Key Stats and Matchups: NFL Playoffs Preview for Ravens, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, and More

The 2023 NFL playoffs are underway, with the top seeds in each conference, the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC, earning first-round byes. The remaining 12 teams will compete in the wild-card round next week, with two games on Saturday, three on Sunday, and the finale on Monday night, broadcasted by ABC/ESPN. In this playoff primer, we will preview the wild-card matchups and discuss the path each team must take to reach Super Bowl LVIII on February 11 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder has identified a key statistic to watch for each team, and we will also analyze the updated chances for each team via ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and ESPN BET.

Let’s start with the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens secured the top seed and home-field advantage, granting them a bye. They will face the lowest seeded remaining wild-card team on January 20 or 21. The potential opponents for the Ravens include the winner of the Browns-Texans game, the Miami Dolphins, or the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens split their season series with the Cleveland Browns, winning one and losing one, and they were swept by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season. The Ravens dominated the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 with a 56-19 victory.

The Ravens have played their best against strong opponents, boasting a 7-1 record against teams with a winning record. They present a unique challenge with Lamar Jackson’s playmaking ability and a strong defense. However, their playoff track record raises concerns, as they have lost four of their last five playoff games. Lamar Jackson’s performance in the postseason has been subpar, with three touchdown passes and five interceptions. The Ravens’ only other No. 1 seed experience in 2019 resulted in an upset loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

In the AFC, a key player to watch is Zay Flowers, a rookie wide receiver for the Ravens who excels at getting open. Flowers has already ranked 15th out of 106 wide receivers in open score, making him an important asset for Baltimore’s improved offense.

Moving on to the Buffalo Bills, they are making their fifth straight playoff appearance and will start their postseason journey by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Bills’ defense has been strong, and they have won five straight games and six of their last seven. The concern for the Bills lies in their inconsistent offense, which has struggled to perform consistently and has faced issues with turnovers and miscommunication. Quarterback Josh Allen has thrown 18 interceptions this season, and the offense has struggled to start games strong.

The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round on Saturday night. The Chiefs won their Week 9 meeting against the Dolphins, defeating them 21-14. The Chiefs possess a strong defense that keeps them in games, with the second-best scoring defense in the league. However, their offensive sloppiness, including dropped passes and offensive penalties, has been an issue that has contributed to their four losses in the past eight games.

Moving on to the AFC South, the Houston Texans will host the Cleveland Browns on Saturday afternoon. The Texans have had their ups and downs, including losses to bottom-tier teams like the Panthers, Falcons, and Jets. While they have beaten playoff contenders like the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Bengals, their inconsistency raises concerns. The Texans’ success will rely on the performance of their young quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who has shown promise in leading the team.

Lastly, the NFC. The San Francisco 49ers earned the top seed in the conference and will await the lowest-seeded wild-card winner. Their potential opponents could be the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, or the Green Bay Packers. The 49ers split their regular-season series with the Rams and defeated the Eagles and Packers in Weeks 11 and 13, respectively.

The 49ers have a well-balanced roster and a much-needed bye, which should benefit their health and chances of a deep playoff run. However, their performance when faced with a deficit raises concerns. The 49ers have excelled when they have a lead, but they have struggled in come-from-behind situations. The team’s success will depend on key young players, including quarterback Brock Purdy and kicker Jake Moody, performing under pressure.

In conclusion, the NFL playoffs are in full swing, with the top seeds in each conference earning byes while the rest of the teams compete in the wild-card round. Each team has its strengths and weaknesses, and their performance will determine their playoff success. As the playoffs progress, the competition will become more intense, and only time will tell who will reach Super Bowl LVIII on February 11.