NFL Wildcard Round Predictions
By Christopher Hetu
C/O to NFL.com
At long last, the 2021 NFL Playoffs have finally arrived, this folks is truly the most wonderful time of the year. But just like Christmas, this bonanza will be over before we know it, and 1 of the 14 teams will be crowned the champion of the NFL. Who do you think it's going to be? I hope my Patriots can take on Brady and the Bucs, or maybe Aaron Rodgers get's his last dance as a Packer, or maybe some other team will crawl out of the woodwork to shock us all. Let's not get ahead of ourselves however and dive into each conference. We'll discuss each teams performance throughout the regular season and a prediction for who will come out on top!
Bye Week: (1) Tennessee Titans (12-5) Home field Advantage throughout the playoffs
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) vs. (2) Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
Kickoff: Sunday 1/16 8:15PM EST NBC
Spread: -12.5 Chiefs
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Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City's loss to Cincinnati a couple weeks ago dropped them down to the second seed and despite a win over Denver they remain in that spot. However I still believe this is THE team to beat in the AFC. Mahomes is still one of the leagues top passers as he finished 4th in both passing yards and touchdowns (4,839 yards, 37 TDs, 13 INTs). The offense finished 3rd in the NFL in total offensive yards per game and although their defense gives up a lot of yards they've proven they can stand your team up. Darrell Williams has done a significant job in Clyde Edwards-Helaire's absence and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have another season where they each go for over 1,000 receiving yards.
Pittsburgh has really had to fight to get their spot here, no one would have thought the Jacksonville Jaguars would've beaten the Indianapolis Colts the way they did last week. Big Ben must've been biting his nails while watching that incredible Chargers-Raiders game on Sunday Night (Mike Tomlin didn't, he went right to bed). But that Steelers defense has proven they can stop some of the most formidable offenses in football. Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt are both some of the strongest youth players on this team. Najee Harris is a 1,000 yard rusher in his rookie season (307 CAR, 1200 yards, 7 TDs) and Dionte Johnson is having a career best (107 Rec, 1161 yards, 8 TDs). The Pittsburgh Steelers got a lot of help, but in the NFL only the strongest survive, this team was one of them.
This could possibly be one of the biggest blowouts we'll see this weekend or the Steelers will make a push to get back in the game only for it to be too late. I just don't see in any case that the Chiefs lose control of this game. Even though Ben Roethlisberger went 30-44 which isn't terrible but there were some really off throws, one which resulted in a pick. The Steelers are going to need to run a lot of trick plays that involve dump offs and screens to Harris or Washington.
Ben just can't deliver deep balls like he used to and that defense is going to really need to be screaming on all cylinders to force Mahomes into making a mistake. I know I'm basing a lot of my opinion on the 36-10 blowout the Chiefs gave Pittsburgh but Mahomes went 23-30, 258 passing yards and 3TDs to Bens miserable 23-35, 159 passing yards, 1TD and 1 INT. But I'm sorry I just don't think Pittsburgh will put up much of a fight, they are going to play a decent game but the Chiefs are going to get too far ahead and by the time Pittsburgh starts to rally, it'll be too late
Final Score: KC: 33 PIT: 20
(6) New England Patriots (10-7) vs. (2) Buffalo Bills (11-6)
Location: Highmark Stadium, Buffalo, NY
Kickoff: Saturday 1/15 8:15PM EST CBS
Spread: -4.0 Bills
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The Buffalo Bills have been one of the most interesting teams all season, dominating teams in many games while being shocked in the games they should've been competitive in. Ever since their back to back losses to the Patriots and the Buccaneers this team has won four straight games to end the regular season. Josh Allen looks like the field general he should be, Stefan Diggs and the rest of the receiving core pose a tremendous threat to any secondary, the run games slowly taking off and that defense is still one of the best in football.
New England Patriots
The Patriots came out of nowhere from sitting at a 2-4 four record to suddenly winning 7 straight games to move to 9-4 and be the number 1 seed in the AFC in the beginning of December. But ever since then they have lost 4 out of their last 5 games including a game at home to Buffalo. The defense has proven they can be solid but last weeks 33-24 loss to Miami really put a lot of doubts if this team can play on the big stage. Mac Jones has been the most impressive rookie quarterback we've seen all season but he's had a rocky stretch of games these last few weeks. If they're going to make an impression in this matchup, they need to strike early, Mac needs to make smart decisions and that run game needs to be solid. If this team competes well offensively they should give their defense enough momentum to keep them ahead.
This is the third time these teams have faced off this season, the Bills have won their second straight AFC East Title, there's a lot in terms of bragging rights this season. The Patriots definitely have a chance to win with the great mind of Bill Belichick but personally I think the Bills will prevail in this one. Josh Allen has played New England very well since he became the starter in Buffalo and that offense just thrives in the heat of the moment. The Patriots will draw up some plays however that will deceive the Bills and definitely keep them in the mix. Ultimately it will come down to which team makes the first mistake, and I'll take veteran over youth in this one. The Patriots will play well but it'll come down to Josh Allen to make one last play to setup Tyler Bass for the game winning field goal. The biggest downfall to the Pats in this one will be settling for field goals instead of walking away with 7 on the board.
Final Score: Bills 31 Pats 30
(5) Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) vs. (4) Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Kickoff: Saturday 1/15 4:30PM EST NBC
Spread: -5.0 Bengals
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Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders have easily had the MOST controversial season in all of the NFL, from firing their head coach and to several players being arrested this team has carried on. It all came down to last weeks game, win and you're in, however it could've been tie and you're both in! Yay! Dan Carlson said, "SCREW THAT!" as he kicked the game winning field goal that punched the Raiders ticket to a playoff berth.
To be honest this Raiders team looks really damn good, Derrick Carr has passed for 4,804 passing yards (career high), Hunter Renfrow has been a number 1 option all season long, Darren Waller might make it to this one, and Josh Jacobs proved he can be a great back. That Raiders defense has proven they can shut down and make great plays against a lot of tough opponents. I like their odds in this one.
Joe Burrow is truly the second coming for Bengals fans, this is one of the best young quarterbacks to ever be drafted in the last decade. Coming back from an ACL tear Burrow has posted 4611 passing yards, 34 TDs and 14 INTs in his second season! The offense is easily in the top ten with breakout players like JaMarr Chase and Tee Higgins as well as a tough running attack from Joe Mixon. This team almost beat Green Bay early on in the season, final score was 25-22 but in Week 17 this team proved they were playoff ready when they took down the Kansas City Chiefs in a thriller 34-31. All it's going to take is a strong performance from Burrows offensive line and defense in order for them to continue their track forward.
This game could be one of the most entertaining matchups of Wildcard Weekend, two sneaky and solid teams both coming into this one and it seems pretty evenly matched. Burrow and Carr are going to be slinging the ball constantly and once again it's going to come down with which team will make the first mistake. But the biggest X-Factor here is Joe Burrow's offensive line, we saw how him getting banged up in Week 17 resulted in him missing last weeks game. The Raiders front seven was screaming at Justin Herbert last week and if they can continuously do that to Burrow all game I think they'll once again sneak away with a win. I believe both teams will fight a good fight and this one will head into overtime with the Raiders scoring after winning the coin toss FIRST POSSESSION.
Final Score: Raiders 41 Bengals 35 OT
Bye Week: (1) Green Bay Packers (13-4) Home field advantage throughout the playoffs
(7) Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
Kickoff: Sunday 1/16 1:00PM EST FOX
Spread: -8.5 Buccaneers
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The Eagles snuck into playoffs in Week 17, almost under the raider, that and their easy schedule down the stretch. But the way the NFC worked this season was these juggernaut teams beat up on everyone that these bottom seeds are up for grabs. The Eagles took advantage of that, boasting 1st place in the NFL in total yards rushing between Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Boston Scott. DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert have proven to be reliable targets down the stretch. The Defense is ranked 10th in the NFL in terms of total yards allowed and even in the pass and run game the bast top 10/15 numbers. However, this team hasn't defeated a single playoff team once this season, if they're gonna walk the walk they need to talk the talk this weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The defending Super Bowl Champions are right back where they want to be in the race for the Lombardi trophy. Brady is boasting MVP numbers once again as he was 100 yards shy of the single season record held by Peyton Manning (Brady 5316, Manning 5477). Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette look healthy and read to go for a postseason run and the defense still looks like one of the leagues best. The formula is still the same for this team, just without the likes of Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, but Brady has proven he can still deliver the strikes with the guys they have. As long as this team can march down the field and stop the opposing offenses they'll be back where they were last year.
People don't realize that this could still be a really good and competitive game. Sure the Eagles haven't played well against competitive teams but this is the postseason. Brady and the Bucs have been shaky in the first half for the tail end of the season, if the Eagles can get up early they'll pose as a strong threat. However, as impressive as the Eagles have been, one year after Carson Wentz was traded, I still believe the Buccaneers will have the upper hand in this one. Brady has proven he shouldn't be doubted and I won't doubt him in this one because the matchup looks too tasteful for him and his squad
Final Score: Buccaneers 38 Eagles 28
(6) San Francisco 49ers (10-7) vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Kickoff: Sunday 1/16 4:30PM EST CBS
Spread -3.0 Cowboys
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San Fransisco 49ers
Westward Expansion. The Gold Rush. Insert Pun Here: This. Team. Is. For. Real. Everyone wrote off the 49ers after last season but it truly shows that having a healthy team is what brought them to where they are now. Going into halftime down last weekend 17-3 and managing to comeback and win 27-24 is just destiny, this team wants it all! Jimmy Garoppolo played with an injured finger and still threw for over 300 passing yards even Deebo Samuel threw a touchdown through the air and on the ground. This team proved last weekend they have the weapons on offense and their defense (ranked 3rd in total yards allowed) is back to full strength. If you're an NFC team be afraid of these Niners, I expect them to put on a show this weekend.
If there was a year for Dallas to end it's Super Bowl drought, it's this year. After coming off a season ending injury last year, Dak Prescott posted over 4,000 passing yards, and 30+ touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliot is still eating up his rushing yards as he just broke the 1,000 yard mark for the fourth time in his career, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and the rest of Cowboys pass catchers have been reliable all season. On defense that front seven being lead by Micah Parsons is just flat out scary and even Trevon Diggs leading that secondary could allow Dallas to move onto the next round of the playoffs.
This is probably the toughest game to pick, two amazing offenses and defenses going head to head. Both head coaches have been to Super Bowls in their career so this is going to be a tight game there's just no way around it. The 49ers need to attack Prescott early and create disgusts to bait him into mistakes, this will come from shutting down Zeke's run game in an effort to force Dak to pass and make those mistakes. However for the 49ers to be successful Jimmy G's gonna have to limit his use of throwing the ball at times and run the ball. For the Cowboys Dak is going need to step up at times when his team needs him and the defense is going to have to force Jimmy G to make a mistake. Either way very similar plans to the game, ultimately the 49ers should come out by the skin of their teeth, I trust Kyle Shanahan more than Mike McCarthy in this one folks.
Final Score: 49ers 30 Cowboys 26
(5) Arizona Cardinals (11-6) (4) Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
Location: So-Fi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Kickoff: Monday 1/17 8:15PM EST ESPN
Spread: -4.0 Rams
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The Cardinals have been a pretty solid unit all season long, despite dropping games without Kyler Murray, with him at the helm this team will be in games. Despite DeAndre Hopkins going down mid-season many members of the Cardinals have stepped up including Christian Kirk, AJ Green, James Connor and Chase Edmonds. The defense is still solid on the pass rush and are 4th in the league in turnover differential. If they're going to play well in this one, they're going to need Kyler Murray to finish possessions with touchdowns rather than sending out Matt Prater for 3.
Los Angeles Rams
If this team gets going, look out because they will be the team to beat if anyone wants a chance to move onto the Super Bowl. Cooper Kupp finally took home the wide receiver triple crown and was about 20 yards shy of Calvin Johnson's single season receiving record (Kupp: 1947 Johnson: 1964). Cam Akers returning will help take pressure off Sony Michel in the rushing effort and that defense being lead by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey will be tough to march down on. This teams X-Factor is Matthew Stafford, if he's on point, the team will win the game. Start making silly mistakes and this team will go home losers once again.
Both teams have split their series between one another, but that was a different Cardinals team back in the first five weeks of the season. What gives extra confidence in the Cardinals is when they defeated Dallas two weeks ago, if their defense can play well, this will help Kyler Murray deliver the strikes he needs to. This goes for splitting the ball on the ground between himself and his tailbacks. As for the Rams, they need to put Stafford in a position for him to not have to throw the ball too much. He's proven that if it all comes down to him, that he can't deliver and if your quarterback can't deliver when the game matters most, you will not win a game. I just think the Cardinals are too much of a wildcard to rely on than that solid Rams unit.
Final Score: Rams 26 Cardinals 23