2023 NFL wild-card playoff picks: Tom Brady’s Buccaneers shock Cowboys, Jaguars upset Chargers

I heard a coughing sound over the weekend and since I was battling a cold, I thought it was me, but as it turns out, it was actually just the Packers choking away their shot at a playoff spot. 

To make the playoffs, all the Packers had to do was beat the Lions in the final game of the 2022 regular season, but they couldn’t do that, which means Aaron Rodgers will now be watching the playoffs from home… or from a South American ayahuasca farm. One or the other. 

With Week 18 in the books, that means it’s now time for the postseason, and up first, we have the playoff round that I love to hate: The wild-card round. I love watching it, but I hate trying to predict it, because it always gets crazy, and I’m not talking a little crazy, I’m talking “orange is a sound, down is left, my milk is starting to taste like peanuts” crazy.

Just to give you an idea of how crazy things can get during the first weekend of the playoffs, just consider this: Underdogs have gone 16-8 against the spread since 2017, which clearly means I should take every underdog to cover this week, but also, maybe I shouldn’t, because they went 1-5 last season.  

You can also throw home-field advantage out the window: Road teams are 11-9 straight-up in the wild-card round since the start of the 2018 season, which means I should obviously pick a few road teams to win this week, but also, maybe I shouldn’t, because road teams went 1-5 last year. 

And if that’s not confusing enough, we could have as many as seven quarterbacks making their first career playoff start, which is definitely not a good thing. Since 2002, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start in the wild-card round are 12-35 straight-up, including 1-4 last year and that one win only happened because two first-time playoff starters were facing each other (Joe Burrow vs. Derek Carr). This year, the 49ers, Seahawks, Jaguars, Chargers and Giants will all have a QB making his first career playoff start. Also, the Ravens could be added to that list if Lamar Jackson DOESN’T start and the Dolphins could be added if Teddy Bridgewater DOESN’T start (Tua Tagovailoa and Skylar Thompson have never started a playoff game, but Bridgewater has).  

How many of these quarterbacks will I pick against? Let’s get to the picks and find out. 

Super Wild Card Weekend Picks

No. 7 Seattle (9-8) at No. 2 San Francisco (13-4)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

Featured Game | San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks

This game marks the third time this season that these two teams have played each other and after picking the 49ers to win in each of the first two games, I have to say, I haven’t seen anything that’s going to change my mind this time around. 

If the Seahawks have proven one thing this season, it’s that they can beat you if they can run the ball, which actually could be a problem in this game, because it’s almost impossible to run the ball against San Francisco’s defense. The 49ers have only surrendered 77.7 rushing yards per game this year, which is ranked first in the NFC and second in the NFL. To put that number in perspective, EVERY other team in the NFC gave up at least 110 yards per game on the ground in 2022. 

For the Seahawks, their magic number on the ground has been 75: In games where they’ve rushed for more than 75 yard this season, they’ve gone 9-3, but they’re 0-5 when they are held under 75 yards. And in news that probably won’t surprise you, the Seahawks didn’t hit 75 yards in either of their two regular-season games against the 49ers. As a matter of fact, they only averaged 53 rushing yards per game. 

The only thing that concerns me about the 49ers is that they’re starting a rookie quarterback and rookies tend to struggle in the playoffs in the same way that the Titanic struggled against the iceberg. It’s not pretty. However, I’m not actually overly concerned about Brock Purdy because I think Kyle Shanahan will ease him into the postseason. The Seahawks surrendered the third-most rushing yards in the NFL this season (150.2 yards per game) so I won’t be surprised if Shanahan draws up a run-heavy game-plan that calls for Purdy to do almost nothing. 

The one quarterback I am concerned about though is Geno Smith. He’ll be making his first career playoff start and let me just say that the 49ers have the one defense in the NFL that you don’t want to be facing when you’re making your first career playoff start. 

I’m taking the 49ers here, but if the Seahawks win, I might have to let this corgi handle all of my NFL picks next week. 

That dog is way better at “stairs basketball” than me. 

THE PICK: 49ers 27-20 over Seahawks
Record picking SF-SEA games this season: 2-0
Record picking Seahawks games this season: 9-8 
Record picking 49ers games this season: 12-5 

No. 5 L.A. Chargers (10-7) at No. 4 Jacksonville (9-8)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)

Featured Game | Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers

I’ve spent the past 48 hours thinking about it and i still have no idea how the Jaguars made the playoffs this year. Back on Nov. 1, the Jags were 2-6, which was tied for the third-worst record in the NFL. At that point in the season, the Jags were so bad that I was 40% convinced that Doug Pederson was secretly letting Urban Meyer coach the team again. 

As bad as the Jags were through the first eight weeks though, they did have two wins and one of those wins was a game in Week 3 where they destroyed the Chargers 38-10. However, I’m not going to put too much stock into that game because Justin Herbert was banged up and Keenan Allen didn’t play. Actually, you know what? I am going to put some stock into that game and that’s because the Chargers were mostly healthy on defense and the defense got gashed up by the Jags. 

Jacksonville totaled 151 yards on the ground in Week 3 and if the Chargers had gotten better at stopping the run since then, I wouldn’t be bringing this game up right now, but they’ve somehow gotten worse.

During the regular season, the Chargers surrendered a total of 145.8 yards per game on the ground, which was the second-worst number in the AFC and fifth-worst in the NFL. They also gave up an average of 5.4 yards PER CARRY this year, which wasn’t just the most in the NFL, but it was the most by any team SINCE 1959!

When you can run on the Chargers, you can beat them: L.A. went 4-6 this year when giving up more than 150 yards on the ground, but 6-1 in games where they surrendered under 150. 

Although the Chargers have been bad at stopping the run, the Jags have been even worse at stopping the pass. Justin Herbert might throw for 500 yards on Saturday and that’s because he’ll be going up against a Jaguars defense the surrendered the fifth-most passing yards in the NFL this year. 

The Jaguars defense won’t be able to stop the Chargers passing game. The Chargers defense won’t be able to stop the Jaguars ground game and now that I’m saying this out loud, I feel like this is going to turn into a shootout. 

This could be the craziest game of the wild-card round and I’m kind of split here with my pick, but after watching the Chargers go 1-3 in outdoor games this year — a record that would have been 0-4 if the Browns didn’t miss a 53-yard field goal in the final seconds — I’m going to have to roll with the Jags. That is not a typo. I am picking Jacksonville to win a playoff game. 

I just have this sinking feeling that the Chargers are going to find a way to Charger things up by making some sort of huge mistake late in the game. A missed field goal? A late fumble? An interception? I’m not exactly sure what it will be, but whatever it is, we’ll all feel sorry for the Chargers when it happens, and it will only get more awkward when Jaxson De Ville celebrates the miscue while wearing a speedo. 

THE PICK: Jaguars 34-31 over Chargers
Record picking LAC-JAX games this season: 0-1
Record picking Chargers games this season: 12-5 
Record picking Jaguars games this season: 7-10

No. 7 Miami (9-8) at No. 2 Buffalo (13-3)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Featured Game | Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins

If there’s one team I wouldn’t want to be this week, it’s the Dolphins. They’re in a rough situation right now at quarterback and that’s because they’re either going to have roll with a banged-up Tua Tagovailoa (concussion), a guy with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand (Teddy Bridgewater) or a rookie (Skylar Thompson). 

The best option would obviously be Tua, but I’m not sure the Dolphins are going to let him take the field just two weeks after he experienced another concussion. If Tua can’t go, the next QB on the depth chart is Bridgewater, but starting him isn’t ideal because if there’s one injury you don’t your QB to be dealing with while they’re playing, it’s a dislocated finger on their throwing hand. At the bottom of the depth chart is Skylar Thompson and if you watched just five minutes of Miami’s Week 18 win over the Jets, then you know why the Dolphins will have almost no chance of winning if Thompson is the starter. 

If the Dolphins are going to have any chance of winning this game, they’re going to have to figure out how to run the ball. When these two teams played in Buffalo back in Week 15, the Dolphins kept it close thanks in large part to the fact that they rushed for nearly 200 yards. They hit 188 yards with 136 of those coming from Raheem Mostert, so they’ll have to count on him to carry them to a win. 

OK, so remember what I said about the Dolphins needing to count on Mostert to carry them to a win, you can go ahead and forget all that. It is now up to Jeff Wilson. 

The crazy thing is that I think the Dolphins are actually going to be able to run the ball, but that being said, I only have one rule when it comes to picking playoff games and that rule is that if I don’t know who your starting quarterback is going to be, then I can’t pick your team to win. No matter who the Dolphins throw out there on Sunday, that QB won’t be better than Josh Allen. 

THE PICK: Bills 30-23 over Dolphins
Record picking MIA-BUF games this season: 1-1
Record picking Dolphins games this season: 10-7
Record picking Bills games this season: 13-3

No. 6 N.Y. Giants (9-7-1) at No. 3 Minnesota (13-4)

Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

Featured Game | Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants

If you watch this game on Sunday, you’ll be witnessing history and that’s because it’s going to give us just the fourth NFL playoff game ever where both teams have a negative point differential. If you’re wondering that even means, it means that the Vikings and Giants both got collectively outscored by their opponents this season. Usually, when you get outscored by your opponents during a season, you don’t make the playoffs, but these two teams somehow managed to buck the trend. 

Although the Vikings won 13 games, they managed to get outscored by their opponents because they got blown out three times: They lost 40-3 to the Cowboys, 24-7 to the Eagles and 41-17 to the Packers. Those three games had one big thing in common and that thing is that Kirk Cousins was a disaster. Those were the only three games all season where Cousins had a QB rating below 70. He got sacked 11 times in those three games combined while also throwing a total of six interceptions. 

I think what I’m trying to say here is that if the Giants can fluster Cousins at all, they’re going to win. The problem for the Giants is that it’s not easy to fluster Cousins, especially when he’s playing at home, where the Vikings are 8-1 this season. That record includes a 27-24 Christmas Eve win over the Giants where everything went right for the Vikings — they returned a blocked punt for a TD, they forced two turnovers and they got a 61-yard field goal — and even with all those things going their way, they still barely won. 

In the first game, Cousins got sacked four times and things could get even uglier this week because the Vikings starting right tackle from that game (Brian O’Neil) won’t be on the field after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 17. 

As for Cousins, although I don’t trust him in this game, I trust Daniel Jones less. The Giants QB will be making the first playoff start of his career and as I’ve already noted, quarterbacks tend to struggle when making the first start of their playoff career in the wild-card round. The upside for the Giants though is that Brian Daboll can take the game out of Jones’ hands by unleashing Saquon Barkley, which is what I think we’ll see. I won’t be surprised at all if Barkley gets around 20 carries in this game. 

This game might not be as sexy as the other wild-card games, but I would definitely plan on watching if I were you. I mean, remember, this is a Vikings game, so the only thing we know for sure is that it will be totally bonkers, there will probably be multiple blown leads and it will almost certainly come down to the final play. 

THE PICK: Giants 27-24 over Vikings
Record picking NYG-MIN games this season: 0-1
Record picking Giants games this season: 9-7-1 
Record picking Vikings games this season: 10-7 

No. 6 Baltimore (10-7) at No. 3 Cincinnati (12-4)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)

Featured Game | Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens

When you’re the defending AFC Champions, it’s hard to go into the playoffs with a chip on your shoulder, but it feels like the Bengals will be going into the postseason with a chip the size of Ohio on their shoulders. Not only did the NFL hose them over with the revamped playoff format in the AFC, but the Bengals have also become the forgotten little brother in the conference thanks to the Chiefs and Bills. 

I’m not sure a 12-4 team can be considered underrated, but I’m starting to feel like the Bengals were one of the most underrated teams in the NFL this year. If you look at their record, you could easily argue that two of their four losses were somewhat flukey. 

They started the year 0-2 because their starting quarterback lost half his body weight after undergoing an appendectomy in late July. Joe Burrow missed all of training camp after his appendix ruptured and he looked like a shell of himself during the first two weeks of the season. Despite that, the Bengals only lost by three points in both Week 1 and Week 2. 

In Week 8, the Bengals got smoked by the Browns (32-13), but that was their first game without Ja’Marr Chase and the offense looked completely lost on the field. That loss definitely wasn’t a fluke, but the Bengals had to completely revamp their offense on three-days notice and it showed. 

The Bengals have only lost ONE game this year where all their key players were fully healthy and that came in Week 5 against the Ravens and that’s one reason why this game is so interesting. I don’t want to say the Ravens defense has figured out Joe Burrow, but they’ve certainly stepped up their game over the past 12 months. After getting embarrassed by Burrow in 2021 — the Bengals QB averaged 470 passing yards per game against them — the Ravens didn’t even let him hit 470 yards total this year (Burrow threw for 217 in Week 5 and 215 in Week 18). 

If the Ravens can once again hold Burrow under 225 yards, then they’re going to have a chance to win on Sunday, and there’s definitely a good chance that could happen. The Bengals lost right guard Alex Cappa to injury in Week 18, which means they’ll be missing both their starting right guard and right tackle this week (RT La’el Collins was lost for the season in Week 16). With the right side of the offensive line being completely revamped, Burrow could be facing a lot of pressure, which could keep his numbers down. 

However, as I’ve already said, I only have one rule when it comes to picking playoff games and that rule is that if it’s Tuesday of playoff week and I don’t know who your starting quarterback is going to be, then I can’t pick your team to win. That rule applies with the Dolphins and it applies here. 

If Lamar Jackson starts, it will be his first game action in six weeks and it’s nearly impossible for an NFL quarterback to miss six weeks in the middle of the season and not look at least a little rusty when he returns. If Jackson can’t go, that means the Ravens will be rolling with a banged up Tyler Huntley (shoulder injury) at QB or a third-stringer (Anthony Brown) who turned the ball over three times while playing the Bengals on Sunday. 

I was going to flip a coin to see who wins this game, but I think the Bengals are tired of things being decided by coin flips, so I’m just going to take them. 

I think the Ravens defense will keep this close for three quarters, but the Bengals will pull away late. 

THE PICK: Bengals 27-17 over Ravens
Record picking CIN-BAL games this season: 1-1
Record picking Ravens games this season: 11-6 
Record picking Bengals games this season: 12-4 

No. 5 Dallas (12-5) at No. 4 Tampa Bay (8-9)

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Featured Game | Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys usually wait until the postseason to fall apart, but this year, it seems they’ve started things a little bit early. Dallas lost two of its final four regular-season games and big reason that happened is because Dak Prescott has apparently forgotten how to play football. 

Since returning from his right thumb injury in Week 7, Prescott just hasn’t been the same quarterback and although you’d think he would be slowly improving each week, that simply hasn’t been the case. Since Week 12, Prescott has thrown 11 interceptions, which is more than any other QB in the NFL over that span. 

Thanks to those 11 interceptions, Prescott finished tied for the NFL lead with 15 picks on the season, which I’m only pointing out because it makes him the FIRST QB IN NFL HISTORY to miss at least five games and STILL lead the league interceptions. That’s up there with “who can eat the most tubs of butter in 90 seconds” on the list of records you don’t ever want to break. 

Basically, on one side of this game, you have a quarterback who can’t stop throwing interceptions and on the other side, you have the most successful NFL quarterback of all-time: Tom Brady. If Brady could have hand-picked his opponent for the wild-card round, I’m guessing he would have picked the Cowboys and that’s mainly because if there’s one team the Bucs will be extremely confident in beating, it’s Dallas. For one, the Buccaneers already beat the Cowboys this season, and two, Brady has NEVER LOST TO THE COWBOYS IN HIS CAREER (7-0). 

Also, this game is being played in Tampa Bay, which is notable, because they have a grass field in Tampa and Dallas tends to struggle on grass for some reason. The Cowboys have played five games on grass this season and they’ve gone 1-4 in those games. They lost to the Eagles, Commanders, Jaguars and Packers, and their only win came against a Titans team that was forced to start a quarterback (Josh Dobbs) who had only been on the roster for nine days. Even then, the Cowboys still had trouble putting Tennessee away (The game was 17-13 in the fourth quarter). 

From a defensive standpoint, the Cowboys surrendered an average of 27.2 points in their five games played on grass. In the 12 games that weren’t played on grass, the Cowboys surrendered just 17.1 points per game, which is a huge 10.1-point difference. 

On paper, this game feels like a mismatch, but Tom Brady doesn’t believe in paper so I’m going to ignore the talent disparity and just go with the team that I trust more right now and that’s the Buccaneers. 

THE PICK: Buccaneers 20-17 over Cowboys
Record picking TB-DAL games this season: 1-0
Record picking Cowboys games this season: 10-7 
Record picking Buccaneers games this season: 9-8 

Last Week

Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the Colts would beat the Texans and that’s exactly what happened. Wait, that’s not what happened at all. The Texans actually won 32-31 and I got the pick wrong, but I’m listing it here because the award for “Best decision” of Week 18 goes to Lovie Smith who decided to go for two points in the final minute to beat the Colts. 

Although his decision paid off with a win, he still got fired a few hours later. 

I don’t care what anyone says though, this man is a genius: By getting fired, he now gets to leave a dysfunctional organization, he gets paid whatever is left on his contract and he gets to leave knowing that he cost the Texans their chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick. I mean, any time you can screw over someone who’s about to fire you AND take their money, you have to do it, right? Right. Glad we agree. 

Worst pick: Going into Week 18, the Jets had absolutely nothing to play for and they were going up against a Dolphins team that had everything to play for, so naturally, I did the smart thing and took the Dolphins. Just kidding. I did the dumb thing and took the Jets and I have no idea why. Once the Super Bowl is over, I will be spending the entire offseason trying to figure out why I made this pick, so if there’s no newsletter from March through August, that’s why. 

If you’re wondering what newsletter I’m talking about, it’s the NFL newsletter here at CBSSports.com and I’m in charge of it. If you want to regularly hear my incessant ramblings, then you can sign up by clicking here. 

Picks record

Straight up in Week 18: 8-8
Final 2022 regular season record SU: 165-105-1 

Against the spread in Week 18: 8-8
Final 2022 regular season record ATS: 129-133-9

LAST YEAR’S PLAYOFF RECORD
Straight-up: 9-4
ATS: 9-4


You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably trying to break the record for most tubs of butter eaten in 90 seconds. 

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