It’s Wild Card Weekend, no, check that, it’s SUPER WILD CARD WEEKEND in the NFL, and boy, do we have quite the weekend of football ahead of us. If you’re a Bears fan, it’s the best kind of football, rooting interest-free football. You can root for your gambling outcomes; you can root for a second team or a team with a player that you like. Hell, you can even root for pure chaos for the sheer entertainment value of it.
However you choose to enjoy this weekend, be sure to enjoy it. After that dreadful Bears season, a six-pack of playoff games is just what the doctor ordered.
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
• Kickoff: Saturday, January 15 – 3:30 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: NBC – Mike Tirico, Drew Brees, and Kathryn Tappen
• Odds: CIN -5.5 – O/U: 48
Joe Burrow and the Bengals host the Raiders in the first of six games this weekend, and the Bengals will be searching for their first playoff victory since 1991 in this one. The Bengals beat the Raiders handily in Vegas in Week 11, and since Week 11, the Bengals are sixth in the league with 28 points per game, roughly eight more than the Raiders (20.5) over that span.
Burrow has completed 72 percent of his passes (131-182) and thrown for 1,776 yards, 12 touchdowns, and two interceptions over the last five games of the regular season. So Burrow and his favorite target, Ja’Marr Chase, come into this playoffs as hot as any QB-WR tandem in football. Can the Raiders’ pass defense slow them down? Las Vegas checks in at 23rd in the NFL when it comes to opposing passing touchdowns scored (29).
Derek Carr has spent eight seasons with the Raiders and will finally make his long-awaited playoff debut on Saturday, but unless the Raiders can find an answer for Burrow and Chase on the road, Carr and the Raiders will be back to the drawing board in 2022.
New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6)
• Kickoff: Saturday, January 15 – 7:15 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: CBS – Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, and Evan Washburn
• Odds: BUF -4.5 – O/U: 44
Rookie Mac Jones will look to pass Tom Brady as the y0ungest Patriots quarterback to win a playoff game when New England visits Buffalo on Saturday. Still, Josh Allen and the Bills will be looking to return to the AFC Championship game where they lost to Kansas City last season.
Allen said that he will be wearing multiple shirts tomorrow with temperatures expected to be in the single-digits with high winds, an environment that Josh Allen hasn’t fared well in throughout his career. Josh Allen completes about 50 percent in games with freezing temperatures. We saw Allen complete just 50 percent of his passes on December 6 when the Bills lost to the Patriots in a brutally cold game in Foxboro.
The rubber match between the Bills and the Patriots this season will come down to Allen and how he takes care of the ball. And whether or not he can shake his cold-weather demons. I think that Allen and the Bills are in for an upset this weekend at home.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at Kansas City Cheifs (12-5)
• Kickoff: Sunday, January 16 – 7:15 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: NBC – Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya
• Odds: KC -12.5 – O/U: 46
The Big Ben farewell tour comes to an end this weekend in Kansas City. The Chiefs are simply a better football team in all three phases, and they’ll cruise into the Divisional Round with a victory over the Steelers at home on Sunday night. At least Ben is having fun with the Steelers’ underdog status this weekend:
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
• Kickoff: Sunday, January 16 – 12:00 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: FOX – Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews
• Odds: TB -8 – O/U: 46
Tom Brady and the Bucs come into the playoffs banged up but still a heavy favorite to beat the Eagles at home this weekend. The Buccaneers beat the Eagles 28-22 in Week 6 this season and will look to sweep Philadelphia to set up a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game with the Packers at Lambeau Field next week.
While Brady is a little lighter than he would like when it comes to his offensive weapons with Chris Godwin done for the season with an ACL injury and Antonio Brown dismissed from the team, the Buccaneers still simply have too much firepower for the Eagles to handle in this one. Leonard Fournette, who has missed the last three weeks, returned to practice this week. Lavonte David is also back to practice this week on the other side of the ball, and both Fournette and David will be game-time decisions.
I will say this, though; the weather looks to be rainy and very windy in Tampa Bay this weekend, which could play in favor of the Eagles’ top-ranked rushing attack while lowering Tom Brady’s passing attempts. If these two teams get into a wet and sloppy ground game, the Eagles have a shot.
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
• Kickoff: Sunday, January 16 – 3:30 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: CBS – Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, and Tracy Wolfson
• Odds: DAL -3 – O/U: 51
The Cowboys offense has been firing on all cylinders this season, but the 49ers offense has been no slouch in their own right. On the surface, if I asked you to take one of the two offenses, everyone outside of the Bay would pick the Cowboys. But consider this: the 49ers play in the highly-competitive NFC West, with three teams playing this weekend while the Cowboys play in the NFC East. In 11 games played outside of their respective divisions this season, here’s how the two offenses stack up in the scoring department:
- 49ers: 28.6
- Cowboys: 27.2
Here's the Deebo Samuel rushing TD. Again, Kyle put on a masterclass in this game. His ability to manipulate defenders pre snap to gives the team a good chance of breaking off some big plays. pic.twitter.com/s7hHBW5pkC
— 49ers_Film (@49ers_Film) January 14, 2022
Even still, the 49ers defense has a weakness that Dallas can exploit: the deep ball. San Francisco ranks 30th in DVOA in defending deep passes (passes over 20+ air yards). Dallas’ offense is fourth in the NFL with 63 completions of 20+ yards. San Francisco’s defensive front is elite, and they rank third in the NFL in total yards and yards per play this season, but their secondary will have to make sure they don’t allow Dallas to get by them deep.
Kyle Shanahan has done a heck of a job getting the best out of this San Francisco offense this season, and this is where we find my upset alert of the weekend. I’m going with the 49ers to upend the Cowboys in Arlington on Sunday. Either way, it goes, this matchup has high potential to be the most entertaining game of the weekend.
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
• Kickoff: Monday, January 17 – 7:15 pm (ct)
• Broadcast: ESPN – Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick, and Lisa Salters
• Odds: LAR -4 – O/U: 49.5
Kyler Murray is as dynamic as they come, but he’s dragging a banged-up Arizona Cardinals team that scuffled down the stretch into Los Angeles, a place they have to play because their late-season swoon cost them the NFC West. Can Murray power the Cardinals past the Rams without DeAndre Hopkins? The Rams depleted secondary will sure be just what the doctor ordered for Murray this week.
Matthew Stafford heads into this week looking to shake the losing he endured for 12 years in Detroit, but the Rams are, to me, the biggest pretender in the NFC playoff field. I think that even without Hopkins, Kyler Murray can power the Cardinals past the Rams on the road this weekend as long as they play up-tempo and attack the battered Los Angeles secondary with deep passes. Arizona’s defense should have opportunities to take the ball away from the Rams as well as Matthew Stafford has turned the ball over 15 times since Week 9.
You can take the Stafford out of Detroit, but you can’t take the Detroit out of Stafford.