We are a few days away from kicking off the most intriguing NFL playoff tournament we have seen in decades. Despite having a pair of heavyweights holding the No. 1 seeds in each conference, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are not guaranteed to reach Super Bowl LVIII in a postseason field in which matchups matter more than the overall talent of each roster.
Much like boxing matches, which are routinely decided by the boxer who forces the opponent to adapt to his fighting style, the teams that win in the postseason are the ones who impose their will on their foes. Surveying the playoff field, several teams have the personnel and scheme to tilt games in their favor, but a simple bounce of the ball can alter the game’s momentum in a crucial moment.
After assessing the rosters of every playoff team, it is time to reveal my Super Bowl picks based on talent, playing style, and coaching staff.
The recipe for success in the recent Super Bowl era typically includes an MVP-caliber quarterback and a disruptive defense. The Ravens check off the boxes in those areas, with Lamar Jackson on the verge of claiming his second NFL MVP Award following a spectacular campaign that validated the team’s decision to sign him to a blockbuster deal in the offseason.
The sixth-year pro accounted for 4,500 total yards and 29 combined touchdowns, showcasing a diverse game that made him more difficult to defend in 2023. Jackson teased and tormented defenders with impromptu scrambles and designed quarterback runs on the way toward rolling up 821 yards on the ground. The improvisation, in particular, challenged opponents differently than the Ravens’ option-based running game of the past due to the threat of the team’s new and improved passing game.
With a stellar cast of pass catchers surrounding Jackson, the Ravens can attack opponents with various quick-rhythm passes thrown between the numbers. As opponents struggle to tackle Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, Isaiah Likely, and others, the Ravens’ dink-and-dunk passing game stresses defensive coordinators tasked with defending a dynamic dual-threat quarterback throwing to a collection of “catch-and-run” specialists on the perimeter.
Defensively, the Ravens create chaos for opposing quarterbacks and play-callers with their unique schemes and overwhelming physicality. As the NFL’s first defensive “Triple Crown” winner (scoring defense, takeaways, and sacks), the Ravens routinely create extra possessions for Jackson and Co. with their splash plays. In a tournament frequently decided by turnovers and stops, the Ravens’ defensive prowess makes them a lock to reach Super Bowl LVIII.
It is time for the Cowboys to end their Super Bowl drought behind the efforts of Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons, and Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys’ star-studded lineup can blow the doors off any opponent, especially at home. As the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Cowboys can roll through the playoff field at the comfy confines of AT&T Stadium before potentially matching up with the San Francisco 49ers on the road in the NFC Championship Game.
While the matchup with the bullies from the NFC West has not gone according to script, the Cowboys are one of the few teams built to beat any team in the playoff field with blue-chip playmakers at each of the marquee positions (quarterback, wide receiver and pass rusher). Prescott is on fire, completing 69.5 percent of his passes with a 36:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The veteran gunslinger has found his rhythm within McCarthy’s quick-rhythm attack by targeting Lamb early and often against any coverage.
With the Pro Bowl playmaker playing an unstoppable force, the Cowboys can light up the scoreboard against any opponent. Moreover, the No. 4-to-No. 88 connection sets the table for a collection of complementary players to feast on over-aggressive opponents.
On defense, Parsons’ pass-rushing prowess disrupts the timing and rhythm of quarterbacks sitting in the eye of the storm. The constant pressure and harassment resulted in the errant throws that routinely landed in the hands of Daron Bland and Stephon Gilmore on the perimeter. Given the defense’s rare ability to turn takeaways into points, the red-hot Cowboys could waltz into Super Bowl LVIII behind a fast-break offense and high-pressure defense that overwhelms opponents.