Scott Shapiro's AFC Wild Card Preview
Admittedly, I am disappointed that both the Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis Colts failed to make the postseason after losing win-and-you’re-in games in Week 18.
It is difficult, though, to feel too bad for Indianapolis after losing back-to-back games to close the season to Las Vegas and Jacksonville. But the Chargers and Colts, despite their inconsistency, just offered more entertainment value and higher ceilings than the Raiders, and most definitely the Steelers.
That being said, the AFC Playoffs should still be loads of fun, with the Chiefs listed as the significant favorite (+180) on TwinSpires Sportsbook to make it back to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Sat, January 15 2022, 9:35 PM
The first contest of the postseason takes place in Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals hope to win their first playoff game since the 1990-1991 season, when they defeated the Houston Oilers 41-14.
Cincinnati has a number of things going for them in this one, including the fact that the Raiders come off an exhausting overtime victory on Sunday night and now must travel nearly 2,000 miles on short rest. Meanwhile, Zac Taylor was able to rest most of his starters in the Bengals' Week 18 matchup against the Browns.
If the Raiders are not fatigued and perform similarly to the way they did over the last few games of the regular season, the key to this one will be whether the subpar Bengals offensive line can protect Joe Burrow.
The Raiders' defensive front, led by Maxx Crosby, wreaked havoc on Justin Herbert in their overtime win against the Chargers and have a chance to do similar in this one.
Entering the fourth quarter, Maxx Crosby trailed Trey Hendrickson by 7 pressures for the season-lead.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 10, 2022
Crosby generated 8 pressures in the fourth quarter, the most pressures in a fourth quarter since T.J. Watt had 9 against the Cowboys in Week 9, 2020.#LACvsLV | #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/uM3uTTPxtV
When these two teams met during the regular season in Week 11, Las Vegas sacked Burrow three times and recorded five QB hits. It will likely take more heat on Cincinnati’s signal caller to shut down the high-powered Bengals attack, but Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue certainly have the ability to take over a game.
I lack a strong opinion in this one when it comes to sides, but I am fairly confident that both head coaches will look to establish the run out of the gates. The Raiders will hope to limit possessions for the Cincinnati offense, while the Bengals will want to take the pressure off of their offensive line. This should lead to a low-scoring start and a game that stays under the total in the end.
Pick: Under 49.5
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Sun, January 16 2022, 1:15 AM
The rubber match between these division rivals offers what oddsmakers expect to be the most competitive of the three AFC Wild Card Round tilts, and understandably so.
Buffalo ended up winning the AFC East for the second straight season, but the Patriots made them work, finishing the campaign with double-digit victories after winning just seven games a season ago.
The two teams won on the other’s home field during the regular season, with the Bills’ victory in Foxborough carrying more meaning than the affair in upstate New York, where the elements were overwhelming at times.
"It's going to be a 12-round slugfest..." - #Bills QB Josh Allen on the playoff matchup with the #Patriots.— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 11, 2022
Josh Allen was the best player on the field in that second encounter and could be again on Saturday night, but it is highly likely that Bill Belichick will mix things up with his defensive game plan, after Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.
Allen is a tall task to stop when he is on his game, but the Patriots’ defense can play far better than they did in Week 16. They lacked energy throughout most of the contest and made far more mistakes on both sides of the ball than I expect them to this weekend.
Look for a conservative offensive game plan from Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and for them to give the Buffalo offense much more of a fight this time around.
Backing a rookie quarterback on the road in his first playoff start is not something I am willing to do, but I think this is a relatively close affair that stays in the mid to high thirties.
Pick: Under 43
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Mon, January 17 2022, 1:15 AM
I am not sure how Pittsburgh found its way into the playoffs in Ben Roethlisberger’s final year, but somehow Mike Tomlin once again not only finished the season with an above-.500 record, but his squad snuck into the tournament at 9-7-1 after its 16-13 overtime victory at Baltimore.
Tip of the cap to the Steelers for their grit and ability to win games ugly, but that is unlikely to do them much good in their Wild Card Round matchup in Arrowhead Stadium.
There is no question that Kansas City struggled more in 2021 than it had over the past couple of seasons, but the Chiefs' offense seems to have found its legs of late. Sure, I have questions about their defense that played very well through the middle stages of the year, but struggled to tackle down the stretch.
However, the Steelers’ offense just does not have what it takes to take advantage of the Chiefs’ weaknesses. This was on full display during their Week 16 matchup, when Kansas City jumped out to a 23-0 halftime lead and held Pittsburgh out of the end zone until the final few minutes, when Diontae Johnson found pay dirt in garbage time.
Look for another lopsided result on Sunday night.
Pick: Kansas City -12.5