NFL playoffs top seeds on notice: Here's who is ripe for an upset – USA TODAY

The NFL’s “Super Wild Card Weekend” provided a fairly entertaining six-pack of games, though it largely advanced chalk into the upcoming divisional round.
The AFC’s top four seeds, i.e. its division winners, will all be in action this weekend – though, yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars technically upset the wild card Los Angeles Chargers to get here. On the NFC side, the fifth-seeded Dallas Cowboys and sixth-seeded New York Giants – NFC East pride, baby – both won on the road in order to move on, but neither outcome was much of a surprise (especially given the Cowboys were favored to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
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As the quarterfinals of the Super Bowl 57 tournament approach, there’s a pretty clear delineation between the top four overall seeds, who are all home this weekend and favored by Tipico, and the underdogs they will host.
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However recent history suggests upsets may be in the offing:
► No top-seeded team has won the Super Bowl since the 2017 Eagles.
► Since the league expanded to 14 playoff teams in 2020, only one of the four No. 1 seeds (2020 Chiefs) has reached Super Sunday.
► Since the league expanded to 14 playoff teams in 2020, only two of the four No. 2 seeds (2020 Bills, 2021 Chiefs) have reached a conference title game and neither won it.
►  Last year, both top seeds (Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans) lost in the divisional round.
So who should be on upset notice heading into the divisional round? We rank them from green to ripe:
Nine-point favorites, K.C. has the largest spread of the weekend and justifiably so. All-Pro QB Patrick Mahomes, the presumed league MVP of 2022, is 4-0 in divisional round games and 7-2 in playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium. Coming out of a bye week, he’ll be helming the league’s No. 1 scoring and overall offense against a Jacksonville pass defense that is too often invisible and was roasted by Mahomes (331 yards, four TDs, INT) in a 27-17 Week 10 loss at Arrowhead that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
The Jags also haven’t won in Kansas City since 2007, their losing streak there now at four games. And they certainly can’t expect to survive another five-turnover performance. Stranger things have happened – fifth-seeded Jags 30, top-seeded Denver Broncos 27, a momentous upset that occurred in the divisional 26 years ago – and a Jacksonville victory Saturday afternoon would certainly qualify.
Despite an 11-game winning streak and 3-0 playoff record at Levi’s Stadium, the oddsmakers apparently think they’re most susceptible – the Niners only favored by 3½ points against the Cowboys. And given they trailed the Seattle Seahawks at halftime Saturday and will start a rookie quarterback – as generally stellar as Brock Purdy has been in six starts – he hasn’t faced a defense like Dallas’ or a pass rusher like Micah Parsons. Yet on the other hand …
The 49ers get two extra days of rest and preparation for this game, while the Cowboys cross the country from Tampa to Santa Clara. Purdy’s reliance on RB Christian McCaffrey and TE George Kittle in the short passing game is a good way to negate Dallas’ pass rush. And as good as Parsons is, expect the Niners, led by dominant All-Pro LT Trent Williams, to run at him and a 22nd-ranked rush defense in general – McCaffrey, RB Elijah Mitchell and WR Deebo Samuel all very dangerous weapons out of the backfield, whether running wide or between the tackles.
Oh, and how confident are we in the Cowboys kicking game in a matchup where their margin for error is likely to be significantly lower?
As dominant as they’ve been at times, seven of Buffalo’s last 10 games have been decided by one score – including a narrow escape in the wild-card round from a Miami Dolphins club starting an unproven rookie quarterback. The Cincinnati Bengals are a much better opponent and put that on display against Buffalo in Week 17 before Bills S Damar Hamlin’s terrifying collapse. Thankfully, Hamlin’s recovery seems to be going as well as could be hoped, but it also doesn’t change the fact Bengals QB Joe Burrow will likely be testing third-string S Dean Marlowe. 
Offensively, Buffalo QB Josh Allen is up to 22 turnovers on the season, most in the league when including playoffs. He was also sacked a season-high seven times by Miami. That could play into the hands of a Cincinnati defense that has capable pass rushers in DEs Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard and averaged 1.5 takeaways per game during the regular season.
And as much inspiration as the Bills may have drawn from Hamlin, the Bengals have been salty regarding how the NFL handled the cancellation of their first game – and that didn’t include moving this playoff matchup to a neutral site. Just sayin’.
A month ago, their matchup with the Giants would have smacked of a potential walkover – and it was, the Eagles routing the G-Men 48-22 at New York in Week 14. But since then, Philly has struggled amid QB Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury. He hardly looked like a potential MVP in the regular-season finale, when the Eagles struggled to put the Giants away in a 22-16 win when they were resting their starters even as Philadelphia was trying to lock down home-field advantage.
How effective will Hurts be Saturday? Can the Eagles pull off the fairly rare three-game season sweep, which they’ve never managed against the Giants? And what will rookie coach Brian Daboll and a Big Blue squad already playing with house money draw up after QB Daniel Jones led a masterful offensive performance in the wild-card victory at Minnesota? Philadelphia’s health is a significant X-factor beyond Hurts, and it feels like this could be a classic case of a battered team peaking too early and running into an ascending one – which also happens to be a divisional opponent whose familiarity should only augment its preparation.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.


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