All of the long days and nights over the past five months, from preseason jubilation to the midseason rollercoaster, and hair loss down the stretch, has brought us here. The playoffs have begun. For fans of the 14 teams still in contention, congratulations, and welcome to the race to Super Bowl LVI. For the rest of you, my condolences. I know that this weekend will be unbearable for some, and if you simply can’t bring yourself in front of your TV, I understand. For everyone who will still be partaking in the weekends’ festivities, here’s a look into what lies ahead.
Game 1, 4:30 EST, NBC: Raiders(+190) @ Bengals(-108) | LV +5.5, O/U 49
The playoffs begin with a battle between Sin City and Cincinnati. It’s a rematch between the Raiders and Bengals, with the first of their contests coming in week 11. The Bengals traveled to Las Vegas then, and won, in convincing fashion, 32-13. The Raiders got themselves into the No. 7 seed by riding their defense which made a notable turnaround following that home loss to Cinci. In 4 of their last 7 games, the defense allowed 20 or less points to opponents, although they lost 2 of the other 3 in which they allowed an average of 37.6 points. Those three games were against Dallas, Kansas City, and Los Angeles (Chargers), all of which are, or at least were at one point, legitimate contenders. That said, it’s fair to assume that the Bengals offense will make the proper adjustments and continue at the fast pace it did for the majority of the regular season. I like the Joe Burrow /Ja’Marr Chase connection having a big day here and inciting a shoot out. Derek Carr is down to sling it and keep up. Over 49 feels like a homerun.
Game 2, 8:15 EST, CBS: Patriots(+172) @ Bills(-205) | NE +4, O/U 44
Game two on Saturday is game three between New England and Buffalo. The two split on the regular season, and the Bills were able to stay a step ahead en route to their second consecutive AFC East title. The first game between these two was week 13 and the weather played a massive role in the outcome. Freezing temperatures, sleet, and gale force winds were ripping through Buffalo. It did not bode well for the Bills success as those conditions call for a consistent rushing attack, and the Patriots running back room is far superior to that of the Bills. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson combined for 189 yards on 34 carries and dominated the momentum. A final score of 14-10 emerged in favor of New England, and Buffalo’s toughness was brought to question. Three weeks later, the two met again, this time in New England, in much more favorable weather. The Bills rolled with Josh Allen throwing three touchdowns on the day, and the final score, 33-21, sealed their divisional title. This evening edition of Super Wild Card Weekend is taking place in Buffalo, with single-digit temperatures in the forecast. Josh Allen has a lot to prove to the city of Buffalo and Bills Mafia in regards to his ability to overcome adversity. Expect a dog fight on Saturday night, and the best plan to prevail. Bill Belichick will be on the opposing sideline, so keep that in mind when putting money on this one.
Game 1, 1:00 EST, FOX: Eagles(+300) @ Buccaneers(-375) | PHI +8.5, O/U 45.5
The Sunday slate kicks off with the Eagles visiting the reigning champs in Tampa Bay. The second largest underdog spread of the week provokes some interesting thoughts. Philadelphia finished the regular season as the leader in rushing yards per game (159.7), and the Bucs allowed the third least yards per game on the ground (92.5). So, where do you put your stock? Offense or defense? Defense wins championships, but the Buccaneers average ground yards was up over 100 yards in the final three games of the year as they wrestled with injury. If the Eagles can be physical and efficient on Sunday, they will have a legitimate chance at knocking off last years champs. However, Tom Brady is under center and it’s never a good idea to bet against the G.O.A.T. I’ve learned that lesson one too many times. Believe in the birds to represent Philly pride and fight ’til the end. Shitty weather in Tampa may limit the passing game on both sides. Eagles +8.5 all the way!
Game 2, 4:30 EST, CBS: 49ers(+136) @ Cowboys(-162) | SF +3, O/U 51
On paper, this is the best shot at an upset for the weekend. The Niners stack up against the Cowboys exceptionally well and present an extremely physical threat to a flashy Dallas team. There’s something in the air that just smells like an ass kicking here. Certainly under 51, and hammer every Niners rushing prop you can find. This is a classic rivalry revived; trust in the football gods to oversee an old-school smash-mouth brawl to break out in Dallas. San Fran on the moneyline is super hot fire on Super Wild Card Weekend.
Game 3, 8:15 EST, NBC: Steelers(+500) @ Chiefs(-700) | PIT +12.5, O/U 46.5
Andy Reid and the No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs host Mike Tomlin, and the No. 7 seed Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The jury is still out on whether this will be a Kansas City blowout, or a classic Chiefs vs Steelers showdown. The last time they met in the playoffs was the 2017 Divisional Round at Arrowhead. The Chiefs hung around all night, but, with about ten minutes remaining, had a successful 2-point try taken away for a holding call. The final was 18-16, Pittsburgh, and the Chiefs season was over. Since Patrick Mahomes has taken over in Kansas City, the Chiefs are 2-0 against the Black and Gold by a combined score of 78-47. There’s surely reason to believe that trend would continue, particularly considering Vegas’ stance. 12.5 points is the greatest margin a team has ever faced as an underdog in the Wild Card round. Tough to put your money on historical trends when the recent events are so glaring, but are you willing to completely remove it from memory?
8:15 EST, ESPN/ABC: Cardinals(+166) @ Rams(-198) | ARI +3.5, O/U 49.5
The Cards and Rams split the regular season, and are a tale of two cities. The Rams were questioned all year based on their strength of schedule, but none the less, against NFL competition, won 5 of their last 6 games of the regular season. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were the week 7 champions, as they began the season 7-0, but they ran out of gas and won only 2 of their last 6. The Rams offense, led by the Matthew Stafford/Cooper Kupp connection that resulted in the second greatest statistical season in NFL history, is incredibly fast paced. The only way I see Arizona keeping up in their divisional foe’s house is if Kyler Murray from the first two months of the season shows up. Rams -3.5 and the under are calling on Monday Night Football.