AFC Wildcard Showdowns 2023
By Tim Lazenby
Miami Dolphins (7) at Buffalo Bills (2)
Buffalo won 32-29 (Dec 17, 2022)
All Time Record
Miami Leads 61-52-1, Last met in the playoffs in 1998
Miami Dolphins 9-8-0
The Dolphins have had a whirlwind season to say the least. Under first year coach Mike McDaniel, the Dolphins have been arguably the top team in the NFL at not knowing what you’re going to get. Beginning with a three game winning streak, they followed with a three game losing streak. Then a five game winning streak, followed by a five game losing streak. Ultimately, they won when they needed to in the last game of the season against the Jets, ugly as it was. You have to question which Miami team will show up in the Wild Card matchup.
Miami Offense per game
Passing 265.4 (4th), Rushing 99.2 (25th), Points 23.4 (11th), 3rd down % 36.2 (24th)
Miami Defense per game
Passing 234.8 (27th), Rushing 103.0 (4th), Points 23.5 (24th), 3rd down % 41.6 (24th)
Miami Top Storyline
As talented as many of the players are in Miami, the top storyline in Miami continues to be what it has been since the draft in 2020. Tua Tagovailoa has been one of the most controversial draft picks in recent memory and a player who is truly polarizing. This season has been scary at times when you watch his concussion issues, but when he’s playing, he’s been incredible. The efficiency and patience has been astounding and arguably the league’s best receiving duo has benefited tremendously. If Tua isn’t at 100%, it’s going to be a rough ride against one of the league’s best teams.
Buffalo Bills 13-3-0
The Buffalo Bills have been amazing this year, just like the past couple years, but the injury of Damar Hamlin has been the entire focus it seems since the canceled game between Buffalo the Bengals. The Bills could have shut down completely after Hamlin’s tragedy, but this team is using his miraculous recovery as fuel for their fire. The Bills are dominant on all sides of the ball and even with a missing game, they’ve still claimed the 2nd seed in the AFC. There aren’t many more teams more terrifying to face in the Wild Card than Buffalo.
Buffalo Offense per game
Passing 258.1 (7th), Rushing 139.5 (7th), Points 28.4 (2nd), 3rd down % 50.3 (1st)
Buffalo Defense per game
Passing 214.6 (15th), Rushing 104.6 (5th), Points 17.9 (2nd), 3rd down % 37.5 (7th)
Buffalo Top Storyline
We all know the offense is spectacular, but against the high powered Dolphins, the defense will need to come to play, And while the ground game of the Dolphins has been lackluster at times, one of the league’s best passing teams makes up for that inefficiency. Every team suffers with injuries, but many have forgotten the Bills are without Von Miller and Micah Hyde. Their replacements will be at front and center, needing to carry the load against Tua, Tyreek and Waddle. Aside from that, we all know Damar Hamlin is going to be a big part of this postseason even though he won’t touch the field. I, for one, am in awe of what he has done.
How Miami Will Win
It’s obvious that Miami will make an attempt to expose Buffalo’s secondary. If the Bills have a weakness, it’s against opposing team’s receivers and luckily enough, Miami has two of the best. That being said, the lack of a running game, combined with an elite receiving game can make Miami predictable. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr will be the key to taking down Buffalo and allowing the Dolphins to win their first playoff game in over twenty years. If the running backs in Miami don’t bring it, it’s over real quick.
How Buffalo Will Win
The Bills are set to be one of the biggest favourites in the opening round. On paper, they appear almost unbeatable, but all teams have a chance to lose, especially when it’s all on the line. I know every team has a main option, but the Bills dependency on the Allen-Diggs connection could be their undoing. I know the Dolphins don’t have a great secondary on paper, but unless others step it up, the double teams on Diggs could prove too much. Diggs has yet to score against Miami and although the Bills won the last one, Miami took the first.
Bills win comfortably by more than a touchdown.
Baltimore Ravens (6) at Cincinnati Bengals (3)
Cincinnati wins 27-16 (January 8, 2023)
All Time Record
Baltimore leads 28-26, The two have never met in the playoffs
Baltimore Ravens 10-7-0
It’s actually quite amazing how Baltimore has won ten games despite the adversity. In case you didn’t know it, the starting quarterback has missed 5 games, the starting running back has missed 9 games and the starting wide receiver has missed 11 games. That’s not even including injuries on defense and other players. You can only imagine the success they’d have if the team was fully healthy. You play with the hand you’ve been dealt and the Ravens have played quite admirably.
Baltimore Offense per game
Passing 178.8 (28th), Rushing 160.0 (2nd), Points 20.6 (19th), 3rd down % 41.7 (11th)
Baltimore Defense per game
Passing 232.2 (26th), Rushing 92.1 (3rd), Points 18.5 (3rd), 3rd down % 34.9 (4th)
Baltimore Top Storyline
Obviously, all eyes will be watching to see if Lamar Jackson will be ready come game time. Baltimore has played just well enough in his absence, but the team isn’t even remotely close to its capability without him. The Ravens have made it to the playoffs every year with Lamar other than last season, but I’m sure he’d like to make it past the opener, which he’s only done once. I’m also watching veterans like Calais Campbell, Justin Houston, Jason Pierre-Paul and what could be their last chances at glory. Campbell, in particular, has been in the league for 15 seasons. Will this be his last?
Cincinnati Bengals 12-4-0
The Bengals are one of those teams that just ooze swagger. With Joe Cool leading the way, the young and talented group continues to prove that last season was no fluke. Featuring one of the best offenses in the league and a much improved defense, the Bengals are out for revenge and trying to kill the narrative that they won’t return to the big game once again. Only this time, the Bengals won’t be the underdog and everyone is aching for the chance to take the big dog down.
Cincinnati Offense per game
Passing 265.0 (5th), Rushing 95.5 (29th), Points 26.1 (7th), 3rd down % 46.1 (3rd)
Cincinnati Defense per game
Passing 229.1 (23rd), Rushing 106.6 (7th), Points 20.1 (5th), 3rd down % 39.6 (20th)
Cincinnati Top Storyline
Many will be focusing on Joe Burrow in the playoffs once again, but my storyline in Cincinnati is Ja’Marr Chase. He’s out to prove that he’s the best receiver in the game and he’ll do all he can to make sure you know it. As good as he is in the regular season, he shattered the record for yards by a rookie in the playoffs last year. He was wide open and waiting for that SuperBowl sealing catch, but Burrow just couldn’t get it to him. I’m sure that Chase has that thought running through his mind as he’s more prepared than ever to taste glory from the Lombardi Trophy.
How Baltimore Will Win
Batimore’s path to victory relies on their most underrated strength. While other teams like San Francisco and Denver get accolades for their defensive prowess, the Ravens are often pushed aside in this regard. And while Lamar is Lamar and the ground game is inspiring, that defense led by Mike McDonald will be the greatest weapon in overcoming the Bengals. That being said, the secondary hasn’t been as good as it should be and the Bengals know it. If they don’t stop the receiving trifecta for the Bengals, I fear that Lamar won’t have enough magic to carry the load on his own.
How Cincinnati Will Win
There are two obvious ways that the Bengals will win against the Ravens. Of course we can talk about JaMarr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, but there’s another path they need to take against the Ravens. At the risk of sounding contrarian, despite the Ravens weakness in the secondary, the Bengals must up their ground game. Attacking the Ravens greatest strength may seem stupid, but it’s also very unwise to be obvious in your attack. Joe Mixon has not been the same as he was last year and it’s about time he got back to his dominant ways. Can Mixon step it up when he’s needed the most?
Cincinnati wins by two touchdowns.
Los Angeles Chargers (5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4)
Jacksonville wins 38-10 (September 25, 2022)
All Time Record
Los Angeles leads 9-4, The two teams have never met in the playoffs
Los Angeles Chargers 10-7-0
Massive bias Alert! If you don’t know already, my favourite team is the Chargers, but I swear I’ll try to be unbiased. That being said, there’s a lot to love and also a lot to be worried about. In their first playoff action since 2018, Brandon Staley and Justin Herbert will try their best as rookies in the postseason. The Chargers were arguably the most injured team in the NFL this year, so they’ve certainly struggled with inconsistency. But despite their last game, a loss against the lowly Broncos, they were finally looking dominant like many predicted. Which Chargers team will show up in the Wild Card though? I hope it’s the team from the four game winning streak.
Los Angeles Offense per game
Passing 269.6 (3rd), Rushing 89.6 (30th), Points 23.0 (13th), 3rd down % 43.6 (8th)
Los Angeles per game
Passing 200.4 (7th), Rushing 145.8 (28th), Points 22.6 (21st), 3rd down % 39.2 (17th)
Los Angeles Top Storyline
Virtually everyone will say that Justin Herbert is the top storyline heading into the playoffs and I couldn’t agree more. The Chargers have been very blessed at quarterback over the years. Players like Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Stan Humphries and Dan Fouts have all had their chance at glory, but fallen short. The Chargers have only five playoff wins this millenia, and the Bolts faithful are eager to win under Staley’s regime. Los Angeles, once again, will have a young, elite option at the helm and we’ll see if he can be the first one to win it all. Go and get it done, Justin!
Jacksonville Jaguars 9-8-0
No one can deny the talent on this roster, but many did before the season began. Sure, the season hasn’t been the most consistent, but the Jaguars have been fantastic as of late. Since their bye week, the Jags have gone 6-1-0 and have scored 27 points per game. And in their last three games, they’ve limited opponents to just 7 points per game. You can’t ignore the fact that the team is inexperienced, but with SuperBowl winning coach Doug Pederson breathing new life into this organization, his experience is all they will need.
Jacksonville Offense per game
Passing 232.9 (10th), Rushing 124.5 (14th), Points 23.8 (10th), 3rd down % 41.9 (9th)
Jacksonville Defense per game
Passing 238.5 (28th), Rushing 114.8 (12th), Points 20.6 (12th), 3rd down % 43.2 (29th)
Jacksonville Top Storyline
Much like the Chargers, the Jaguars also have a young, elite option at quarterback who will get his first shot in the playoffs. Under Urban Meyer, many people thought Trevor Lawrence was a terrible player, but turns out, we can ignore that forgotten season as Lawrence has been dynamite. The scrappy Jags are out to prove their worth and the validity of their free agents’ “questionable” contracts. In one of the best quarterback battles of the opening round, Trevor Lawrence will be sure to give it his all in his first meaningful game in the NFL.
How Los Angeles Will Win
While I’d be foolish to say the team doesn’t begin and end with Justin Herbert, we can’t forget about the impact that Austin Ekeler has on this squad. If you take a deep look, it’s crazy to see how the wins or losses come depending on the usage and performance of Austin Ekeler. And his usage in the passing game has made him one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable, running back in the entire NFL this year. If the Chargers are to win, they’ll need to rely on Ekeler’s pass catching skills. If he is not utilized in this way to ignite the offense, I wonder if the defense will be enough to hold the line when the high powered Jaguars come knocking on the door.
How Jacksonville Will Win
One of the biggest blemishes for the Chargers this year has been their inability to stop running backs and mobile quarterbacks. And as good as Ekeler is, you can’t overlook the stud running back on Jacksonville’s roster. I truly believe the Jags’ hopes and dreams will rest on Travis Etienne. Los Angeles has one of the best offenses and their secondary is no joke, so Etienne will be key in thwarting Los Angeles’ plans on moving forward this postseason. His combination of blazing speed, shiftiness and pass catching prowess need to be on full display come Saturday to progress past game 1.
Los Angeles wins by a game winning drive field goal
Tim Lazenby joined Dynasty Pros, after writing for a few years elsewhere, and is passionate about all things fantasy football. Tim has been playing fantasy sports for over twenty years now and takes his love of the game to every article he writes. Although he’s played a variety of fantasy football, he is especially in love with dynasty football. If you ask him for advice, whether you’re just joining or you’ve been playing for years, he wants nothing more than to help you succeed, than to keep that fantasy gold to himself. A lover of the game and ultimate competitor, Tim is just trying to spread the good news of fantasy football to all.