Scott Shapiro's NFC Wild Card Preview
In the AFC, the best seven teams in terms of roster talent and upside did not reach the postseason. One could argue that perhaps the Eagles overachieved a bit, but there is little doubt that the franchises with the best chance to win Super Bowl LVI made the playoffs in the NFC.
Top-seeded Green Bay is favored on TwinSpires Sportsbook (+150) to get back to the big game for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign, when they beat the Steelers 31-25.
It will be difficult for any team to go into Lambeau and come away with a road victory against Aaron Rodgers and crew, but the Buccaneers, Rams, Cowboys, 49ers, and Cardinals have all at least shown glimpses of greatness during the regular season. It should be an absolutely wild ride when the NFC Playoffs kick off in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. I cannot wait.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sun, January 16 2022, 6:00 PM
The NFC postseason action kicks off in South Florida with the defending champion Buccaneers hosting the upstart Eagles.
Tampa Bay is hard to discount with Tom Brady at the helm, but the team is not as loaded as it was a season ago. Chris Godwin is out with a torn ACL and Antonio Brown is no longer on the roster. Leonard Fournette, Shaq Barrett, and Jason Pierre-Paul have been out of the lineup but are expected to return for the Wild Card contest. Lavonte David and Jamel Dean are highly questionable, though.
The #Bucs designated three players currently on injured reserve to return to practice: LB Lavonte David and RBs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 12, 2022
These injury issues certainly could limit Tampa Bay’s overall upside, but they should not prevent them from handling Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
The Eagles finished 9-8 in head coach Nick Sirianni’s first year at the helm. It was an encouraging season for a team that finished 4-11-1 a year ago, but most of the Eagles' success, especially on defense, came against subpar competition.
When they encountered top-tier quarterbacks, they struggled to get stops. Tampa Bay may be short-handed in terms of pass catchers heading into the postseason, but it still has Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs should have no issue moving the ball and finding the end zone regularly this weekend.
Jalen Hurts' playmaking ability, both with his legs and his arm, taking on a Tampa Bay defense that was just average during the regular season has me unwilling to lay over a touchdown with the Bucs. However, the total is quite intriguing. Both teams rank in the top five in Football Outsiders' Seconds/Play (Situation Neutral), so the game should be played at a high pace regardless of game script.
Look for Brady to pick apart the Eagles' secondary, while Hurts and the Eagles’ offense will find ways to get theirs, especially if down multiple scores in the second half.
Pick: Over 48
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Sun, January 16 2022, 9:30 PM
The Packers are the deserving top choice in the NFC, especially since they have the first-round bye and home field throughout the playoffs, but the Niners and Cowboys offer the best chance of going into Lambeau and besting Green Bay.
Both have shown tremendous upside at times during the regular season. They have taken different paths to get here, though.
Dallas rattled off six straight wins after losing a thriller to start the year to Tampa Bay and looked like one of the best teams in the NFL through the first half of the regular season. The Cowboys have been up and down over the last several games, though.
Their defense has a number of dynamic playmakers, led by rookie sensation Micah Parsons, and their offense is loaded with high-quality skilled position players. However, their running game has disappointed of late, and Dak Prescott has struggled with accuracy at times.
If the Cowboys can get back to their early-season form, they can beat anyone. That is a pretty big “if,” though, at this point.
On the other hand, San Francisco is playing its best football at the right time. The Niners got off to just a 2-4 start, but have won four of five to close the season, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Los Angeles in Week 18.
On 3rd & 3, Jimmy Garoppolo 9-yd pass to Jauan Jennings .. 1st & Goal#49ers 24 #Rams 24 OT pic.twitter.com/L4LWHBhgRY— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) January 10, 2022
The Niners have three of the best players in the NFL in Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, and George Kittle, plus one of the game's sharpest offensive minds in head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Niners are a dangerous No. 6 seed.
San Francisco is playing better than Dallas heading into the playoffs, but it must recover quickly after an emotional win to get into the tournament.
The 49ers' running attack and defensive front are a tough challenge for Dallas, but they have glaring weaknesses in the secondary and the erratic Jimmy Garoppolo calling signals. I have backed San Francisco regularly in the latter stages of 2021 and will do so in this spot. But not with a ton of confidence. Dallas can really be good at times.
Pick: San Francisco +3.5
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Tue, January 18 2022, 1:15 AM
Like Buffalo and New England, these division rivals split the regular-season series, with both winning on the other’s home field. Neither team enters the playoffs playing at their best, but there were times during the regular season where they looked like serious Super Bowl contenders.
Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford both played like MVP candidates over the first half of the season, but have not been quite as good down the stretch. Murray has sorely missed DeAndre Hopkins, and Stafford has made bizarre decisions just about every week.
I do not trust either team and honestly was hoping to fade them both in the playoffs. That is not feasible since they meet in the Wild Card Round. I will reluctantly take the points on Monday night in a game I am more looking forward to watching than wagering on.
Pick: Arizona +4