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Ranking best games on NFL Wild Card Weekend 2023

NFL Wild Card Weekend

What are the best games on NFL Wild Card Weekend? The arrival of the NFL playoffs means we get to witness the best teams in football squaring off on the biggest stage. With future Hall of Famers and emerging NFL stars taking the field, there is a lot to be excited about.

We’ve seen a few of these teams face off against one another before, including in previous playoff appearances. While there is some relevancy to head-to-head matchups from earlier in the regular season, NFL Wild Card Weekend is a fresh start for everyone.

As for the star power, it’s everywhere in the playoffs. We’ve got future Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Josh Allen along with emerging superstars Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow and Trevor Larence. Throw in the Offensive Player of the Year (Justin Jefferson) and Defensive Player of the Year (Nick Bosa), it becomes clear just how star-studded the playoffs are this year.

Related: NFL Wild Card Weekend schedule

Let’s dive into our rankings for the best games on NFL Wild Card Weekend.

1. Los Angeles Chargers vs Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers vs Jaguars matchup feels like it could be the highest-scoring game on NFL Wild Card Weekend. Lawrence vs Herbert could be the start of a new era, becoming a new playoff edition when two perennial MVP candidates go punch-for-punch in an elimination game.

Related: NFL offense rankings

We’re not just excited by the young quarterbacks. Travis Etienne took off as the Jaguars’ starting running back, averaging 5.3 yards per carry with 1,068 scrimmage yards in his first 11 games as the team’s workhorse this season. Facing a Chargers’ defense that allows over 5.2 yards per carry, Etienne could feast.

Los Angeles has been one of the best pass defenses in the NFL since Week 12, surrendering 155.7 pass ypg with a 70.6 QB rating and a 55.9% completion rate. While that makes this a challenging matchup for Lawrence, he can make plays on the run. When he’s off the field, Herbert, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler could lead the way with a 30-burger very possible for the Chargers.

2. Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re expecting a repeat performance of the Week 1 Buccaneers vs Cowboys game, a 19-3 final, reset your outlook. Dallas is a much better team offensively than it was in the season-opening loss, Tampa Bay’s passing game is a bigger question mark and its defense is undeniably worse.

Providing statistics to back the Buccaneers’ defensive regression isn’t difficult. From Weeks 6-17, quarterbacks posted a 20-4 TD-INT line with a 98.8 passer rating and a 65.1% completion rate, If you take out the Christmas Day game against Trace McSorley (57.4 QB rating, 53.3% completion) this pass defense looks even worse.

This is an NFL Wild Card Weekend matchup that also features teams with elite talent but lacks consistent production. Brady posted an 83.3 QB rating with a 12-8 TD-INT line between Weeks 9-15 and Tampa Bay doesn’t have a run game to speak of. As for that dominant Cowboys defense, its sack production (4.2 to 1.5 per game) and coverage (174.5 pass ypg allowed to 252 ypg allowed) has tailed off since Week 11.

This isn’t the best game on NFL Wild Card Weekend because neither team is playing anything close to their best football right now. However, it could be Brady’s final game or might be the final nail in the coffin before Jerry Jones fires Mike McCarthy. Those are storylines we love.

3. Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t be NFL Wild Card Weekend without a clash between division rivals. The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t need a coinflip for home-field advantage, but playing this game at Paycor Stadium came at a price. While the Baltimore Ravens rested all their best players in Week 18, Cincinnati started everyone and they played the entire game.

Related: NFL defense rankings 2023

It’s challenging to fairly evaluate this matchup. Baltimore’s offense has been a bottom-five unit for more than a month, but the Lamar Jackson injury and J.K. Dobbins’ recovery from knee surgery are primarily responsible for that. As for the Ravens’ defense, its dominance since November is largely a result of facing some of the worst teams in football.

Because Baltimore benched its starters in Week 18 and the Week 5 matchup against Cincinnati happened before the Bengals’ offense found its rhythm, past meetings don’t really matter here. It could be a toss-up game, but that’s only if you assume Jackson will be 100%, which is far from a guarantee when returning from a PCL sprain. If the Bengals don’t win by 10 points, it will be a classic AFC North rivalry with fewer than 56 total points scored, lots of stalled drives and a late field goal to win it.

4. Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t land the first-round bye, but this matchup is the next best thing. A defense capable of shutting down elite quarterbacks with upper-echelon skill players faces an offense that snuck into NFL Wild Card Weekend with a struggling offense.

Kyle Shanahan is going to have a lot of fun in this matchup. He’ll feed Christian McCaffrey 20-plus carries against one of the worst run defenses in the league. When the offensive line establishes its dominance, Brock Purdy will use the play-action and rollouts to find Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk in open space for explosive plays.

This game would be a lot better if we hadn’t already seen it play out the same way multiple times. San Francisco will tear through the Seattle Seahawks offensive line, forcing Geno Smith into bad throws and takeaways. In the end, we wouldn’t be stunned by a blowout.

5. New York Giants vs Minnesota Vikings

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

There are ways to talk yourself into being excited about a playoff matchup between the Giants and Vikings. Weather won’t be a factor and that immediately makes a game more compelling, with a greater opportunity for big plays and fewer moments where the weather influences the outcome of a critical moment.

Related: NFL QB rankings

There are also plenty of storylines to like about this Giants vs Vikings matchup. Fans will get to see the Offensive Player of the Year (Justin Jefferson), a Comeback Player of the Year candidate (Saquon Barkley) and two of the best first-year coaches in recent history (Brian Daboll and Kevin O’Connell). All of that feels great until you dive into the matchups.

Kirk Cousins is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL when blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, posting the fourth-worst QB rating (85.0) and the fourth-lowest completion rate (56.5%). Led by the ever-aggressive defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, New York boasts the highest blitz rate (38.9%) in the NFL. If the Giants’ pass rush can’t get home, though, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen will torch one of the worst cornerback tandems in the NFC.

We can’t even get excited about the other matchup. Minnesota has one of the worst defenses in football, with a secondary that allows big plays every quarter. Unfortunately, New York doesn’t have a receiver who can really take advantage of the Vikings’ cornerbacks, which means NFL fans will be watching Barkley and Daniel Jones run all day. We’d bet this game comes down to the final minutes, it’s just weak when compared to the other matchups.

6. Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

If Tua Tagovailoa is suddenly cleared to play on NFL Wild Card Weekend, Dolphins vs Bills becomes the best game on the slate. Unfortunately, it seems extremely unlikely that independent doctors would clear Tagovailoa to play after he suffered three head injuries in a single regular season.

The move from Tagovailoa to Teddy Bridgewater dramatically cuts into the excitement level for this matchup. It’s also not like Buffalo is playing its best football right now. The Bills needed two kickoff return touchdowns to beat the New England Patriots and the 35-13 victory over the Chicago Bears doesn’t tell you that it was a one-score game with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

We like this game even less if there is snow in the forecast. Contrary to belief, football itself is not more entertaining in frigid temperatures with wind chills that make every second of being outdoors a miserable experience. Every NFL fan will happily watch Bridgewater vs a struggling Bills team in the snow, but it’s the matchup we’re least looking forward to on NFL Wild Card Weekend.