The first-ever three-day Super Wild Card Weekend kicks off the path to Super Bowl LVI on Saturday. Who will make the playoffs and secure a position in the NFL's final eight?
We're heading into the first-ever Super Wild Card Weekend after the first Week 18 in NFL history ended a topsy-turvy season in suitably dramatic way. The NFL has six games scheduled for the next three days, and while no one can forecast football (just ask the Indianapolis Colts), we can make educated estimates about how the games will unfold.
What the Raiders must do to win: The Raiders are the last club to qualify for the playoffs, and they will be underdogs on Saturday. Surprisingly, they share the same 10-7 regular-season record as the Bengals. The pressure is on the opposite side, given Cincinnati's track record of underachievement. If the Raiders can take an early lead and force a big turnover or two with their superb pass rushers, it may be enough to sow doubt in their opponents' minds.
The Bengals must do the following to win: After throwing for 971 yards in the last two games, quarterback Joe Burrow must simply keep doing what he's doing. The Bengals triumphed 32-13 the last time these two teams faced, albeit on the road. This may be a laugher if he performs like this (which the league apparently expects, given that it's in the Saturday afternoon "ratings death" slot). The world awaits the first text message ever received in celebration of a Bengals triumph, given the team has not won a postseason game since 1991.
Prediction: Bengals over Raiders
To win, the Patriots need to run like the wind. The Patriots changed their game strategy in the previous meeting between these two teams to take advantage of the severely windy weather conditions. New England relied on a talented running back corps to put together a flat-out hilarious 14-10 victory. Quarterback Mac Jones passed for 19 yards. Jones will have to put in more effort this time, but it wouldn't hurt to revisit this blueprint.
The Bills must do the following in order to win: The Good Josh Allen will be required to appear. Despite his obvious athletic abilities, Allen struggled with ball control throughout his first few seasons with the Bills. Tom Brady has emerged as the finest quarterback in the AFC East since relocating to Florida. Old habits, on the other hand, are difficult to break. Allen threw seven interceptions and lost a fumble in a four-game span this season. He can't afford to make the same mistake against a Patriots defence that is one of the most opportunistic in the league.
Prediction: Bills over Patriots
What the Eagles must do to win: Hopefully, momentum still exists. The Eagles started the season 0-5 and appeared to be out of the playoff picture, but they have since looked like a completely different club. They've even led the league in rushing with 184.8 yards per game since losing 28-22 to Tampa Bay in Week 6. We should have a competitive game if they keep playing like this.
What the Buccaneers must do to win: With Tampa Bay still reeling from the fallout of the Antonio Brown affair, this isn't the worst time for the Eagles to meet the Buccaneers. With Chris Godwin gone for the season due to an ACL injury, the squad will miss him despite his numerous flaws as a teammate. If Tom Brady's preferred receiver is the "open receiver," the players further down the depth chart will have to work hard to make themselves available.
Prediction: Buccaneers over Eagles
The 49ers must limit Dak Prescott's productivity if they want to win. Despite some struggles down the stretch, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback finished the season with a 295-yard, five-touchdown performance. Even if their run game is as good as projected, if he's even two-thirds as good on Sunday, it'll be a wrap for San Francisco.
To win, the Cowboys must do the following: Dallas, on the other hand, must come to a halt. The 49ers, who are now without a starting quarterback, rely on their ground attack to wear out opponents. If the Cowboys' defence, especially newly acquired free agent safety Jayrone Kearse, can limit their rushing yards, the club may not even need Prescott to have a great day.
Prediction: Cowboys over 49ers
What the Steelers must do to win: Ben Roethlisberger must play one more outstanding (not just good) game in order to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "Let's just go in and play and have fun," he stated earlier this week, implying that it's a lofty order. Still, if he can remain upright long enough to make a number of big plays (either with his arms or his feet), his Steelers career might last another week.
What the Chiefs must do to win: There's a reason the Steelers are 12.5-point favourites against the Chiefs. They'll be up against the AFC's most skilled club. One expects Patrick Mahomes and his teammates to score, so the key question is whether the team's much-improved defence will turn into a pumpkin come playoff time. The Chiefs will win this game if they can keep going to Big Ben.
Prediction: Chiefs over Steelers
What the Cardinals must do to win: With Kyler Murray at quarterback, the Cardinals have a clear advantage. However, given the Rams' overall success, it won't matter if the defence doesn't play well. When Matt Stafford is sacked one or fewer times in a game this season, the Rams are 9-1, but 3-4 when he is sacked several times. Except when it is, correlation is not usually causation.
What the Rams must do to win: Obviously, the inverse of this is that the Rams must keep Stafford upright and Stafford must avoid throwing many interceptions. Murray does, however, have the advantage in terms of experience, as this will be his first postseason start. Since 2002, quarterbacks who made their postseason debut in the wild-card round have gone 11-31. May the quarterback with the least amount of jitters win.
Prediction: Rams over Cardinals