A Maverick’s Guide to the 2023 NFL Playoffs


Arjun Maitra and Richard Liang

Juniors Arjun Maitra and Richard Liang share their predictions for the 2023 NFL playoffs.

With the NFL regular season wrapped up, now is the time to decide which teams have the best chances at winning the Lombardi Trophy. Juniors Richard Liang and Arjun Maitra share their top seven Super Bowl contenders.

Note: the following teams are not listed in ranked order.

In the NFC:

Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) | Peak: Win Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose Super Bowl LVII

The Philadelphia Eagles are the most complete team in the NFL, boasting the third-best offense and second-best defense in the league. 

The Eagles’ impenetrable defense is anchored by a pass rush that has tallied a league-leading 70 sacks this season (two off from the all-time team sack record) and is backed with a secondary led by shutdown cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry. The middle of the defense has given up more big plays lately, but opposing teams will have to bypass the Philly’s iron curtain first. 

The trade for wide receiver A.J. Brown during the offseason, wide receiver DeVonta Smith’s maturation and tight end Dallas Goedert’s utility have strengthened the Eagles’ aerial attack. The dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts has finally found his footing in the NFL and is playing the best football of his life. He has become a more accurate and decisive passer this season (35 total touchdowns, 66.5% completion) and is central to the Eagles’ high-flying success. Paired with the league’s deepest running back committee and best offensive line, the Eagles’ offense is destined to put points on the board. 

While most of the team’s young stars do not have the playoff experience that other veteran rosters in their conference share, Philadelphia should not be underestimated. The last time the Eagles had the one-seed in the NFC, they took down quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots in the thrilling Super Bowl LI. The Eagles will be the team to beat in the NFC. 

San Francisco 49ers (13-4) | Peak: Win Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose in Divisional Round. 

After losing their top two quarterbacks mid-season, San Francisco turned to rookie quarterback Brock Purdy to lead the Niners to the promised land.

So far, the Iowa State product has demonstrated that he can execute head coach Kyle Shanahan’s ingenious schemes, leading San Francisco to an NFL-high 194 points since Purdy took over in Week 13. Purdy and Hall of Famer Dan Marino are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for multiple touchdowns in their first five starts. It is unclear if Purdy’s success will translate into the postseason when the consequences are higher, but so far he has exhibited the characteristics of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Two injury-riddled seasons have prevented the Niners from returning to the big game, but their stars are finally healthy in time for January. Edge rusher Nick Bosa is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Fred Warner has returned to All-Pro form, shifty tight end George Kittle has been Purdy’s most reliable target and hybrid wide receiver Deebo Samuel brings versatility to the offense. San Francisco’s star-studded roster also gained former All-Pro running back Christian McCaffery on the day of the midseason trade deadline to solidify their run game. 

The Niners have shaken off their early season rust and culminated their regular season with a 10-game win streak. Anything is possible for a team that is seasoned with veterans, superstars and Iowa legend Brock Purdy. 

Dallas Cowboys (12-5) | Peak: Lose Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose in Championship Game

Something special is brewing in Dallas.

The last time the “America’s Team” made it to the Super Bowl was in 1995 (for reference, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the number-one song that year). With the immense amount of money the Cowboys have shelled out in contracts and stadium renovations (over $425 million per year), this is undoubtedly disappointing. But this season may be the breakout campaign for an agonized organization. 

Barring their blowout loss to Washington in Week 18, the Cowboys were first in offensive points per game since quarterback Dak Prescott made his return from injury in Week 7. At any moment, the Cowboys can land a 40-yard strike. In a slower-tempo playoff setting, the Cowboys can trust running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot to ground-and-pound the football, capitalize on short-yardage gains and control the game clock. Yet the Cowboys have struggled with turnovers as Prescott leads the league in interceptions.

On the defensive end, the Cowboys are loaded with young stars, constantly hunting for game-changing plays. All-Pro pass rushers Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence command the front line and cornerback Trevon Diggs hunts for interceptions in the backfield. But their hunger is also their Achilles heel: it makes them prone to letting up big plays. If the Cowboys can remain mature and limit flagrant errors (and if head coach Mike McCarthy can learn how to read a clock), they have the personnel needed to break a 27-year Super Bowl drought. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) | Peak: Win Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose in Wild Card Weekend

Only one thing needs to be said: Tom Brady.

In the AFC:

Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) | Peak: Win Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose in Championship Game

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the league. He is the Harry Houdini of the turf and nobody can or will put a stop to his magic. 

Despite All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill leaving the team for Miami in the offseason, the Chiefs have elevated their air-raid offense. Mahomes threw for 5250 yards this season (the most in a single season in his career) and 41 touchdowns to weapons like All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who has developed into one of the league’s better secondary threats. It is hard to believe that any defense will thwart Kansas City’s offense, who seem to be playing easy mode on Madden whenever they are on the field. 

The same cannot be said for the Chiefs’ mediocre defense. All-Pro defensive lineman Chris Jones is the only trustworthy piece of the Chiefs’ defensive front, and the secondary plays a bend-but-don’t-break style that is too often penetrated by the league’s best offenses. Outside of All-Pro punter Tommy Townsend, the Chiefs’ special teams are barely the league average. There are too many muffed punt catch attempts, missed field goals and missed tackles that could cost the Chiefs in late-game scenarios. 

The defense and special teams’ ineptitude puts the pressure on the offense to deliver. However, head coach Andy Reid, Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense have shown in previous years that they are up to the task. 

Buffalo Bills (13-3) | Peak: Win Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Win Super Bowl LVII

The Buffalo Bills are playing for something greater than just a title. They are fighting for teammate  Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest during a game against Cincinnati on Jan. 2. When the Bills returned to the field after the traumatic incident, running back Nyhiem Hines took the opening kickoff against the Patriots 96 yards for a touchdown. He would strike again later in the game, returning a 101-yard kickoff to the house. 

Quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs are arguably the best tandem in the NFL. With deep-threat Gabriel Davis added to the mix, the Bills have bombarded defenses through the air all season long. The Bills’ running backs have proven to be effective in open space when defenses key in on their receiving threats. Their only weakness is Allen’s uncharacteristic turnovers this season. 

The Bills’ defense has suffered numerous injuries to key players this season. Former Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 2, and Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller was sidelined after sustaining an ACL tear in Week 12. Safety Jordan Poyer is battling through a torn meniscus, and cornerback Tre’Davious White is still recovering from a torn ACL he sustained last season. All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano’s improvement has alleviated some of the wounds, but Buffalo’s defense is extremely vulnerable. 

Despite the unprecedented adversity the Bills have faced, they have continued to rally. Can Buffalo finally hoist the Lombardi? We think so. 

Bengals (12-4) | Peak: Lose Super Bowl LVII | Expectation: Lose in Divisional Round

Despite their harrowing loss in last year’s Super Bowl and a tumultuous 0-2 start to the season, the Bengals have clawed their way back into contention. After winning 10 out of their last 11 games, the Bengals are the hottest team entering the postseason, and they truly believe they can oust the NFL’s titans.

Cincinnati has one of the most productive offenses in the league, led by quarterback Joe Burrow and their diverse receiving corps featuring Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. However, they also lack the potent run game and stout offensive line that the championship blueprint typically entails, ranking 29th in yards per carry (3.8) and total rushing yards (1528) and tallying only seven rushes of over 20 yards this season. 

The Bengals spent the offseason addressing the offensive line, but the “improvements” have been almost negligible. Burrow continues to face pressure in the pocket and has been sacked 44 times this season. 

Paired with a struggling defense, the Bengals are likely to take a step back this postseason, but their brazen confidence and swagger cannot be underestimated.