The 2023 National Football League (NFL) playoffs kicked off on Jan. 14, leaving some overjoyed and many more with broken hearts. The wild card and divisional rounds produced 10 riveting matches that left fans no choice but to learn some valuable lessons about the playoffs, the teams, and what is still to come.
No lead is safe
On Jan. 14, the Los Angeles Chargers faced the Jacksonville Jaguars and quickly jumped into a commanding 17-0 lead to close the first quarter. Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions and the Chargers’ offence scored at will, allowing Los Angeles to go up 27-0 late in the first half. The second half was a different story, however, as the Jacksonville defence held the Chargers to a measly three points. Lawrence threw touchdowns on four consecutive possessions and kicker Riley Patterson hit a walk-off field goal as the Jaguars completed the fifth-largest comeback in NFL history.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t only rely on Brady
There was once a time when Tom Brady could instantly turn any team into a Super Bowl contender. At 45 years old, it seems that time is finally catching up to the GOAT. Brady threw only 25 touchdowns in an underwhelming season for the Buccaneers, culminating in a crushing 31-14 playoff defeat to the Dallas Cowboys where Brady barely completed 50 per cent of his passes. Brady could still feasibly win another Super Bowl, but he’ll need to be supplemented by an elite offence and defence to even stand a chance.
The Cowboys need a new kicker
Despite a dominant 31-14 win over the Buccaneers, the Cowboys’ victory was undercut by one player’s performance: Brett Maher. The Cowboys’ kicker caught a bad case of the yips and set an NFL record by missing four of his five extra point attempts against Tampa Bay. Maher missed another extra point the following week in the Cowboys’ 19-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and currently holds the record for the most missed extra points in the playoffs.
Last season’s Cincinnati Bengals were not a fluke
The Bengals shocked the world last year by conquering the American Football Conference and narrowly losing to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. While the Bengals gained considerable respect, there were doubts as to whether they could repeat last season’s heroics. Cincinnati squashed such suspicions this postseason by putting on a defensive masterclass against the Baltimore Ravens before dismantling the Buffalo Bills in a 27-10 victory. With quarterback Joe Burrow’s elite performance all season long, the Bengals have proven that their 2022 miracle was not a flash in the pan.
The Philadelphia Eagles are the team to beat
In case their 14–3 record wasn’t enough, the Eagles cemented their status as Super Bowl favourites by conquering the New York Giants 38-7. Quarterback Jalen Hurts quelled any injury concerns by scoring three touchdowns, and the Eagles’ defence put on a clinic against the Giants. Kansas City, the Bengals, and the 49ers are all worthy contenders, but the high-flying Eagles are arguably the most complete team in the NFL and undeniably look like Super Bowl champions.
The 49ers don’t need an elite quarterback
When quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot in week 13, many thought the 49ers’ season was over. Cue Brock Purdy: the 2022 NFL draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant”. The rookie quarterback helped San Francisco finish the regular season undefeated and threw three touchdowns in their 41-23 playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco followed up this win by defeating the Cowboys 19-2 in a hard-fought defensive battle. While Purdy has undoubtedly played well, the 49ers’ key to success is their depth: San Francisco’s offence is loaded with star players like running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle, and their defence is a force to be reckoned with. In a quarterback-dominated league, the 49ers stand out as contenders without a big-name play caller.
On Jan. 29, two teams had their hearts broken. On the first drive of the game, Purdy was hit with a blow to his throwing arm, forcing the 49ers to turn to their fourth-string quarterback and ultimately fall 31-7 to Philadelphia. As for the Bengals, the five sacks on Burrow proved to be too much and they fell to Kansas City 23-20. The Super Bowl XLVII will kick off on Feb. 12 between the Eagles and Kansas City.