The NFL post-season is here. As was the case last season, we’ll get six games for Super Wild Card Weekend. This year, however, the games are spread over three days, including three consecutive nights of Prime-Time Games. In addition, if you’ve been following the NFL all season you know that the playoffs are possible wider open than ever. So, as we prepare for Super Wild Card Weekend, below are game previews and my fearless picks.
During the regular season, I went 169-102 in weekly picks. That was just good enough to edge out my wife, who finished 168-103. It was also good enough for second among the MCDI team, as Jason (@astaritajason) finished 171-100 to pace the group.
As always, this week begins my quest for perfection in the playoffs. Will I get it… I doubt it, but it will be fun to try!
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
This is the first of the playoff games, and a fascinating battle. The Raiders were quite literally the last team to qualify for the playoffs, hitting a game-winning field goal as time expired in overtime in the final Sunday Night game. The Bengals, meanwhile, took the foot off the gas in Week 18 after a huge win in Week 17 against the Chiefs that won them the AFC North. These teams met earlier in the season, in November, which was a 32-13 win for the Bengals. The Raiders had stars Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs in the matchup, but still fell by 19 points. The thing is that the game was closer than the final score. It was 10-6 Bengals at the half, with a 19-point fourth quarter from Cincinnati being the difference. The Raiders won four straight to close the season, including beating the Colts and Chargers in consecutive weeks to end the season. But the Bengals have an opportunistic defense and an explosive offense. Hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2015, the atmosphere figures to be electric. I think this one will be a great way to kick off the playoffs.
The Pick: Las Vegas Raiders
New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6)
A matchup of divisional rivals, this playoff game will be the rubber match of the season. The teams first met on Monday, December 6 in Buffalo. It was a cold and snowy night, as the Patriots ran all over the Bills. Mac Jones threw it just three times, but the Patriots rushed for 222 yards in a 14-10 win. In the re-match on December 26, the Bills turned the tables, recording a 33-21 win in New England. That win saw Josh Allen throw for 314 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Bills complete a comeback to win the AFC East. So, the teams meet again, back in Buffalo. And it’s again supposed to be cold with some reports suggesting it will be 0 degrees at game time. The Patriots were the hotter team when these two first met, with the Bills heating up before the second meeting and to end the season. Following the first meeting between these rivals the Bills finished 4-1. The Patriots finished 1-3. But in this rivalry, anything can happen. This is a great first Prime Time battle.
The Pick: Buffalo Bills
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
The first game on Sunday doesn’t figure to be that close, but you never know. The Eagles were a delightful story this season, a team many picked to be among the league’s worst that ended up winning nine games for first-year coach Nick Sirianni to earn a playoff spot. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are the defending champions. They returned all their starters but have battled injuries all season. It comes down to two quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts went 8-7 in his first year as a full-time starter, throwing for 3,144 yards, 16 TDs and 9 INTs along with 784 rushing yards and 10 more TDs. For the Eagles to have a chance, Hurts will need to be a threat as a runner and passer. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are relying on Tom Brady, who turned in an MVP-like season with 5,316 yards, 43 TDs and 6 INTs. The Buccaneers will really need Brady, too. Chris Godwin is done for the year; Antonio Brown is no longer on the team and Ronald Jones and Cyril Grayson are doubtful. Leonard Fournette could be back, and Brady figures to have Mike Evans and old reliable Rob Gronkowski, but he’s going to have to work some magic to help the Buccaneers advance. Regardless, I think he gets it done.
The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
This could be the most intriguing matchup of Super Wild Card Weekend. The 49ers were the last team in on the NFC side, coming up with a big overtime win over the Rams to advance and set up a matchup with the Cowboys. Jimmy Garoppolo returned from a thumb injury to help lead the 49ers in Week 18 and figures to be the man under center Sunday, while offensive weapons Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell help lead the attack. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have an explosive offense all their own. Dak Prescott had a great season, setting Cowboys records with 37 pass TDs to go with 4,449 yards. He has plenty of weapons too in receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, tight end Dalton Schultz and running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. But it’s been the revitalized Cowboys’ defense, led by rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, that has helped the team to 12 wins and a division title. The defense for San Francisco is also stout, especially up front, making this an intriguing battle of contenders. The Cowboys were my pre-season pick for the Super Bowl, so I can’t quit them now!
The Pick: Dallas Cowboys
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
The Steelers took an interesting path to the post-season. The team was 1-3 early on, sitting in last place in the AFC North. But the Steelers continued to fight and claw, leaning on rookie running back Najee Harris and aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to win enough games to make it to the playoffs. The Chiefs, meanwhile, came into the season having appeared in two straight Super Bowls and three straight AFC Championship Games. The Chiefs struggled out of the gate, starting 3-4 on the season. The team then won eight straight, the last of those being a 36-10 win over the Steelers on December 26. The game wasn’t even really that close as a fourth quarter touchdown from the Steelers made things more respectable. It’s hard to imagine this game is going to be much closer. Harris is dealing with an elbow injury that limited him in Week 18 and held him out of practice this week. That puts more pressure on the Big Ben and the Steelers’ defense, which seems like a bad thing.
The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
Another divisional game in the first round of the playoffs, and another matchup that will serve as the rubber match for these two teams. The Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles on October 3, the fourth week of the regular season. At the time, both teams were undefeated, with the Cardinals winning 37-20 to move to 4-0. When the teams met again on December 13 in Arizona, the Rams won 30-23, gaining the upper hand in the division. The Rams struggled some down the stretch, including a loss in Week 18 to the San Francisco 49ers that dropped them to the No. 4 seed. Matthew Stafford had a strong season, but he’s thrown seven interceptions in the last three games which is not what the Rams are looking for heading into the playoffs. The Cardinals have also slumped to end the season, dropping four of their final five games after a 7-0 start had them out in front of the NFC at one point. This should be a heck of a matchup to close out Super Wild Card Weekend.
The Pick: Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.