The NFL postseason begins on Saturday, and it promises an epic first weekend with six games across three days. But who will reign supreme? Can the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins find their offensive firepower? Who will come out on top when Mike McCarthy goes up against his old Packers team and Matthew Stafford returns to Detroit? And which teams have the best chance of making a run through the playoffs and winning it all? The Ringer’s NFL staffers make their playoff picks below.
Nora Princiotti: A battle between the two most complete teams in the NFL comes down to the superior quarterback. That’s Lamar Jackson, the presumptive MVP, who’ll complete his improbable run from almost castoff last offseason to Super Bowl champion. We’ve seen this game before, on Christmas night, when the Ravens won 33-19. I don’t think the rematch will be all that different—even with the 49ers’ superlative skill position players, Mike MacDonald’s defense is custom fit to put Brock Purdy in a blender, and Jackson and the rest of Baltimore’s new-look offense have more than enough firepower to take advantage. The big question: If Kyle Shanahan loses a third Super Bowl to an elite passer while he’s working with a game manager quarterback (including in his tenure as coordinator in Atlanta), how will he respond?
Sheil Kapadia: For the Bills to finally win the Super Bowl, things will have to get weird. That’s how it often happens when teams break their championship droughts. We saw it with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. They had to overcome a 0-3 deficit against the New York Yankees to get to the World Series. We saw it with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. Backup quarterback Nick Foles dropped 41 on a Bill Belichick–coached defense. What would be weirder than this Bills team finally being the one to get over the hump? This group was 6-6 and miserable a little over halfway into the season. The Bills fired their offensive coordinator. They’ve had all kinds of injuries on defense. Their head coach was literally mired in a 9/11 controversy!
The Bills are a completely ridiculous team. Even during their five-game winning streak to end the season, they had to sweat out victories against Easton Stick and Bailey Zappe. But if they bring their A game (a huge if!), they can beat anyone. I’m not telling you I’m confident that it’ll happen. No one will be surprised if Mason Rudolph takes Buffalo down in the wild-card round. But I’ve been telling people not to give up on the Bills all season long, so why stop now?
Steven Ruiz: I’m breaking my vow to always take the Chiefs as my Super Bowl pick. I’ve seen enough. They don’t have the juice this year. But Baltimore does—on both sides of the ball. The Ravens have the league’s most valuable player at quarterback and the league’s best defensive coordinator leading the other unit. The Ravens are the league’s most balanced team. They’ve looked like the league’s best team for the past two months, and they embarrassed every contender they played in the regular season. This is Baltimore’s year.
(And I swear I’ll never pick against the Chiefs again if they win it all somehow. For real this time.)
Ben Solak: I am not fearful of a Ravens playoff disappointment. Not the way Lamar is playing this season—as a mature passer and choosy runner who seems to have a solution for every problem a defense can pose. Not the way this defense is playing, as it can dictate matchups against any offense and has depth and role players galore. The Ravens are balanced, well coached, and peaking.
I am much, much more fearful about picking the Lions to make it from the NFC, but I think that’s the conference that will give us more drama this year. The Niners are the juggernaut, but I’m always skeptical of Purdy’s ability to withstand a playoff gamut. Detroit is far from a perfect team, but its offense is as dangerous as any in the postseason, and I think the defense can run hot.
Danny Kelly: The Ravens are a juggernaut that simply cannot be stopped. Jackson is a nightmare for opposing defenses, a dynamic dual-threat playmaker who has taken his game to a whole new level this year. He’s operating in complete control, as both a passer and a runner, in Todd Monken’s new-look offense. The team’s run game behind Gus Edwards and Justice Hill is capable of finishing drives and closing out games. Defensively, MacDonald has his unit absolutely confounding opposing quarterbacks—and they finished the regular season allowing a league-low 16.5 points per game. Add in an always-nails special teams group led by Justin Tucker, and it’s hard to find vulnerabilities on this Ravens team. According to DVOA, Baltimore ranks among the best and most complete regular-season teams of the past four decades. I think that dominance and balance in all three phases will carry the Ravens to a Super Bowl win.
Danny Heifetz: The Ravens have the best defense in the league. They have a top-tier offense. In an AFC where seemingly every team is playing below its potential, Baltimore is near its peak on both sides of the ball. Picking between Baltimore and San Francisco feels impossible, and frankly, the 49ers have been the stronger team thus far this season—even with their loss to Baltimore. But I have faith that this Ravens team and Lamar will come up huge.
Lindsay Jones: Yes, I know the Ravens blew the 49ers out when these two teams met on Christmas night. I don’t think Shanahan will let that happen again. The Ravens have been the DVOA darlings, yet the 49ers are the team I find myself trusting most this postseason. If their offensive roster makes it to Las Vegas healthy and the core of Purdy, Trent Williams, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk makes it through all four quarters of the game, they’ll be nearly impossible to beat. Shanahan has come so close to winning a title so many times, but this is the year he has the scheme and squad to finally break through.
Austin Gayle: The Bills and Ravens are better positioned to win the Super Bowl than the Chiefs, as are the 49ers in the NFC. Patrick Mahomes recorded the worst statistical season of his career. The Kansas City pass catchers are a liability, and Travis Kelce doesn’t have the juice to carry the group on his back anymore. The offense finished the season averaging minus-0.10 EPA per drive, which is the fifth-lowest mark of any Andy Reid offense this millennium.
But I still can’t do it. I can’t fade Mahomes. He is still the league’s best quarterback, and he’s playing with the best defense of his career. Steve Spagnuolo’s unit finished the season ranked third behind the Ravens and Browns in points allowed per drive (1.51). In any previous year of the Mahomes era, the Chiefs never closed out a season better than 13th in that metric. Mahomes will have more margin for error than he’s ever had (and he’ll need it). I’ll bet on that every day of the week.