I am so excited for the NFL playoffs to kick off on Saturday! There are so many great storylines, teams, and players to follow through this postseason. With the COVID-19 Pandemic still raging, key players and coaches missing games due to COVID could be just another wrinkle to the 2021 version of the ‘yoffs. And the best part is all 14 teams and fanbases still believe this season could end with their boys hoisting the Lombardi trophy. It’s the NFL playoffs, anything can happen. All but one of the super wild card games are rematches from the regular season, so you know there is recent tape to scout and competitive familiarity for each team.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Saturday January 15th, 4:35 PM ET
Spread : CIN -6 , O/U 49.5
Las Vegas Raiders : Just when everyone was ready to count out Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders, these Sin City Boys got lady luck to swing to their side as they won their final 4 games by the slimmest margins against each of the Browns, Broncos, Colts, and Chargers. Last Sunday night on NBC, the Raiders dramatically took down the Chargers 35-32 in the final seconds of what was a de facto playoff game in the final game of the regular season to earn the opportunity to the playoffs. Winning that game sends Vegas to Cincinnati for a rematch from week 11.
Cincinnati Bengals : With Joe Burrow coming back from major knee surgery and a superstar rookie Jamarr Chase looking rusty after a year off from football, in the pre-season it was fair to wonder if the Bengals might still be a year away from really competing. Burrow, Chase, and the Bengals really took off down the final stretch, beating juggernaut KC in week 17, and winning the always competitive AFC North to secure a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
Prediction : The Raiders are a scrappy bunch, led by a fiery leader and they have battled and overcame adversity all season. They will present a tough challenge for the Bengals, however I think smokin’ Joe Burrow and the rest of the talented Bengals team will be able to overcome the obstacles that the Raiders present them with. I do like Vegas to cover -6, and with both teams looking to control the clock, I see this game hitting the under. CIN 26 – LV 21
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Saturday January 15th, 8:15 PM ET
Spread BUF -4.5 O/U 43.5
New England Patriots : After a 2-4 start to the Mac Jones era in New England, the Pats found a winning formula, taking 7 straight games by running the ball and leaning on their dominant defense to make key stops to take pressure off of Mac Jones. A 1-3 finish the regular season knocked the Pats from a potential bye week, #1 seed, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, to a wildcard berth and a third meeting with divisional rival Buffalo. The Patriots and Bill Belichick still have the big brother mentality and swagger in the AFC East, even if the Bills have taken home the division crown the last two years, so I expect this well coached team to come into Buffalo and compete with absolute toughness and intensity.
Buffalo Bills : After an opening day loss to the Steelers, Josh Allen and company then rattled off four straight wins, including a dominating 38-20 victory over the Chiefs in week 5. They were riding high as the team to beat in the AFC, and then the Jaguars and Colts handed them defeats, and it was looking as if the Pats would regain the throne in the AFC East. Riding the momentum after a crazy comeback that culminated in an OT loss to TB12 and the Buccaneers in week 14, the Bills have won four straight to capture their second division title in as many years, and host the rival Patriots on Saturday Night.
Prediction : The weather forecast calls for clear skies in Buffalo, with absolutely frigid temps in the single digits, which would seem to favor the team with the more physical running game and better defense. That team would be the Belichick lead Patriots. Josh Allen will do everything he can to will his team to a victory, and Mac Jones will be unable to make big time plays when they need him most. The arctic cold weather will slow this game so I like the under and I believe New England will play tough and cover the spread but ultimately it will be Buffalo advances to the divisional round in a nailbiter. BUF 21 NE 19
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday January 16th, 1:00 PM ET
Spread : TB : – 8.5 O/U : 46
Philadelphia Eagles : A tough early season schedule and lack of identity had the Eagles in a 2-5 hole to start the year before a massive change in philosophy turned their season around. Playing to Jalen Hurts’ strengths and using a 3-back rotation of the oft-injured Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Boston Scott, Philly was able to lean heavily on the ground game and a favorable schedule to finish out the season at 9-8 and sneak into the NFC bracket as the 7 seed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers : The Bucs came into the season as the team to beat in the NFL, after TB12 and company won the Super Bowl in Brady’s first year with the team. They started out hot, going 6-1 over the first seven games of the season before scuffling a bit in the middle part of the season. Injuries and AB quitting have decimated this once elite WR core, leaving Brady with a cast of playmakers resembling what he used to have in New England. This season’s Bucs will be challenged to make another run to the Super Bowl, but you can never count out the G.O.A.T.
Prediction : This will be Brady’s 46th career playoff start, and Jalen Hurt’s 20th overall start and 1st playoff game. The Bucs are a well-coached and experienced team, look for them to execute their game plan successfully and force Hurts and the Eagles into some costly mistakes. I think Tampa covers the 8.5 point spread while hitting the over in a high scoring game. TB 31 PHI 19
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Sunday January 16th, 4:30 PM ET
Spread : DAL – 3 O/U : 51
San Francisco 49ers : An up and down season forced the Niners into a win and in scenario for their week 18 matchup with the Rams. San Francisco needed all 4 quarters and OT to dispatch the Rams and secure their spot in the postseason. In the 2nd half of that game, they looked unstoppable with Eli Mitchell, Deebo, and the ground game grinding out tough yards, and broken-thumb Jimmy G making just enough big time throws to his talented group of playmakers. Defensively, this front seven is one of the better groups in the league, but the secondary is a clear weakness for this team.
Dallas Cowboys : It’s another year of Super Bowl aspirations for this high flying Dallas offense, while the defense has stepped up to play at a high level as well throughout the season. Dak and Zeke had their moments of bad football throughout the regular season, and the defense found a way to pick them up often enough to earn the 3 seed in a top heavy NFC. This is probably one of the more balanced Cowboys teams in recent memory, and that balance could be key to a deep playoff run.
Prediction : Nationally, the 49ers are a trendy upset pick, however I like Dallas in what’s sure to be an electric environment for a Dallas Cowboys home playoff game. The 49ers will attempt to control the ball and the clock and keep the high powered Dallas offense off the field, however I believe that even with limited possessions Dak and the ‘boys will be able to pick apart the SF secondary and put up points. Neither of these defenses are dominant enough to control the game, and I like the Cowboys to cover in a shootout in Texas. DAL 41 SF 30
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday January 16th, 8:15 PM ET
Spread : KC -12.5 O/U : 46.5
Pittsburgh Steelers : Remember when everyone wrote off the Steelers after their tie with the Lions in week 9? Well, that tie, along with a serious choke job by the Colts in week 18, has allowed the national audience to watch Ben Roethlisberger one last time. Big Ben got a well-deserved and well documented ovation on national TV after the Steelers week 17 home victory vs the Browns, and that may remain the highlight of the season for Steelers fans.
Kansas City Chiefs : Kansas City started the season looking like maybe their secret formula had been figured out, with teams deploying 2 high safeties to take away the big plays and force Patrick Mahomes into mistakes. After Halloween, the Chiefs were back as they won 9 out of 10 games. A huge part of their turnaround was a commitment to the running game which provided balance to their offensive attack. At the same time their steadily improving defense is putting the Chiefs in a strong position to make a run towards their 3rd straight Super Bowl.
Prediction : Pittsburgh can’t score enough to keep up with KC, nor can they slow them down enough to keep the game within reach, so I like the under here. I expect KC to score early and often and essentially bleed out the clock throughout the 3rd and 4th quarters, leading to KC covering the very large spread of -12.5. KC 27 PIT 10
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Monday January 17th, 8:15 PM ET
Spread : LA -4 O/U : 49.5
Arizona Cardinals : The Arizona Cardinals were the hottest team in football winning their first 7 games and 10 of their first 12. Down the stretch injuries to Chase Edmonds, James Conner, and Nuk Hopkins sapped their offensive firepower and the defense couldn’t do enough to win games against the lowly Lions, Colts, and Seahawks. Limping into the playoffs as a wild card is not what AZ expected after the hot start to the season, but I’m sure excited to see Kyler Murray make his playoff debut.
Los Angeles Rams : Like the Cardinals, the Rams started the season hot and the Super Bowl was in their sights. Then a 3-game losing streak in November killed some of that momentum, before the Rams regained their form to win 4 of their last 5 and take home the NFC west division title. Choking away a 17 point lead in week 18 to allow a division rival into the playoffs should provide plenty of motivation for McVay’s crew to enter this game ready to play.
Prediction : While these teams split the season series, Arizona’s victory came all the way back on October 3rd, while the Rams took home the victory more recently on December 13th. These two teams are very similar, with high flying offenses, and talented yet flawed defenses, so this game will come down to coaching. Sean McVay is well regarded as one the best coaches in the league, and has an impressive postseason resume while Kliff Kingsbury will be making his playoff debut. I look for the Rams to win and cover the spread in a close one. LAR 33 ARZ 28.