Super Wild Card Weekend consists of 12 teams with one goal, survive and advance. Only six out of 12 teams will advance to the NFL Divisional Round and here are picks for every game along with each team’s X Factor.
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) 4:30 PM on NBC
Pick: Bengals 28, Raiders 24
The Bengals led by 2nd-year quarterback Joe Burrow are set to make their first playoff run since 2015, a first-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, with a win against the Houston Oilers.
However, this seems to be a new era in Cincinnati. It should be noted that Burrow played like an MVP candidate down the stretch. Burrow threw for 971 yards and eight touchdowns against the Chiefs and Ravens. To believe that this Bengals offense can compare to a Chiefs or Cowboys offense when at their best is a stretch, but don’t be surprised to see some explosive play.
After all the Raiders have been through this year as an organization, it’s incredible to see them in this spot. Some notable Raiders highs of the season were beating the Cowboys on Thanksgiving day and their four-game win streak to end the year. But keep in mind they were blown out by the Chiefs twice and the Bengals beat the Raiders 32-13 in Week 10 of the season.
Bengals X-Factor: RB Joe Mixon
Joe Mixon had a comeback year in this regular season with 1,519 yards from line of scrimmage and a career-high of 13 touchdowns. In Week 10 against the Raiders, Mixon had 30 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. If the Bengals can get another big game from Mixon, Burrow should feel comfortable torching the Raiders secondary late in the game.
Raiders X-Factor: TE Darren Waller
Darren Waller has emerged as Derek Carr’s number one target for several seasons. Waller was slowed down by a knee injury he suffered in the Cowboys game in Week 11. Waller will need to have a big impact if the Raiders want any chance of winning games in this playoff. They seemed to become aware of that in the regular-season finale when they targeted Waller nine times.
New England Patriots (10-7) @ Buffalo Bills (11-6) 8:15 PM on CBS
Pick: Bills 24, Patriots 17
The first thing that will come to mind for Bills and Patriots fans is what happened in Week 12 of the regular season when these two teams matched up in Buffalo. It was very cold with blustery winds and the Patriots went into this game ready to run themselves to victory, which they sure did. They ran the ball 46 times for 222 yards and a touchdown while rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw the ball just three times in a 14-10 win.
One might say it is impressive that the Patriots were able to do that and win. I look at it as more embarrassing for the Bills getting beat in the run game like that. But the most impressive part of this game to me is the fact that Josh Allen threw the ball 30 times.
This weekend’s weather conditions won’t be ideal for the Bills or Allen who are proven to struggle in the cold. However, let’s not forget that great Bill Belichick did not want the ball in Jones’ hands in the cold either. Jones went to high school in Jacksonville and then went to Alabama, so there’s not much cold history there either.
Allen may not have great stats in the cold, but we don’t have a good sample size from Jones yet to make a good comparison. We know Belichick’s resume in the cold, but after all, he can’t play in this game. I expect Allen to overcome his struggles in the cold. Saturday’s conditions, although they aren’t great, are not predicted to be as bad as Week 12. The Bills are rolling with four straight victories to close their season. The Patriots have lost three out of their last four. I’ll take the Bills to win at home.
Bills X-Factor: QB Josh Allen
This was an easy one. All eyes are on Allen this week. It’s very important for Allen to lead this team and lead early. If the Bills can jump out to an early lead, I don’t see Mac Jones being able to keep up in this game. Allen will be the best player on the field, and the Bills will put the game in their quarterback’s hands.
Patriots X-Factors: RB Damien Harris and RB Rhamondre Stevenson
I truly believe that when teams get into the playoffs their best bet to win in the playoffs is to stay true to their identity and dominate while doing it. Running the ball will give the Patriots the best chance to win. The Bills have the best pass defense in the NFL. If the Patriots want to have a chance, their best bet is getting an early lead and being able to keep the run game going. You don’t want to put the game in Jones’ hands too early because he hasn’t shown us he can win a shootout yet.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) 1:00 PM on FOX
Pick: Buccaneers 31, Eagles 13
The Eagles didn’t beat one good quarterback this year. They beat backups, starters who were benched, a rookie, and quarterbacks who were salary dumped. Tom Brady picked the Eagles defense apart in Week 6 before the Eagles started to play well in garbage time.
The Eagles who depend on their run game are going up against one of the best run defenses in the league on the road. Also taking into account that Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is dealing with an ankle injury and he’s their best bet at running the football.
I don’t believe the Eagles will be able to be effective on offense, so they will have to depend on their defense to shut down Tom Brady, and I’m more than willing to bet against that happening.
Buccaneers X-Factor: WR Mike Evans
With Chris Godwin out for the year and Antonio Brown no longer with the team, it’s Mike Evans’ job to lead this receiving core and help out Brady by doing what he has always done. Evans had 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. I expect to see the Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich get Evans going early. If they want to go deep in this playoff run, Evans will have to be a big factor.
Eagles X-Factor: TE Dallas Goedert
I believe Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will do his best to take away Hurts’ outside threats, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins, and force Hurts to throw the ball over the middle into traffic. Goedert’s ability to get open will be crucial if the Eagles want to move the chains enough to keep up with Tom Brady’s offense.
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) @ Dallas Cowboys (12-5) 4:30 PM on CBS
Pick: Cowboys 30, 49ers 20
The world is buzzing that the Cowboys don’t match up well with the 49ers. What if I told you the 49ers don’t match up well against the Cowboys? The 49ers haven’t been able to win games when they turn the ball over. Kyle Shanahan’s team has gone 2-6 when they turn the ball over two or more times this season. The Cowboy’s defense has forced two or more turnovers 12 times this season.
The 49ers lack skill at the cornerback position, the Cowboys have two star wide receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. The 49ers can for sure run the ball effectively, but they will need a heroic effort in order to outscore the Cowboys offense. Jimmy Garrapolo is playing through injury, will he take care of the ball? The best-left tackle in football Trent Williams is questionable, will he play?
The Cowboys are the most healthy they have been all season, they picked a good time for it. The 49ers are one of few teams that can match the Cowboys with all the star-studded playmakers they have on both sides of the ball. This is why my prediction comes down to quarterback play. I’ll take Dak Prescott over Jimmy Garrapolo any day of the week.
Cowboys X-Factor: RB Tony Pollard
The Cowboys were able to handle business on the road last week without Tony Pollard but it was against the Eagle’s backups. When you add Pollard to the Cowboy’s offense they become so unpredictable. He’s capable of outrunning anyone and can make a big difference on special teams too as a kick returner. With Ezekiel Elliot’s knee issue that has been lingering all season, Pollard is in a position to be the Cowboy’s secret weapon, don’t be surprised if we see him have a huge impact.
49ers X-Factor: EDGE Nick Bosa
Nick Bosa had an incredible season after tearing his ACL in September of 2020. He contributed 15.5 sacks and was the difference-maker in the 49er’s defense. Dak Prescott will throw the ball a good amount in this game, it’s Bosa’s job to get after Prescott to protect the 49ers secondary from getting exposed by the Cowboy’s offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) 8:15 PM on NBC
Pick: Chiefs 34, Steelers 20
Given the circumstances of where each team is at skills-wise and chemistry-wise, it would be a walk off to remember if Ben Roethlisberger is able to upset the Chiefs. The best thing the Steelers have going for them is T.J. Watt lining up against the right tackle Andrew Wylie which is the weakest spot of the Chief’s offensive line.
Chiefs star WR Tyreek Hill isn’t at 100%. Hill hasn’t been the same player since contracting COVID in Week 16. He’s also dealing with a heel injury.
One thing the Steelers do not have going for them is they don’t have much to offer on the offensive side of the ball. They don’t have a good enough offensive line to protect Roethlisberger, a running game good enough to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field, or the big play ability they might need to hang around with the Chiefs.
This game could be closer than I predict if the Steelers can run the ball effectively against a questionable Chiefs run defense that has struggled to tackle. But will an effective Steelers run game be enough to outscore the Chiefs offense?
Chiefs X-Factor: TE Travis Kelce
The reason I have Kelce as the X-Factor out of all their playmakers is because of matchups. The Steeler’s secondary is good. With free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton. But their weak link on defense is strong safety Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is always tasked with matching up against tight ends, meaning he will be lined up against one of the best, Kelce. The Chiefs should be able to expose this matchup.
Steelers X-Factor: LB T.J. Watt
I already mentioned Watt’s favorable matchup against Chiefs backup RT Andrew Wylie. Watt needs to have a huge game and disrupt Mahomes’ rhythm and flow to give the Steeler’s offense a chance to hang around till late.
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) @ Los Angeles Rams (12-5) 8:15 PM on ABC/ESPN
Pick: Rams 28, Cardinals 24
The Rams have won five out of their last six but still don’t seem that convincing because of their turnover problem. In the season finale against the 49ers, Stafford went 15 for 16 for 153 yards and added two touchdowns in the first half, then went on to throw two interceptions in the second half and lost the game.
The Rams were my pick in the preseason to go to the Super Bowl. I’m not so confident in that anymore, but the stars the Rams will have on the field at home against the Cardinals is enough to convince me of at least one playoff win.
Superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins will be missing from the Wild Card game with a torn MCL. I can imagine a Cardinals turnaround led by Kyler Murray, but they will need to force turnovers and keep up with the high-powered Rams offense.
Rams X-Factor: QB Mathew Stafford
Will we get the confident but under control quarterback? Or will we get the overconfident and at times reckless Mathew Stafford that causes unfortunate turnovers? That will be the game breaker for the Rams. And I’ll bet that Stafford comes ready to play and under control. He doesn’t need to do too much against the Cardinals secondary to win.
Cardinals X-Factor: QB Kyler Murray
This is as much of a QB vs. QB matchup you’re going to get in the Wild Card round. If Murray can not only pass the ball effectively as he has for the majority of the season but can also run the ball effectively he will give the Cardinals a chance. He runs the ball much less than he has in previous seasons. Does that change Monday night? I believe it will need to change for the Cardinals to pull off the upset.