Let's preview the NFL playoffs by taking an expansive look at how the bracket could play out. I'll be using what we know about the first six matchups in the wild-card round to pick winners for this weekend's games, examine the matchups those wins would produce in the divisional round, and so on. In the end, I'm going to pick a Super Bowl LVII matchup and a champion, and I'll be sticking with the prediction I made on "SportsCenter" before the season.
Now, before we get started, let me be clear: This will not be right. Getting all six wild-card matchups correct would be a small miracle, let alone correctly picking all 13 games. If you're reading this to get mad about who I pick, you're wasting your time. Instead, I'm trying to just examine how these matchups might play out and what we would be looking for if the two teams do actually play in the real postseason bracket.
Some matchups require a lengthy, exhaustive list of possibilities of analysis. Others can be summed up in a sentence or two. As we start in the AFC, two of this weekend's three games might be decided before they begin because of injured quarterbacks.
Jump to a round:
Wild-card weekend: NFC | AFC
Divisional round: NFC | AFC
Conference title games: NFC | AFC
Super Bowl LVII
AFC wild-card weekend
(7) Miami Dolphins at (2) Buffalo Bills
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS
Spread: BUF -13 (43.5)
It seems academic to discuss this matchup if the Dolphins are starting Skylar Thompson at quarterback against the Bills. Brock Purdy has been magical for the 49ers, but his fellow rookie seventh-round pick has struggled in Miami. Thompson has played like a typical rookie late-rounder, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt and posting a 57.1% completion percentage across 105 pass attempts. Barring the truly unexpected, Thompson against this Bills defense is an unfair fight.
Getting Teddy Bridgewater back would make things a little fairer, given that the journeyman passer averaged 8.6 yards per attempt across 79 pass attempts this season. He missed Week 18 with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, which doesn't seem conducive to playing. Coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday that the Dolphins are preparing for Thompson to start, but it would hardly be a surprise if McDaniel turned to Bridgewater if the offense struggled to move the ball early.
Either way, this is unlikely to be a competitive game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Bills were resting their starters at some point during the second half. Prediction: Bills 27, Dolphins 7.
(6) Baltimore Ravens at (3) Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC
Spread: CIN -8.5 (40.5)