By: Lucas Kochevar
The NFL Playoffs are officially here after an insane finale to the season with the Chargers and Raiders on Sunday Night Football. The 'Win and In' game lived up to the hype as the Chargers attempted a miraculous comeback, where LA converted on multiple fourth downs and scored the game-tying touchdown as time expired. Sadly, an ill-advised timeout by Brandon Staley changed the Raiders mindset and Vegas went on to kick the game-winning field goal. Raiders and Steelers fans jumped with joy as Justin Herbert and co. will watch wild card weekend on the couch. The NFC displayed some dramatics as well with the 49ers and Rams went to overtime, where the 49ers won to eliminate the Saints (Ha Losers!) from playoff contention. Week 18 set the stage for an exciting Super Wild Card weekend.
AFC Playoff Games
Kansas City Chiefs def. Pittsburgh Steelers
Buffalo Bills def. New England Patriots
Cincinnati Bengals def. Las Vegas Raiders
Tennessee Titans on Bye
My picks are officially in and I have all chalk here with the better seed winning each of their games. The AFC was set up to feature some very competitive games, but the Steelers sneaking in makes the picture seem fuzzy. The Steelers have been an inconsistent mess throughout the season with Big Ben playing out his last season. Ben is a legend but I expect the Chiefs to put him out of his misery. The two teams played each other a couple weeks ago and Kansas City embarrassed Pittsburgh. Unless Patrick Mahomes turns into a pumpkin, the Chiefs should outpace the Steelers offense and take the victory.
The Bills and Patriots feature one of two division games this weekend. The teams split the season series and oddly enough, the away team won each match-up. Their games this year are hard to look at because the first one was the odd Monday night game where Mac Jones attempted three passes and the second featured Josh Allen playing his best football on the season. I have been bullish on the Bills all season, partly because they were my preseason favorite for the Super Bowl, but I sincerely believe they are playing great football. The Patriots seem to be the opposite of that as they haven't looked very good outside of demolishing the Jaguars. Mac Jones also seems to be on a leash and for good reason. The early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year hasn't looked sharp and that could play into the hands of the Bills defense. For that reason, I think the Bills will be able to force a crucial turnover and Josh Allen will keep his recent playoff success going.
The game that I'm really struggling with is the Bengals and Raiders. Both of these teams are hot going into the game and it could really go either way. The reason I'm going with Cincy is the QB position. I have loved Derek Carr this season and he has helped stabilize the Raiders off-season turmoil, but Joe Burrow has the most confidence I have ever seen in a player. He remains calm, cool, and collected at all times and he has the offense humming with the three-headed monster at receiver along with RB Joe Mixon. The Bengals will gain some valuable experience here and get their first playoff win since the 90's. The one person that could throw a wrench into those plans would be Maxx Crosby, who absolutely tortured the Chargers RT. If the Raiders do lose, there is one winner: Interim HC Rich Bisaccia. He deserves the job for turning this team into a playoff contender.
NFC Playoff Games
Tampa Bay Buccaneers def. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys def. San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams def. Arizona Cardinals
Green Bay Packers on Bye
The NFC plays out a similar way to the AFC with all chalk, but I see these games all being closely contested. The Tampa Buccaneers have been in shambles the past couple of weeks with multiple injuries to skill players and Antonio Brown being Antonio Brown. The Eagles have been the biggest shock all year and Nick Sirianni clearly deserves some Coach of the Year votes. I was aggressively low on the Eagles and thought the organization had big issues, but they turned out to find certain packages that worked and turned the ship around. If the Eagles went into Tampa Bay, controlled the clock and played good enough defense, I wouldn't be shocked at an upset. I don't think that will be the case as Tom Brady is inevitable and will find a way to beat the inexperienced Eagles.
The Cowboys and 49ers will be the most likely game to have an upset as the 49ers travel to Dallas. The Cowboys looked like a powerhouse all season long both on offense and defense. Despite a tough Arizona loss, the Cowboys bounced back and handled a depleted Eagles team. The 49ers, on the other hand, had a year that was full of ups and downs. They did find out that Deebo Samuel is a top five weapon in the league as he had a monster year for the San Fran offense. The big question for the 49ers is Jimmy Garoppolo. He's gotten them to this point so far and had a great finish to the game on Sunday, however, they were in that mess because of him in the first half. With a very opportunistic corner in Trevon Diggs, I can see the 49ers turning the ball over at least once. Dallas should be able to put up enough points in this one to separate from San Francisco, therefore, give me the Cowboys.
The second division showdown will take place in sunny Los Angeles as the Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were far and away the best team in the NFL through the first half of the season. Suddenly, the team started to fall apart and couldn't string together enough wins to secure the NFC West. The Cardinals are still fortunate to have Kyler Murray on their side because if he can get hot, then who knows what the Cardinals can do. The Rams have been media favorites all year as Matthew Stafford has finally returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The veteran gunslinger has struggled though, throwing multiple picks the last three weeks. Stafford is fortunate to have the Offensive Player of the Year candidate, Cooper Kupp, and Odell Beckham Jr. The two teams split the season series as, once again, the away team won the match-up. The Rams and Cardinals play with a lot of flash, which is what I see happening in this game. The offenses will be humming, but I would bet on the Rams defense to get a stop before the Cardinals. If Arizona manages to force a couple turnovers, they could steal this one on the road. I don't see that happening so give me LA.