The 2021 Wild Card games are upon us and if the weekend’s games give us the excitement and drama of the regular season we are in for a treat. There are so many stories here including a possible Brady Belichick reunion, Conference Championship rematches and Aaron Rodgers going for the Super Bowl MVP double.
There is even the chance to see likely future hall of fame inductee Ben Rothelsberger play at least one more game thanks to some late drama in the Raiders and Chargers meeting where they could easily have knelt it out in OT and both qualified with the tie! Thank heavens the NFL has more integrity than some National Football Teams.
Seven New Faces
There are seven new playoff teams this year, which is quite a turnover, however, the usual suspects are still there, including the four that made up last seasons Championship games.
The Cincinnati Bengals are perhaps the most surprising addition improving from 4-11-1 last year to AFC North Champions this time around. They will be hoping to snap their run of eight consecutive playoff losses, a run stretching back to 1991!
The other slight surprise is the Raiders, who haven’t been in the postseason since the 2016 season and like the Bengals will be looking to snap a long playoff win drought. In their case, this stretches back to 2002. As they meet in the opener one of them will get this monkey off their shoulders.
The other new NFC additions are The Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals & San Francisco 49ers. While in the AFC we welcome back The New England Patriots, who missed the postseason for the first time in what seems like forever last year.
Anyway, that’s enough preamble, and below are our predictions for the weekend’s games…
NFL Wild Card Games
Saturday 15th January
(5) Las Vegas Raiders at (4) Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: Raiders +5.5
The two met in the regular season back in November, and the Bengals came out on top in that one, largely due to the efforts of Joe Mixon. He ran for 123 yards that night scored 2 TDs in a comfortable 32-13 win. Both are in good form with the Raiders winning their last four (all be it by narrow margins) while the Bengals had won three on the bounce before easing off in their final game having already clinched the division.
This one could be close for a while but we expect the Bengals to end their playoff win drought.
Prediction: Bengals 31-24
(6) New England Patriots at (3) Buffalo Bills
Latest Odds: Patriots +4
The honours were even in their divisional meetings in the regular season with both winning their away game. The Bills loss was to a degree dictated by atrocious weather and although it will be a tad cold in Buffalo this weekend we expect Josh Allen to have an easier time passing the ball and that should be enough for the Bills to edge it. Mac Jones has struggled badly against the Buffalo defense in both meetings so this could be quite a low scoring game.
Prediction: Bills 20-12
(7) Philadelphia Eagles at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spread: Eagles +8.5
Once again a meeting of teams who faced off in the regular season. The Buccs won that one 28-22 however the game was far more one-sided than the score suggests and the Eagles were held to only 113 yards passing. Tampa is thin at the receiving position thanks to Antonio Brown’s latest walkout, however, Tom Brady is long adept at making do and the Buccs defense should shut Hurts and co down again.
Prediction: Buccaneers 27-17
(6) San Francisco 49ers at (3) Dallas Cowboys
Spread: 49ers +3
This was a regular playoff fixture in the 1980s & 1990s and the winner of their previous postseason meetings has gone on to lift the Lombardy Trophy more often than not (5 out of 7). Dallas is the favourites in this one and ended up winning the relatively mediocre NFC East with some ease. They went 6-0 in the division but were a far less impressive 6-5 in their other games. Four of these losses were against playoff teams and it does throw question marks up.
The 49ers were in the toughest division in the NFL and if nothing else are battle-hardened. Their defense is pretty good and they have enough weapons on offense to trouble any team on their day. The lack of depth at running back is an issue but we expect both Deebo Samuel & George Kittle to have big days receiving in an upset win.
Prediction: 49ers 30-27
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
Spread: Steelers +12.5
Pittsburgh sneaked into the playoffs thanks to the Raiders OT win and although it would be nice to see Ben Roethlisberger end his career with a deep postseason run we cant see it. The Chiefs have hit form at the right time and although it might be a bit closer than the spread suggests we expect to Kansas City to move on.
Prediction: Chiefs 30-21
Monday Night Game
Yes, we get to enjoy three nights of it!
(5) Arizona Cardinals at (4) Los Angeles Rams
Spread: Cardinals +4
These teams are coming into the playoffs with very different momentum. The Rams have won 5 of their last six and only lost to the 49ers by a field goal in OT to prevent it from being a perfect end to the season. The Cardinals on the other hand have had a bit of a slump losing 4 out of 5, including a bad loss against the Lions. They have struggled to run the ball all season and maybe defences have finally learned how to shut Kyler Murray down? He is 1-5 against the Rams and doesn’t look the same player since his ankle injury.
Whatever it is clear that the Rams are all in for the win. They have given up much of this decades draft in an attempt to win now and many neutrals will be behind them as this could be Matthew Staffords only chance of making it to a Superbowl. We don’t see them going all the way but they should win this one.
Prediction: Rams 28-21
So there we have it our best guess at the weekend’s games. If we are right there will only be one upset. Let’s hope our prediction for an exciting 2021 playoffs is more accurate than our pre-season playoff predictions. We only managed to pick 8 out of the 14 participants.