Our NFL 2021 Wildcard weekend predictions are ready to go. Last week the commish went 2-2 which is fitting in a year that my overall record ended up being 44 out of 87 (50.57%) for the regular season. Let’s see if we can turn up the dial and finish the season strong by picking every single game of the post-season. Here’s who I have my eye on this weekend. All lines are from Wannamakeabet.com as of the time of this posting.
Las Vegas Raiders +5.5 over Cincinnati Bengals
The Raiders are. Better than people want to believe. And so we find value in this number and are part of the crowd who may have jumped on the opening number of 6.5 when the market first opened but here we are on game day at 5.5. This is some resilient team. First they lose their coach (Gruden). Then they lose their best receiver (Ruggs). Then they lose their superstar tight end (Waller). But they still have competency at all positions as Renfro is as reliable as it gets. Zay Jones has become very capable at WR. Jacobs can and will pound the ball on the ground. The bad news for Carr is that Cincy likes to play zone and he has not fared as well against zone defenses as he has against man-to-man. Cincy, to their credit, can torch people. But if you look at who they torched it’s the bottom half of the league. They have not fared as well against the better defenses when they met them. I see one big risk in taking the Raiders today. If they give up an early lead it’s going to be hard to come back. But given the weather (frigid cold/wind) this feels more like a grind it out type of game that comes down to the final possession and my feeling from the start was that this is just too many points for Cincy to be laying. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 and haven’t been to the dance since 2015. I think they’ll get the win today but it sure as hell won’t be easy.
New England Patriots +5 over Buffalo Bills
Coaching advantage. New England. Bellichick and McDaniels have seen Buffalo twice this season so expect them to maximize every single edge possible. My overall rankings? Buffalo #2 and New England #4. And I just checked the forecast for tonight and saw the number 4 degrees. This feels like it will play out just like the first matchup of the year where the Pats refuse to risk much in the air and pound the ball on the ground time and time again and play field position all night long while waiting for the defense to be opportunistic against Josh. Pack 10 men in the box, and force him into making a mistake. Speaking of Josh Allen. He’s not having a great year. And we’ve all seen the eggs he laid in Jacksonville and Atlanta that wrecked every teaser and survivor pool known to man. Similar to the Cincy analysis, the key to the Pats winning this game and even hanging around will be in the first quarter. They must sustain any early explosions. In their last three losses of the season, they were outscored 35-0 in the first quarter. That obviously can’t happen today. This game is a division war. With a lot of bad blood from years gone by. And the Bills won’t get the luck they had on fourth down and third and long in the Week 16 victory. In general, this is way too many points for Buffalo to cover in a game that presents the ultimate mental hurdle. Beating the bully that kicked your ass for most of your life.
Tampa Bay Bucs – 8.5 over Philadelphia Eagles
My rankings have the Bucs at 3 and the Eagles at 15. Question. Is Hurts ready for the big time? No. Hurts ranks 28th out of 31 against the Blitz. Guess what Tampa likes to do? Blitz. To Hurts’ credit, he’s been good when he gets flushed from the pocket because he’s a great runner. But is that what you want to count on in a game of this magnitude? Now the Bucs defense against the run has not been what it was last year but I’m hoping the likes of Suh and Vea get their shit together and are ready to make another run. On the flip side of the ball is where the Eagles face a much bigger problem. They are not a blitz heavy team because their front four is so good, but the O line of Tampa is their biggest asset. Yes, Godwin is gone but Evans is still there and will still get his catches against Darius Slay and Gronk will get his fare share too. And since Brady is the best to ever play the game and will likely have time to make decisions, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll pick apart this defense. This is a death by a thousand swords for Philly and the Eagles bleed out and lose bad.
Dallas Cowboys – 3 over San Francisco 49ers.
For a generation of fans, like me, this is a throwback to an era of incredible football and John Madden (RIP) calling the game. The jet sweeping 49ers are coming into Dallas for the first game on Sunday. Dallas is my number one ranked team in the league. The 49ers, 6th. The 49ers are certainly the hotter team coming into this one after their improbably win last week against the Rams, but here they are none the less. Dallas has the best offense in the league. And the goal here is to score enough points to make the 49ers play from behind and put more on Jimmy G and make him uncomfortable. Jimmy doesn’t have the arm strength or athleticism to be creative if he is under heavy pressure, which I’m expecting. What he does very well in those situations is turn the ball over. So Dallas needs to do what they do on offense and put Jimmy in that spot where he’ll make the ultimate mistake. Both of these teams would probably have liked to play someone else in the first round this year, but Dallas is the more complete team and has been more consistent this season and they get the win here in front of their home crowd and advance.
NFL 2021 Wildcard Weekend Predictions
Pittsburgh +12.5 over Kansas City Chiefs
As a Browns fan, I hate the Steelers with a passion, but if I’m being honest and objective, this is just too many points. The market makers in Vegas relied too heavily on the week 16, 36-10 beatdown the Chiefs handed the Steelers when they set this line and so this is the one game where the general public is going to be expecting a repeat performance. Not so fast. Big Ben, despite losing so much of his form that has led him to the doorstep of retirement, is still one of the best three quarterbacks in this year’s playoffs and one who is capable of winning any game he plays in based on his decision making ability alone and quick release. And despite his weak arm becoming a meme on the internet, his passing efficiency has actually increased in the back half of the season. And do we really think the Steelers are going to turn the ball over FIVE TIMES again in this game and LOSE ALL FIVE as they did in week 16? I don’t. In fact, if there’s one team playing in this game that’s prone to untimely turnovers this season it’s the Chiefs. The Steelers are being painted as the hopeless underdogs, a position they relish. Ben finds Freiermouth, Deonte Johnson enough times while sustaining drives with Harris. The defense does the rest to keep this a one score game when it’s all said and done. This is likely the end for Ben, but he won’t go quietly.
Arizona Cardinals + 4 over LA Rams
Our final game of the weekend, which is actually on Monday night this year, has the LA Rams (ranked 5th) against division rival Arizona (ranked 10th). The Rams proved to us last week that no matter how much they score, their defense is not ready for prime time by giving up that last drive to the 49ers and letting them into the playoffs, which ultimately may come back to haunt them. It’s no secret that the commish loves NFC West underdogs this season. which saw record was 63% winners. For the cards, yes, D. Hopkins is out but Christian Kirk and Ertz have been outstanding of late. And they finally are getting back JJ Watt so the Rams won’t be able to double team Chandler Jones on the other side. I think you have to ask yourself who has the better defense between these two, and for me it’s Arizona. Even though I have them ranked 5th and 6th respectively, if I apply recency bias and my personal gut, I give the edge to Zona. Matt Stafford has never won a playoff game. And even though people like to blame his past failures on being on Detroit, his failures fall squarely on his shoulders and he is very capably of turnover worth plays. Kyler Murray, same boat, but his younger and can be excused at this point in his career. He’s ready for this moment, and I think Arizona gets the outright win in this final game of Wildcard Weekend.
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