The 2022 NFL season came down to the end once again, as the Lions’ victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night sent the Seahawks to the playoffs. Seattle was in that position thanks to its overtime win against the Rams. The Dolphins also earned their way into the postseason tournament (breaking a six-year drought) with a last-minute triumph over the Jets coupled with the Patriots’ loss to the Bills. So now it’s time for the really fun part: the 2022 NFL playoffs.
The No. 1 seeds in each conference — the Chiefs in the AFC and the Eagles in the NFC — will receive first-round byes. The remaining 12 teams will play in next week’s three-day wild-card extravaganza: two games on Saturday, three on Sunday and a Monday night finale to be broadcast by ABC/ESPN. Last season’s top seeds were upset in the divisional round, and the No. 4 seeds, the Rams and the Bengals, went to the Super Bowl. The Rams won, but they didn’t make it back to the postseason. Everything is on the table. It’s time to buckle up for some unexpected twists and turns.
Our playoff primer will preview the wild-card matchups and take a broader look at what each team must do to reach Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, along with its updated chances via ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.
2. Bills vs. 7. Dolphins
3. Bengals vs. 6. Ravens
4. Jaguars vs. 5. Chargers
2. 49ers vs. 7. Seahawks
3. Vikings vs. 6. Giants
4. Buccaneers vs. 5. Cowboys
Super Bowl odds: +330
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 46.4%
Reason for hope: The Chiefs don’t strike as quickly as they once did, but they are still potent offensively. They lead the league in scoring, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the favorite to win MVP. There’s room for growth, too, if they can reduce their turnovers and improve a 75% field goal percentage, which is tied for 30th in the NFL.
Reason for concern: The Chiefs have the league’s worst kicking game, which is one reason some of the league’s bottom-feeding teams have hung around in recent games. They’ve missed eight field goals and five PATs, forfeiting a total of 29 points directly with their kicking game while their opponents forfeited six (two missed field goals and zero missed PATs). This could be a fatal flaw against superior opponents they face in the playoffs. — Adam Teicher
What makes Travis Kelce the toughest tight end in the game? “Kelce is smart, beyond all he can do physically, he’s just f—ing smart. So, if he’s looking at a lot of zone looks he’ll just find the soft spots over and over and Mahomes has been around him so long he just knows how Kelce will settle in all of those looks. Even tight windows aren’t tight enough, they just know each other, done it too often. … He’s going to get catches, he’s too good, too smart, but the idea is to limit damage, make them first downs, not touchdowns.” — AFC player
First-game outlook: The Chiefs have the No. 1 seed, so they won’t play until the divisional round on Jan. 21 or 22. Kansas City will host the lowest-seeded remaining wild card, which could be the Jaguars, Chargers, Ravens or Dolphins. The Chiefs swept the AFC West rival Chargers and defeated the Jaguars 27-17 in Week 10. A matchup with the Dolphins would be a reunion with wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who played six seasons in K.C. before being traded to Miami in the offseason.
Super Bowl odds: +420
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 30.5%
Reason for hope: Josh Allen. When the Bills quarterback is playing at his best, this team is incredibly difficult to stop. In two playoff games last season, Allen threw nine touchdown passes to zero interceptions and threw for more than 600 yards. At times this season, Allen has struggled with turnovers, including five games with two interceptions. But if Allen plays to his capabilities, the Bills should be the team to beat.
Reason for concern: While Allen gives the Bills hope, the lack of a consistent slot receiver and drop issues are concerning for a Bills offense that has been up and down at times. The Bills are second in the league in drops (31), which has not helped their turnover number (27, third most in the league). The team has tried to address the issue by adding Cole Beasley and John Brown to the practice squad, but the former Bills might not be enough to help Allen in the postseason. — Alaina Getzenberg
What’s the best way to keep Allen from beating you? “That’s the same thing as Lamar [Jackson]. The D-line has got to lock it in. We can’t have him rolling out and just throwing the ball anywhere. They’ve got a lot of weapons with [Stefon] Diggs and guys like that.” — AFC defensive player
First-game outlook: The Bills will host the Dolphins in the wild-card round on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The AFC East rivals split their games this season, with Miami prevailing 21-19 at home in Week 3 and the Bills winning 32-29 in walk-off fashion in snowy Buffalo in Week 15.
Super Bowl odds: +800
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 11.2%
Reason for hope: Cincinnati is playing better than it did last season, when the Bengals won the AFC North and reached the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years. Quarterback Joe Burrow is playing at a high level. The offense, which was inconsistent last postseason, has displayed improved efficiency throughout the season and has been able to find different ways to score points. Overall, the Bengals are in a stronger position to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Jessie Bates is wide open for an interception and the Bengals defense gets creative with a roller coaster ride celebration.
Reason for concern: The Bengals’ offense hasn’t strung two good halves together the past three games. It scored three first-half points in Week 15, zero second-half points in Week 16 and three points in the second half Sunday against the Ravens. Offensive line woes are a reason for that, as right guard Alex Cappa suffered a left ankle injury in the Week 18 win. Cincinnati is already without right tackle La’el Collins for the rest of the season after he suffered a torn left ACL. — Ben Baby
Where does Burrow rank among QBs in the fourth quarter? “I would say he’s the best. He’s ‘Joe Cool.’ He doesn’t get flustered at all. Honestly, if that left guard doesn’t get beat [by Aaron Donald in the final minute] in the Super Bowl, I think they win. … As far as having the confidence to put it out there and give his guys a chance, and the ability to put it where it’s supposed to be, I think he’s at the very top.” — AFC player
First-game outlook: The Bengals get a rematch with the Ravens, whom they just vanquished, as Cincinnati will host Baltimore in the wild-card round on Sunday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). The Bengals and Ravens split their two meetings, with Cincinnati winning 27-16 on Sunday and the Ravens prevailing 19-17 at home in Week 5. This marks the first playoff matchup between the AFC North rivals.
Super Bowl odds: +5000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 4.1%
Reason for hope: Trevor Lawrence is playing like a top-five quarterback. Since November began, he is second in the NFL in completion percentage (69.7%), third in passer rating (104.6) and eighth in Total QBR (63.5). Lawrence is running coach Doug Pederson’s offense at a high level and spreading the ball around, which makes them hard to stop because defenses can’t concentrate on one player. Despite the fact he’s only in his second season, Lawrence has plenty of big-game experience from his time at Clemson, where he led the Tigers to a national title as a freshman.
Reason for concern: The Jaguars’ pass rush has been one of the worst in the league, and they are without one of their best pass-rushers in Dawuane Smoot (torn right Achilles). The pass rush has been better down the stretch, but here’s the list of QBs the team faced in the final three games: Zach Wilson, Chris Streveler, Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel and Joshua Dobbs. They’ll be dealing with much better quarterbacks and offensive lines in the postseason. — Michael DiRocco
What’s the most difficult thing about facing Lawrence? “He’s showing more poise. He’s a very accurate quarterback, but he would make one of those ‘Why did he throw that?’ passes each game if he got pressure on him. He’s not doing that anymore. The other part of his game that doesn’t get much attention is his athleticism. He can hurt you with his legs.” — AFC defensive player
First-game outlook: The Jaguars will host the Chargers in the wild-card round on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). Jacksonville, which is making its first playoff appearance since 2017, demolished the Chargers 38-10 at SoFi Stadium in Week 3. This is the first playoff meeting between the teams.
Super Bowl odds: +2200
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 3.3%
Reason for hope: The Chargers are getting healthy and peaking at the perfect time. After spending most of the season dealing with significant injuries, several key playmakers — including edge rusher Joey Bosa — have returned. The defense, despite playing without Bosa and safety Derwin James Jr., began hitting its stride down the stretch, improving from among the worst-ranked units to among the best. Offensively, the Bolts are also establishing a rhythm of newfound continuity after receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams returned to health, though Williams suffered a back injury in Week 18.
Reason for concern: Inconsistency on offense. Despite featuring quarterback Justin Herbert, who passed Andrew Luck this season for the most passing yards through a quarterback’s first three seasons, along with Allen, Williams and running back Austin Ekeler — who leads the league in touchdowns — the Bolts have at times been unable to move the ball and score in the red zone, where they rank in the bottom half of the league in efficiency. The Chargers must establish the run and lean on the playmaking ability of Allen and Williams (if available) in big moments. — Lindsey Thiry
What does Khalil Mack do that changes the Chargers’ defense? “He’s a good player, but he’s not the same caliber of pass-rusher that [Joey] Bosa is. But what he does when Bosa is in the lineup is he gives them a reliable rusher from the other edge. That makes coming up with the blocking scheme more challenging when they have a solid rusher coming from each side. They’re definitely more dangerous since they traded for him and more dangerous when both guys are in the lineup.” — AFC offensive player
First-game outlook: The Chargers will play at Jacksonville on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). Los Angeles, making its first playoff appearance since 2018, was stomped by the Jaguars 38-10 at home in Week 3. This is the first time the Chargers will have faced the Jaguars in the playoffs.
Super Bowl odds: +3500
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 3.2%
Reason for hope: The Ravens have extremely stingy on defense since linebacker Roquan Smith was acquired in Week 9. This defense has been so dominant that Baltimore clinched a playoff berth even though quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the final five games. With cornerback Marlon Humphrey and inside linebacker Patrick Queen flying all over the field, the Ravens have excelled against the run, on third downs and in the red zone. Baltimore will need this defense to be at the top of its game to get through an AFC playoff field that includes Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.
Reason for concern: A struggling offense. The Ravens have been the NFL’s second-lowest scoring offense since Jackson injured his left knee Dec. 4. Even if Jackson returns for the postseason, no one knows how rusty he’ll be and how this injury will affect his mobility. If defenses can shut down Baltimore’s rushing attack, it’s going to be a challenge for any quarterback to move the ball downfield with the league’s least-productive wide receiver group, which features Demarcus Robinson, DeSean Jackson and Sammy Watkins. — Jamison Hensley
What has Smith done for the Ravens defense? “He’s the focal point of their defense. Really, really good linebacker. Instinctive, good in the run game [and] equally as decent in the pass. So just an all-around good linebacker.” — AFC player
First-game outlook: After losing in Cincinnati on Sunday, the Ravens will return to Ohio to play the Bengals in the wild-card round next Sunday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). Baltimore split its two games with the Bengals, losing 27-16 on Sunday and beating Cincinnati 19-17 in Week 5. This will be the first playoff meeting between Baltimore and Cincinnati.
Super Bowl odds: +6000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.4%
Reason for hope: The Dolphins’ offense features two of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL in receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, both of whom can change a game with a single reception. If quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is medically cleared to return from concussion protocol, Miami can put up points with any team in the NFL and has shown the ability to quickly erase deficits. If he isn’t, the Dolphins will start either seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson or veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater in the wild-card round. The Dolphins have averaged 16.3 points per game when Tagovailoa doesn’t play, 25.5 when he does.
Reason for concern: If their offense isn’t carrying the team, neither the defense nor special teams units have played well enough over the past month to keep the Dolphins competitive. The offense has sputtered during the final month of the season, and Tagovailoa, while still one of the more efficient passers in the NFL, was struggling as opposing defenses took away timing routes over the middle of the field. The Dolphins haven’t successfully generated a consistent pass rush all season, and their special teams rank among the league’s worst in terms of returns and returns allowed. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
What’s the best way to handle Hill and Waddle? “It’s not the vertical speed only, it’s also the horizontal speed. Those motions, the guy gets on one side of the field or formation to the other side very fast and can either outflank the defense or draw the defense out to create more space inside. … You have to make sure you’re matching their speed in both areas.” — AFC player
First-game outlook: The Dolphins return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and will play at AFC East rival Buffalo in the wild-card round on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Miami split its two games with the Bills, defeating Buffalo 21-19 at home in Week 3 and losing to the Bills 32-29 on a walk-off field goal in Week 15.
Super Bowl odds: +550
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 49.8%
Reason for hope: The Eagles have one of the best rosters in football, an MVP candidate at quarterback in Jalen Hurts and an offense that should be able to adapt to any style. Philadelphia has proven it can excel in a shootout thanks in large part to Hurts’ development in the passing game, and if it needs to shift to a ground-based attack due to weather conditions or otherwise, it’s more than capable. That, plus a defense that leads the league in passing defense (179.8 yards allowed per game) and sacks (70) is a good recipe for postseason success.
Reason for concern: Teams want to peak as they hit January, and that’s not what’s happening with the Eagles, who have looked shaky at times over the last several weeks. Injuries have hit at a bad time. And while all eyes have been on Hurts’ throwing shoulder, the status of players such as right tackle Lane Johnson (abdominal tear) and cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) also looms large. — Tim McManus
What has made Hurts an MVP candidate this season? “Obviously he’s improved a lot. A lot of people, you don’t see them make those type of jumps that fast. He’s been able to do it. I don’t think it’s a surprise at all. I know how he works, what he demands of himself and the people around him. He definitely in my opinion is the MVP of the league.” — NFC player
First-game outlook: The Eagles get home-field advantage and a bye to the divisional round, so they won’t play until Jan. 21 or 22, giving Hurts more time to recover from his shoulder injury. Philadelphia will host the lowest remaining seed, which could be the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Giants or Seahawks. The Eagles went 3-1 against their potential NFC East foes, splitting with the Cowboys and sweeping the Giants. They lost to Tampa Bay in the wild-card round last year.
Super Bowl odds: +450
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 21.7%
Reason for hope: The 49ers are the hottest team in football, having won 10 straight after stumbling to a 3-4 start. The defense has been one of the top units in the league all season, despite a couple of hiccups, but the offense has pulled its share of the weight since running back Christian McCaffrey came aboard in October. The special teams has also made great strides. The Niners have proven they can win slugfests, shootouts and everything in between, a valuable trait when entering the unpredictable postseason.
Reason for concern: Nobody really knows what to expect from rookie quarterback Brock Purdy when the lights burn brightest. That’s not a knock on Purdy, who so far has answered every question in a more than satisfactory fashion in going 5-0 as a starter. It is, however, a fact that no rookie starting quarterback has ever made the Super Bowl, let alone won it. Purdy doesn’t have to carry the Niners, who have won four playoff games since 2019 with average to below-average quarterback play. If Purdy can clear that relatively low bar, the Niners should be fine. — Nick Wagoner
What has McCaffrey brought to this offense? “He’s brought a lot. You just don’t know. When he’s in the backfield, he can obviously catch, he can run the ball, so you just don’t know what they’re gonna do and it’s hard to defend a back like that. So he allows them to switch up their scheme and use different personnels, like 21 personnel, 11 personnel … so he’s just a great weapon to have.” — NFC player
First-game outlook: The 49ers will host the Seahawks in the wild-card round on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox). San Francisco swept its NFC West rivals during the season, beating the Seahawks 27-7 at home in Week 2 and winning 21-13 in Seattle in Week 15.
Super Bowl odds: +3000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 3.1%
Reason for hope: The Vikings have won all 11 of their games this season that have been decided by one score, an NFL record. Historically, one-score games have been random and not particularly predictive of future outcomes. But within those games, the Vikings have displayed a high-end situational mastery that suggests they are confident and skilled in the small ways that postseason games are often decided.
The Vikings’ defense show off their zombie walk to celebrate a Patrick Peterson interception.
Reason for concern: For most of the season, the Vikings’ defense has ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed. Points are more important than yards, of course, but the only reason opponents haven’t converted those yards into more points is the Vikings have been exceptionally good at the end of games. They’re third in the NFL with a plus-9 turnover margin on drives that have started in the fourth quarter or overtime. Absent a key interception or fourth-down stop, however, they will be vulnerable in the playoffs. — Kevin Seifert
Is Justin Jefferson the best receiver in the NFL not on your team? “He’s in my top three receivers. Davante Adams No. 1. And I think [Jaylen] Waddle might’ve snuck in there … I think [Jefferson is] a really good receiver. … I think he does a really good job at the catch point. He has strong hands. You wouldn’t really expect it because he seems really skinny, but he’s really strong at the catch point and he’s good after he catches the ball. I think that’s probably one of his best attributes. He can get vertical and score.” — NFC defensive player
First-game outlook: The Vikings will host the Giants in a wild-card game on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox). These two teams met in Minnesota in Week 16, with the Vikings winning 27-24 on a 61-yard, walk-off field goal by Greg Joseph for Minnesota’s 11th one-score win.
Super Bowl odds: +3000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 2.7%
Reason for hope: After struggling to field a downfield passing attack and break the 17-point threshold all season on offense, the Bucs put up 30 points against the Panthers in Week 17, suggesting quarterback Tom Brady and the offense might be getting hot at the right time. Wide receiver Mike Evans was a big part of that, with three touchdowns — the first time he’d reached the end zone since Week 4.
Reason for concern: Health has been an issue all season, and still is an issue along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. Offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs are getting over foot and ankle injuries, respectively. Top cornerback Carlton Davis hasn’t practiced since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 16, cornerback Jamel Dean is nursing a big toe injury, safety Mike Edwards has been limited by a hip/hamstring injury, safety Logan Ryan has a knee injury and defensive tackle Vita Vea is dealing with a calf injury. Week 18 saw the Bucs suffer injuries to center Robert Hainsey (hamstring), tight end Kyle Rudolph (knee) and safety Keanu Neal (hip). — Jenna Laine
What’s different about the offense? “It’s not Tom Brady. I don’t think any of us think that in here. No, it’s their O-line, he doesn’t trust them at all. Plus, when that happens you can’t get your back out or your tight end because you have to send them in there to nudge the D-end. Losing Gronk was big.” — NFC offensive player
First-game outlook: The Buccaneers will host the Cowboys in a wild-card game on Monday, Jan. 16 (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+). The Bucs opened the season by defeating the Cowboys 19-3 on the road in Week 1 and Brady is undefeated (7-0) against Dallas in his career.
Super Bowl odds: +1300
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 19.8%
Reason for hope: There is not a dominant team in the NFC. Since quarterback Dak Prescott’s return from a thumb injury, the Cowboys are averaging the most points per game (32.5) and have been superb on third down (52.3% conversion percentage). The defense has not been as dominant but should be closer to 100% with the returns of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, which will help the run defense. The Cowboys have also beaten Philadelphia and Minnesota, two other top NFC contenders.
Reason for concern: In all likelihood, the Cowboys are going to have to win multiple road games to get to the Super Bowl. Their last three road playoff wins have come in 1992, 1991 and 1980. And they might have to equal that total in three straight weeks. Four of the Cowboys’ five losses this season have been on the road. Only 11 players on the active roster were born the last time the Cowboys won a road playoff game. — Todd Archer
What could limit Prescott from going to the Super Bowl? “Turnovers. He has the most interceptions in the league this year. There are some times where he’s trying to make the big play instead of taking the checkdown. To be honest I think they need to run the ball more, just get Tony Pollard and Zeke [Elliott] 15 to 20 touches each and use the play action. That would be a good recipe. But he throws too many picks.” — NFC player
First-game outlook: The Cowboys will play at the Buccaneers in the wild-card round on Monday, Jan. 16 (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+). The Bucs held Dallas to a season low in points in a 19-3 Week 1 defeat at AT&T Stadium, Tom Brady’s seventh win over the Cowboys in as many tries.
Super Bowl odds: +6000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.9%
Reason for hope: Quarterback Daniel Jones has played well down the stretch. His 77.8 QBR in Weeks 15-17 (vs. Washington, Minnesota, Indianapolis) was second best in the NFL during that span and helped the Giants clinch their first playoff berth since 2016. The Giants are also getting healthier defensively with Adoree’ Jackson (knee), their top cornerback, and safety Xavier McKinney (hand) returning.
Reason for concern: The Giants have one victory this season against a team that entered Week 18 with a winning record. That was against Baltimore early this season. They have struggled playing against the tougher competition in a year that was supposed to be a rebuild. New York finished the regular season with a point differential of minus-6. — Jordan Raanan
What is most difficult about defending running back Saquon Barkley? “He’s elusive. He gets in and out of cuts. His jump cut is amazing. He spins off of a lot of contact. So you can be in one gap and he’s going to another gap, you shed the block to get in that gap, he’s back in the gap you just jumped out of. He’s such an elusive back. That’s a challenge for every defense.” — NFC player
First-game outlook: The Giants qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and will play at Minnesota in the wild-card round on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox). New York’s last-trip to U.S. Bank Stadium was a nail-biter, as the Vikings beat the Giants 27-24 in Week 16 on a walk-off field goal.
Super Bowl odds: +5000
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 1.1%
Reason for hope: The Seahawks have given everyone a reminder anything can happen in the NFL — like a team trading its franchise quarterback and somehow being better off with his longtime backup. A deep playoff run would be just as unexpected, but Geno Smith & Co. have shown flashes of being a good team during their up-and-down season. Their 6-3 start included a pair of 14-point wins over the playoff-bound Giants and Chargers. Now that they’ve rediscovered the defense and run game that went missing during their November and December swoon, they appear to be heading into the playoffs on the upswing.
Reason for concern: Their defense has been a liability for much of the season, particularly against the run. And while they’ve shown improvement in that area of late, that’s come against teams that don’t have strong run games. They’ll face much tougher challenges against the strong rushing offenses that they’ll have to get past in order to make a deep run, especially with linebacker Jordyn Brooks out with a season-ending knee injury. Losing nose tackle Bryan Mone was another blow to Seattle’s run defense. — Brady Henderson
What’s different about facing Smith than Russell Wilson? “I felt like Geno just had a little bit more command over that offense. He was just able to get guys in spots, in spaces and he knew where the ball should be going. So I just say the command and just his overall ability was just a lot different.” — NFC defensive player
First-game outlook: The Seahawks will play at the NFC West rival 49ers in the wild-card round on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox). Seattle was swept by the 49ers this season, as San Francisco beat the visiting Seahawks 27-7 in Week 2 and 21-13 in Week 15 at Lumen Field.