The student news site of Peddie School

The Peddie News

The student news site of Peddie School

The Peddie News

The student news site of Peddie School

The Peddie News

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Exploring the Electrifying NFL Playoff Maze

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates on the podium with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Although it seems the 2023 NFL season has just begun, the playoffs, along with Super Bowl LVIII are quickly approaching. For those who are unfamiliar or haven’t heard of the 2020 changes to the postseason structure, a total of 14 teams from the league advance to the playoffs. Seven from each conference. Of the seven, four have the best record in their respective division, while the three teams with the best record that didn’t win their division advance via a wildcard spot. However, with the new format, only the top seed in each conference will earn a bye in the wildcard round. From contenders, pretenders, and dark horses, you’ll find who to keep a close eye on for the rest of the season.


In the NFC it is a tight race for the bye that comes with the number one seed, as four teams have recorded between nine and ten wins. Two of those teams are in the NFC East where it appears to be a two-team race between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. If the regular season ended today the Eagles would be awarded the one seed, however there are still five more weeks left and they are looking increasingly vulnerable. Up until their crushing defeat in week 13 to the 49ers, the Eagles had been looking like the team to beat lead by MVP frontrunner Jalen Hurts, who is on pace to have the most rushing touchdowns in a single season by a quarterback. Their recent loss has left the door open for America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, to steal the division title. Defense is everything in Dallas, and that holds true in Dallas, as they have the second most interceptions with fifth-round breakout rookie, Daron Bland setting an NFL record of five interceptions taken to the house. Keep a close eye on week 14’s game between the Eagles and Cowboys, as it will dictate the division standings.


Unlike the NFC East, the NFC North is led by a singular team, the 9-3 Detroit Lions. This crafty team set the tone in the season opener by knocking down last year’s Super Bowl winner, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Lions have an exhilarating and young offense run by rookies Sam LaPorta and Jahmyr Gibbs, along with third-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. These young threats combine for a total of 17 touchdowns so far, paving the way for a Detroit division title last won in 1993. In addition to the Lions, watch out for the 6-6 Minnesota Vikings, as they fight for a wildcard spot. Despite losing their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, as well as one of the best receivers in the NFL, Justin Jefferson, their week seven victory over the 49ers shows nothing will get in the way of their postseason dreams.


Similarly to the North, the 9-3 San Francisco 49ers have jumped ahead in the standings for the NFC West. Their week 13 incredible victory over the Eagles proves their contender status. In their win, receiver Deebo Samuel had a masterclass performance scoring three touchdowns. Their stellar defense not only shut down the Eagles’ rushing ability to 46 yards but also limited them to just 19 points. Watch out for San Francisco, as their remaining schedule only has one team above .500. Speaking of late-season pushes, the 6-6 Los Angeles Rams are currently on a three-game winning streak. Like the Vikings, they have been plagued with injuries, as Cooper Kupp has spent much time out this season. Most recently in their victory over the Browns, Puka Nacua, their breakout rookie wide receiver, suffered a rib injury leaving him, as well as the Rams questionable.


Bringing up the rear of the NFC is the NFC South, where no team stands out. Between the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons, 5-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the 5-7 New Orleans Saints, it is guaranteed to be a dogfight until the end. As of now, the Falcons are number one in the South. Their two-headed monster at running back, rookie Bijan Robinson and sophomore Tyler Allgeier combine for the sixth-most rushing yards among NFL teams. Keep your eyes peeled for a dark horse team for whoever comes away from this grueling division.


Moving on to the AFC, although there are only two teams with 10 wins, there are a total of nine teams with seven or eight wins, making it a stiff competition. One of the nine-win teams is the offensive-minded Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. Speedster Tyreek Hill is currently leading all receivers in touchdowns with 12. However, their 31-year-old running back leads the whole league in touchdowns with 14. If you are looking for an exciting game, tune in on Christmas Eve to see the Cowboys take on the Dolphins in a true offense vs. defense competition. Taking a look at the two slots in this division, you will find the 6-6 Buffalo Bills. Despite their past success the last few seasons with dynamic duo Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, Mr. Roca of the language department was asked about the unexpected subpar performances this season saying, “I think that they were expecting to come in this season rolling off the last three or four years and gel together, which it really hasn’t. Other teams have been improving like the Dolphins. They haven’t taken the time to replace key defensive players like Von Miller.”


Unlike the East, all the teams in the AFC North have a realistic shot at seeing a playoff berth. Leading the pack is the 9-3 Baltimore Ravens, who have the most rushing yards in the NFL by almost 200 yards. A committee of running backs along with scrambler quarterback Lamar Jackson add to the total every week. Lamar Jackson is just 250 rushing yards away from reaching third place on the all-time quarterback rushing yards list. Along with the Ravens, the 7-5 Steelers, 7-5 Browns, and the 6-6 Bengals all have a shot at making it to the postseason. The AFC North has always been a division fueled by intense rivalries, so the remaining games between these teams could get extremely heated.


Heading over to the AFC West, the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, aren’t looking like themselves. Although they started the season with a 6-1 record in their last five games, they have only won two. Despite the Chiefs having last year’s MVP, Patrick Mahomes and one of the greatest tight ends of all time, Travis Kelce they seem to be struggling. One team that isn’t playing down to anyone is the 6-6 Denver Broncos. They have been victorious in five of their last six games after starting the season 1-5. After signing veteran coach Sean Payton out of retirement and continuing to grow their young receiving core of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, Denver could be a sleeper for the rest of the season and potentially the playoffs. When asked if he believes Broncos country has what it takes to ride all the way to the postseason, Hayden Nieves ‘26  said, “It’s all riding on Mr. Unlimited (Russel Wilson) and if he does good because he is putting up extremely good quarterback numbers.”


The final division is the AFC South led by the 8-4 Jacksonville Jaguars. Although they are in first place, their Monday night loss against the Bengals left the Jaguars without their franchise quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who had to leave mid game after suffering an ankle injury. Due to this catastrophic injury, these contenders turned pretenders left the division wide open for the 7-5 Houston Texans to swoop in. After finishing the year last year with only three wins and drafting rookie of the year frontrunner CJ Stroud with the second overall pick, they now have quickly made their way to the top of the division. 


With five weeks left of the regular season, much is still to come and much is still to change. Whether it is your favorite or least favorite team, tune in to a game to navigate the 2023 NFL playoff picture for yourself.


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