This post was initially published in The Cliff Notes by CSN contributor Cliff Gibson.
This will truly be a SUPER Wild Card Weekend in the NFL. Give me ALL the football!! Okay, well maybe not all of it. I may have to skip the opening game Saturday since we have a rain-free day forecasted, a rarity for Western Washington this time of year, and one that must be taken advantage of by getting outdoors. Nevertheless, I will be taking in every minute I can, even Monday night’s game while I’m in Salt Lake City on business.
Let’s get to the picks, which are generated mostly on my gut feelings, with a little bit of bias, and an even smaller amount of research. I’ll leave that nonsense to the talking heads on ESPN. If you’re taking them with anything more than a grain of salt, well then I can’t help you.
Raiders at Bengals – Saturday
It’s hard not to root for this Las Vegas team. They’ve overcome a tremendous amount of adversity on and off the field and are in the postseason for just the second time since 2002. The Raiders have won four straight games, by a combined TWELVE POINTS. That’s insane. However, they are a dome team, going on the road to play in cold weather (forecast is 27 degrees at kickoff in Cincinnati) and that’s tough to overcome. Even more difficult is the task of slowing down the Bengals’ high-octane offense. I’m confident they can keep Joe Burrow and Co. from putting up 30-40 points, but unless Derek Carr has a huge day, the story ends here for Vegas. – PICK: Bengals
Patriots at Bills – Saturday
Who doesn’t enjoy a good rubber match? That’s just what we get here with these AFC East rivals colliding a third time. New England comes limping into the playoffs, losing three of their last four, including a 33-21 home loss to the Bills on Dec. 26. Meanwhile, Buffalo has hit its stride at the perfect time, winning four straight heading into Saturday’s game. But I’m not fooled. Aside from their win over the Pats, the rest of that win streak includes the Jets, Falcons, and Panthers. Hardly top-notch competition. This game will be physical, it will be bitterly cold (kickoff temp of FOUR degrees), and I expect it will be low-scoring. The road team won each of the two regular-season meetings and I’m going with the visitors again. – PICK: Patriots
Eagles at Buccaneers – Sunday
Weather won’t be an issue in Tampa when the defending champions take on Philadelphia, and that will likely favor the Bucs and Tom Brady more than an Eagles team that likes to grind it out with the running game. With dry conditions, I don’t see how Philly can keep up with Brady and the Bucs’ passing game. Plus, factor in Jalen Hurts’ turnover troubles and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Tamp Bay is an 8-point favorite, but I could see them winning by twice as much, if not more. – PICK: Buccaneers
49ers at Cowboys – Sunday
This is the one I’m looking most forward to, and for good reason. First, it’s Niners-Cowboys, bringing back memories of an incredible rivalry from the 1990s, and it’s a classic battle of great offense vs great defense. For Dallas, this has to be the worst playoff draw possible. This is one of those rare times I actually agree with some of the so-called “experts” on TV calling this the worst possible matchup for Cowboys. It is just that. Can Dallas slow down the Niners’ physical run game? Can the Cowboys deal with Kyle Shanahan’s brain, which will give them so many different looks over the course of a game? The Cowboys have a great offense, but I always go with defense first in the playoffs, plus the Niners have the X-factor in Deebo Samuel. – PICK: 49ers
Steelers at Chiefs – Sunday
Who are we kidding here? There’s a reason this game has the highest betting spread (12.5 points) of the weekend. Pittsburgh made the playoffs not so much on what it accomplished, but thanks to the misfortune of a few other teams. There is NO WAY the Steelers keep up with Kansas City in this game. If there’s a game this weekend that’s decided by halftime, this is the one. Time to hang ’em up, Ben. – PICK: Chiefs
Cardinals at Rams – Monday
Five games later, we arrive here on a Monday night. NFC West rivals meeting in another rubber match. Like the Patriots and Bills, these two teams split the season series, with each team winning on the road. Unlike the Patriots and Bills, there will be no inclement weather, no low-scoring game, and no road team emerging victorious. I will not apologize for saying this, but the more I watch Kyler Murray, the more I’m convinced that he’s an incredibly gifted athlete, but an average NFL quarterback, at best. HE CAN NOT READ DEFENSES, which is likely a big reason why the Cards have lost four of their last five. Oh, and their defense has been awful, too. – PICK: Rams
Last Week: 7-6