It was another wild NFL season in 2023, from Aaron Rodgers tearing his Achilles four plays into his Jets’ career to the AFC East not being decided until the final minute of the season. The calendar has officially flipped to 2024, though, and with the playoff field set, things are about to get really crazy.
Forget what you thought you knew after last season. This time around, the Chiefs and Eagles are vulnerable, the Lions and Browns are good, and the Cowboys actually have a real shot (of not ending the season with a running back snapping the ball).
Yes, it’s a loaded, wide-open playoff field, and while many are pegging the 49ers and Ravens to square off in Vegas in a rematch of their lopsided Christmas matchup, plenty of other contenders will have their say over the next month.
Our preseason Super Bowl prediction was blown up along with Rodgers’ Achilles, as the Jets went from contenders to dead-enders shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 11. Nonetheless, we hit on nine of 14 playoff teams, with injuries to Rodgers and Joe Burrow likely derailing two more of our picks. The NFC South was our biggest bust, as we picked the 2-15 Panthers to finish first and the 9-8 Bucs to finish last. We also had trouble with the AFC South, where our projected last-place team, Houston (10-7), finished first ahead of our projected division champ, Jacksonville (9-8).
Fortunately, everyone is 0-0 at the start of the playoffs, and we’ll look to right our wrongs ahead of the NFL’s ultimate tournament.
Below are Sporting News’ predictions for the 2024 NFL playoffs, complete with updated Super Bowl 58 picks. Our NFL experts Vinnie Iyer, Bill Bender, Jacob Camenker, Edward Sutelan, and Matt Lutovsky break down the brackets and project which players will break out, which contenders will break down, and which teams will break through during the postseason.
NFL playoff picks, predictions 2024
Which wild-card team (5-7 seeds) is the biggest threat to win it all?
Vinnie Iyer: Los Angeles Rams. Sean McVay’s Super Bowl 56 team rode Aaron Donald and the defense to a ring. He obviously knows how to coach in the playoffs, and this time, he has his offense back in full gear with Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp, and Puka Nacua. The Rams have some key defensive liabilities, but they have a shot because they can score with anyone again now.
Bill Bender: Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers have the best road record among the teams seeded in these spots at 5-3, but the Eagles are close behind at 5-4. Yes, the late-season slump is a concern, and there is a high risk to be a one-and-done team, especially with A.J. Brown’s knee injury. However, this also is the same team that started 10-1 this season. Jalen Hurts knows how to win in the playoffs, and they are more than capable of going on a deep run.
Matt Lutovsky: Philadelphia Eagles. It sounds crazy given how they finished the season, but the Eagles are still the pick here. They have the experience, they have the quarterback, and they have the most unstoppable play in football. The defense? Well, let’s not talk about the defense, but Philadelphia is still the most likely wild-card team to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Vegas.
Jacob Camenker: Los Angeles Rams. Don’t look now, but Sean McVay has the Rams playing their best ball of the season at the right time. Los Angeles won seven of its final eight games to close the season, with its only loss coming in a tight 37-31 overtime battle with the Ravens. As long as Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, and Kyren Williams remain healthy, Los Angeles should be among the most explosive offenses in the NFL. That will give them the firepower to compete with most of the teams in a wide-open NFC.
Edward Sutelan: Cleveland Browns. There is no single unit among the wild-card teams that is more dominant than Cleveland’s defense. That group can take over and dominate a game against any opponent, and they’re going to be well-rested after getting Week 18 off. Sure, the offensive line is banged up, but it’s been banged up for a while, and Joe Flacco has taken just eight sacks in five games. He might not be elite anymore, but he knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and play efficiently. With their defense and standout running game, that might be all it takes.
Which of the top 1-3 seeds in either conference is most likely to be upset?
Vinnie Iyer: Detroit Lions. The Lions have plenty of hype now that they’re hosting their first playoff game in three decades. Ford Field will be ferocious, but the Lions unfortunately have their hands full with Matthew Stafford returning to Motown with the type of offense that gives their defensive weaknesses fits. Perhaps even more worrisome is that L.A.’s defense can contain Detroit’s power running game. Jared Goff needs a mistake-free outing to advance past the first round and set up a rematch in Dallas.
Bill Bender: Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is 9-2 at home in the postseason and the Chiefs beat Miami once this season. Still, Kansas City’s much-maligned receivers will have to be at their best against a Miami offense that led the AFC in yards and points this season. The Dolphins have struggled against playoff-caliber teams all year, but if they can turn this game into a track meet, the Chiefs might not be able to keep up.
Matt Lutovsky: Detroit Lions. None of the top three seeds in the AFC or NFC are untouchable, but the Lions have the most question marks. From a disappointing pass defense to a sometimes-shaky QB to a lack of big-game experience for much of the roster (and the coach), Detroit has some obvious vulnerabilities. Buffalo has been up and down all year and Kansas City has been unreliable in the second half, so we’re not overly confident about either, but we trust Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes over Jared Goff, especially with a potent Rams’ offense coming to Detroit in Round 1.
Jacob Camenker: Kansas City Chiefs. Many will say the Lions for this spot because of how they match up against the Rams, but the Chiefs could also be in a vulnerable spot. Sure, they beat the Dolphins earlier in the season in Germany and Miami is just 1-5 against this year’s playoff teams, but the Dolphins’ defense has improved in recent weeks. If they can slow down Isiah Pacheco and Travis Kelce, it will be hard for the Chiefs to move the ball. A low-scoring output from the Chiefs would be bad news against an explosive Dolphins offense, which will see Tyreek Hill and De’Von Achane challenge Kansas City’s strong stop unit.
Edward Sutelan: Detroit Lions. Detroit has leaned heavily on its offense to carry the load at times this season, particularly down the stretch. Since the Week 9 bye week, the Lions have allowed 25.6 points per game, and at least 28 points in four of nine games. Sam LaPorta (knee) was then injured in Week 18, throwing his wild-card status into jeopardy. The Lions still have the talent to be a threat in the playoffs, but there are some vulnerabilities that the right team could expose early.
Who’s your pick for playoff MVP?
Vinnie Iyer: Brock Purdy. Lamar Jackson will win regular-season MVP based on their head-to-head results, but Purdy, outside of a few games where he was banged up and left tackle Trent Williams also got hurt, was sharp all season long. He needed the rest, as did other members of the offense, in Week 18 and then the bye. The 49ers will come out sharper than ever with their balanced, diverse, and explosive attack with Purdy at the controls.
Bill Bender: Christian McCaffrey. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry this season. He averages 5.5 yards per carry in four career playoff games. He had 103 yards in the brutal 33-19 loss to the Ravens. The 49ers are 9-1 including the playoffs when McCaffrey rushes for 100 yards or more. He’ll be the all-around playmaker for San Francisco this Super Bowl run.
Matt Lutovsky: Brock Purdy. There was a lot of pushback to the “Brock Purdy for MVP” chatter, and after his four-INT implosion against Baltimore in Week 16, that chatter, well, imploded. Purdy can still get the last laugh, and there’s a good chance he will if he has an impressive postseason. Christian McCaffrey (calf) is banged up, and no team can make a deep playoff run without stellar play from its QB. Look for Purdy to lead the Niners through a tough NFC, then come through in the Super Bowl.
Jacob Camenker: Lamar Jackson. Yeah, it’s boring. Jackson is going to win the regular-season MVP barring a shock vote, but his transformative playmaking ability through the air and on the ground may win him a mythical playoff MVP award, as well. Simply put, the Ravens’ offense is dynamic with Jackson and middling without him. With a beat-up running game, Jackson will be asked to do even more for his offense than usual. If the Ravens go on a deep postseason run, odds are that it will be thanks to Jackson’s performance.
Edward Sutelan: Josh Allen. Most of the elite quarterbacks left in the playoffs reside in the AFC, and if the Bills advance to the Super Bowl, Allen will have to put on the Superhero cape. He hasn’t exactly been at his sharpest down the stretch, but he has a knack for playing at a high level in the playoffs. He’s either going to be the team’s MVP or the reason the Bills leave early. There’s rarely an in-between.
What under-the-radar player will become a star in the playoffs?
Vinnie Iyer: George Karlaftis. Karlaftis is quickly becoming the NFL’s version of the “Greek Freak.” The second-year pass rusher shot past double-digit sacks with a big finishing performance against the Bengals, and he’s been a massive complement to the interior pressure of Chris Jones. The Chiefs will need a strong defensive performance to make a deep run, so look for Karlaftis to wreak havoc.
Bill Bender: Jake Ferguson. The Cowboys’ tight end had 71 catches for 761 yards and five TDs this season. He also had a 69.6-percent catch percentage, and that comfort level with Dak Prescott will be a plus against the Packers, who have had trouble covering the middle of the field. Ferguson had just one catch for 34 yards in two playoff games last year. He’ll be much more involved this time around.
Matt Lutovsky: Justice Hill. The Ravens’ RB room seems cursed at times. They lost their original RB1 JK Dobbins (Achilles) in Week 1, then lost late-season breakout Keaton Mitchell (knee) in Week 15. Someone has to step up to play Robin to Lamar Jackson’s Batman, and that someone will be Justice Hill. The fourth-year back is a talented runner (career 4.6 yards per carry) and receiver (28 catches, 7.4 yards per catch in limited action this year), and he’ll be called upon to balance out Gus Edwards’ power and Jackson’s speed during Baltimore’s deep run.
Jacob Camenker: Dalton Kincaid. The Bills tight end enjoyed a solid season as a first-round rookie, and after a brief lull, he came up big in Buffalo’s final two games. He logged back-to-back performances with at least 84 receiving yards to close the season and seems to have emerged as Josh Allen’s second-favorite target over Gabe Davis. The Bills should keep attacking the middle of the field in the postseason, especially with a favorable matchup looming against the Steelers linebackers and safeties, so that could allow Kincaid to establish himself as one of the NFL’s next great tight ends.
Edward Sutelan: David Njoku. Njoku doesn’t quite get talked about in the conversation of best tight ends in the league. That might change with a big game or two in the postseason. Before Joe Flacco arrived in Cleveland, Njoku averaged 44.7 yards and 4.6 receptions per game. In the five games with Flacco throwing him passes, he’s averaged six catches for 78 yards per game. That yardage average sky-rocketed to seven catches for 93.3 yards per game over the final four contests. With his size and speed in the open field, Njoku has the potential to be a matchup nightmare and difference-maker for the Browns’ offense.
What offense do you trust the most?
Vinnie Iyer: San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are the easy answer. Brock Purdy has had an exceptional season, but starting with Trent Williams’ blocking and going through Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, the 49ers present four incredible matchup problems with their offensive skill principles. They can win with the running game, shorter throws, and deep passing. There is not much to take away from them with any defense.
Bill Bender: Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have a 48.3-percent conversion rate on third down, and they are one of our teams that averaged 250-plus passing yards and 100-plus rushing yards. Miami, San Francisco, and Detroit are the others. Which quarterback among Dak Prescott, Brock Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jared Goff do you trust the most? Purdy is the easy answer, but those other three will have to prove they can win a road playoff game.
Matt Lutovsky: Los Angeles Rams. Kansas City, Buffalo, Miami, and Philadelphia have ruled themselves out with uneven play, especially against good opponents. Detroit has problems on the road (especially outdoors), and we’re not ready to go all-in on Joe Flacco, Baker Mayfield, Jordan Love, Mason Rudolph, or rookie C.J. Stroud in the playoffs. That leaves Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore, and the Rams. Baltimore is loaded, but Lamar Jackson has struggled in the playoffs throughout his career. He’s in a different offensive system now, but we’re still a little hesitant to pick the Ravens. L.A. has been dominant when Cooper Kupp and Kyren Williams have been healthy (28.5 points per game), and with a Super Bowl-winning QB and one of the NFL’s top playcallers calling the shots, the Rams are as dependable as it gets when it comes to offensive production.
Jacob Camenker: San Francisco 49ers. This category is a tough one, as several offenses could have a claim to this spot, but the 49ers are probably the safest of the bunch. Even Brock Purdy detractors can acknowledge that he had a good season, leading the NFL with a 113.0 passer rating and a yards-per-attempt average of 9.9. He may wilt at times against stronger defenses, but as long as Trent Williams is healthy, he should have enough time in the pocket to make plays. Add in that Purdy is surrounded by Christian McCaffrey, Bradon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle, among others, and the 49ers have the highest floor of any team in a volatile playoff field.
Edward Sutelan: Los Angeles Rams. Los Angeles has quietly been among the most reliable offenses in recent weeks. Before resting starters in Week 18, the Rams averaged 31.3 points per game since the start of Week 12, topped only by the 49ers’ average of 32 points per game. Kyren Williams has been a revelation at running back this season with 5.0 yards per carry and over 1,100 yards in just 12 games. Los Angeles has a veteran quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a standout one-two punch at wide receiver in Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. Sure, the Rams aren’t as flashy as other teams, but they haven’t scored fewer than 26 points with all their starters playing since Week 11.
What defense do you trust the most?
Vinnie Iyer: Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have the most reliable all-around defense. They are right in between the Ravens and 49ers in scoring defense, allowing the second-fewest points per game this season. They also are No. 2 in total defense behind the Browns. The Chiefs chose to throw a little more money and resources at their defense for this Super Bowl run, and studs such as Chris Jones and L’Jarius Sneed will be motivated by big offseason paydays. Steve Spagnuulo also has schemed the group to high performance, reminiscent of his 2007 Giants.
Bill Bender: Baltimore Ravens. The defense can rush from all angles with Justin Madubuike, Jadeveon Clowney, and Kyle Van Noy. More importantly, they are playing well right now. The Ravens allowed 19 points or less in their final four games. Cleveland has a case here, too, because they have Myles Garrett, who can single-handedly destroy a game plan. This Ravens’ defense, however, is built to slow down the rest of the AFC field.
Matt Lutovsky: San Francisco 49ers. Cleveland has a dominant defense, but the home-road splits are a little concerning. Baltimore’s defense is just as good and a little more reliable regardless of where it plays. Ultimately, though, we like San Francisco’s defense the most because of how strong it is against the run (89.7 yards per game, 4.1 yards per carry), which always carries extra importance in the postseason. We realize Baltimore just played in San Francisco and outclassed the Niners, but we still trust San Francisco’s D the most going forward.
Jacob Camenker: Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens don’t have many weaknesses on defense, if they have any at all. Mike Macdonald has turned the unit into a strong pass-rushing team that finished first in the league in total sacks (60) while getting the most out of veterans Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy, and Justin Madubuike. They have a very high floor, as their defensive DVOA ranks first in the NFL this season, per FTN Fantasy. In other words, they rank well above average compared to other NFL teams on defense, and that could ultimately power the Ravens on a Super Bowl run.
Edward Sutelan: Cleveland Browns. If Cleveland’s offense was able to consistently move the ball throughout the season, it’s likely the defense’s numbers would have been even more impressive than they already are. Myles Garrett, Maurice Hurst, and Za’Darius Smith have tormented just about every offensive line this season, while Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leads a deep linebacker group, and Denzel Ward, Ronnie Hickman, and Greg Newsome highlight a stout secondary. The talent is there for this unit to be as dominant as any in the playoffs.
Who’s your pick to win the AFC?
Vinnie Iyer: Kansas City Chiefs. The more adversity Patrick Mahomes seems to be battling, the more dangerous it seems he and the Chiefs are. Mahomes and Andy Reid will figure out a few more solutions offensively, and that’s all that’s needed given how well the defense should continue to play and make big plays through the AFC tournament. The rest and reset in Week 18 was a nice substitute for not having a first-round bye, and they match up well with the Ravens. They’ve already beaten the Dolphins, and they’ve had the Bills’ number in the playoffs. Mahomes might not carry them this time, but the Chiefs can show what a complete team they are.
Bill Bender: Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson will win the NFL MVP award, and the defense has totaled 60 sacks. Baltimore is 2-5 in the postseason since their last Super Bowl victory, but this is John Harbaugh’s most complete team. Zay Flowers has been a breakout star on offense, and that defense is nasty. Jackson leads a Super Bowl run into a rematch of the “Harbaugh Bowl” and silences the critics in the process.
Matt Lutovsky: Baltimore Ravens. Something’s off with the Chiefs this year, and the Bills are just a little too erratic. The Dolphins struggle against good teams, and it’s tough to trust Joe Flacco, no matter how well he’s played up to this point. The same goes for C.J. Stroud and the Texans. That leads us back to Baltimore, who have a (likely) two-time MVP quarterback, experienced coach, dominant defense, and home-field advantage. Jackson has yet to prove that his style of play works in the playoffs, but this feels like the year.
Jacob Camenker: Baltimore Ravens. There are a lot of good teams in the AFC, but this seems like the year for the Ravens to break through and reach the Super Bowl. They’ll have to get through some tough competition, especially the second-seeded Bills, but Baltimore’s roster is balanced better than any of the other clubs in the conference.
Edward Sutelan: Buffalo Bills. Buffalo is red hot and has been playing the equivalent of postseason football for the past month just to try and get back into the race. The Chiefs, their annual boogeyman, are at their most vulnerable, and Allen could be the one quarterback against whom the Ravens’ vaunted defense might struggle. The Bills might have been more in the mix to finish at the top of the AFC had they not gone through a midseason crisis. Since losing to the Broncos in Week 11, few teams have played at the Bills’ caliber. They keep that hot play rolling into the postseason.
Who’s your pick to win the NFC?
Vinnie Iyer: San Francisco 49ers. They have been wire-to-wire the best team in the conference. It was no contest when they battled the Cowboys at home and the Eagles on the road. The Lions’ young defense isn’t equipped to stop any of their weapons. The biggest threat may come from the division-rival Rams, given Sean McVay’s familiarity with Kyle Shanahan and their intriguing playoff history. Still, the rested, ready, and revved-up 49ers with no AFC North foes in sight remain the absolute best bet to get to Vegas.
Bill Bender: San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers did lose three home games this season, which gives a little pause. The Rams, Ravens, and Bengals combined for a +7 turnover ratio in those wins, which means Brock Purdy is going to have to protect the ball in those high-pressure situations. Still, this is the most-talented team in the NFC, and the week off will allow Kyle Shanahan to get this team prepared for a championship run.
Matt Lutovsky: San Francisco 49ers. Things are wide open in the NFC, but San Francisco has the best roster top-to-bottom. A single injury to Trent Williams, Christian McCaffrey, or Brock Purdy could change that in a hurry, but with questions about Philadelphia’s, Detroit’s, L.A.’s, and Tampa’s pass defenses, Green Bay’s run defense, and Dallas’ running game, we’ll take San Francisco to break through.
Jacob Camenker: Detroit Lions. The Rams may be the most likely team to pull an upset in the first round, but if they don’t, the Lions could go on a nice run. Detroit’s defense may not look good enough to sustain a Super Bowl run, but with C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Alim McNeill back, they should be a bit stronger than they were to end the season. Meanwhile, the Lions’ offense has one of the best lines in the postseason and should be able to plow open running lanes for Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery to help control each game. The 49ers would be the safer pick here, but the Lions might have the best chance to beat them because their offensive line can slow down San Francisco’s elite pass rush better than any other team in the conference. So, while the Rams will be a threat to the Lions, don’t be surprised to see them go on a bit of a run if they can overcome Los Angeles.
Edward Sutelan: San Francisco 49ers. It’s the chalky pick, but is there anyone in the NFC really on the 49ers’ level? Sure, San Francisco was humbled against the Ravens on Christmas, but it also throttled the other top-tier NFC contenders it has faced. There aren’t many weaknesses to the 49ers’ game between their skill players on both sides of the ball and their elite coaching. It has felt like the 49ers were bound for the Super Bowl for nearly all of this year. That hasn’t changed going into the postseason.
Who wins Super Bowl 58?
Vinnie Iyer: San Francisco 49ers over Kansas City Chiefs. There’s no doubt the disappointment of Super Bowl 54 still lingers for the 49ers. They missed on a few pass plays and couldn’t find enough firepower to outduel Patrick Mahomes. That doesn’t happen this time, as they have the defense to contain Travis Kelce and Kansas City’s running game. The Chiefs, despite strong coverage, don’t have all the pieces to slow down Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle in the same game. The Chiefs’ limited wide receiver pop keeps them short of a repeat and a third Mahomes ring.
Bill Bender: Baltimore Ravens over San Francisco 49ers. We understand how many potholes need to be avoided to get this matchup, but the top seeds should advance to the Super Bowl for the second straight season. Would Jim Harbaugh be on the Ravens sideline for this one? Are the Harbaugh brothers going to dominate college and pro football? Baltimore just has that look. There is balance on offense, and Jackson is the best player in the game right now. The rematch with the 49ers would be much closer, but that ability to pressure Brock Purdy will be the difference in the fourth quarter.
Matt Lutovsky: San Francisco 49ers over Baltimore Ravens. We saw Baltimore dominate, defeat, and demoralize the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 16, but we think the Niners can get on a roll in Vegas and get some revenge. It will take a near-flawless effort from Brock Purdy, but he’s shown that type of ceiling over the past two seasons. With both teams’ offenses and defenses playing at an elite level, we think San Francisco has just enough extra juice with superior playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Jacob Camenker: Baltimore Ravens over Detroit Lions. The old adage is that defense wins championships. The Ravens have more than enough of that to make that happen. If they end up playing a less mobile quarterback like Brock Purdy, Jared Goff, or Matthew Stafford, they should be particularly poised to give their opponents some trouble on the biggest stage. That’s enough to warrant trusting them in this spot.
Edward Sutelan: Buffalo Bills over San Francisco 49ers. This comes down to one pivotal question: Who has the better quarterback? Brock Purdy is a steady playmaker, but as he showed in games against the Ravens, Bengals, and Vikings, he can be stopped. When Josh Allen is playing at his highest level, there’s not really anyone stopping him. His mobility and size make him well-equipped to handle a standout pass-rush like San Francisco’s, and the emergence of James Cook should help ease at least some of the pressure on him to do it all.
Source : ESPN.com