Super Wild Card Weekend kicks off

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The NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend stars Saturday and concludes with a a first ever Monday night playoff game.

Michael Zarich, Staff Writer

Last weekend signaled the end of the NFL regular season. That means 18 teams packed it up and went home while the 14 others started getting ready for the playoffs. 

This weekend is Super Wild Card Weekend with six games running from Saturday through a first ever Monday night playoff game. The good news for Bay Area fans is the 49ers and Raiders both made it to the playoffs. 

Here is a complete preview and prediction for each game during the Super Wild Card Weekend.

No. 5. Las Vegas Raiders at No. 4. Cincinnati Bengals (-6)

Saturday 1:30 p.m. on NBC 

To open up Super Wild Card weekend, the Las Vegas Raiders face the AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals. The Raiders were the last team to make the playoffs and jumped all the way to the No. 5 spot after that thrilling win against the Chargers in overtime last Sunday night. 

The Raiders have faced tons of adversity this year after head coach Jon Gruden resigned and wide receiver Henry Ruggs was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI the resulted in the death of a woman. Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia has taken over and led this team to the playoffs. 

The Bengals won the AFC North for the first time since 2015, sweeping the Ravens and the Steelers. The Bengals and Raiders faced each other in Week 11 with Cincy winning 32-13. The Bengals dominated the run, as Joe Mixon rushed for 123 yards. Vegas had a tough time offensively as the Bengals got pressure all game long on quarterback Derek Carr. It’ll be interesting to see how this one will shape up. 

Raiders keys to the game:

  • Carr has to get going and in rhythm early. The Bengals have a top five rushing defense so Carr is going to need to attack the secondary. Tight end Darren Waller needs to be an impact player once again. 
  • Limit the turnovers.
  • Get pressure on Joe Burrow. The only way to stop Cincy’s offense is to bring pressure on Joe Burrow and not let him get going with his weapons. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakwoue are primed for big games against a weak line.

Bengals keys to the game:

  • Last time they beat the Raiders Mixon ran for 123 yards. Stick with the running game to open up the field with one on one matchups between Chase and Higgins. The Bengals need to buy time in the pocket for Burrow. They’re going to need to find a way to slow down Vegas’s edge rushers, keep them going in a different direction and chip them.
  • Let Burrow cook
  • On defense, Trey Hendrickson is going to need to put pressure on Carr and force mistakes and turnovers. They have a favorable matchup on defense and dominated them physically last time they played.

Prediction: This one’s going to be close for most of the game as both teams have tough physical teams. But the playmakers on the Bengals offensive side of the ball is going to be too much and will overpower the Raiders defense and ultimately help them win. Carr plays well enough to keep it a close one but he makes a few mistakes towards the end that Burrow doesn’t. 

Bengals 33-24

Bengals: 

Offense (NFL rankings)

361.5 yards per game (13)

102.5 rushing ypg (23)

259 passing ypg (7)

27 points per game (7)

Defense

350 ypg (18)

22 ppg (17)

102.5 rushing ypg  (5)

248.4 passing ypg (26)

Raiders:

Offense

363 ypg (11)

22 ppg (18)

95 rushing ypg (28)

268 passing ypg (6)

Defense:

337 ypg (14)

25.8 ppg (26)

114.3 rushing ypg (19)

222 passing ypg (13)

No 6. New England Patriots at No 4. Buffalo Bills (-4)

Saturday 5:15 pm on CBS

The Saturday night showdown is the sequel between two AFC East rivals in the Patriots and Bills. The teams split the season series as the Patriots won the first one in Buffalo 14-10 in Week 13. But the Bills took over the division by defeating the Patriots in New England 33-21 in Week 16. 

This is two very even teams that know each other extremely well which makes this game very intriguing. Will Bill Belichick’s playoff success continue with rookie quarterback Mac Jones? Or does Josh Allen and the Bills make their quest to return back to the AFC Championship?

Bills keys to the game:

  • Allen. If the Bills are going to win this game they’re going to need Allen to carry the offense and make spectacular plays. During their win against New England, Allen threw for 314 yards three TDs and rushed for 64 yards. He made some amazing throws and clutch runs that only himself could make. In the loss, he threw for 145 yards and a score, but he had an interception while only rushing for 39 yards.
  • Establish a running game with Devin Singletary and Allen himself. 
  • Grab a lead and play with it early. The Patriots will try to run the ball and control the time of possession, so grab a lead and make Jones pass the ball.
  • On defense, don’t give up the explosive plays. Damien Harris has had his way against the Bills rushing for 214 yards and three scores in two games against the Bills. Stop the run early and let Jones throw into that talented secondary. Run stoppers Harrison Phillips and Ed Oliver are going to have a tough matchup in the interior. The secondary is very elite with Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson leading the way.

 

Patriots keys to the game:

  • Execute the game plan on offense. Belichick will try to run the ball and make Jones do as little as possible. Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are looking for big games. Look at tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to set the edge as blockers in zone tosses and possibly be the security blankets as receivers to Jones.
  • On defense, pressure Allen and force mistakes. Frustration and pressuring Allen will force him to turn the ball over. Trust Belichick to change up his looks pre snap and after snap. 
  • Stop the run early on and force the Bills to have to only pass the ball the entire game. 

Matchup to look at: wide receiver Stefon Diggs against cornerback JC Jackson. These are two of the best at their position which could possibly affect the game in a huge way.

Prediction: Belichick in a playoff game is always going to be tough. The team that can win on the defensive side of the ball and give their offense the best chance at scoring will win. The team that can stick to the game plan and play their way will have the most success. I’m all in on Allen and what he can do so I’m taking him to make the plays to win and for the Bills defense to make it difficult for Jones.

Buffalo 26-24

Bengals: 

Offense (NFL rankings)

361.5 yards per game (13)

102.5 rushing ypg (23)

259 passing ypg (7)

27 points per game (7)

Defense

350 ypg (18)

22 ppg (17)

102.5 rushing ypg  (5)

248.4 passing ypg (26)

Raiders:

Offense

363 ypg (11)

22 ppg (18)

95 rushing ypg (28)

268 passing ypg (6)

Defense:

337 ypg (14)

25.8 ppg (26)

114.3 rushing ypg (19)

222 passing ypg (13)

Bills

Offense

381 ypg (5th)

28.4 ppg (3rd)

129.9 rushing ypg (6th)

252 passing ypg (9th)

Defense (allowed)

272.8 ypg (1st)

17 ppg (1st)

109 rushing ypg (13th)

163 passing ypg(1st)

Patriots

Offense

353 ypg (15th)

27.2 ppg (6th)

126.5 rushing ypg (8th)

226 passing ypg (14th)

Defense (allowed)

310.8 ypg (4th)

17.8 ppg (2nd)

123.7 rushing ypg (22th)

187 passing ypg (2nd)

No 7. Philadelphia Eagles at No 2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5)

Sunday 10:00 a.m. on FOX 

The first game to kickoff the Sunday trio of games is the No. 7 Eagles going on the road to face the defending champs in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, seeded second.The Eagles finished 9-8 and second in the NFC East behind new head Coach Nick Sririani. It was a surprising year that ended with a playoff berth, but the Eagles went 1-7 against teams with a winning record so the Buccaneers will be a huge challenge. 

The Bucs went 13-4 but faced a challenging year due to injuries. Tom Brady still set career high numbers in yards, completions, and first downs, and he had his highest number of touchdowns thrown since the 2007 season. The Bucs handled the Eagles 28-22 much earlier in the year in Week 6, but this is two completely different teams this time around, so let’s see how they match up.

Eagles keys to game:

  • Philly has been statistically one of the best running teams in the league and a chunk of that has been from quarterback Jalen Hurts. He will need to be a big factor in picking up first downs with his legs. The Eagles should have their core of running backs healthy in Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott. Philly has a tough, physical offensive line, but they will have its hand full against a stout Bucs run defense. The Buccaneers will have Vita Vea and Ndamukoung Suh ready to go. 
  •  The weakness during the season for the Bucs defense was their depleted secondary. Sean Murphy Bunting, Jameal Dean and Carlton Davis will all be healthy, so the Eagles’ receivers Dallas Goedert and Devanta Smith will need to win one on one matchups.
  • On defense, it’s all about making Brady uncomfortable. Tampa has a top three offense, so it’ll be tough to stop regardless. Philly has to get some pressure on Brady and force turnovers
  • Main game plan: Control the time of possession and have success running the ball. 
  • Impact players: DT Javon Hargrave, who led the team in sacks, and Pro Bowl corner Darious Slay, who will be on Mike Evans.

Buccaneers keys to the game:

  • Tampa Bay as a whole have a good matchup against Philly. They can stop the run at an elite level and force turnovers. 
  • On offense, running back Leonard Fournette should be back and he’ll be a huge factor in the running game and in the passing attack as a checkdown option to Brady.
  •  Let Brady cook and don’t look back. With a lead and this offense playing to its best, the eagles stand no chance of competing in a shootout. 

Prediction:

The Buccaneers are the better team here and should be getting key guys back like Fournette, and outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre Paul. That being said, the Eagles don’t have the talent or offense to keep up with the Buccaneers

Buccaneers 30-13

Eagles

Offense

359.9 ypg (14th)

26.1 ppg (12th)

159.7 rushing ypg (1st)

200 passing ypg (25th)

Defense (allowed)

328 ypg (10th)

22.6 ppg (18th)

107.9 rushing ypg (9th)

220 passing ypg (11th)

Buccaneers

offense

405.9 ypg (2nd)

30.1 ppg (2nd)

98.4 rushing ypg (24th)

307.4 passing ypg (1st)

Defense (allowed)

331 ypg (13th)

20.8 (5th)

92.5 rushing ypg(3rd)

238.9 passing ypg (21st)

No 6. San Francisco 49ers at No 3. Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)

Sunday 1:30 p.m. on CBS

Perhaps the most intriguing game of the weekend is between the 49ers and Cowboys. The 49ers finished 10-7 and clinched a playoff berth after a thrilling win against the Rams 27-24 in overtime in Week 18. That game showed a lot of resilience and heart from a team that looked out of the playoffs, but they erased a 17-0 deficit to clinch a playoff spot. The Cowboys won the NFC East at 12-5 for the first time since 2018.  This matchup is between two very even teams and could be decided based off of time of possession and turnovers. 

49ers keys to the game:

  • Coach Kyle  Shanahan vs  defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is an intriguing matchup as both of them coached together in Atlanta
  • The 49ers are a running team and are at their best when they figure out different designed running plays whether it’s with Deebo Samuel in the backfield or in motion, or rookie stud Elijah Mitchell. Left tackle Trent Williams should be back and is one of the best in the league. 
  • Dallas’s d line is going to need to stop the run and make quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo make tight window throws. The Cowboys play man to man so they’ll need to make plays on the ball and create turnovers. The Cowboys are the top team in takeaways, so their playmakers in Trevon Diggs, Randy Gregory, Micah Parsons, and Jayron Kearse are going to need to create havoc.
  • The 49ers need to play with a lead, run the ball and control the time of possession. Get the ball in Samuel and tight end George Kittle’s hands and let them make plays

Cowboys keys to the game:

  •  A huge part of this game is going to be which quarterback doesn’t turn the ball over. The Cowboys on offense rely much more on Dak Prescott so he’ll need to have his best game on display. The offense was a top five unit earlier on the year but as of late they’ve been carried by the defense. 
  • Dallas is going to need to be able to attack the 49ers corners and throw the ball outside to Ceedee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Dalton Shultz.
  • The Niners strength is at the d-line and linebackers, especially the pass rush with defensive end Nick Bosa, defensive tackle Arick Armstead and DJ Jones.  Pro Bowl alternate Jimmie Ward is their best corner and he’ll usually sit in cover two.
  • The interesting part of this matchup is how the 49ers will probably sit back and not let the Cowboys beat them over the top and burn their corners. So Dallas will need to be able to run the ball a bit, especially early to open it up.

Prediction:

While the Cowboys are the more talented team, I think the 49ers defense steps up and dominates the Cowboys offensive line. The 49ers will make it tough for Prescott to make big throws and the guys like Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner will pressure him enough. San Francisco will run the ball to a decent extent and Samuel and Kittle will move the ball enough against an overrated Dallas secondary. 

San Francisco 30-28

Cowboys:

Offense:

407 ypg (1st)

31.2 ppg (1st)

124.6 rushing ypg (9th)

282.4 passing ypg (2nd)

Defense: (allowed)

351 ypg (21st)

21 ppg (7th)

112 rushing ypg (12th)

238 passing ypg (20th)

49ers

Offense:

375 ypg (7th)

25 ppg (13th)

127.4 rushing ypg (7th)

248 passing ypg (12th)

Defense (allowed):

310 ypg (3rd)

21.5 ppg (9th)

103 rushing ypg (7th)

206 passing ypg (6th)

No 7. Pittsburgh Steelers at No 2. Kansas City Chiefs (-13)

Sunday 5:15 p.m. on NBC

The biggest spread of Super Wild Card Weekend is the 12-5, back-to-back AFC Champion Chiefs, who are a 13 point favorite against the Steelers. The Steelers “who aren’t supposed to even be in the playoffs” finished 9-7-1 and barely snuck in over the Chargers, Ravens and Colts. 

Kansas City dominated the first matchup 36-10 in Week 16. They completely destroyed Pittsburgh in all phases of the game, so coach Mike Tomlin better come up with something different. In Ben Roethlisburger’s potential final football game, can the Steelers pull off one of the biggest upsets in Wild card history?

Steelers keys to the Game:

  • Let’s be real here, the Steelers statistically, analytically, and talent wise don’t have a chance. The Steelers have glaring flaws on the offensive line running the ball, pass protection, inability to move the ball down the field efficiently, being able to stop the run, and have holes in coverage. If Pittsburgh wants any chance at being close in this game, they’re going to need to find a way to generate big plays with Big Ben, Donate Johnson and Chase Claypool. 
  • On Defense, Pittsburgh needs TJ Watt to dominate and literally change the game with strip sack fumbles. They’re going to need to create turnovers and put the offense in a short field. The Steelers will also need to win in special teams so a punt block return or punt return can possibly shift the game

Chiefs keys to the game:

  • For Kansas City, they should try to run the ball early and stick with it. Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to stop the run at all so the Chiefs should try to establish a ground game early on. 
  • As long as things don’t get messy with dropped passes, fumbles and interceptions, the offense should run just fine with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

Prediction: It’s going to take some Big Ben magic to win this one in his potential final game as a Steeler. That being said, Kansas City  is too talented to let this one slip, especially at home on a Sunday night. The Chiefs will cover the spread winning:

Chiefs 34-13

No 5. Arizona Cardinals at No 4. Los Angeles Rams (-4)

Monday 5:15 p.m. on ESPN

The rubber match between the Rams and Cardinals wraps  up Super Wild Card Weekend on Monday Night.  They split the season series as the Cardinals won the first matchup in Los Angeles 37-20. The Rams took the second game on a Monday Night in Arizona 30-23.

For the Cardinals, they were 9-1 in their first 10 games before losing their last five out of six games. A lot of that has been due to season ending injuries from JJ Watt and Deandre Hopkins. Quarterback Kyler Murray also missed three games because of an injury. The Rams have been a streaky team all year going 7-1 and then losing three in a row. They finished off the season winning five out of their last six games. This matchup will be a dogfight between two young head coaches and two teams filled with star players.

Rams keys to the game:

  • The Rams will go as far as Matt Stafford takes them. He’s going to need to be consistent in his play and lead the Rams to this win. In all of their losses, he’s thrown early interceptions and has been out of rhythm which makes them fall behind fast. He’s their X factor and must be able to attack effectively
  • Ground game: Sean McVay needs to get the running game going early with Sony Michel and Cam Akers and they should have success as the Cards aren’t very good at stopping the run
  •  Get the ball to Cooper Kupp who secured the triple crown, leading the NFL with 1,947 yards, 16 receiving Tds, and 145 receptions.
  •  For the defense, the Rams will need to do what they did the second time they faced Arizona and not the first time: Get off the field on third down and don’t let Murray scramble outside the pocket. The Rams did a very good job keeping Kyler inside the pocket and not letting him beat them with his legs, especially on third down. The Rams also secured two big  interceptions during their win.
  • The stars on defense have to make plays. Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Jalen ramsey all have to make impacts in this game

Cardinals keys to the game:

  • On offense, it’s all about Murray. He’s struggled his last few games but he’s going to need to have his best game of the season if the Cards want to win this one. He has to be able to use his legs to move the ball while also being efficient in the pocket. Zach Ertz and AJ Green have to make some big plays especially down the field. 
  • Look for running backs Chase Edmonds and James Connor (game time decision but ARI is optimistic) to be big on outside runs to get away from the Rams inside tackles and to spread the field horizontally. 
  •  On defense, pressure Stafford and come away with takeaways. If Stafford and the Rams are a bit off at any point, the Cards need to take advantage with turnovers and give the offense a short field. If Stafford is hot, find a way to disrupt the momentum with pressures and contested balls. 
  • Coach Kliff Kinglsbury needs to be sharp with his time management and situation calls.

Prediction: Ultimately this game will come down to which head coach can outcoach the other, Which quarterback wants it more, and which defensive star players make game changing plays. That being said, I got McVay, Stafford and the Rams defense coming out strong from the start and holding a lead till the end. 

Rams 30-27

Rams:

Offense:
372.1 ypg (9th)

27 ppg (7th)

99 rushing ypg (25th)

273 passing ypg (5th)

Defense (allowed):

244.9 ypg (17th)

21.9 ppg (15th)

103 rushing ypg (5th)

241.7 passing ypg (22nd)

Cardinals

Offense:

373.6 ypg (8th)

26.3 ppg (11th)

122 rushing ypg (10th)

251 passing ypg (10th)

Defense (allowed):

329 ypg (11th)

21.5 ppg (11th)

114.8 rushing ypg (20th)

214 passing ypg (7th)