After 18 weeks of hard-hitting, explosive NFL action, the playoffs are finally upon us.
Only the best of the best have booked their spot in the ‘win or go home’ portion of the season, with just a few more victories standing between them and football immortality.
The first stage of this year’s postseason begins on Saturday, with ‘Super Wild Card Weekend’ throwing up a host of familiar faces traveling to familiar places to intrigue fans.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the first round of the 2023 season’s playoffs.
How to watch
‘Super Wild Card Weekend’ begins on Saturday with the fifth-seeded Cleveland Browns traveling to face the No. 4 seed in the AFC, the Houston Texans.
Here’s the weekend’s full schedule and where to watch the action:
Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans – Saturday, January 13, 4:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs – Saturday, January 13, 8:10 p.m. ET (Peacock)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills – Monday, January 15, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys – Sunday, January 14, 4:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Los Angeles Rams @ Detroit Lions – Sunday, January 14, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Monday, January 15, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN/ABC)
Browns @ Texans
The opening playoff game of the 2023 season will see a clash of two quarterbacks at opposing points of their careers.
The Houston Texans, spearheaded by rookie sensation CJ Stroud, will host the Cleveland Browns, who have undergone a late-season surge with veteran signal-caller Joe Flacco at the helm.
Both have had remarkable years for very different reasons.
Stroud – the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft – has had a historic season, leading the Texans to the playoffs at the first time of asking.
Paired with first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans, Stroud has set a raft of rookie quarterback records as he’s taken to the NFL like a duck to water.
Flacco, on the other hand, has been an equally fascinating player. The 38-year-old was brought in by the Browns midway through the season after a host of quarterback injuries suffered by the team, having previously been reduced to back-up roles in years prior.
However, with Cleveland’s season seemingly hanging by a thread, Flacco came in and has had a galvanizing effect, winning four of the five games he’s played in to lead the Browns to an 11-6 record and into the postseason.
The clash of Cleveland’s excellent defense and Houston’s youthful vigor – in addition to the two quarterbacks at opposing ends of the scales – should make for an attactive proposition.
Dolphins @ Chiefs
Although the Miami Dolphins’ Week 18 loss to the Buffalo Bills meant they missed out on the AFC’s No. 2 seed and their season ended in slight disappointment, it did set up the weekend’s first reunion of familiar faces.
The Dolphins’ dynamic offense has been led by superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill who, after another excellent regular season in which he racked up 1,766 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, is one of the leading contenders to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Hill was traded to Miami in 2022 having spent his first six seasons in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs, during which time he won a Super Bowl title and blossomed into one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons through his combination of speed and elusiveness.
The Chiefs have never been able to replace Hill’s skillset since his departure – although they did win a championship ring last season – and the team’s usually explosive offense has missed that verticality this year as it has spluttered to an 11-6 record and another AFC West division title, its eighth in a row.
Kansas City quarterback and two-time NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes has uncharacteristically struggled, with mistakes from his offensive weapons often costing him at key times and a lack of separation from defenders harming the team’s ability to score.
A reunion between the Chiefs and Hill could be a stark reminder of what Kansas City is missing out on, but also could provide both teams a springboard to a deeper playoff run.
The game is expected to be played in icy cold temperatures in Kansas City, with temperatures dropping to -2° Fahrenheit at kickoff with a wind chill of -23°F, according to CNN Weather.
Winds throughout the game are expected to be around 18 mph with gusts up to 25 mph. With air temperature close to 0°F and wind speeds between 15-20 mph, it can take frostbite less than 30 minutes to set in.
Mahomes expressed his excitement at playing in the frozen conditions. “What could be better, man, playing playoff football in January at Arrowhead Stadium?” he told reporters.
“It’s going to be cold. Kind of is what it is. I’d rather be playing a football game than chasing my kids around the backyard, so I’ll add a little bit of the adrenaline rush and I’m excited for it.”
Steelers @ Bills
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season has been difficult to make sense of.
Although it ended with a record of 10-7 and a spot in the postseason, Pittsburgh cycled through a series of quarterbacks following up-and-down play, with Mason Rudolph – who began the year as the team’s third-string quarterback – finishing the season and providing an offensive jolt to spark a three-game winning run to end the campaign.
Not only did the Steelers clinch head coach Mike Tomlin’s record 17th straight non-losing season, but they also ensured they were the third AFC North team to reach the playoffs, although the team’s defensive stalwart TJ Watt has been ruled out of Sunday’s game through injury.
And that Watt-less Pittsburgh defense will have a tough task in slowing down a Buffalo Bills offense which has heated up through the second half of the season.
Buffalo ended the year on a five-game winning run – after a rocky start to the campaign – including a final week victory over the Dolphins to steal the AFC East crown and the AFC’s No. 2 berth at the finish line.
Quarterback Josh Allen has returned to his most threatening self, both on the ground and through the air, while at the same time continuing to make some confusing errors to give opponents chances.
The Bills appear to be rounding into form at just the right time of the season and will take some stopping.
With dangerous blizzard conditions in the forecast this weekend, officials have postponed the AFC Wild Card matchup – originally scheduled for Sunday – until Monday afternoon, according to the NFL and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Extreme cold is also expected to chill Buffalo on Sunday, with temperatures in the low 20s and with winds up to 45 mph. The area could also see up to 2 feet of snow, per CNN Weather.
The NFL in a statement cited “public safety concerns in light of the ongoing weather emergency in western New York” for rescheduling the game.
Around gametime on Monday, temperatures are forecast to be just below 20 degrees with wind speeds around 15 mph and gusts up to 30 mph, according to CNN Weather.
Snow is also expected to remain a factor throughout the game.
Packers @ Cowboys
There will be yet another reunion when the Green Bay Packers travel to face the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas is coached by Mike McCarthy, who spent 13 seasons as Packers head coach, winning the Super Bowl in 2011.
His time in Green Bay fizzled out after years of playoff underachievement, but he has added life to his coaching career with a successful stint in Dallas, leading “America’s Team” to 12 wins and the playoffs in three of the four years he’s been with the team.
Although postseason heartbreak has continued in Texas for McCarthy, his 2023 team looks best placed to make a playoff run, with the offense humming throughout the second half of the season and Micah Parsons leading a play-making defense.
The Cowboys will welcome in a youthful Packers squad to AT&T Stadium, led by 24-year-old quarterback Jordan Love who has stepped up to accept the mantel after Aaron Rodgers’ departure.
He has blossomed into a potential star in his first season as Green Bay’s figurehead and, even with a young and inexperienced cast of offensive weapons, has led the team to a playoff spot. Love became the first quarterback in Packers history to reach the playoffs in his first year as the full-time starter, according to the NFL.
The Packers’ defense has struggled all season, though, and will need to play a perfect game if it has any hopes of stopping Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and company.
Rams @ Lions
Sunday’s primetime game sees familiar faces meet again as the Los Angeles Rams go on the road to take on the Detroit Lions.
It’ll be Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s first game back in Detroit since he was traded to Los Angeles in 2021. Stafford was drafted by the Lions with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft before spending 12 seasons with the team. He won a Super Bowl ring in his first season in California.
For the Lions, their quarterback Jared Goff – drafted by the Rams with the first overall pick in the 2016 draft before being traded to Detroit as part of the deal to send Stafford in the opposite direction – will play against his former team and head coach Sean McVay.
The Rams have enjoyed a surprising season with a youthful squad – most notably, rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua – peppered with some veteran stars like Stafford, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp.
Detroit, however, has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best teams in Dan Campbell’s third season as head coach.
For a franchise which has for years been stuck in the doldrums, its 2023 resurgence has been a sight to behold, and a realistic Super Bowl charge could be on the cards, with the opportunity to beat some familiar foes first up.
Eagles @ Buccaneers
The final game of ‘Super Wild Card Weekend’ could have massive ramifications.
Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have huge pressure riding on the outcome of their playoff game, with both head coaches’ jobs potentially on the line.
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has seen his side slump during the second half of the season, with both the offense and defense cratering as Philadelphia lost five of its final six games.
Following a Super Bowl defeat last year and the discontent surrounding the team, rumors of a coaching change have begun to percolate and could come to fruition should an early playoff loss take place.
Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles also has pressure on his shoulders, with his team finishing with an 9-8 record and a spot in the playoffs but with questions around the future of the team.
Underwhelming seasons could be eradicated with a postseason victory or those issues could be multiplied exponentially with a defeat, setting up a fascinating clash.