Every team in the NFL playoffs can’t be ruled out for making a run to the Super Bowl. From the No. 1 seeds with home-field advantage in the AFC and NFC to the No. 7 wild-card teams that just made the field, all but two teams start from scratch in a one-and-done tournament.
With only two teams getting byes into the divisional playoffs, anything can happen in the wild-card round and beyond. It all requires all teams to take advantage of the right matchups at the right time — and avoid the bad ones.
Based on potential seeding scenarios for teams already in the 2022-23 playoffs and those still trying to qualify in Week 18, here’s the best and worst possible matchups for each:
POWER RANKINGS: Chiefs, 49ers overtake Eagles, Bills as new 1-2
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-3)
The Chiefs will lock down the No. 1 seed ahead of the Bills with a win over the Raiders as significant road favorites on Saturday afternoon. They were in the same pole position after the 2020 NFL regular season on their path to Super Bowl 55.
Best possible matchup: Titans. The Titans have given the Chiefs trouble in the past, but if they limp into the playoffs as an injury-riddled sub-..500 team likely minus Ryan Tannehill as a No. 4 seed, the Chiefs would have a pretty clear path to another AFC title game.
Worst possible matchup: Chargers. Beating a team three times in a season is difficult. The current No. 5 Chargers lost by a field goal in both regular-season matchups and are improved health- and defense-wise since those meetings. Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert is likely to come down to the wire in an epic passing duel.
2. Buffalo Bills (12-3)
The Bills can still end up No. 1 if the Chiefs lose and the Bills beat the Patriots at home. Should the Chiefs win, the Bills would be in position to rest players ahead of playing in the wild-card round.
Best possible matchup: Patriots. The Bills, since losing that wind-hampered debacle last season, have dominated the current No. 7 Patriots. They wouldn’t mind seeing them a third time in a rematch of last year’s wild-card playoffs given their limited offense that can’t match what the Bills can do with Josh Allen.
Worst possible matchup: Steelers. The Steelers can cause the Bills some defensive problems with T.J. Watt and a top-flight pass rush and a secondary that’s starting to make big plays capitalizing on mistakes. Allen has made a few critical ones of late. A defensive-minded slugfest could be in store, giving Pittsburgh a shot to steal a battle of attrition.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
The Bengals have won the AFC North based on how things stand without a Week 17 game but they lose the tiebreaker to the Bills based on conference record and can’t catch the Chiefs. The reigning AFC champions are set to be the No. 3 seed, a one-spot improvement from last year’s No. 4.
Best possible matchup: Ravens. The current No. 6 Ravens may or not have Lamar Jackson back for the playoffs, but the Bengals should have confidence they can beat a familiar foe with Joe Burrow.knowing how to pick apart their defense with his offense becoming deeper, more diverse and more explosive.
Worst possible matchup: Bills. Getting them in Cincinnati would have been a different story, but needing to go to Buffalo and face the elements and a hostile crowd in the divisional playoffs is a much bigger challenge than taking down the Titans in Nashville a year ago.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
The Jaguars are strong favorites to finish their second-half surge as above-.500 AFC South champions.
Best possible matchup: Chargers. The Jaguars had a big breakthrough with Trevor Lawrence in Week 3, rolling to a 38-10 romp over the Chargers in Los Angeles. They match up well offensively and defensively to give them a shot in a 4 vs. 5 rematch.
Worst possible matchup: Ravens. The Jaguars also did beat the Ravens in the regular season, but this would be trickier because of facing a tough defense and the potential return of Jackson to drive their own defense batty. The Jaguars just held on to win a wild 28-27 affair at home in Week 11.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-5)
The Chargers will stay here with a win over the Broncos in Denver, but they could slip to No. 6 with a loss and a Ravens win.
Best possible matchup: Bengals. When Burrow dueled Herbert in Week 13 in early December of the 2021 season, there was no comparison as Herbert outplayed him in a 41-22 Chargers win.The Bengals didn’t have defensive answers for Herbert’s key weapons.
Worst possible matchup: Jaguars. The Chargers don’t want to face another dangerous version of themselves early.
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
The Ravens will either stay here or move up to No. 5. They cannot drop to No. 7, as they are two games up on all the contenders for that final spot.
Best possible matchup: Jaguars. Their playoff experience also can be key in facing a young upstart again.
Worst possible matchup: Bengals. Familiarity isn’t a favorable thing in this scenario.
7. New England Patriots (8-8)
Best possible matchup: Bengals. The Patriots’ defense played them tough in a big comeback in Week 16.
Worst possible matchup: Bills. The reward for sneaking into the playoffs would be a rematch of their 47-17 loss in last year’s wild-card round.
8. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Best possible matchup: Chiefs. Kansas City wants nothing to do with facing an explosive passing team that will feature a revenge-minded Tyreek Hill on top of Jaylen Waddle, two receivers its defense can’t cover.
Worst possible matchup: Bills. Miami defied statistical odds to win the first meeting and got beat up well in the second meeting in Buffalo.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Best possible matchup. Bills. There’s just something dangerous about facing a Mike Tomlin defensive-minded team right out of the gate.
Worst possible matchup: Chiefs. Should the Steelers somehow pull off a wild-card upset, they would face the team that beat team 42-21 in last year’s playoffs.
10. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Best possible matchup: Ravens. The Titans would benefit from another physical team trying to grind things out with heavy running and limited passing.
Worst possible matchup: Chargers. The Chargers just dominated the Titans defensively in a 17-14 game in Week 15 that shouldn’t have been that close.
NFL WEEK 18 PICKS: Against the spread | Straight-up predictions
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-4)
The Eagles will keep the No. 1 seed with a win over the Giants. A loss could push them to No. 2 behind 49ers if they can still win the division over the Cowboys. They would drop to No. 5 should they lose and the Cowboys win to take the division.
Best possible matchup: Vikings. There are reasons to think all the other games might be tough, making a free ticket to the divisional round critical. Minnesota, a potential NFC title rematch opponent, was no contest for Philadelphia in Week 2 in a 24-7 game.
Worst possible matchup: Buccaneers. It would not be ideal for the Eagles to be a 13-win wild card and get a playoff rematch with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. That was a 31-15 Bucs win last year.
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
There’s a slight chance the 49ers can move up to No. 1 with a win over the Cardinals and a real chance to drop back to No. 3 behind the Vikings with a loss.
Best possible matchup: Packers. The 49ers beat them and the Cowboys in last year’s playoffs in route to their NFC championship game appearance. Their defense can dominate and their special teams can be a spark again.
Worst possible matchup: Eagles. The 49ers should be the co-favorites in the NFC. Philadelphia is the only team in the field that matches up well enough overall to keep San Francisco out of the Super Bowl.
3. Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
The Vikings cannot jump the Eagles or Cowboys for No. 1 so they are either staying here or moving up to No. 2 ahead of the 49ers.
Worst possible matchup: Giants. You can pick any team here because of the Vikings either winning close games or being blown out, but recency bias says go with the team they edged out 27-24 in Week 16.
Best possible matchup: Giants. The Vikings are such a wild card playing with house money in one-possession games to the point you can love and hate them in the same matchup.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
They are locked in here as NFC South champions. They were a No. 5 seed wild card when they won Super Bowl 55.
Best possible matchup: Cowboys. That’s the current matchup and this is based on Dallas’ recent early playoff disappointments, with last year’s loss coming right away to San Francisco. The Bucs also beat the Cowboys 19-3 way back in Week 1.
Worst possible matchup: Eagles. As much as the Buccaneers handled Jalen Hurts and their offense and scored plenty last season, facing an improved all-around team, even at home again, also isn’t ideal for them.
5. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
The Cowboys can move up to No. 1 or No. 2 with a win and an Eagles loss, depending on what the 49ers do.
Best possible matchup: Lions. In a potential No. 2 vs. No. 7 game, Dallas would love to see the team it crushed 24-6 at home in Week 7.
Worst possible matchup: Packers. In a potential No. 2 vs. No. 7 game, seeing a hot Aaron Rodgers would not be pleasing for Mike McCarthy’s team.
6. New York Giants (9-6-1)
The Giants are locked into this second wild-card spot as they cannot move up or down with too much gap in between.
Best possible matchup: Vikings. They were in control in Week 16 until things fell apart near the end. Daniel Jones and the offense can move the ball well again.
Worst possible matchup: 49ers. San Francisco would overmatch New York with its offense and Nick Bosa’s defense wreaking havoc vs. Jones.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
Best possible matchup: Vikings. The Seahawks would love to get in have a real chance against a team that would struggle against their running game and wide receivers.
Worst possible matchup: 49ers. The 49ers wouldn’t mind seeing the Seahawks the third time back at home as they ripped them twice, 27-7 and 21-13, in the regular season.
8. Detroit Lions (8-8)
Best possible matchup: Vikings. The Lions beat them pretty well in the second meeting in Week 14. 34-23.
Worst possible matchup: 49ers. Outdoors vs. a good defense and an offense that can move the ball at will against them? No thanks.
9. Green Bay Packers (8-8)
Best possible matchup: Vikings. Sensing a theme here? The Packers would love another shot at the team it just beat in Week 17 by a 41-17 count.
Worst possible matchup: 49ers. Sensing a theme here? The 49ers have given the Packers all sorts of postseason problems and the Packers don’t match up well at all this time.
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