By Jake Geiger, Staff Writer
The 2022 NFL Playoffs are upon us after a wild conclusion to the regular season. The playoff picture was not determined until the Sunday night game, as the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers battled it out until the final seconds of overtime with a game-winning field goal by Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson. There are some familiar teams in this year’s playoffs as well as some new faces, such as the Arizona Cardinals, Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals. With no clear-cut favorite, this should be some of the better content we have seen in NFL playoffs history.
In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers received a first-round bye with a 13-4 record and the #1 overall seed. Green Bay looks poised to win the NFC after losing in the championship game last year at home against Tom Brady and Super Bowl defending champs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers have an improved defense and All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and starting cornerback Jaire Alexander back, so Green Bay is at near full strength for their Super Bowl run.
The Buccaneers also finished with a 13-4 record, but questions remain. Receiver Chris Godwin is out with injury, and Antonio Brown stormed off the field in Week 17 and was released a few days later. They are also a little banged up on the defensive side, but you can never count out a team led by Brady. Those are my two favorites for the NFC.
The other two division winners were the Dallas Cowboys and the Rams. I do not think either offenses have enough firepower to make a deep run into the playoffs. My sleeper in the NFC Conference is the Arizona Cardinals, led by quarterback Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins — one of the better receivers in the whole league. If Hopkins is available for the playoffs, I do think Arizona has what it takes to make a run with a solid defense and game-changers on offense in Murray and Hopkins.
The AFC also has some great headlines with the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs as the top two seeds. The Titans will have a first round bye with a 12-5 record and All-Pro rusher Derrick Henry returning for their playoff run. The Chiefs have won nine of their last 10 games and are arguably the hottest team in the league, with a scorching hot defense as well. Patrick Mahomes looks to return to the Super Bowl this year after falling short to Brady last season and winning his second Super Bowl in the last 3 seasons.
The Bengals also secured the #4 seed and a playoff berth for the first time since 2015. They will face the Las Vegas Raiders this upcoming Saturday at 4:25 p.m. in Cincinnati. The Bengals will look to win their first playoff game since 1991, as second-year quarterback Joe Burrow has proven to be legitimate enough to do so this season. The Bengals are my sleeper team to make a run in the AFC Conference, with offensive weapons such as running back Joe Mixon and wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The defense also is solid enough to keep the team in games.
Other possible contenders include the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. The two teams will actually face each other in the first round in Buffalo on Saturday night in a game that should come down to the wire. Lastly, the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the last spot in the conference with their overtime win in Baltimore, thanks to the Indianapolis Colts losing to the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars and eliminating their playoff chances.
My conference championship predictions include a rematch in the NFC between the Buccaneers and the Packers and an AFC Championship between the Bengals and the Chiefs. I think the Packers and Bengals will win their respective conferences, though Aaron Rodgers wins the Super Bowl in his final year with Green Bay by a score of 37-27 over the Bengals.