NFL

NFL Play-Offs Predictions: Back a Bills v Niners Super Bowl match-up

Super Bowl trophy
Who will win the Super Bowl in Arizona?

Paul Higham delivers his NFL play-off verdicts for all 14 teams remaining in the hunt for the Super Bowl and picks out his two most likely sides to be battling it out for the Lombardi Trophy in Arizona.


We hit the play-offs after a thrilling regular season which, if repeated now in the post-season should make for a few more twists and turns before the Super Bowl is handed out in Arizona next month.

The defending champs are out, Aaron Rodgers fell at the final hurdle and the Patriots missed the boat, but we've got the winners of six of the last 11 Super Bowls, three storied franchises looking to bring back the good times and five teams still looking for their first championship.

Most of them have a decent chance and all of them have questions to answer, but this is play-off football where anything can happen - and it usually does.

Let's take a look at the 14 NFL play-off runners and riders still in the race for the Lombardi Trophy.

AFC seeding & wildcard matches

(1 seed) Kansas City Chiefs (first round bye)

Wildcard games

  • (7) Miami Dolphins @ (2) Buffalo Bills
  • (6) Baltimore Ravens @ (3) Cincinnati Bengals
  • (5) Los Angeles Chargers @ (4) Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

Super Bowl odds: 3/1
First round: Bye

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The week off will be nice followed by maybe two home games, unless the Bills make the AFC title game in which case it'll be a neutral venue for a Patrick Mahomes v Josh Allen shootout. Mahomes set a new record for total yards this season and the big plus from last year is the wide variety of options he now has beyond just Travis Kelce.

Their defence has improved but still has holes, but kicking has been the real issue, they're the worst in the league eight missed field goals and five extra points and in close games against the very best that could cost them.

Buffalo Bills (13-3)

Super Bowl odds: 7/2
First round: v Dolphins

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Probably the best all-round squad in the AFC is now an emotional juggernaut trying to go all the way for Damar Hamlin - and as soon as teams like this get a whiff of destiny and a cause to play for it makes them even harder to stop.

Josh Allen was immense in last season's play-offs but he's struggled with interceptions this year, playing his part in the team's 27 turnovers this season (third most) while 31 drops (second most) also hasn't helped. They only three loses came by a combined eight points though so they look the team to beat in the AFC - as long as they clean up their mistakes.

Cincinatti Bengals (12-4)

Super Bowl odds: 7/1
First round: v Ravens

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Eight straight wins to end the season means Cincy are the hot team in the AFC and are better than last year's beaten Super Bowl side. Joe Burrow has been excellent again and all his weapons from last year are back, along with an improvement on the defensive side.

They'll win their wildcard game with the Ravens and it'll take a good team to stop them getting back to the big dance again.

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)

Super Bowl odds: XX/1
First round: v Chargers

What a turnaround from 4-8 to AFC South champs and a first play-off spot since 2017 as Trevor Lawrence finally found his mojo with 15 TDs and just two picks in his last nine, while the defence has forced 11 turnovers in five games - two of which led to them winning the game.

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They're the youngest team left in but Lawrence has plenty of big-game college experience and head coach Doug Pederson is a fantastic leader who won the Super Bowl just five years ago with the Eagles. They beat the Chargers 38-10 in the regular season but this could be a year too soon for them to make a deeper run.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)

Super Bowl odds: 20/1
First round: @ Jaguars

And speaking of those Chargers, they could just be getting healthy and hitting form at the right time, and we're all dying to see what Justin Herbert can do with all his defensive weapons and a defence able to back him up.

They've got the NFL's top TD scorer in Austin Ekeler yet their red zone efficiency is way down there, but they're a different side when fully healthy. Brandon Staley needs to take the handbrake off offensively and they need to avoid beating themselves to deliver on the undoubted talent in their side.

Baltimore Ravens (10-7)

First round: @ Bengals

They'd be the ultimate 'defence wins championships' side if Baltimore can go all the way as their offence has collapsed to become the second-worst in the league without Lamar Jackson, who is unlikely to play in the wildcard game in Cincinnati.

The Ravens defence has been excellent, but they've not scored more than 17 points in any of their last six games and that just won't cut it against Burrow's Bengals no matter how good this D is.

Miami Dolphins (9-8)

Super Bowl odds: 80/1
First round: @ Bills

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Miami will be without their starting QB Tua Tagovailoa, and that's a problem as they average 25.5 points a game with him and just 16.3 without. He can get the very best out of dynamic receivers Tyreek Hill & Jaylen Waddle but it's a big ask for third-string rookie Skylar Thompson.

The Dolphins defence is also a concern though, struggling against the pass, and that's not a good formula to face Josh Allen in Buffalo. Miami's 22-year wait for a play-off victory looks set to continue.



NFC seedings and game schedule

(1 seed) Philadelphia Eagles (first round bye)

Wildcard games

  • (7) Seattle Seahawks @ (2) San Francisco 49ers
  • (6) New York Giants @ (3) Minnesota Vikings
  • (5) Dallas Cowboys @ (4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

Super Bowl odds: 5/1
First round: Bye

There's no doubting this team is loaded, their MVP calibre QB Jalen Hurts can hit you and hurt you through the air and on the ground, they've got balance on offence and a defence that led the league in sacks - when they put it all together they're some team.

The big worry is they looked lost when Hurts was out injured, and although they'll have a week off they'll need him to be 100% as they wouldn't be the first top seed to come unstuck having just fallen out of form at the wrong time.

San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

First round: v Seahawks

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Even losing TWO starting QBs the Niners have been rolling with 10 straight wins - with impressive rookie Brock Purdy slipping right in with 13 TDs in his five games, conjuring up echoes of a certain Tom Brady taking over a championship-calibre side to start his legendary career.

OK, so that's a little far-fetched, but San Fran have everything going for them, with the top defence in the league, Christian McCaffrey doing all sorts of Christian McCaffrey things since joining in October and Purdy, the 262nd and last pick of the 2022 Draft proving more Mr Dependable than Mr Irrelevant.

Can he do it on the biggest of stages is the big question though, as he'll have to make history to steer this team all the way with no rookie QB ever making the Super Bowl before.

Minnesota Vikings (13-4)

Super Bowl odds: 25/1
First round: v Giants

I can't remember a more perplexing play-off team than the Vikings. When the chips are down they deliver, going an NFL-record 11-0 in one-score games this season showing Kirk Cousins and his squad can handle the pressure when it counts.

The problem though is whether they can keep pulling off that trick in the play-offs, as their defence has been woeful at times, giving away yards in spades and allowing 20 points in their last eight games and over 40 twice. They as likely to get blown as grab a last-ditch win, so although it's hard to see them going too far they should be fun while they're in it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)

First round: v Cowboys

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Look who's still here!? It's been a tough year for Tom Brady but he's back in the play-offs for the 14th straight year and not without a chance, in the first game at least as he's 7-0 against the Cowboys including a win in Week 1 this year.

Brady's still slinging it well enough and if he can find Mike Evans enough then they can put up points on anyone, but injuries have killed this team all season and they don't look a danger to the big boys - saying that, they're playing Dallas so literally anything could happen!

Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Super Bowl odds: 12/1
First round: @ Buccaneers

Dallas lead the league with 32.5 points a game since Dak Prescott returned from a thumb injury, they rank top five overall in points scored and points allowed and they've already beaten Philly and Minnesota this season so there's no reason on paper why they can't go all the way.

They're a bit thin on receiving depth for me though and it seems that they have to be near-perfect to really hit the heights, although they mightn't need to be against Tampa. Finally, they'll likely have to win three road play-off games in three weeks to make the Super Bowl - that's as many as they've won since 1980.

New York Giants (9-7-1)

First round: @ Vikings

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There's a lot to like about Brian Daboll's Giants - they're hard-working, resilient and limit turnovers while having a sprinkling of magic from Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. They're a surprise play-off team though that doesn't yet have the quality to match the big boys.

The G-Men went to Minnesota just a few weeks ago where the Vikings needed a walk-off field goal to win 27-24 and if Barkley can have a monster game against that shaky defence then a shock could be on the cards, but it's a big ask.

Seattle Seahawks (9-8)

Super Bowl odds: 66/1
First round: @ 49ers

Seattle pulled off the best trade ever when sending Russell Wilson to Denver, where he's had a poor season, and somehow reviving journeyman Geno Smith's career to book a surprise play-off spot.

Their defence forced 25 turnovers this season but largely stinks against the run, and that's bad news against a San Francisco side that likes to find a million and one different ways to run the ball. The Niners swept Seattle by a combined 48-20 this season and odds are there won't be any case of third time lucky for the Hawks.


NFL Super Bowl verdict

To win the NFC: It looks like a two-horse to me between the Eagles (11/8) and 49ers (15/8) with similar squads but obviously a huge QB advantage for Philly, who would also play at home in the Championship game.

However, I backed the Niners at halfway of the season to win it all at 10/1 when they were 4-4, and they've not lost since, so I'm sticking with them and Brock Purdy to make rookie history and get to the Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills to play San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVII

15/2

To win the AFC: It's a much tougher puzzle here, where you'd throw the Ravens in the mix if Lamar Jackson was fit and the talented Chargers if you'd not seen plenty of talented Chargers teams fall by the wayside over the years.

You can make a solid case for all of the big three and the Bengals (7/2) beat the Chiefs (6/4) on the road last year to make the Super Bowl, so why not again?

Well, mainly because I don't see Cincy winning in Buffalo and if it comes to it, I'll take the Bills (7/4) to beat the Chiefs in a neutral venue for the AFC. Josh Allen was special last year and anything like a repeat will give this team of destiny a place in the big game.

And the Super Bowl LVII winner is??

There are so many close games and they'll be decided by the smallest margins and everyone would love to see the Buffalo Bills finally win the Super Bowl after losing those four in a row in the 1990s - and do it for Damar Hamlin.

All the storylines are there, and they're more than good enough, but I've backed San Francisco earlier and although it sounds nuts to back a rookie QB to lift a Lombardi, Brock Purdy has done everything right so far.

San Francisco 49ers to beat Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl

19/1

If he's shaky during the play-offs then it's fair enough to reconsider, but with the team around him he needs to just keep the ball safe and make just a few smart decisions and few big plays at big times.

The bright lights of the play-offs seperate the good from the great, and although Allen is a stud, this San Fran defence and multi-faceted run game could have enough to nurse Purdy over the line.

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