NFL Playoff Preview


Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Prediction: Bengals 37-34
Game Evaluation:
The Raiders have overcome some of the most unprecedented circumstances in NFL history. Head coach Jon Gruden was dismissed after multiple emails were leaked in which he used racist and homophobic languange. Weeks later, the Raiders top deep threat and 2020 first round pick Henry Ruggs was in a fatal car crash while driving under the influence. Just three days later, a video surfaced of Damon Arnette holding a gun and making threats. The Raiders released both these players. Despite all of this among other chaos within the organization, interim head coach Rich Bisaccia and QB Derek Carr have led this team to the playoffs. They travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals led by former LSU teammates QB Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’marr Chase who have been breaking records left and right. No one predicted the Bengals to make the playoffs this year much less win the AFC North, but players on both sides of the ball have stepped up this year such as Chase and defensive end Trey Hendrickson who is fifth in the league with 14 sacks.

Both these teams have been entertaining all year long and have had plenty of late game drama, this is the most underrated game of the weekend as it should be a very entertaining game. The difference maker is the return of tight end Darren Waller who when he was healthy was the focal point of the Las Vegas offense and adds another layer to the offense. These teams are really evenly matched up but the Bengals beat them solidly 32-13 in the regular season, and even though the Raiders are one of the worst defenses against wide receivers, they shut down the Bengals passing game, but Cincinnati dominated them in the run game, because of the Raiders focus on shutting down the Bengals young wide receiver trio. The Raiders are playing with a chip on their shoulder and Darren Waller coming back means they’ll be able to stay in the game, but their defense can’t stop the Bengals pass and rush. However if they force turnovers and are opportunistic, they can have chances to win the game towards the end. Expect a high scoring game.
Playoff evaluation:
Both of these teams made it to where they are against the odds; however, they can’t compete against the AFC heavyweights. The Raiders just barely snuck into the playoffs, and the Bengals division wasn’t nearly as competitive as anticipated with the Ravens being played by injuries and the Browns not being as good as expected. Both of them are good enough to stay competitive and have a chance of pulling off an upset, but I can’t see either of these teams pulling off back to back wins against the likes of Tennessee, Kansas City or Buffalo.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Prediction: Bills 27-17
Game Evaluation:
These teams will meet for the third time this year after splitting the regular season series, one of them being a snow bowl that was basically a competition of who could run the ball better. In the second matchup, Buffalo QB Josh Allen was unstoppable throwing for three touchdowns and 314 yard, and rushing for 64 more. The Pats ran the ball very well both games but the Buffalo defense has owned Mac Jones this season. The Bills game plan should stay the same, lean on the defense that is the best in the NFL this year, and let Josh Allen go to work. However, they are going against one of the greatest defensive coaches of all time in Bill Belichick, who I’m sure will have a plan to limit Allen. We should see a great duel between Allen and Belichick’s schemes. Regardless, the New England offense needs to perform. This doesn’t mean that Jones needs to try and match Allen’s numbers, but he needs to limit his mistakes, complete passes at a high rate and not turn over the ball. In week 16 against Buffalo, he completed less than 50% of his passes and had two interceptions. It should be evident early if the Pats will be able to stay in this game. If Josh Allen is having his way with the Pats defense once again, and Mac Jones isn’t finding the gaps in the Buffalo defense, the Pats won’t be able to keep up by just running the ball.
Playoff Evaluation: The Buffalo Bills will go as far as Josh Allen takes them. They have the number one defense in multiple categories this year, and a running game that can move the sticks and run the clock down. If Josh Allen plays his best, Buffalo has a great chance at a Super Bowl appearance. He has shown his ability to dominate defenses like Kansas City and Tennessee. However he has a great tendency to turn over the ball. As long as Allen protects the ball, the Bills have as good a chance as anybody. Although the Pats have made leaps from last year, Mac Jones isn’t ready yet to go on a playoff run, and he doesn’t have the ability or experience to pick apart top tier defenses in the playoffs yet.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Prediction: Buccaneers 31-19
Game Evaluation:
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense enter these playoffs shorthanded with Antonio Brown off the team along with wide receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette being injured. However, playoff Brady is a different animal and Brady specializes in turning no-name wide receivers into assets. He also has his favorite target of all time in tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Mike Evans who has seven straight seasons with 1,000 receiving yards. The Eagles have looked good as of recent but barely snuck into these playoffs and it gets even worse when you see that the Eagles are 0-5 against playoff teams this year. However, Philly runs the ball just about as good as anyone else in the league. If they can continue this and Jalen Hurts is able to make plays, they might be able to stay in this game, but I can already see Brady taking it down the field on this Philly defense drive after drive. The Eagles are going to have to hit 30 points and force turnovers to have a chance to win.
Playoff Evaluation:
If the Eagles do somehow pull off this upset it will be because the defense forced turnovers, and Jalen Hurts was able to make plays against a stingy Bucs defense. If Philly pulls out the win, they’ll have to head to Green Bay next week and I don’t think Jalen Hurts beating Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers in back to back games when they’re both at home in the playoffs exists anywhere in the realm of possibility. This Buccaneers team is a step down from last year’s team, Brady has less weapons and the secondary isn’t as good. If Brady throws three picks against Green Bay again, Tampa won’t win the game. If we see a Packers-Bucs NFC championship it should be a great quarterback duel. However Tampa needs to get through the 49ers or Cowboys first, two defenses that can give him a lot of trouble for different reasons. San Francisco is great in coverage and forces stops. The Dallas defense gets immense pressure to the quarterback every play and is extremely opportunistic, leading the NFL in turnovers. The Bucs barely escaped with a win against Dallas in week 1, solely due to the fact of three missed kicks by Dallas. That was also against a much weaker Cowboys defense, and Brady had more weapons at his disposal. The Buccaneers are far from the favorites in the NFC.

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Prediction: Cowboys 30-21
Game Evaluation:
All week you’ve been hearing about how dangerous this 49ers team is, that the Cowboys got the worst draw possible, and that the Cowboys are on upset alert. The 49ers have a great team and if they weren’t playing the Cowboys in the first round, they would have a great chance to pull off some upsets and go on a run. Dak Prescott is a great playoff quarterback with 800 yards, five touchdowns, only two interceptions and a passer rating of 95.7 in three playoff games. He has never lost in the first round of the playoffs. The 49ers offense is centered around the run game and Deebo Samuel who has been spectacular all year, carrying this offense in the running and passing game, doing everything. Well, the Cowboys have a guy that can do everything on defense, Micah Parsons. Having not only one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, but one of the greatest seasons period. The Cowboys can either choose to use Parsons to neutralize Deebo, but it would leave the rest of the Cowboys defense vulnerable to the 49ers rushing attack. But when Deebo is out of the equation, the Cowboys can go all out on Jimmy Garoppolo in the backfield. Similar to Matt Ryan and Taylor Heinicke, Garoppolo is terrible against pressure and I expect the Cowboys defense to terrorize him just as they did to Ryan and Heinicke, forcing four turnovers out of each of them. The Cowboys can also just keep their usual defensive scheme and just have Parsons go after Deebo from his usual defensive position. In both scenarios the Cowboys are vulnerable to the rushing attack, so the 49ers will put up some points, but at some point Garoppolo is going to be forced to make throws under pressure, which will stall some drives. However many points the 49ers rushing game is able to score, I have faith Dak Presscott will put the points up he needs to win the game. As long as the Cowboys are able to run the ball successfully with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard as they are both getting healthy as well as the Dallas O-line, the 49ers defense will have to focus on that. Then, the Cowboys just have to get the ball to their playmakers outside and should be able to move the ball at will. I think the Cowboys will struggle in the red zone against the San Fran defense, forcing them to settle for a few field goals.
Playoff Evaluation:
If the 49ers are able to upset the Cowboys it will be because Jimmy Garoppolo continued his strong play from the end of the regular season. If Garoppolo is playing well, the 49ers become a very dangerous team. If the running game remains consistent and Garoppolo can make throws with the attention on the running game, their defense does a great job of limiting great quarterbacks and they can easily put up enough points to upset the likes of the Buccaneers and Packers. Throughout the entire season the Cowboys have been called frauds and criticized for this and that. But it is undeniable this team is good enough to make a playoff run. Questions about the offense after week seven have been circling all year. But with rumors swirling that Kellen Moore has been dumbing down the offensive playbook for the playoffs, I can see the Dallas offense returning to how they looked in the first six weeks of the season. An explosive offense paired with a defense that can get to the quarterback and leads the NFL turnovers, don’t be surprised if in three weeks you see the Cowboys at Lambeau Field with a lead against Aaron Rogers.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Prediction: Chiefs 41-17
Game Evaluation:
Ben Roethlisberger said it perfectly in a press conference last week, the Steelers should just go out there and have fun. The Steelers don’t deserve to be here, they only made it because Brandon Staley pushed his luck one timeout too far and the Ravens have been decimated by injuries this year. Patrick Mahomes should go crazy on Sunday and should be able to easily pick apart this defense. The only way the Chiefs can screw this up is if Mahomes returns to where he was at the beginning of the year, trying to force plays, and turning over the ball. Even though he should have a great day in the air, he needs to come in and just move the ball and not go for the home run play, as Pittsburg safety Minkah Fitzpatrick should be watching that early on into the game. Eventually the defense will settle in, the safeties will start to move forward, and Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardmad will get behind the defense and the big plays will be there. The Steelers have a young star in Najee Harris and a great trio of wide receivers, but the O-line has been struggling all year and Big Ben should have retired two years ago. They’ll be able to move the ball and make some plays, but won’t be able to keep up with the Kansas City offense. The Steelers secondary has been inconsistent all year, but they could make things difficult for Patrick Mahomes. Don’t be surprised if you see a slow start from the Chiefs.
Playoff evaluation:
If the Steelers do miraculously pull off a miracle against the Chiefs they’ll head to Tennessee where I cannot see a way they win. The Titans should pound the ball whether Derrick Henry is back or not because of the success they’ve had with Dont’a Foreman. When the Steelers have to start packing the box more and guarding the run, the Titans will be able to get Julio Jones and A.J Brown in one on ones, and the Tennsesse front four should be able to terrorize the Steelers offensive line. The biggest obstacle for the Chiefs from getting to the super bowl is seeing the Bills in the second round. In last year’s AFC championship game we saw both teams abandon the running game with their running backs and put the game in the hands of their quarterback. Mahomes got the edge as he was spectacular with over 300 yards and three touchdowns while Josh Allen did everything for Buffalo in the air and on the ground but missed too many passes with 20 incompletions and had an interception as the Bill fell 38-20. This year in the regular season both teams let their quarterback try and win the game but the scripted flipped as Mahomes was the one with 20 incompletions and two picks, cast a shadow over his 272 passing yards, two touchdowns and 60 rushing yards, while Allen had 315 in the air, 60 on the ground and three touchdowns with no turnovers. In both of these games both teams abandoned their usual running game and let it be a quarterback duel, part three should be just as entertaining. If the Chiefs can get past the Bills, their matchup against the Titans should be similar to the 2020 AFC Championship game. The Chiefs defense stops the run better than they stop the pass and the Titans rely on a strong run game for their entire offense to be successful and the Chiefs offense is too explosive for the Titans defense to handle, especially with a healthy O-line.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Prediction: Rams 34-27
Game Evaluation:
The Cardinals offense has been slumping for several weeks now, and the Cardinals look very vulnerable and beatable, despite looking unstoppable in the first six weeks of the season. The Cardinals are trending in the wrong way at the wrong time. The Rams are and have been one of the most balanced teams in the league. They have a prolific offense, which might get even better with running back Cam Akers possibly coming back, and a defense with multiple playmakers. They were dominated by the Cardinals in their meeting this season, but then got the better of Arizona in week 14. The difference between the two games comes down to three key aspects: Arizona’s run game, Mathew Stafford, and Kyler Murray taking care of the ball. In the first matchup, Stafford was missing throws and wasn’t finding the gaps in Arizona’s defense, the Cardinals dominated the run game rushing the ball 39 times with four different players for nearly 220 yards. More impressively Murray only contributed 39 yards to this total and he didn’t turnover the ball. In week 14, Stafford was incredibly accurate and threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Murray put up nearly 450 yards but had no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Cardinals only ran the ball 22 times for 103 yards, and when you take out Murray’s rushing, it was only 15 rushes for 42 yards. For Arizona to win, they need to make things easy for Kyler Murray, and dominate the run game with running backs James Connor and Chase Edmonds. For the Rams to win, Stafford needs to play well and their defense has to force Kyler to create.
Playoff Evaluation:
The Rams will keep themselves in almost any game because they can beat you in so many different ways but to win games and to go on a playoff run it comes down to Stafford. The Rams will go as far as Stafford can take them. They can stay in games when he doesn’t play well, but they’re better when Stafford is the reason they’re winning games. Against a team like Green Bay, the Rams run game and defense won’t win them the game. Arizona’s defense is one of the most vulnerable units in the league. At times they look like one of the best defenses in the league but they can get exposed if the opposing team’s quarterback is making throws. Aaron Rogers beat them by throwing the ball despite missing his top three receivers. With all of them back, it seems unlikely this defense will be able to stop an offense led by quarterbacks like Rogers or Brady. On offense their complementary pieces need to step up, especially with receiver Deandre Hopkins out, Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore have to step up so Kyler can make the plays they need to win.