The NFL playoffs’ divisional round schedule for the 2023 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. Analytics writer Seth Walder picks out each matchup’s biggest X factor, Matt Bowen identifies a key game-planning matchup to watch in every game, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Finally, 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 divisional slate, including a Patrick Mahomes–Josh Allen showdown, the Lions trying to keep their playoff run going and the surging Texans and Packers visiting the No. 1 seeds as big underdogs.
What to watch for: One frustrating postseason streak will come to an end. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is 0-2 in the divisional round, throwing one touchdown pass and three interceptions. But the Texans are 0-4 in the divisional round, losing by an average of 14.5 points. — Jamison Hensley
Bold prediction: Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud will throw for over 300 yards, becoming the first quarterback to achieve that feat against the Ravens since Tom Brady threw for 325 yards on Oct. 27, 2022. Stroud led the league in passing yards per game this season (273) and could have thrown for well over 300 in the wild-card game against the Browns’ No. 1-ranked defense when he threw for 236 in the first half. — DJ Bien-Aime
Stat to know: The Ravens used play-action at the seventh-highest rate in the regular season (26%), and Jackson thrived with it, ranking in the top seven in the league in QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt. However, the Texans were among the worst defenses defending play-action this season — they ranked in the bottom five in QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Matchup X factor: The Texans’ offensive line. All season the Ravens have used simulated pressure to disrupt their opponent’s protection to great success while still maintaining numbers in coverage. The Ravens recorded 27 sacks with simulated pressure, more than any other team. Houston’s offensive line needs to be ready if it’s going to protect Stroud. — Walder
Game-plan key: I’d like to see Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik get Stroud outside of the pocket on some boot concepts to pull Baltimore defenders, with tight end Dalton Schultz working as the underneath target. That could be key to the Texans getting into a rhythm against the really good Ravens defense. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: In a year when NFL officials threw more flags for intentional grounding (61) than in any season since at least 2000, it should be noted that referee John Hussey’s regular-season crew was the most aggressive with seven such flags. And as it turns out, Jackson took five such penalties, most in the NFL. Stroud took one. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Ravens are 11-6 against the spread (ATS) this season (unders are 9-8). The Texans are 10-8 ATS, including the playoffs (unders are 11-7).
Moody’s pick: Ravens 37, Texans 24
Walder’s pick: Ravens 27, Texans 20
FPI prediction: BAL, 81.7% (by an average of 12.8 points)
Matchup must-reads: How the Texans’ draft night changed the franchise … Ravens add Cook to roster, waive Gordon … Stroud ‘special’ as Texans get wild-card revenge on Browns … Jackson enters playoffs, proving ground vs. Texans
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: SF -9.5 (50.5)
What to watch for: This is an NFL-record 10th playoff meeting between the Niners and the Packers, with San Francisco holding a 5-4 edge in those games. What’s more, the Niners have won six straight NFC divisional-round playoff games, the longest active streak in the NFL. The winner will either take or share the title of winningest team in postseason history. The Packers are tied with the Patriots at 37 and could move into first place alone with a win, while a 49ers victory would tie them with Green Bay and New England. — Nick Wagoner
Bold prediction: Jayden Reed will be the Packers’ leading receiver. How can a guy who didn’t catch a single pass the week before pull that off? Well, the Packers haven’t had the same leading receiver in terms of yards in consecutive weeks since Romeo Doubs in Weeks 3 and 4. Doubs led the way again last week against the Cowboys, so perhaps the 49ers will roll their coverage his way. Reed set the franchise record for catches by a rookie with 64 this season. — Rob Demovsky
Stat to know: The 49ers have won their past five home playoff games, the longest active streak in the NFL, with two of those wins coming against the Packers (2012 divisional round and 2019 NFC Championship). The 49ers have dominated those matchups, with four of five wins coming by 14-plus points.
Matchup X factor: Packers quarterback Jordan Love. I picked him as the X factor last week, and you know what? He was the X factor. Since Week 10 and into the playoffs, Love now leads the NFL in QBR (78.4) — and it’s not even close. Dak Prescott is second in that span at 73.7. That level of quarterback play gives the Packers a chance against anyone, the 49ers included. — Walder
Dan Orlovsky’s advice for Jordan Love against the 49ers
Dan Orlovsky joins “The Pat McAfee Show” to share his thoughts on how Jordan Love can beat the 49ers.
Game-plan key: San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel averaged 8.8 yards after the catch this season, leading all WRs. Coach Kyle Shanahan will scheme open-field opportunities for him, which means the Packers will need to be on their tackling A-game. Green Bay has to limit Samuel’s numbers post-catch to pull the upset. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: Referee Alex Kemp’s regular-season crew led the NFL with an average of 15.3 flags per game. The Packers and 49ers both finished in the top third of the NFL for most flags this season, the 49ers with 125 and the Packers with 124. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Packers have won four straight games outright as underdogs, their longest underdog win streak since 2011-12.
Moody’s pick: 49ers 31, Packers 21
Walder’s pick: 49ers 30, Packers 23
FPI prediction: SF, 78.6% (by an average of 11.2 points)
Matchup must-reads: Post-Rodgers, LaFleur thrives with Love … Shanahan, LaFleur’s long NFL history … McCaffrey (calf) full participant in 49ers practice … Purdy uses internal motivation to maintain edge
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET | NBC | Spread: DET -6.5 (48.5)
What to watch for: Fresh off winning their first playoff game in 32 years, the Lions will host their first NFC divisional round appearance since the 1991 playoffs. These teams will clash for the second time this season after Detroit won their regular-season matchup 20-6 at Tampa Bay. Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield and Lions quarterback Jared Goff have both revitalized their careers in new settings as former No. 1 overall picks and will look to carry their respective teams with their strong play. — Eric Woodyard
Bold prediction: The Bucs will hold the Lions under 20 points … and win. Tampa Bay will once again be the underdog, Detroit’s going to be as hostile a setting as it gets and coach Todd Bowles hasn’t beaten Goff since 2019, when Goff was with the Rams and Bowles was the Bucs’ defensive coordinator. But the defense found its footing last week in one of Bowles’ best-called games, and Mayfield’s physically doing a lot better with those rib and ankle injuries. — Jenna Laine
Stat to know: The Buccaneers’ defense has blitzed on 41% of dropbacks by opposing quarterbacks this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. They could look to dial that up even more against Goff, who has seven turnovers when blitzed this season, tied for second most in the NFL.
Matchup X factor: Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. He is on a three-game multisack streak and is coming off a 33% pass rush win rate game in the wild-card round (more than double his regular-season rate). The Lions’ pass defense is their weakness, but if Hutchinson gets going, the Lions could pull away fast. — Walder
Game-plan key: Will we see Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis III in one-on-one man coverage matchups? St. Brown had 124 yards against Tampa Bay back in Week 6, so the Bucs need a plan here — potentially with Davis in coverage and safety help spinning down late. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: Referee Bill Vinovich’s regular-season crew is usually one of the stingiest in the NFL. In 2023, however, it averaged 13.4 flags per game, tied for the seventh fewest in the NFL. When the Lions and Bucs met in the regular season, the teams combined for 10 flags — five apiece. — Seifert
Betting nugget: Both teams are 12-6 ATS this season, which is tied for the second-best mark behind the Raiders (12-5 ATS). Unders are 12-6 in Buccaneers games, while overs are 11-7 in Lions games.
Moody’s pick: Lions 28, Buccaneers 21
Walder’s pick: Lions 34, Buccaneers 17
FPI prediction: DET, 62.5% (by an average of 4.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Mayfield responds to Lions DB’s barb … Goff leads Lions in revenge win over Rams … Mayfield leads underdog Bucs to surprising playoff win … Oral history of the Lions’ last playoff win
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: BUF -2.5 (45.5)
What to watch for: For the first time in this rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, the Chiefs are coming to Orchard Park for the postseason. The quarterbacks have met six times, with the Bills winning three of the four regular-season meetings, and the Chiefs taking both postseason games (2020 and 2021). The difference for the Bills in the regular and postseason matchups is the defensive success. In the regular season, the Bills have held the Chiefs to 20.8 points per game and produced nine takeaways, but in the playoffs, Kansas City has averaged 40 points per game and had only one turnover. There will be a big test ahead for a Bills defense dealing with a variety of injuries. — Alaina Getzenberg
Bold prediction: Mahomes and Allen will combine for at least six TD passes. These two always put on a show when they play, particularly in the postseason. Mahomes and Allen combined for five scoring passes in the AFC Championship Game after the 2020 season and seven in the divisional round the next season. The conditions will be less than ideal, but that hasn’t stopped them before. — Adam Teicher
Stat to know: One area that might differentiate the Bills from the Chiefs could be winning the turnover battle. The Bills forced 30 turnovers this season, the second most in the NFL (the Ravens and Giants forced 31 each). The Chiefs forced 17 turnovers this season, the 27th most in the NFL.
Why Stephen A. thinks Josh Allen will outduel Patrick Mahomes
Stephen A. Smith makes his case for Josh Allen and the Bills to top Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.
Matchup X factor: The Bills’ cornerback health. Taron Johnson (concussion), Rasul Douglas (knee) and Christian Benford (knee) are all banged up. While Buffalo looks like the better team on paper, a depleted secondary against Mahomes seems like a dangerous combination. — Walder
Game-plan key: In the Week 14 matchup between these teams, Bills running back James Cook had 83 receiving yards. Look for the Bills to get Cook involved in the passing game again with backfield releases and screens. And look for Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton to be key in limiting those plays. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: Shawn Hochuli is one of the NFL’s more active referees. During the regular season, he threw an NFL-high 14 flags for roughing the passer, five more than the next-closest referee. Since becoming a referee in 2018, he has led the league with 61 such flags. That could prove interesting, as Allen has grown adept at drawing roughing the passer fouls. He drew six in 2023, the most in the league. Mahomes drew only one. — Seifert
Betting nugget: Mahomes is 10-5 ATS in his playoff career, including 7-2 ATS when he is not at least a seven-point favorite. Allen is 3-6 ATS in his playoff career.
Moody’s pick: Bills 31, Chiefs 27
Walder’s pick: Chiefs 32, Bills 31
FPI prediction: BUF, 56.6% (by an average of 2.3 points)
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