Super Wild Card Weekend 2022
The 2021-22 NFL regular season has come to an end, and we're ready to kick off the playoffs with Super Wild Card Weekend. The playoff field featured 14 teams (seven from each conference). The top teams in each conference (Green Bay and Tennessee) will each receive bye weeks for this round, but all 12 of the other teams will be in action. Let's take a look at what's on tap for this weekend:
Saturday, January 15
Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are one of the big surprises from this season. Just last offseason, many were questioning if head coach Zac Taylor's job was safe and if the team had what it took to make it that way. Now, the Bengals are AFC North Division champions and will be making their first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season in a home game.
The Raiders are coming off a must-win game against the Los Angeles Chargers that propelled them to the playoffs. Las Vegas staved off a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback from LA by converting a field goal attempt as the clock expired in overtime. The kick ended the Chargers season and sent the Raiders to Cincinnati.
Las Vegas's defense did have some trouble defending the pass, especially late in the game, and Cincinnati has one of the top young offenses in the league. Not only are Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon great players, but the Bengals have at least three legitimate wide receivers to throw to in Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins.
All those playmakers gave Vegas a ton of trouble in the regular season meeting between these teams in November. The Raiders also need much more from their rushing offense.
This game airs on NBC at 4:30 PM ET.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
Divisional rivalry in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots and Bills have been fighting for the AFC East all season, and Buffalo came away with the title in the end. However, that may not be such an advantage. The road team won each game between these two this season, including a New England victory in a snowstorm.
New England attempted just three passes that night and ran for over 200 yards. The defense has been great yet again this year, but the emergence of rookie Mac Jones at quarterback, Damien Harris at running back, and Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers at receiver has revived this offense.
Buffalo's defense is weakest against the run but turned in an impressive effort in a win over the Pats just a couple weeks ago. It will benefit the Bills to put all the pressure they can on the rookie Jones whenever he is asked to make a play. Offensively, quarterback Josh Allen has such a strong arm that he can throw in any environment, but severe weather could have an impact on those around him. In the loss to New England, his receivers had several drops, including plays late in the game with a chance to pull out a win.
The weather may be a factor again this week and these defenses can cause points to be at a premium, so whichever offense is the most efficiently balanced has the best chance.
This game will be on CBS at 8:15 PM ET.
Sunday, January 16
Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Eagles were another surprise team this season. No one expected them to be in this position, especially after a 2-5 start. Yet, Philly found a way to win seven of its last ten games and held off the Saints for the final spot in the NFC.
Tampa Bay was expected to be here and is definitely among the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. Offensively, they have everything you need: Tom Brady, Gronk, a couple decent running backs, and receivers. However, many of those players are dealing with injuries. WR Chris Godwin is done for the year, and RB Leoard Fournette, who had a fantastic year, is questionable. His backup Ronald Jone shas been ruled out, so the Bucs may be thin.
While Tampa may be thin in personnel for this game, I still think Philly is too inconsistent to score the upset. The Eagles will have games where they score 30-40 points against decent teams, and then only manage 7-10 against bad teams. Plus, the Eagles best offense is the running game with Miles Sanders, and that's exactly what Tampa's defense is best at defending.
This game is on FOX at 1 PM ET.
San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys
Popular upset pick here. The 49ers fought their way into the No. 6 seed and will travel to Dallas. We know San Fran has a great tight end (George Kittle), an offensive genius at head coach (Kyle Shanahan), a do-everything receiver (Deebo Samuel), and a great running game. The biggest question mark is Jimmy Garoppolo. Throughout his career, he's had some great games and some bad ones. Luckily, the Niners offense doesn't really rely on him to be a complete game-changer, but he may have to be in this game.
Dallas enjoyed a rebound season and win the NFC East. The two big reasons for the Cowboys' turnaround are the addition of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and the return of quarterback Dak Prescott. We've seen how much the offense struggles without Prescott, and it has become abundantly clear that he takes them to a new level. Quinn has helped improve one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. They still struggle against the run, and opponents can have success throwing wherever Trevon Diggs isn't, but there has been much needed progress this season.
The reason many people think the 49ers have a shot in this one is the running game. San Francisco is creative with its entire offensive gameplan and averaged 127,4 rushing yards per game this season. While Dallas is not nearly as bad on defense this year, the Cowboys still give up 112 rushing yards per game.
This game airs on CBS at 4:30 PM ET.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs
This game has a chance to be the most lopsided of the weekend. Pittsburgh honestly got lucky three times last week. They were lucky that the Colts lost to Jacksonville. They were lucky that they beat Baltimore (with a backup QB) in overtime, and they were lucky Vegas and the Chargers didn't tie. The prize? A trip to Arrowhead to play the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh has struggled mightily on offense most of the season and Kansas City's defense has been better and better each week. The two teams met in Week 16 and the Chiefs won 36-10.
No one is giving Pittsburgh a chance, and they are completely correct. Anything can happen in a one-and-done playoff scenario, but there has been no change for either team that would make you think this game will go any differently.
The game is on NBC at 8:15 PM ET
Monday, January 17
Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams
For the first time, we will have a Monday night playoff game. NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams will meet for the third time this season. The teams split the previous two matchups, and the visiting team won each game. The rams are the home team this time around as they held off the Cardinals by one game in the division.
Arizona has an incredible passing offense and the running ability of Kyler Murray adds an amplified element. But what has helped the team even more so this year are the emergence of James Conner at running back and the improvements made by the defense. Conner left Pittsburgh after a disappointing 2020 and became a touchdown machine for Arizona. He finished the year with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns and is a sneaky threat as a receiver. The defense still gives up similar rates in points and yardage but has improved its turnover rate. Arizona is currently fourth in the NFL in turnover margin.
The Rams made a big trade in an attempt to take over the NFC West by acquiring QB Matthew Stafford from Detroit. For the most part, it has worked out. Stafford has enjoyed yet another near-5,000-yard passing season with 41 touchdown passes and has formed a great combination with Cooper Kupp. However, he has been riddled by turnovers, throwing eight interceptions in the past three weeks. That gives him 17 on the year--his most since 2013.
With both offenses having so much firepower, turnovers and ball security will be the most important factors. If both teams do it well, we could be in for an entertaining shootout. The Rams need their defense to return to last year's form and Stafford to prove he can perform in the playoffs to make a run. The Cardinals need to capitalize on opportunities and hope Stafford performs like the last three weeks.
This game will be on ESPN and ABC at 8:15 PM ET.