NFL wildcard playoff picks: Favorites to sweep ‘super’ six-game slate | NFL

TOAfter the first Week 18 in NFL history ended a topsy-turvy season in suitably dramatic fashion, we’re headed into the first-ever Super Wild Card Weekend. The NFL is giving us six games in the next three days and while you can’t predict football — just ask the Indianapolis Colts — we can at least make semi-educated guesses about what the next few games will be like.

Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST/9:30 p.m. GMT)

What the Raiders must do to win: Las Vegas was the last team to qualify for the playoffs and will be an underdog on the road on Saturday. Oddly enough, they have a regular season record identical to the Bengals’ 10-7. Given Cincinnati’s history of underachievement, all the pressure is on the other side. If the Raiders can get an early lead, force a key turnover or two with their talented group of pass-rushers, that could be enough to plant the seeds of doubt in their opponents.

What the Bengals must do to win: Quarterback Joe Burrow just has to keep doing what he’s doing, having thrown for 971 yards over the course of the past two games. The last time these two teams met, the Bengals won 32-13, on the road anyway. If he plays like this, this could be a laugh (which is what the league obviously expects, since they put this in the “ratings death” slot on Saturday afternoon). The world is ready for the first text message ever sent to celebrate a victory from the Bengals, who last won a playoff game in 1991.

Key player: Ja’Marr Chase, wide receiver, Bengals. It was a nice story when the Bengals drafted Chase in last year’s NFL draft, reuniting him with his old college quarterback in Joe Burrow. Instead, it was a stroke of genius. The dynamic duo recently set a franchise record, combining for 266 yards and three touchdowns in an impressive Week 17 win over the Chiefs. The two have an almost psychic connection and could be something to watch this postseason.

Prediction: Bengals over Raiders

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (Saturday 8:15pm EST/Sunday 1:15am GMT)

What the Patriots must do to win: Run like the wind. In the previous meeting between these two teams, the Patriots modified their game plan to take advantage of extremely windy weather conditions. Quarterback Mac Jones threw for 19 yards as New England relied on a talented running back corps to pull off a resoundingly hilarious 14-10 win. Jones will have to do more this time, but it wouldn’t hurt to go back to this model.

What the Bills must do to win: Good Josh Allen is going to have to show up. During Allen’s early seasons, the Bills quarterback had serious ball control issues despite his obvious physical talents. After Tom Brady moved to Florida, he has become the best QB in the AFC East. However, old habits are hard to die. In a four-game stretch this season, Allen threw seven interceptions and lost a fumble. He can’t afford that kind of sloppiness again against a Patriots team with one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league.

Key player: JC Jackson, cornerback, Patriots. To do so, Buffalo will have to neutralize this guy. Jackson might be their most impactful player on that side. Jackson’s eight interceptions were the second most in the league this year and he has 25 over the course of his four-year career. The Patriots will desperately need him to work his magic for New England to pull off an upset on the road.

Prediction: Patriot Bills

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m. EST/6 p.m. GMT)

What the Eagles must do to win: I hope momentum is still a thing. The Eagles started their season 2-5, seemingly coming out of the playoff mix, but have seen themselves as a completely different team ever since. Since losing 28-22 to Tampa Bay in Week 6, they’ve even led the league in rushing with 184.8 rushing yards per game. If they keep this up, we should have a competitive ball game.

What the Buccaneers must do to win: Actually, this isn’t the worst time for the Eagles to face the Buccaneers with Tampa Bay still reeling from the fallout from the Antonio Brown situation. Despite his endless shortcomings as a teammate, the team will miss him with Chris Godwin out of season with an ACL injury. If Tom Brady’s favorite wide receiver is “wide receiver,” then the players lower on the depth chart will have to do their best to open up.

Key player: Tom Brady, quarterback, Buccaneers. There is no reason to overthink this. Brady might be the best player in NFL history. He is also 44 years old, and despite all the available evidence, Father Time will finally have his say. He says he wants to play until he’s 50, and maybe he will, but he has to know this game could mark the start of his final Super Bowl run.

Prediction: Buccaneers on Eagles

Jalen hurts
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has fans in Philadelphia forgetting about late franchise player Carson Wentz. Photograph: Derik Hamilton/AP

San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST/9:30 p.m. GMT)

What the 49ers must do to win: Limit the production of Dak Prescott. While the Dallas Cowboys quarterback struggled a bit down the stretch, he finished the season with a 295-yard, five-touchdown performance. If he’s as good as two-thirds on Sunday, that’s probably the bottom line for San Francisco, even if their running game is as good as advertised.

What the Cowboys must do to win: In contrast, Dallas must stop the race. The 49ers, who are basically between the quarterbacks, rely on their running game to wear down opposing defenses. If the Cowboys’ defense, particularly newly acquired free-agent safety Jayron Kearse, can limit his rushing yards, it could prevent the team from even needing a big game from Prescott.

Key player: Deebo Samuel, wide receiver, 49ers. We’re listing Samuel as a wide receiver here, but he’s a new breed of do-it-all offensive player and has amassed a total of 1,845 yards, 365 of them rushing. In fact, with Jimmy Garoppolo injured and rookie Trey Lance not quite ready to take over, Samuel has even occasionally pulled emergency quarterback duties, meaning the 49ers have the luxury of executing “trick plays.” which are just “plays”.

Prediction: cowboys over 49ers

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 8:15 p.m. EST/Monday, 1:15 a.m. GMT)

What the Steelers must do to win: Ben Roethlisberger should have one more big (not just good) game left in his Hall of Fame career. It’s a tall order and even he seems to know it: “Let’s go in, play and have fun,” he said earlier this week. Still, if he stays tall, at least long enough to make a lot of big plays (either with his arms or his feet), maybe his Steelers career will last another week.

What the Chiefs must do to win: The Steelers are 12.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs for a reason. They are playing against the most talented team in the AFC. One hopes Patrick Mahomes and company can score, which means the key question is whether or not the team’s much-improved defense turns into a pumpkin come playoff time. If they can keep getting to Big Ben, the Chiefs win this game.

Key player: Travis Kelce, tight end, Chiefs. Kansas City doesn’t even need Kelce to crush the Steelers, as they showed the last time these two teams met. Even without the most dangerous tight end in the league, the Chiefs swept the Steelers. Kelce should be ready to play on Sunday and that could be very bad news for this Pittsburgh defense.

Prediction: Chiefs over Steelers

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (Monday, 8:15 pm EST/Tuesday, 1:15 am GMT)

What the Cardinals must do to win: With Kyler Murray on their side, the Cardinals have a decisive advantage at quarterback. However, given how good the Rams have been as a team, it won’t matter if the defense doesn’t do its part. The Rams are 9-1 when Matt Stafford is sacked one or fewer times in a game this year, but are 3-4 when he is sacked multiple times. Correlation isn’t always causation… except when it is.

What the Rams must do to win: Well, obviously, the opposite of this is that the Rams will have to keep Stafford upright and Stafford will have to avoid throwing multiple picks. However, he has the experience advantage here, as this will be Murray’s first postseason start. The win-loss record for quarterbacks making their playoff debut in the wild-card round since 2002: 11-31. May the least upset quarterback win.

Key player: Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle, Rams. There are plenty of players to choose from in this matchup, but let’s take this opportunity to praise the most overlooked non-special player on the roster: offensive linemen. Pro Football Focus ranks Whitworth, the second-oldest player left in the NFL playoffs behind you-know-who, as the best pass blocker among his teammates. Stafford is desperate to need him to keep up that level of play.

Prediction: Rams over Cardinals

Leave a Comment