Previewing the NFL’s six-game wild-card slate: Picks, predictions, matchups keys and nuggets to know

Everything you need to know for every wild-card game, including keys to victory and score picks….


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The NFL playoffs’ wild-card round schedule for the 2022 season is stacked with great matchups, and we’ve got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game and a bold prediction for each matchup.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a game projection. Matt Bowen picks out a key game-planning matchup to watch in every game, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Finally, Seth Walder and Eric Moody give us final-score picks for every game. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded weekend of NFL playoff football.

Let’s get into the full six-game wild-card slate, including an NFC West showdown to kick things off, Justin Herbert vs. Trevor Lawrence, an all-AFC East meeting in Buffalo, the Giants’ first playoff game since 2016 and a rematch of the Ravens-Bengals’ Week 18 matchup. It all culminates with Tom Brady‘s Bucs against the Cowboys on Monday night.

Note: New for this season’s playoffs, each team would be guaranteed a possession if a game goes to overtime.

Jump to a matchup:
SEA-SF | LAC-JAX | MIA-BUF
NYG-MIN | BAL-CIN | DAL-TB

Bye: KC, PHI

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: SF -9.5 (42)

What to watch for: The 49ers beat the Seahawks in two previous meetings this year by a combined score of 48-20. Teams that have won the first two meetings and then hosted the third meeting are 14-9 in the postseason matchup since the 1970 merger. For the Niners to advance, they’ll need rookie quarterback Brock Purdy to continue his recent play as he becomes the lowest-drafted rookie quarterback to start a playoff game. — Nick Wagoner

Bold prediction: Christian McCaffrey will have at least 125 yards from scrimmage. Run defense has been an Achilles’ heel for the Seahawks this season, and poor tackling has been one of the biggest reasons. That has extended to their pass defense, which ranks 31st in yards after catch allowed per reception. That makes for a tough matchup against a 49ers offense that led the NFL in yards after the catch for a sixth straight season, with McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel ranking second and third in YAC per game, respectively, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — Brady Henderson

Stat to know: Seattle quarterback Geno Smith had 4,282 passing yards this season, the most in Seahawks history. But he averaged only 217.5 in two games against the 49ers, as opposed to 256.5 per game against all other opponents.

Bowen’s game-plan key: The Seahawks could look to use more man coverage to tighten the throwing windows for Purdy. The rookie completed 11 of 12 passes against zone looks the last time these two teams met, but he was just 6-of-14 when Seattle’s defensive backs played press coverage. Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Seahawks | 49ers

What to know for officiating: Referee Alex Kemp’s regular-season crew threw the most flags per game in the NFL (15.1), although it ranked in the middle of crews for flags that can be thrown by the referee himself: offensive holding (No. 5) and roughing the passer (tied for No. 13). The San Francisco defensive front drew only 12 offensive holding penalties all season, second fewest in the NFL, but its offensive line tied for the league’s fifth-most committed (23). The Seahawks tied for the NFL’s third-most false-start penalties. — Seifert

Betting nugget: San Francisco was 7-1 against the spread as a home favorite this season with five straight covers. Read more at ESPN+.

Moody’s pick: 49ers 34, Seahawks 20
Walder’s pick: Seahawks 19, 49ers 16
FPI prediction: SF, 77.3% (by an average of 8.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Is Smith part of the Seahawks’ future?In the 49ers’ offense, sharing truly means caring (and winning)49ers’ Purdy hopes to join championship fraternity of backup quarterbacks


Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC | Spread: LAC -2.5 (47)

What to watch for: This might be a game in which the winning team will need to score 30-plus points — which makes it all about the quarterbacks. Here’s the thing: Nobody is really sure what to expect from Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence, both of whom are making their first playoff start. Lawrence at least played in a win-or-go-home game last week, but he has five turnovers in his past four games (two interceptions, three fumbles). — Mike DiRocco

Bold prediction: Herbert and Lawrence will each throw multiple touchdown passes in a wild-card game that will come down to a last-second field goal. Kicker Cameron Dicker, the rookie the Chargers signed in Week 9 when he was home in Texas and headed to a Carrie Underwood concert, will convert a 50-plus yarder for the first time in his career. Dicker has had three other game-winning kicks this year. — Lindsey Thiry

Stat to know: Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk had 815 receiving yards from the slot this season, second most in the NFL. But the Chargers allowed the fourth fewest to slot receivers (1,048).

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2:31

Stephen A.: Brandon Staley deserves to be fired if the Chargers lose

Stephen A. Smith discusses why he thinks Brandon Staley’s job is on the line this weekend against the Jaguars.

Bowen’s game-plan key: The Chargers should be looking for receiver Keenan Allen on third down. Over his past four games, he has caught 10 of 13 targets for seven first-down conversions. How will Jacksonville — which plays a lot of man coverage on third down — try to contain Allen? Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Chargers | Jaguars

What to know for officiating: Referee Shawn Smith earned credit around the league for his calm leadership during the Week 17 game stoppage following Bills safety Damar Hamlin‘s cardiac arrest. Saturday, he’ll handle a game between two teams that have not drawn many penalties against their opponents. The Chargers drew just 80 flags, second lowest in the league, while the Jaguars drew 90, tied for 11th fewest. — Seifert

Betting nugget: Los Angeles is 4-0-1 against the spread in its past five games with three straight covers. Read more at ESPN+.

Moody’s pick: Jaguars 24, Chargers 21
Walder’s pick: Chargers 24, Jaguars 21
FPI prediction: JAX, 60.7% (by an average of 3.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: How Herbert helped turn the Chargers aroundHow the Jaguars went from last place to the playoffs in a yearChargers WR Williams ruled out against Jags


Sunday, 1 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: BUF -13 (43.5)

What to watch for: The season series was split between the Bills and Dolphins, but the Dolphins are going into this meeting injured in a big way. Not only has quarterback Tua Tagovailoa been ruled out with rookie Skylar Thompson preparing to start, but running back Raheem Mostert will also not play after undergoing surgery on a broken thumb Monday. Mostert ran for 136 yards against the Bills when the teams played in Buffalo last month. With a banged-up offense, the Dolphins will likely have a tough time matching the No. 2 home scoring offense in the NFL. — Alaina Getzenberg

Bold prediction: Thompson will do everything he can in his first career playoff start, throwing for at least 270 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. The Dolphins might lose Sunday, but it won’t be because of the 2022 seventh-round pick. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Stat to know: Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle had 100 receiving yards in each of the team’s two regular-season games against the Bills. Only one player in the past 20 seasons has gained 100-plus receiving yards in three straight against Buffalo (Rob Gronkowski, 2011-12).

Bowen’s game-plan key: Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey should take advantage of Miami’s heavy usage of single-high defensive alignments by getting receiver Stefon Diggs downfield on glance/skinny post routes and letting Josh Allen deliver some deep shots off play-action. Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Dolphins | Bills

What to know for officiating: Get ready. The Dolphins tied for the NFL’s second-most penalties (134), the Bills ranked No. 14 (115) and referee Brad Allen’s regular-season crew threw the third-most flags (14.5) per game. The Bills’ defense tends to get handsy and has been flagged 11 times for defensive holding, second most in the NFL. Referee Brad Allen’s regular-season crew threw an average of one flag for defensive holding per game. — Seifert

Betting nugget: Since 2014, underdogs are 8-2 against the spread when division opponents meet in the playoffs. Read more at ESPN+.

Moody’s pick: Bills 35, Dolphins 20
Walder’s pick: Bills 30, Dolphins 10
FPI prediction: BUF, 95.7% (by an average of 22.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Dolphins rule Tagovailoa out, prep Thompson to start at QBAmid unprecedented obstacles, can the Bills take the next step to reach the Super Bowl?Why Tagovailoa now must face questions about concussions and his futureBills’ Hamlin discharged from Buffalo hospital


Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: MIN -3 (48)

What to watch for: This game will feature the fourth matchup of rookie coaches in the Super Bowl era. Giants coach Brian Daboll and Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell are both Coach of the Year award candidates after leading their teams to much better records than consensus preseason prognostications. O’Connell bested Daboll during a Week 16 matchup, but this game will be decided on how they handle the most important on-field matchup Sunday. With a patchwork offensive line, can O’Connell adjust to the pressure that Daboll’s team puts on quarterback Kirk Cousins? The Giants blitzed on 43% of Cousins’ dropbacks in the last matchup, sacking him four times and hitting him on nine other occasions. — Kevin Seifert

Bold prediction: Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson will go for 200-plus yards receiving. Adoree’ Jackson or not, the Giants won’t be able to stop the wideout who defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said was a top-two receiver in the NFL before following up, “and he’s not No. 2.” Jefferson went for 12 catches and 133 yards in the first matchup between the teams, and there were plenty of opportunities for more. The Vikings won’t miss in this one. — Jordan Raanan

Stat to know: The Giants’ offense has used play-action at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, and Daniel Jones has the third-highest completion rate (75.3%) on those plays. The Vikings’ defense has allowed the second-highest yards per attempt on play-action in the league this season (10.3), along with the fifth-highest completion rate (70.5%).

Bowen’s game-plan key: Jones needs to attack the perimeter of this Minnesota defense. He was 11-of-15 throwing outside the numbers in Week 16 against the Vikings (115 yards), and there is an opportunity there to hit some explosive plays. Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Giants | Vikings

What to know for officiating: The Vikings committed the fifth-fewest penalties (98) but drew 111, tied for second most in the league. The Giants also drew 111 flags this season. Pay special attention to the Giants’ defensive secondary, which committed the fourth-most penalties (26) for pass interference, illegal contact and/or defensive holding. The Vikings led the league in drawing flags for those three penalties, thanks in part to the presence of Pro Bowl receiver Jefferson. Keep an eye on the Giants’ defensive front, which was flagged a league-high eight times for roughing the passer. — Seifert

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1:49

Stephen A.: No excuse for the 13-win Vikings to lose to the Giants!

Stephen A. Smith and Kimberley A. Martin debate whether the Vikings should be on upset alert against the Giants.

Betting nugget: New York was a league-best 13-4 against the spread this season, including 7-1 against the spread on the road. New York has covered four straight games — and four straight road games. Read more at ESPN+.

Moody’s pick: Giants 20, Vikings 17
Walder’s pick: Vikings 26, Giants 20
FPI prediction: MIN, 58.3% (by an average of 2.4 points)

Matchup must-reads: Daboll has been here beforeHow Vikings coach O’Connell has empowered CousinsQB Jones adamant Giants ‘not satisfied’ with making playoffs


Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC | Spread: CIN -9.5 (40.5)

What to watch for: Cincinnati is looking to win playoff games in back-to-back postseasons for the first time in franchise history. Baltimore’s quarterback status remains in flux, too. Lamar Jackson is out after announcing he is recovering from a Grade 2 PCL sprain. That means it will be Tyler Huntley (tendinitis) or Anthony Brown under center for the Ravens. However, Cincinnati’s offense will have to contend with a Baltimore defense that was revitalized following the midseason acquisition of linebacker Roquan Smith. — Ben Baby

Bold prediction: Joe Burrow won’t throw a touchdown pass. Burrow threw a franchise-record 35 touchdown passes this season, recording at least one in every game. But he totaled only two TD passes in two meetings against the Ravens, who have allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes (13) since Week 3. — Jamison Hensley

Stat to know: Bengals wide receivers have recorded the most receiving yards after contact in the NFL this season, and it’s not a close margin. Cincinnati’s WRs have over 100 more receiving yards after contact than any other team in the NFL, and Ja’Marr Chase ranks second among all WRs in receiving yards after contact this season.

Bowen’s game-plan key: Look for Baltimore to run the ball a lot out of 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR). Running back J.K. Dobbins should get a heavy workload, which would help the Ravens control the tempo of the game. Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Ravens | Bengals

What to know for officiating: If history is any indication, this should be a relatively flag-free game. The Bengals were the NFL’s third-least-penalized team (95), and the Ravens ranked fourth (97). The Ravens, however, tied for the NFL’s second-most flags for defensive pass interference (11), a category to keep in mind as the Bengals feature their talented receiving core. Referee Clay Martin’s regular-season crew ranked No. 8 in the NFL with an average of 13.9 flags thrown per game. — Seifert

Betting nugget: Since 1992, when teams meet in the final week of the season and meet again the following week in the playoffs, overs are 11-2. Read more at ESPN+.

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0:48

How will Lamar Jackson’s absence affect Ravens-Bengals

Mina Kimes and Dan Orlovsky detail why the Ravens’ defense will have to step up in order to defeat Joe Burrow and the Bengals.

Moody’s pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 17
Walder’s pick: Bengals 33, Ravens 13
FPI prediction: CIN, 83.1% (by an average of 12 points)

Matchup must-reads: Ravens’ Jackson says knee unstable; Huntley throwsBengals’ Burrow on confidence: Can’t play ‘scared’ and winThe inside story of the Ravens’ ‘Mile High Miracle,’ 10 years later


Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN/ESPN2/ABC/ESPN+ | Spread: DAL -2.5 (45.5)

What to watch for: The Bucs’ defense held the Cowboys to just 71 rushing yards in Week 1, and Dallas has been held under 100 yards rushing just four times this season. For Tampa Bay, getting defensive tackle Vita Vea back this week could go a long way in replicating that performance and making quarterback Dak Prescott one-dimensional. The Bucs are 6-2 this season when Vea and Akiem Hicks are on the field together. — Jenna Laine

Bold prediction: The Cowboys will beat the Buccaneers. How is that bold, predicting a 12-5 team to beat an 8-9 team? Well, the Cowboys are 0-7 vs. Tom Brady. They have lost to the Bucs to open the season each of the past two years. Oh, and the Cowboys have lost eight straight playoff games on the road. They have just 11 players on the 53-man roster who were alive the last time the Cowboys won a playoff game away from home (1992 NFC Championship Game at San Francisco). — Todd Archer

Stat to know: The Cowboys ranked second in both pass rush win rate (52.1%) and sack rate (8.6%), and they finished first in pressure percentage (39%). Meanwhile, the Buccaneers ranked 24th in pass block win rate this season (55.2%).

Bowen’s game-plan key: Let’s see some more play-action for Brady. Tampa Bay runs play-action on just 15.1% of its dropbacks, the lowest rate in the NFL. Against Dallas’ pass rush, more play-action concepts would help open second-level windows for Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Cade Otton. Read more at ESPN+.

Injuries: Cowboys | Buccaneers

What to know for officiating: The Buccaneers are good at drawing flags from opposing defensive backfields. Their opponents committed the second-most fouls (21) for pass interference, illegal contact and/or defensive holding. The Cowboys’ secondary tied for the 12th-highest total of those fouls. But referee Craig Wrolstad’s regular-season crew was stingy overall, throwing the second-fewest flags per game (11.1) among the league’s 17 crews. — Seifert

Betting nugget: Tampa Bay was a league-worst 4-12-1 against the spread this season. It is the second-worst regular-season ATS mark of any playoff team in the Super Bowl era. Read more.

Moody’s pick: Buccaneers 27, Cowboys 21
Walder’s pick: Cowboys 22, Buccaneers 11
FPI prediction: DAL, 69.7% (by an average of 6 points)

Matchup must-reads: Postseason offers Cowboys coach McCarthy chance to respond to criticsWhere Prescott, Brady rank among playoff QBsCowboys owner Jerry Jones: McCarthy’s job not at stake

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