Wild Card Weekend is upon us and it’s both later and bigger than ever, thanks to Week 18 and also money. With two games on Saturday, three on Sunday, and one on Monday that would be inexplicable except for the aforementioned “money” thing, there are a lot of picks to make, but the big one is early on Sunday when the Eagles visit the Buccaneers.
The guys will do the normal Quick Picks bit for that game, as well as offer some brief insight and a pick for the other games, including the customary two-point Lock of the Week.
#5 Las Vegas Raiders at #4 Cincinnati Bengals
Joe: Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow is one of the two most exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL. The other, Justin Herbert, isn’t in the playoffs thanks to…well, thanks to his own head coach, probably, but also the Raiders’ last-second field goal on Sunday night. The Bengals are one of the best stories of 2021, with their young core prepared to run the AFC North for the next half-decade. Meanwhile, the Raiders are the first team to make a coaching change mid-season and still reach the playoffs. As much as I’d love to see the Bengals move on and become America’s Divisional Round Underdog, there’s something about the way the Raiders have pulled together behind interim coach Rich Bisaccia to win four in a row and make the playoffs that makes me think they’ll get at least one more win. Pick: Raiders
John: If any team goes from out of nowhere to the Super Bowl, they are playing in this game. Derek Carr just kinda has that thing that makes you think he can pull off a win, yet he’s playing on a team that barely made it to the playoffs. On the other side? Joe Burrow and the upstart Bengals. I expect Burrow to make his NFL postseason debut with authority and pillage the Raiders. Pick: Bengals
#6 New England Patriots at #3 Buffalo Bills
Joe: Ah yes, a classic matchup between the AFC East’s reigning dynasty and…the Patriots?!? The Bills have now won two consecutive division crowns, but if they can’t put the Pats down on Saturday night, it will almost feel like they were for naught. Earlier this season, the Patriots famously went into whatever they’re calling Ralph Wilson Stadium these days and threw three whole passes en route to a victory. The Bills won in New England later on, and so long as Josh Allen’s insurance plan considers Bart Scott to be out of network, they should be able to take advantage of a weakened Patriots secondary and move on to the Divisional Round. Pick: Bills
John: This might finally be Buffalo’s year, so of course their top nemesis is lurking in the first round. The hardest game to predict this week pits The Favorite vs. History, but I still expect Buffalo’s defense to stop Mac Jones and earn at least one win in the playoffs this year. Pick: Bills
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers at #2 Kansas City Chiefs
Joe: I referenced the Chargers-Raiders game earlier, in which everyone outside of a certain demographic was rooting for a tie that would have seen both teams make the playoffs. That demographic, of course, was the Yinzers, who get to enjoy the Ben Roethlisberger Experience for one more week. Emphasis on “one,” because after a slow start, the Chiefs are primed to go back to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive Janu…er, February. Almost any other team or any other quarterback, and America would be rooting for the upset. But this team and this quarterback will have America saying “Patrick is Ma-Homie” on Sunday night. Pick: Chiefs (lock)
John: The Steelers backed into the playoffs by accident. Their opponent? A team that is making a run at a dynasty. This is a no-brainer…the clock finally strikes midnight on Big Ben in a non-dramatic road loss. Pick: Chiefs (lock)
#5 Arizona Cardinals at #4 Los Angeles Rams
John: If Green Bay wasn’t in the way, I’d expect the Rams to go far this year, but I’m not sure they can beat the Packers if they match up next week. For now, Rams fans will be able to enjoy a win over the Cardinals. Look for Matt Stafford to earn his first-ever playoff win. Pick: Rams
Joe: The Rams had a chance to secure the second seed with a win over San Francisco on Sunday, and ran out to a big lead in response. They then blew it, meaning we get to hear all about how “Matthew Stafford can’t win the big game” for another week. And since we now have Monday playoff games, we get an extra day of that tacked on. What we haven’t heard enough about is how the Cardinals have faltered as the season has reached its second half; the team that was once the NFL’s best blew a chance to win the division and play at home this weekend by losing on the final day to the golf course-bound Seahawks. Kyler Murray is probably just a step behind Burrows and Herbert when it comes to exciting young quarterbacks, but after this weekend, he’ll be level with them in one regard: none of them will have won a playoff game, but Matthew Stafford will. Pick: Rams
#6 San Francisco 49ers at #3 Dallas Cowboys
John: I hate it. I really, really hate making this pick… but the Cowboys looked good all year. I expect them to fall flat on their face at some point this season, but their defense is scary. Micah Parsons can just terrorize a team and that just might be the 49ers. This stands to be another easy win for the home team Pick: Cowboys
Joe: I posited last week that the Cowboys needed to use their Week 18 matchup with the Eagles to “get right” heading into the playoffs; well, Mike McCarthy agreed, playing his starters to the tune of 51 points against an Eagles team that was only kind of trying. What does it mean? I have no idea. I do know that the Cowboys have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and probably should have won even more than the 12 games they did this season, and that there could be some really good battles between the Birds and the ‘Boys in the years to come. This week, a lot of pundits are talking about how much trouble the 49ers could cause for Dallas, and how San Francisco’s run-heavy offense means Jimmy Garoppolo won’t have to do too much, and if he doesn’t have to do too much…I ain’t buyin’ it. Dallas is good, really good, and I think they’ll show it on Sunday. Pick: Cowboys
#7 Philadelphia Eagles at #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
John: Will the Eagles win on Saturday? Probably not. There is, however, a pathway to victory that I am willing to ride to put the 2021-22 Quick Picks contest to rest.
The Philadelphia Eagles feel like they have one “Any Given Sunday” win in them. To pull that feat off, they have to overcome two obstacles: a stout run defense that can stuff their strength…and the greatest quarterback of all time.
But Tom Brady isn’t the most unbeatable quarterback to ever walk on the gridiron. The Eagles have done it once before and can do it again. While there is a cast change, one constant between this year’s team and the Super Bowl team is its offensive line. They have to dominate the Buccaneers, keep Tom Brady off the field, and give their coach a chance to be confident enough to be aggressive. A secondary offensive threat like Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, or Quez Watkins may also have to emerge to tip the scales. Their redemption would help Jalen Hurts announce his presence as an emerging QB with an upset.
It’s a tall order, but it can happen. The second part of this surmountable task is a front four that needs to get pressure on Tampa’s quarterback. Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargarve, and Josh Sweat need to apply enough pressure so that Jonathan Gannon doesn’t feel the need to blitz and let his linebackers get eaten alive by Tampa Bay’s tight ends. If that happens, the Eagles will win on Sunday. It’s hard to believe that anything less would be a recipe for victory. Pick: Eagles 31, Buccaneers 28
Standouts: Dallas Goedert / Slay
Joe: The Eagles essentially gave themselves a bye week before their Wild Card matchup in Tampa, but the reality is that unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll help. The biggest thing the Eagles have going for them is their running game, and the Bucs are one of the best in the league at stopping the run. Their defensive weakness is through the air, but the Eagles just aren’t equipped to take advantage of it.
On the other side, the Eagles defense has…well…does it even matter? Are they stopping Tom Brady at home? On a perfect day, the line gets good pressure and sacks Brady a few times, “The Artist Formerly Known As Darius” Slay picks one for six, and the Gronk Effect gets minimized just long enough to squeak out a win. I don’t see it happening this week.
I don’t think the Eagles will get blown out – the Bucs’ loss of a couple prominent pass-catching options through injury, and, uh, whatever you want to call the Antonio Brown circus, coupled with the Eagles’ ability to run the ball a bit, should limit the number of possessions – but I don’t think they have enough to pull off what would be a monumental upset. Pick: Buccaneers 24, Eagles 16
Standouts: Rob Gronkowski / Shaquil Barrett