles head coach won a Super Bowl with Philadelphia in 2017 before things began to turn sour, but he has demonstrated his stellar credentials by delivering just a fourth division title to the Jaguars in the franchise’s 28-year history – and following on from a league-worst 3-14 record last season.
Key man: Yet another team, yet another quarterback to highlight. But it’s simply impossible to address the Jaguars’ success without mentioning the giant leap taken by their second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The No 1 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, Lawrence struggled mightily in his rookie season, throwing for just 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions (tied for the league lead). Fast-forward 12 months and those stats read, 4,113 passing yards, 25 TDs and only eight picks.
Form guide: The Jaguars ride a five-game win streak into their first postseason appearance for five years, with Lawrence himself noting the tide began to turn for both the team and in his personal play following the loss to the Denver Broncos in London back in late October that dropped them to 2-6 on the season. They’ve lost only twice since, an understandable defeat in Kansas City and a blowout in Detroit in which their star QB was on and off the field to injury.
Playoff history: The Jaguars are one of the youngest franchises in the NFL, having only formed in 1995. They have never been to a Super Bowl, though they have come close on more than one occasion.
Jacksonville enjoyed remarkable success early on as a franchise, reaching the AFC Championship game in just their second season, and then repeating the trick three years later. However, a fallow period would follow, with the Jags making the playoffs just twice (winning one game) over the next 17 years, before they again reached the AFC title game in 2017 only to be edged out by Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Playoff prospects: It’s unlikely the Jaguars will match those previous runs to the conference championship final this season. Just a lone win on Super Wild Card Weekend will very much be seen as progress for this franchise – and they should fancy their chances of that too, as they welcome in the Chargers on Saturday night, who they hammered 38-10 earlier in the season.
5) Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
Head coach: Brandon Staley is another who, despite the success the Chargers have enjoyed, likely doesn’t feel all too secure in his position. If they go one-and-done in the playoffs, links to former Saints Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton could grow ever stronger.
Key man: It’s another of the AFC’s bumper crop of young, superstar QBs, Justin Herbert. The third-year signal-caller’s 4,739 yards is second only to Mahomes this season, though his 25 touchdown passes is a fairly significant drop off to his 38 in 2021. Running back Austin Ekeler is certainly deserving of some of the blame, having hoovered up a massive 18 for himself this season.
Form guide: With this talented squad having missed out on the postseason last year, questions were being asked when they dropped to 6-6 earlier in the campaign, but four-straight wins followed to book a wild card berth and ease the pressure somewhat on Staley – only for it to ratchet up again last weekend. In defeat to the Broncos, the head coach was criticised for keeping his starters in the game despite their postseason seeding already being assured. Star receiver Mike Williams was one of a number of players banged up in Denver, leaving with a back injury, and he will end up missing their playoff opener on Saturday.
Playoff history: The Chargers have only ever once before reached the Super Bowl, to cap the 1994 season, as they suffered a 49-26 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers. Other than that, there’s not been a great deal to write home about for the franchise, other than three further trips to the AFC Championship game – in back-to-back seasons to start the 1980s and, most recently, in 2007.
Playoff prospects: As already mentioned, the Chargers went down to a heavy 38-10 defeat at home to the Jaguars in their previous meeting this season. But that was way back in Week Three, and with Herbert nursing a rib injury. It should be a lot more competitive a contest this weekend, with a daunting trip to Kansas City awaiting the winner – unless the Ravens should upset the Bengals, in which case it would be off to Buffalo. Either way, expect the Chargers to again come unstuck at the divisional round should they make it that far.
6) Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
Head coach: Widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the NFL, John Harbaugh is 15 years deep into his tenure in Baltimore, one which has brought him one Super Bowl (2012) and now 10 playoff appearances.
Key man: With it looking increasingly unlikely that star quarterback Lamar Jackson will be fit enough to play this weekend, having missed the last five games of the regular season with a knee injury, it’s difficult to know who to single out as the key man for this team.
Tight end Mark Andrews is a beast, but can he have the same impact without Jackson starting at QB? We should also single out the best kicker in the league, Justin Tucker… especially given how crucial it is to have a reliable one to fire it through the uprights rather than doink one off them in the postseason. But we’re going to qo with linebacker Roquon Smith Jr. here, who has excelled in Baltimore since a mid-season trade from Chicago – so much so that he has agreed in principle to a five-year, $100m contract extension with the team this week. Smith finished the 2022 season with a career-high 169 tackles (third in the NFL), 4.5 sacks and three interceptions, seeing him named to his first career Pro Bowl.
Form guide: The Ravens are rather limping into the playoffs, with Jackson’s injury struggles looming over the team and resulting in three defeats in four – including to their Super Wild Card Weekend opponents, the Bengals, last Sunday – to finish the season. Baltimore’s offense has failed to score more than 17 points in each of their last six games, with the first of that streak being the very game against the Broncos in which Jackson left to injury.
Playoff history: The Ravens and the Buccaneers are the only franchises in the NFL to have played in multiple Super Bowls (two) and have never lost one. The last of those victories came in 2012 over the 49ers and, while Baltimore have made the postseason in half of their 10 seasons since, they have won just two games, with their exit in 2019 to the Titans – when the No 1 seed in the AFC – a particularly painful one to take.
Playoff prospects: Sunday’s meeting will be the first ever between the Ravens and Bengals in the playoffs. Baltimore are significant underdogs – especially if Jackson is not playing – and so their prospects of a Super Bowl run all the way to Arizona on February 12 look, quite frankly, slim to none.
7) Miami Dolphins (9-8)
Head coach: Mike McDaniel has enjoyed a challenging, albeit successful, first year on the job in Miami. The rookie head coach has had to deal with losing his quarterback to multiple concussions this season, placing a greater spotlight on the organisation and his leadership of it.
Key man: With starting QB Tua Tagovailoa ruled out of their Super Wild Card Weekend contest in Buffalo, can the Dolphins find a way to still get their superstar receiver Tyreek Hill the football?
Hill finished the year with 1,710 yards, second behind only Justin Jefferson for the Vikings in the NFL, while his mark was also a record for a player in their first season with a new team. His impact in Miami has been sizeable.
Form guide: The Dolphins have been the definition of ‘streaky’ this season. They opened with three-straight wins, followed that up with three defeats in succession, before going on a five-game win streak, only to then succumb to five consecutive losses. It left them 8-8 and on the outside of the playoff picture, until squeaking a win over the Jets in their regular-season finale which, added to a loss for the Patriots in Buffalo, saw them book their place in the postseason.
Playoff history: The Dolphins dominated the early 1970s, reaching three consecutive Super Bowls and winning the latter two of those – in 1972 and 1973. The first of those championship wins clinched an undefeated season and they remain, to this day, the only team to achieve that feat.
Two further trips to the Super Bowl came in the early 1980s, but they were defeated in both games, the second of which came in legendary Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s second season in the NFL. The franchise has been starved of success ever since, reaching the AFC Championship game only twice in the near four decades since, while they are without a single playoff win since the year 2000.
Playoff prospects: Starved of playoff success in the 22 years since, it doesn’t look like that barren run is going to end this season. The Dolphins have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL – or at least did have when Tagovailoa was fit and firing – but the challenge of going into Buffalo and beating the Bills in their home stadium on Sunday looks to be beyond them. Should they pull off the upset, it will surely go down as one of the greatest in playoff history.
1) Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
Head coach: Nick Sirianni is one of the favourites to win NFL coach of the year honours, having led the Eagles to the No 1 seed in the NFC in just his second season in charge in Philadelphia.
Key man: He has been out for much of the past few weeks to injury, but it’s still quarterback – and league MVP candidate – Jalen Hurts.
Hurts returned to the fold last weekend for a rather rusty outing against the Giants which the Eagles won 22-16 to ensure they held off the 49ers’ late challenge for top spot in the conference. The first-round bye (as well as home-field advantage through the playoffs) that it affords Philadelphia will be crucial for Hurts in further aiding his recovery from a shoulder injury which he picked up in Week 15 against the Bears.
Bar that setback, it has been a career year for Hurts, who finished the regular season with 3,701 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to only six interceptions, adding a further 760 yards and a staggering 13 scores on the ground. The dual-threat QB is the first player in the Super Bowl era to rank in the top five in both passer rating (101.5) and rushing TDs in the same season.
Form guide: The Eagles held the NFL’s best record for the majority of the season, having served as the league’s last remaining undefeated team until they were taken down by the Commanders in Week 10. A further five-game winning run followed before back-to-back defeats in their star quarterback’s absence – to the Cowboys and the Saints – that threatened to undo all of their hard work prior. No fear, as Hurts returned to put things right with a season-ending win over the Giants last Sunday.
Playoff history: The Eagles, up until their lone Super Bowl win in 2017, had been a long-suffering franchise and fan base. They made the Super Bowl only once prior, in 1980 – losing to the Raiders – and otherwise endured 29 postseason-less years from 1960 until the turn of the millennium.
Since then, the franchise’s fortunes have changed, with the Eagles consistently competing with the upper class of the NFL, reaching four-straight NFC Championship games under now-Chiefs coach Andy Reid in the early 2000s, the last of which secured them a second trip to the Super Bowl where they were beaten by Brady and the Patriots. Thirteen years later, they’d eventually get their revenge against the very same team and QB, triumphing 41-33 in a truly epic encounter at Super Bowl LII.
Playoff prospects: The Eagles are the No 1 seed for a reason, so they could very well find themselves representing the NFC in Super Bowl LVII in Arizona come February 12. That said, is it all a little early in this new Sirianni-led era? They will be keen to avoid a meeting with the wily old veterans over in San Francisco come the conference championship final.
2) San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
Head coach: Kyle Shanahan is considered one of the best head coaches in the league, and perhaps the game’s greatest offensive mind. The 2022 season has been a real testament to that, with San Francisco down to their third-string quarterback – rookie seventh-round draft pick Brock Purdy – and yet they’ve posted 13 wins this season, riding 10 in a row into the playoffs.
Key man: One of the reasons the 49ers have been so good this year is their depth as a squad, possessing talent at every position – thus making the job of picking out just one star player extremely difficult. There’s Christian McCaffrey at running back – a sensational mid-season addition via trade from Carolina – as well as the soon-to-be-returning-from-injury Deebo Samuel at receiver and star tight end George Kittle, as well as the aforementioned, unflappable Purdy at QB.
On defense, Fred Warner at linebacker, Talanoa Hufanga at safety and Charvarius Ward at cornerback are all worthy of mention, but it’s pass rusher extraordinaire Nick Bosa who ultimately gets the nod. Bosa is a one-man quarterback wrecking crew on the defensive line and his league-leading 18.5 sacks this season – on the NFL’s No 1 ranked defense – has likely secured him defensive player of the year honours.
Form guide: The Niners are the hottest team in the NFL entering the playoffs, winning their last 10 straight. Their last loss came all the way back in Week Seven, a 44-23 drubbing by the Chiefs.
Since, the defense has stepped up massively, allowing over 20 points just once in that 10-game streak, in their 37-34 overtime victory over the Raiders in Week 17. Meanwhile, over the same stretch the San Francisco offense has surpassed 30 points on seven separate occasions.
Playoff history: The 49ers are one of the most successful franchises in Super Bowl history, with their five wins level with the Cowboys and bettered only by the Steelers and Patriots (both six) – and Brady’s seven.
That said, San Francisco last tasted success nearly three decades ago in the 1994 season, and have lost their two trips since – in 2012 and to Mahomes’ Chiefs in 2019. They very nearly made it back to the big dance again last year, only to lose out to the Rams in a super-tight NFC Championship battle.
Playoff prospects: One of the favourites. The Eagles may well hold the No 1 seed in the conference, but many view San Francisco as the biggest threat out of the NFC.
3) Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
Head coach: Kevin O’Connell has been a huge success in his rookie season as head coach, lifting the vibe in Minnesota after Mike Zimmer’s increasingly miserable tenure.
Key man: It has to be Justin Jefferson. It has been some time since a receiver has taken the league by storm in quite the way Jefferson has in 2022, leading many to wonder whether he could be the first wideout in NFL history to walk away with league MVP honours?
Jefferson led the NFL with 128 rec and 1,809 receiving yds, adding eight touchdowns, as he flirted with becoming the first to ever top 2,000 receiving yards in a single season. He is one of only six people to have an 1,800-yard year in the history of the game – and pulled off one of the greatest catches of all time against the Bills earlier in the season.
Form guide: The Vikings, one of the NFL’s elite in 2022? Or pure imposters?
Even this late in the season, many are still yet to be convinced by Minnesota, despite their impressive 13-4 record. That’s because, 11 of those wins came in super-tight, one-score games – a new NFL record for a single season. Meanwhile, included among their four defeats was a 24-7 hammering at the hands of the Eagles, a 40-3 shellacking from the Cowboys and a 41-17 drubbing by the Packers just a fortnight ago. It all means that the Vikings enter the postseason with a -3 points differential, staggering really for a team with nine more wins than losses on the season.
Playoff history: As mentioned earlier, the Vikings are one of only two teams, along with the Bills, to have lost four Super Bowls and not taste victory. Minnesota’s miserable stretch spanned the 1970s, as they missed out in 1969, 1973, 1974 and again in 1976.
They have got as far as the Conference Championship game six times since, but not back to the big dance. Their most recent flirtation came five seasons ago when Stefon Diggs – now with the Bills – scored the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ touchdown in the final seconds of a divisional round win over the Saints, only for the Vikings to be hammered by eventual Super Bowl winners, the Eagles, a week later.
Playoff prospects: It depends how you view their season as a whole so far? Is this a clutch team that comes up biggest with the game on the line, repeatedly squeaking out one-score wins? Or, are they simply unable to truly put inferior opposition away, finding themselves outclassed too when facing a team that is a step up in quality?
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
Head coach: Todd Bowles has yet to convince as a head coach in the NFL. While with the Jets for four years from 2015, his rookie season in charge was the only time he returned a winning record. His fine work as defensive coordinator with the Buccaneers ultimately led to his promotion following the retirement of Super Bowl-winner Bruce Arians, and though Tampa won the NFC South division title this season, the 8-9 record that Bowles has presided over doesn’t scream success.
Key man: There really can be no looking past Tom Brady. He is 45 years old and yet still performing to a very high level. He retired in the offseason, before quickly reversing his decision and coming back for one more year – perhaps even more still beyond this season, though that might depend on his success in the playoffs.
It has not exactly been vintage Brady this season, though there still aren’t any obvious signs of decline that you’d expect from a man of his age. Despite suffering the very first losing season of his career in 2022, he is still as high as third in the league for passing yards (4,694) and has shown flashes of the old Brady brilliance, none more so than in Week 17 against the Panthers, with three deep touchdown passes – all to Mike Evans – and a rushing score which helped clinched the division title.
Form guide: A real mixed bag. The Bucs have failed to string more than two wins together at any point in the year, thus the prospect of them pulling off four in a row to ultimately win the Super Bowl looks unlikely.
A three-game losing streak to drop them to 3-5 midway through the season was as bad as it got, with Tampa able to just about stay afloat at the top of a poor NFC South division for the remainder of the year to ensure their progress through to the playoffs.
Playoff history: The Bucs were the laughing stock of the league for two decades following their inception in 1976. They made the playoffs only three times over that period, winning just one game, while they failed to reach the postseason at all between 1983 and 1997.
A first Super Bowl appearance and title would follow in 2002, built off the back of a fearsome defense, but then 18 more fallow years followed in which Tampa failed to win a playoff game, including another 12-year absence altogether from 2008 to 2020. But then enter Tom Brady…
In his very first year with the team, he added to his record haul of rings with a seventh Super Bowl title, with the Buccaneers beating the Mahomes and the Chiefs 31-9 in the big game.
Playoff prospects: Sure as eggs are eggs, you never write off Brady in the playoffs. NEVER!
This certainly isn’t the all-conquering Bucs squad of two years ago, and sure Brady is another couple of years older and closer to retirement, but there is no-one better in elimination football in the history of the game! Plus, Tampa play host to a Cowboys team who have hit the skids in recent weeks and one which Brady has a 7-0 career record against… win their wild card matchup on Monday night and the NFL world really will start taking this Bucs team seriously.
5) Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Head coach: Mike McCarthy is another under pressure, despite making the playoffs, and who will be nervously looking over his shoulder at the looming figure of former Saints head coach Payton – long-admired by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – should things go awry this weekend.
Key man: Star linebacker Micah Parsons, much like this Cowboys team as a whole, has gone off the boil somewhat in recent weeks. Parsons had 13.5 sacks in 2022, though just 1.5 of those have come in the past six weeks to likely end his bid to be named defensive player of the year.
That said, his talent is not to be denied, and the key to beating Brady over his storied career has been to bring pressure, so Parsons will be key to Dallas’ hopes of beating the Bucs in their wild card matchup on Monday night.
Form guide: The Cowboys enter the postseason having won six of their past eight games, which might not immediately scream out as any great cause for concern. Similarly, their offense (27.5 points per game) and defense (20.1 PPG) both rank in the top five for scoring this season.
That said, since putting up 40 points on the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 11 and hammering the Colts 54-19 a fortnight later – the point at which this team peaked – some sloppy performances have begun to creep in, most notably when the three-win Texans nearly beat them in Dallas and in defeats to the Jaguars and, most notably, a Commanders team with nothing to play for last weekend.
Playoff history: The Cowboys are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, earning them the moniker of ‘America’s Team’. But it has been a long time since Dallas were truly America’s team in terms of being the number one team in the country.
The Cowboys’ then-record fifth and final Super Bowl title came in 1995 with a win over the Steelers in, coincidentally, Arizona. But in the intervening 27 years, Dallas haven’t so much as even made the NFC Championship game – going 4-11 over that span – while the fact they’re on the road in Super Wild Card Weekend certainly doesn’t bode well for them. The franchise have lost their last eight-straight road games in the playoffs, a streak dating all the way back to 1992 and the second-longest in postseason history, behind the Lions’ 11 from 1970 to 2017.
Playoff prospects: In terms of pure roster talent, the Cowboys should certainly be in the Super Bowl mix, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this team is a little flimsy and flaky, that they can’t be relied upon. A win in Tampa to open the playoffs would go a long way to extinguishing those concerns and circling Dallas as a true contender.
6) New York Giants (9-7-1)
Head coach: Rookie head coach Brian Daboll is a serious contender for coach of the year honours after overseeing a remarkable turnaround of fortunes in New York. The Giants had only four wins to their name in 2021, with the former Bills offensive coordinator doubling that in his first year in charge and booking a first playoff appearance for the franchise in six years.
Key man: Saquon Barkley has been at the heart of the Giants’ success this season, with the star (but injury-prone) running back returning to his best from in 2022, rushing for a career-high 1,312 yards to go with 10 TDs. Back fit and firing, Barkley will be key to how far the Giants progress in the postseason.
Form guide: It has been a mixed bag of late. The Giants came flying out of the blocks to start the season, romping to a 6-1 record. In the 10 games since, however, they have won only three of them – two of which came against the Texans and Colts, who combined for a grand total of seven victories across a combined 34 contests in 2022. The other win came against the Commanders, while they tied their other meeting with Washington – a result which ultimately proved crucial in securing them a wild card spot at the expense of their division rivals and other NFC contenders.
Playoff history: The Giants are one of the oldest and most successful franchises in NFL history. Formed in 1925, they won four championships prior to the Super Bowl era, while they have since matched that record, raising aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy four times.
They have tasted success in each of the past four decades – 1986, 1990, 2007 and 2011 – with their most notable win surely the third of the bunch, when beating the previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. However, they are yet to win a playoff game since beating Brady and New England for a second time in 2011.
Playoff prospects: The Giants have already over-achieved this season, so any playoff success from here on out is a bonus, with not a huge amount expected of this squad. That said, they are well capable of causing an upset on Super Wild Card Weekend against the Vikings, who they pushed all the way in their previous meeting in Minnesota in Week 16, the home side reliant on a massive 60-yard field goal to win as time expired.
7) Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
Head coach: In securing the last remaining wild card spot in the NFC, Pete Carroll has now reached the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons as head coach of the Seahawks. He won the Super Bowl with the team in 2013, but this year is arguably his most impressive achievement yet – this was a Seattle squad expected to prop up the basement in conference following the trade of their star quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos.
Key man: Russell, who? While Wilson has gone on to struggle mightily with his new team in Denver, the man who has replaced him under center in Seattle, Geno Smith, has been a revelation. The 32-year-old journeyman backup before this season has not only led the team to the playoffs, but he was named in his first career Pro Bowl, broke the Seahawks’ single-season passing record (4,282 yards) and led the league in completion percentage (69.8). His 30 passing touchdowns is also the fourth-best mark in the NFL and the best in the NFC.
Form guide: Seattle’s challenge this year appeared to be fading fast down the stretch. After rollicking out to a shock 6-3 start to the season, things began to unravel with defeat to Brady and the Buccaneers in the first ever NFL International Series game in Germany. It was the first of five defeats in six games to derail their playoff push, only for wins against the Jets and Rams to close out the campaign – plus a season-ending defeat for the Packers – to see them sneak into the postseason.
Playoff history: We’re in familiar territory for the Seahawks. The franchise has failed to make the playoffs in just five of the past 20 seasons, while they have won one of three Super Bowl trips – beating the Broncos in 2013 – during that run.
Two of those Super Bowl appearances have come under Carroll, with the team failing to repeat in 2014 as Malcolm Butler’s infamous goal-line interception in the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX securing victory for the Patriots. Seattle have failed to make it past the divisional round since, while they went one-and-done on their most recent trip to the playoffs in 2020, losing to the Rams.
Playoff prospects: The Seahawks have already way over-exceeded expectations this season, so could well be dangerous this weekend against a much-fancied 49ers side. That said, San Francisco have won their last 10 in a row and beat Seattle in both of their NFC West divisional matchups this season.
Watch Super Wild Card Weekend, with all six games from the opening round of the playoffs live on Sky Sports NFL across three days, starting with Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night from 9.30pm