The NFL playoffs are here!
Yeah the Seattle Seahawks aren’t in it and we’re not used to that feeling over the past decade, but it’s still postseason football and there are 13 more games left in the season for us to enjoy before it’s time to head to the offseason.
Six playoff games, five regular season rematches, and one double-digit underdog. Let’s do some predictions!
All odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Saturday, January 15th
A long playoff drought is about to end. Either the Raiders will win their first postseason game since the 2002 AFC Championship, or the Bengals will end the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 31 years.
There’s no way the Raiders should be here. Turmoil surrounding the organization began with the firing of Jon Gruden, then the release of Henry Ruggs II for his fatal car crash, and their 5-2 start turned into a 6-7 record. Somehow, someway, they won their final four games by a combined 12 points, which is on brand given how many former Seahawks are on the team and coaching staff. Their -65 point differential is the worst of all of this season’s playoff participants, and their biggest win all season was just 11 points. They had four overtime victories and Daniel Carlson was the game-winner a whopping five times.
Cincinnati blew out the Raiders 32-13 in Vegas back in November, but it’s a deceptive looking blowout. The Bengals were up just 16-13 with about 6 minutes to go before a late explosion of points put the game out of reach. Joe Burrow threw for just 148 yards on 20 completions, but Joe Mixon rushed for over 100 yards and the Raiders offense didn’t crack 300 total yards of offense.
While I’ll be rooting for K.J. Wright and Quinton Jefferson to have stellar performances, the Raiders really can’t keep this up forever. Cincinnati’s offensive line is a liability which makes this matchup a bit tricky, but the Raiders defense as a whole has struggled and I expect Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase to send the Raiders home.
It’s 1-1 and the road team has won both. In Buffalo, the Patriots refused to throw the ball and won thanks to a defense that shut down the Bills offense. At Foxboro, Josh Allen destroyed a very good Patriots defense and the Bills never punted, while Mac Jones struggled. No rookie quarterback since Russell Wilson has won a playoff start, so Mac has a chance to end the rookie drought.
With temperatures in the single digits it seems logical that Bill Belichick will once again establish the ever-losing shit out of the run. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are a formidable 1-2 punch and Buffalo’s run defense is not as good as it’s otherwise elite pass coverage. I think this matchup boils down to whether or not the Pats have anything for Josh Allen. Bill Belichick is a master tactician and I can’t imagine that he’ll let Allen torch him twice, but what’s the solution? Keeping Allen in the pocket is not that easy and Stefon Diggs seems to have JC Jackson’s number on the field.
This sounds simplistic but whichever team can build any sort of a lead is going to win. New England hasn’t played well from behind and Buffalo has no wins in games decided by one possession. If the Patriots get the early lead they’ll be as inclined to run it as they were back in the first Buffalo game. If the Bills get the lead and force Mac Jones to win it with his arm, it’s theirs to lose.
For some reason I suspect we’re going to see some crucial Josh Allen turnovers, and Belichick is going to get a playoff win in year two of his post-Tom Brady rebuild.
Sunday, January 16th
In their first meeting, Tampa Bay held off the Eagles in Philly 28-22, but that was so long ago that Zach Ertz was still an Eagle and the Buccaneers still had all of their receivers. Philly’s best (only) chance at an upset is if their elite rushing attack can actually break down Tampa Bay’s vaunted run defense. Interestingly enough, Tampa’s just 12th in rush defense DVOA, which is still good but well off from when they were #1 in 2020. Jalen Hurts has pulled double duty as both quarterback and the team’s leader in rushing yards (784 yards) and rushing touchdowns (10).
The Eagles don’t have a single win against a team with a winning record and along the way they had a thoroughly humiliating defeat against the New York Giants. I’m not really sold on Philly actually being good, but this Bucs team isn’t that dominant looking and they’re more banged up now than they were last year. It was just a couple of weeks ago that they needed to rally to beat the New York Jets. This might be one that’s close early and then the Bucs pull away late because, well, Tom Brady. I’m not that stupid.
This is the only non-rematch of Wild Card weekend. The 49ers rallied from a 2-4 start and won on the final day to make the postseason and prevent America from watching Trevor Siemian in an NFL playoff game. Dallas won the NFC East as expected and finished 1st in points scored and led the NFL in takeaways under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Dallas is 1-3 when they fail to force a turnover, and interestingly enough all of those losses were at home. The 49ers are a perfect 7-0 when Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t throw a pick and 2-6 when he throws at least one. Turnovers (or lack thereof) may tell the tale of this one.
What can mitigate San Francisco’s turnover risk is whether or not their rushing offense can exploit weaknesses in Dallas’ defense. Elijah Mitchell is their starting running back but their best running back doubles as their best receiver, and that’s none other than Deebo Samuel.
The Dallas defense allows 6.1 yards/carry to teams using motion—3rd worst in the NFL.— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) January 14, 2022
San Francisco uses motion on 46% of their designed runs—most in the NFL.
Any scenario in which the 49ers have a lead and they don’t have to rely on obvious passing situations is about as favorable as it gets. Their defense is really good and will likely slow down Dallas’ rushing offense, but the secondary is suspect that if the Cowboys o-line can hold up against the 49ers’ pass rush, Dak Prescott could have a field day with his receivers against San Francisco’s pass interference happy corners.
There’s a real strong case for the 49ers to be the team more likely to win. I don’t think this will be a pleasant place for as long as the 49ers are in the postseason so I’m picking with heart and total bias here.
Sadly we are subject to the Steelers for another week thanks to a freak set of results that led to their playoff berth. Remember when Dan Marino’s final playoff game ended in a 62-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars? Yeah I’m thinking we’re on watch for Ben Roethlisberger to experience a similar fate.
Pittsburgh has no chance and frankly they’re the only team with no chance to win out of all the playoff underdogs. We saw them get blown out in KC a few weeks ago and we’ll see it again on Sunday.
Monday, January 17th
The other rubber match of the opening playoff weekend. Arizona had the NFC West all locked up and a home win over the Rams would’ve pretty much sealed the deal. Instead they lost to a depleted, COVID-stricken Rams team, then the Seahawks blocked them in the regular season finale even after the 49ers gave Arizona a lifeline by beating Los Angeles.
The Rams might have lost their season finale but were otherwise on a hot streak, as opposed to an Arizona team that is under .500 since October 28th. It is statistically clear that Arizona’s offense is worse without DeAndre Hopkins, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back on Monday. Defensively, the Cardinals are decimated at cornerback and that’s ominous considering Cooper Kupp already torched them the last time.
Los Angeles’ defense just lost valuable safety Jordan Fuller, prompting an ancient Eric Weddle to come out of retirement for a playoff run. That’s probably not going to go well if he actually has to play.
On recent form and assessing the injuries to both sides, I think the Rams should win this. Matthew Stafford can attack Arizona’s secondary, Sony Michel and Cam Akers have the ability to slice through the Cardinals’ defensive line, and the defensive line led by Aaron Donald could make Kyler Murray’s day miserable. Sean McVay is also 5-1 against Kliff Kingsbury.
But you know, FTR and all that jazz. Consider this to be another pick where I’m just biased.
And here’s what the Field Gulls staff is picking: