Scully's NFL Wild Card Weekend picks: Bucs on upset alert
Nothing beats the NFL Playoffs, and Wild Card Weekend will feature six eagerly anticipated games. We can expect some mayhem.
Let’s jump into my analysis and picks.
Raiders vs. Bengals
Sat, January 15 2022, 9:30 PM
Cincinnati can score points in bunches with its explosive offense.
Las Vegas won its last four games to make the playoffs, but it’s fair to question how much it’ll have left after a thrilling overtime win over the Chargers on Sunday night. It’s a quick turnaround, and the Raiders can be inconsistent, scoring 17 or fewer points in seven of the last 10 games.
Joe Burrow will be the difference, changing the Bengals’ postseason narrative in a big win.
Patriots vs. Bills
Sun, January 16 2022, 1:15 AM
New England isn’t trending in the right direction, losing three of the last four games, but its talented defense can still give Buffalo trouble. Bill Belichick will be facing Josh Allen for the third time since Dec. 6.
A legitimate Super Bowl contender, Buffalo finished strong, outscoring its final four opponents by a 120-60 margin. The Bills don’t have many weaknesses, but it’s fair to question how effective their offense will be in the expected conditions — snow is in the forecast all week, and it will be extremely cold on Saturday night.
Points should be difficult to come by between the league’s top two scoring defenses.
Eagles vs. Buccaneers
Sun, January 16 2022, 6:00 PM
The playoffs couldn’t come quick enough for a depleted Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia found its best form late in the season.
Before resting their starters in Week 18, the Eagles won six of seven games. They feature the top rushing offense in the league (159.7 yards per game), and their top 10 defense will frustrate Tom Brady.
Tampa Bay lost key receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin in recent weeks, and the Bucs' highly ranked run defense tailed off significantly late in the season.
The Bucs were outgained by a 260-147 margin in rushing yards the last two games, against Carolina and the New York Jets, and Tampa Bay surrendered 173 rushing yards to Buffalo last month. That’s a troubling sign. None of those teams can run the ball like Philly.
Tampa Bay should be on upset alert.
49ers vs. Cowboys
Sun, January 16 2022, 9:30 PM
Contrasting styles will be on display.
Both teams feature playmakers, but the similarities stop there. Dallas combines speed and explosiveness, leading the league in scoring (31.2). San Francisco runs the ball effectively and plays stingy defense, bludgeoning foes with physicality.
San Francisco will bring pressure, averaging nearly three sacks per game, and physical teams could throw Dallas’ offense out of sync.
Defense will be key for both teams. Jimmy Garoppolo can be wildly inconsistent, and the Niners must avoid a hangover effect after an incredible overtime comeback win over the Rams.
It won’t be a shootout, and takeaways may ultimately decide the winner.
Steelers vs. Chiefs
Mon, January 17 2022, 1:15 AM
Pittsburgh showed tremendous resolve to sneak into the playoffs, pulling out close wins over Baltimore (twice), Cleveland, and Tennessee late in the season.
And while the Steelers were blown out by Kansas City on Dec. 26, Pittsburgh didn’t have T.J. Watt at full strength that afternoon. The Steelers were 9-2 when Watt played at least 40 snaps, 0-5-1 when he didn’t.
The league’s top pass rusher will look to terrorize Patrick Mahomes on Sunday.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Kansas City, which lost four of seven before reeling off eight straight wins, and the Chiefs are not in top form presently.
Kansas City surrendered 446 passing yards and four touchdowns in a loss to Cincinnati in Week 17. Backup quarterback Drew Lock couldn’t hurt the Chiefs in the regular-season finale, so Denver ran the ball at will, averaging 6.8 yards per play, as the Broncos logged nearly 200 rushing yards.
Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris should pound Kansas City’s soft run defense, enabling Pittsburgh to control clock, and the final score will be much closer the second time around.
Cardinals vs. Rams
Tue, January 18 2022, 1:15 AM
Arizona isn’t a preferred play, but the points are attractive in an expected close contest.
Matt Stafford will turn it over, as he has thrown eight interceptions and lost a fumble in the last four games, and the Rams are banged-up in the secondary.
Safety Jordan Fuller broke his ankle in Week 18, and safety Taylor Rupp (concussion) and cornerback Darious Williams (shoulder) were also hurt.
The Rams must avoid a letdown after blowing a 17-0 lead against San Francisco last week.
Arizona appears to be back on track, snapping a three-game losing streak with an impressive road win at Dallas in Week 17, and the Cardinals' versatility (top 10 in rushing and passing offense) makes them difficult to defend.