Super Bowl LVII is right around the corner as the NFL playoffs get underway this weekend, featuring six matchups in the wild-card round on the road to Glendale, Ariz.
Which two teams will end up playing Feb. 12 in the big game on FOX? We asked our NFL and gambling experts for their picks:
Warren Sharp: 49ers over Chiefs
Over the summer, I bet the Eagles at 25-1 to have the best record in the NFL. While I still am heavily invested in the Eagles coming out of the NFC and could easily stick with that pick, I must admit I did not like hearing how QB Jalen Hurts was still dealing with substantial pain during his Week 18 game after several weeks off to rest. Nick Sirianni said it would be very beneficial for him to rest this next week. I’ll deduce that playing back-to-back weeks in the divisional round and then the conference championship round will not be easy. Then there is the Lane Johnson injury. So, I’ll share what I personally am doing, and that is hedging some with the 49ers futures.
In the AFC, I’m rolling with the Chiefs. I picked the Ravens to make the playoffs in the summer (and won) and took some long shots on them to make the Super Bowl. But Lamar Jackson is injured, and this team goes only as far as he can take them. So I’m taking the Chiefs. Primarily because having the bye is huge, but partially because I think their matchup vs. the Chargers/Jaguars will be far easier than the Bills’ likely matchup with the Bengals, and partially because I’m concerned about the state of the Bills defense and the lack of quality competition they’ve faced offensively. Ultimately, I like the 49ers to prevail.
Geoff Schwartz: Bills over Eagles
I’m sticking with my preseason pick of the Bills, but I feel strongly that if not the Bills, it’s the Bengals. The Bengals are playing a well-rounded type of football, with all three phases playing well. They do not make mistakes. They don’t turn it over. They don’t have busted coverages on defense. There are great benefits to being a team that just doesn’t screw it up.
Jason McIntyre: 49ers over Chiefs
Uncertainty reigns in the NFC, where I want to pick either the 49ers or Eagles, but both have massive questions (Brock Purdy and injuries, respectively). Everyone is hung up on the fact that a rookie QB has never won a Super Bowl, but remember, Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to return for the NFC title game, possibly.
The AFC is a three-horse race between the Chiefs, the Bills and the Bengals. Can a team like the Chargers sneak in?
Give me the 49ers vs. the Chiefs in the most obvious Super Bowl rematch, with the 49ers getting revenge for the 2021 Super Bowl loss. But if you’re looking for a spicy pairing — the last two years, wild-card teams reached the Super Bowl — let’s go with the Cowboys losing to the Bills.
Might the 49ers and Chiefs meet in the Super Bowl? (Getty Images)
David Helman: Chiefs over Eagles
I’ll be honest, it’s not a rational pick. There are at least three teams that have better overall rosters, if not four. It’s just a testament to how absurdly well Patrick Mahomes is playing this year, and I just don’t know how many teams can shut him down — remember, he’s already embarrassed San Francisco once this year. As long as his supporting cast can stay relatively healthy through the playoffs, I think Mahomes is that good.
Carmen Vitali: Bills over Vikings
So many awful and tragic things have happened to this Buffalo team over the course of the season. A teammate lost a brother, there were multiple record-breaking storms and then the NFL world stopped with Damar Hamlin. And while those things are much bigger than the game itself, I’m thinking Buffalo is due for something positive at the very least, and reaching the Super Bowl finally would help.
Henry McKenna: Bills over Bucs
Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are on a similar plane of elite quarterback play. It’s 1a and 1b — with the No. 1 guy changing every week. What the Bills have that the Chiefs don’t: an elite defense. Buffalo’s front seven is beastly. They’ll rough up Mahomes (and any other QB) just like the Bills did earlier this season when they beat Kansas City.
Patrick Everson: Bills over 49ers
Let me first preface this pick with the following: After getting it as wrong as I did with my preseason pick for FOX Sports, you might want to do whatever would be deemed the opposite of my play. Before Week 1, I picked the Colts to face the Packers in the Super Bowl, with the Colts winning. Neither team even reached the postseason.
But I digress. Now that we’re down to 14 teams, I’ll give it another shot. And I’m taking the two No. 2 seeds: Bills vs. 49ers, with the Bills raising the trophy. It’s not exactly a stretch, but I don’t think the two No. 1s — Kansas City and Philadelphia — make it to the desert. The Bills have won seven in a row, while the Niners are on a red-hot 10-game winning streak.
Buffalo beat Kansas City on the Chiefs’ home field in Week 6. We know the Bills have a dynamic offense, but their defense is top-shelf, as well, ranking No. 2 in the league in points allowed (17.9 PPG). San Francisco hasn’t lost since a 44-23 Week 7 home blowout to Kansas City. But that was right after the 49ers acquired Christian McCaffrey before he could fully integrate into the offense. Ever since, whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy under center, the Niners have been a machine. Seven of those 10 straight wins came by double digits.
And the 49ers’ defense is No. 1 in the league in points allowed, at just 16.3 PPG. That said, I think there’ll be some scoring in a Bills-49ers Super Bowl.
Ralph Vacchiano: Bengals over Eagles
The Eagles’ late-season slump and Jalen Hurts‘ shoulder injury should have everyone worried. They’re lucky they’re in the NFC, because in the AFC they might not survive their first game. They’re still the class of their conference, though, but when they get to the Super Bowl they’re going to run into a juggernaut — it’s just a question of which one. The Bengals enter the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, and Joe Burrow has been as good as any quarterback in the NFL since his four-interception opening game. He nearly won a championship for the Bengals last year. Now fully battle-tested, he’s ready to finish the job.
Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow have their sights set on the Super Bowl (Getty Images)
Greg Auman: Bills over 49ers
The Bills haven’t dominated in turnover margin, and they don’t have as steady a traditional run game as other top contenders. San Francisco is probably the closest in terms of being top-tier on both sides of the ball — can Stefon Diggs make more plays downfield to take Josh Allen to another level in a championship game?
Sam Panayotovich: Bengals over 49ers
It’s time to go outside the box. Most people will choose Buffalo or Kansas City to represent the AFC, which certainly makes sense. But I refuse to discount a white-hot Cincinnati squad that’s ripped off eight straight wins and has its own generational quarterback. Joe Burrow’s play ascends to a different level on the biggest stages, and I think the Bengals are a very interesting Super Bowl bet at 15-2. Meanwhile, San Francisco and Philadelphia are my two highest-rated teams in the NFC, but I like the Niners’ defensive line and offensive versatility just a little more.
Ben Arthur: Bengals over 49ers
We all know how potent the Bengals offense can be, with a superstar quarterback in Joe Burrow and the NFL’s best pass-catching trio — Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. But Cincinnati’s revamped offensive line steadily improved throughout 2022. The defense is playing at a high level too, with 11 takeaways in the last five games. With an eight-game winning streak, the Bengals are also the hottest team in the AFC. It’s all shaping for Cincinnati, already experienced and motivated from last season’s Super Bowl run, to do what it failed to do last season: take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Eric Williams: 49ers over Chiefs
The 49ers have a dominant defense, an innovative offensive coach in Kyle Shanahan that likes to run the football and one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Also, San Francisco is healthy for the most part entering the postseason, with a rookie in quarterback Brock Purdy playing at a high level. Yes, Kansas City throttled the 49ers earlier this year at Levi’s Stadium, but I believe San Francisco is the most complete team in the postseason tournament this year.
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