As the NFL regular season has concluded, we are getting ready for Super Wild Card Weekend, which will kick off tomorrow afternoon. For the first time in a while, all four of the games this weekend have attractive matchups. Let’s take a look at each game and decide what to keep an eye on.
Raiders-Bengals: The slate starts off Saturday afternoon at 4:30pm in the Queen City as the Las Vegas Raiders will take on the Cincinnati Bengals. For the Raiders, quarterback Derek Carr will be making his first career postseason start as he was out with a broken ankle back in 2016 when the Raiders last made the playoffs. Las Vegas has two pass-rushers in Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. However, they will need to make their presence felt early because Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow led the NFL this season in completion percentage at 70.4% and yards per attempt (8.9). It will also be a face off at the wide receiver position as the Bengals have rookie Ja’Marr Chase, whose 1,455 receiving yards is the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. On the other sideline, Hunter Renfrow led the Raiders in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. However, while the weather might play a factor and force this game to be a run heavy offense, I still give the Bengals the edge in the wide receiver category. While Burrow was sacked 51 times this season, which is the most out any any QB in the NFL, I still believe that the Bengals will come out on top since they have been the more consistent team all season while Las Vegas had to fight their way in and win a nail bitter last Sunday night. Either way, whoever wins this game, it will be the first playoff meeting in NFL history where both teams are at least 18 years removed from their last playoff victory.
Patriots-Bills: The night cap on Saturday takes place in western New York at 8:15pm when the Buffalo Bills will host the New England Patriots. The big storyline for this game is the weather as the forecast is calling for the game time temperature to be close to zero degrees with a 10 mile per hour wind which will bring the windchill down to -4 degrees. While the Patriots held opponents to the second lowest completion percentage, right behind Buffalo, the weather will have an obvious impact on the play calling as it will most likely be a run heavy offense for both teams. If we take a look at where both of these teams rank in run defense, New England ranks 22nd and Buffalo ranks 13th. If we go back to last month when these two teams played each other in a snow storm, New England won in a low scoring game 14-10. The weather will also have an impact on Bills quarterback Josh Allen as he has a 50% completion percentage in freezing game temperatures, which is the second worst such completion percentage over the past 15 seasons. However, since it is now the playoffs there will be a different feel this time around. I am going to give the Bills the advantage in this game to get the win because Josh Allen is the better QB and is mobile enough, which could be key in near-zero degree temperatures. While Mac Jones has had some flashes this season, he is still a rookie and the Patriots finished out the season cold with losses to the Colts, Bills and Dolphins with a win in between versus an awful Jaguars team. Oh by the way, rookie quarterbacks are 0-6 outright in the postseason since 2010.
Eagles-Buccaneers: Wild Card weekend continues on Sunday in Florida when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Philadelphia Eagles. The weather will also play a big factor in this game as the forecast is calling for thunderstorms and 20 to 30 mile per hour winds. While the Eagles come crawling in this weekend after clinching a playoff spot just recently and are not a great team overall, they do have an advantage with the run game as they are a run heavy offense to begin with. Miles Sanders has been their main running back and is dangerous to contain, specifically around the perimeter with his quickness. While Eagles QB Jalen Hurts will be making his first career playoff start, he might have the upper hand specifically relating to his ability to be a mobile QB, especially in the rain and wind. For Tampa Bay, they have been the league’s top run defense stopper the past two years but has looked beatable the last two weeks of the season, giving up over 100 yards in the run game each time. With all of that being said, I will still take Tom Brady and the Buccaneers because I can not go against Brady come playoff time. Although, I would not be surprised if the Eagles give Brady a run for his money with the rain that is expected on Sunday. This has a similar feeling to last season when Brady snuck by with a win by the skin of his teeth when he beat Tyler Heinicke and the Washington Football Team on Super Wild Card Weekend.
49ers- Cowboys: This is a very interesting matchup for many reasons. First, it is a first round matchup between two historic rival franchises. The Cowboys had a great season as they went 12-5 and won the NFC East. However, there are still questions as to how good Dallas really is because they have gone up and down throughout the season playing well and then not so good. While their defense is great with Trevon Diggs, who has a league leading 11 interceptions, and rookie Micah Parsons as well, who has been a force for the Cowboys on the defensive side of the ball. However, the 49ers have a lot going for them as well because they have a strong running game, which would then be able to take some interception opportunities away from Diggs. San Francisco also has a stud receiver in Deebo Samuel and a great tight end in George Kittle. While I am aware that the Cowboys can match their offense headed by Ezekiel Elliot, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, I am still skeptical as to what kind of player Dak Prescott is come playoff time. It feels like every year the Cowboys get hyped to go the Super Bowl and then disappoint every single year. That is why I am taking the 49ers to win on Sunday. Plus, San Francisco has one of the best offensive lineman in the league in Trent Williams who is expected to return after missing some time with a sprained elbow. The 49ers also have Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead that can get after the quarterback. While people will point to Jimmy Garapollo being 2-6 when he throws an interception in a game, I will remind people that he is also 7-0 when he does not throw one. Oh by the way, he brought San Francisco to the Super Bowl just three years ago.
Steelers-Chiefs: This is the only game to me that is most likely to be a blowout. The Kansas City Chiefs are far and away the better team in this matchup. After getting off to a shaky start, the Chiefs have found their stride and are getting hot at the right time. It is hard to go against Patrick Mahomes right now. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers got into the playoffs at the last second of the regular season last Sunday night thanks to the Chargers-Raiders game not ending in a tie. Pittsburgh is not that great of a team to begin with, they should not have made the playoffs and frankly did not deserve to make it. The only reason they even had a chance to sneak in was because of the great coaching job by Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are going into this game playing with house money and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said it this week. “We don’t have a chance. So let’s just go in and play and have fun.” The only storyline for Pittsburgh on Sunday is it will most likely be Roethlisberger’s last game as he is expected to retire. I ultimately believe that this game will be a blowout in favor of the Chiefs just like it was in week 16.
Cardinals-Rams: This game feels like a coin flip to me. These two teams split their regular season series the two times that they met. Arizona is 8-1 on the road, having one of their wins being a complete takedown of the Rams in Los Angeles. The Cardinals are also expected to get J.J. Watt back after having shoulder surgery which will bring a big bolt of energy to the Arizona defense. However, the Rams will counter that with Aaron Donald as well as Eric Weddle who just came out of retirement after last playing in 2019. Waddle, 37, joins the Rams to help chase a championship. This game is expected to be a shootout between the two quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford. Although, the most pressure in the entire playoffs is on Matthew Stafford. Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs for his career, although the argument forever has been that he was on the Detroit Lions, a team that was run by an incompetent front office and was never given enough help. Ultimately, the Rams mindset is championship or bust, but if Stafford loses in the first round Monday night the chatter of his legacy being a regular season QB will get louder, especially considering that Los Angeles gave up two first-rounders and a third rounder along with Jared Goff for him. I do not believe that the Rams will go to the Super Bowl this year because while Cooper Kupp has been playing at another level, I believe that the loss of Robert Woods will come back to bite them if they advance and have to play the Green Bay Packers. Plus, I need to see with my own eyes that Odell Beckham, Jr can show up and perform in the playoffs because last time we saw him in the postseason with the New York Giants,he must have had butter hands because he was a major disappointment finishing with only four receptions for only 28 yards and no touchdowns. However, I will choose the Rams to win this game on Monday since the Rams are the more experienced team and this is Kyler Murray’s first career postseason start.