It wasn’t easy, but eventually I nudged over the break-even mark at 23-21. Now, on to the more important games. Playoffs are here, with No. 7 seeds that no one asked for after a 17th game that just as few people wanted. But it’s hard to ignore the thrill of postseason football, and fans are back this year as they should be.
Let’s dive into what they are calling “Super” Wild Card Weekend, although there is really nothing super about two SEVEN seeds from Pennsylvania being sent out as sacrificial lambs for last year’s conference champions:
Last week: 6-4
Season: 23-21 (.523)
Las Vegas at Cincinnati (-5.5)
The Raiders and Bengals don’t often win playoff games, and even their mere presence in the tournament feels rare. Cincy is the AFC North champ for the first time since 2015, and the Raiders are in the dance for just the second time since losing Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season. Can Derek Carr keep the magic rolling in his first career playoff start? Can Joe Burrow, in his first playoff start, keep putting up ridiculous numbers? My gut feeling is the Raiders won’t be pushed out of this thing without a fight and with all the pressure actually on Cincinnati, it should stay close throughout. Pick: Raiders.
New England at Buffalo (-4)
I feel like we should ask the same question every time these teams meet — who do you trust more, Bill Belichick and his six Super Bowl wins, or Sean McDermott and his two career playoff wins (both last year)? The answer is so obvious, even after the Bills went into Foxborough and got their revenge from that embarrassing Monday night loss in early December when the Pats attempted only three passes. This is a Bills team with no obvious identity, and they didn’t even look all that convincing in last week’s division-clinching, 27-10 win over the Jets. Even with Mac Jones making his first career playoff start, I trust the Hooded Genius to keep his team in it the whole game. Pick: Patriots.
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay (-8.5)
Call me crazy, but I think the Eagles can hang tough here. After all, the franchise knows a thing or two about beating Tom Brady in the postseason after their upset win in Super Bowl LIII four seasons ago. The first meeting was close, 28-22, and I feel like it could be the same thing here with a Philadelphia team that can both run the ball and stop the run. Brady to Gronkowski could lead the way again, and ultimately I don’t think the Eagles will have a good answer for Gronk, but this Bucs team hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence down the stretch. I expect Brady to win his 35th career postseason game, but not without a fight. Pick: Eagles.
San Francisco at Dallas (-3)
Keeping with the theme of not going the obvious route, the first underdog I’m not going to pick is the one that probably has the best chance to win outright. You can’t help but admire the gutsy performance of the much-maligned Jimmy Garoppolo last week in leading his Niners back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Rams and clinch a postseason berth, and Deebo Samuel is about as fun a player to watch as any in the NFL. But something tells me in a game where all eyes are on Dak Prescott, it’s going to be the Cowboys defense that shines brightest in getting the Boys to the divisional round. Pick: Cowboys.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City (-12.5)
What a matchup this is — a battle of two franchises that can only reach or win the Super Bowl when they avoid playing Tom Brady. Here’s a fun fact about the Chiefs franchise in the 21st century: of the four other AFC quarterbacks besides Patrick Mahomes to play in a Super Bowl that they’ve faced in the postseason, they’re 0-7. They’ve lost thrice to Brady (2015, 2018, 2020), twice to Peyton Manning (2003, 2006), once to Joe Flacco (2010), and once to Sunday’s opponent, Ben Roethlisberger (2016). That 2016 divisional round game was actually Pittsburgh’s most recent playoff win before they, of course, were wiped out by the Patriots in the AFC championship game. The good news is that the AFC’s new evil empire has to play a game that they wouldn’t have in years past as a No. 2 seed, but the bad news is that they get to play just about the easiest opponent possible. Big Ben extended his career one more week, but he and Mahomes are two QBs heading in opposite directions in terms of playoff success. Roethlisberger began his playoff career 10-2, but is just 2-6 since. Mahomes, on the other hand, is 8-2, with both losses coming against Brady. While I don’t think KC will win by 26 again, I don’t really expect them to struggle much, meaning they should still cover the big number against a 9-7-1 Pittsburgh team that is honestly lucky to be in the playoffs. Pick: Chiefs.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams (-4)
The road team won both meetings during the regular season, but the Cardinals are definitely the less trustworthy team here. Arizona is 8-1 on the road, with that one loss shockingly coming by 18 points to the 3-13-1 Lions, but finished the season 1-4 after a 10-2 start (a stretch that began with a loss to the Rams on Monday Night Football). Matthew Stafford is seeking his first career postseason win against Kyler Murray in his first career postseason start, but I feel it will be Aaron Donald that has the biggest impact in this game in helping the Rams defeat their NFC West rivals. Pick: Rams.