After the NFL’s first-ever 17-game season, the 2021-22 NFL playoffs are finally upon us. Wildcard Weekend features six high-profile matchups spread over three days in one of the best weekend’s of the year for football fans.
Two of the weekend’s six games will feature divisional rivals meeting for a third and final time, with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots of the AFC East and the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams of the NFC West both meeting for the third time after splitting their regular season matchups.
In other rematches, Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles will try to overcome the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers after losing to them in the regular season. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers will look to avenge an ugly loss to the Kansas City Chiefs just three weeks ago, and Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals will aim to beat Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders for the second time this season.
How will Wildcard Weekend play out? Which division winners should be on upset watch? Read on for my full picks, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any selections, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
Week 1: 6-10
Week 2: 12-4
Week 3: 11-5
Week 4: 12-4
Week 5: 13-3
Week 6: 10-4
Week 7: 9-4
Week 8: 9-6
Week 9: 5-9
Week 10: 9-4-1
Week 11: 12-3
Week 12: 6-9
Week 13: 9-5
Week 14: 12-2
Week 15: 9-7
Week 16: 13-3
Week 17: 12-4
Week 18: 9-7
2021-22 NFL Season Total: 178-93-1 (66%)
For comparison, last year’s regular season total:
- 2020-21 NFL Season: 157-98-1 (62%)
Week 18 wasn’t my strongest performance, but it was still a winning record for the 16th time in 18 weeks. I improved my pick accuracy from last year by 4%,
In Week 18, I incorrectly predicted:
- Packers over Lions
- Colts over Jaguars
- Ravens over Steelers
- Patriots over Dolphins
- Rams over 49ers
- Cardinals over Seahawks
- Chargers over Raiders
See Also: 2021-22 NFL Season Predictions
- AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West
- NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
- Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Matchup
- Midseason Predictions and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
- Half Season MVP Watch
#5 Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at #4 Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Line: Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)
Time: 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT
Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders entered the playoffs in epic fashion, downing the Chargers at the last-second on Sunday Night Football to clinch a playoff spot on the final play of the regular season. The Raiders have played good football in the past two weeks against the Chargers and Colts, but are only four weeks removed from barely beating a COVID-ravaged Browns team, and before that, Las Vegas endured a brutal 1-5 mid-season slump.
Can the Raiders keep it rolling against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals? The Bengals strength is their young, dynamic offense, with 1,200-yard rusher Joe Mixon, 1,400-yard, 13-TD rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and 74-catch, near-1,100-yard receiver Tee Higgins. The Bengals ranked seventh in scoring offense with 27.1 points per game, while the Raiders, even with the sixth-best passing offense in the league, averaged just 22.0 points per game, 18th in the NFL.
Throw in Cincinnati’s slightly better but still vulnerable defense, as well as a recent three-game win streak over the Broncos, Ravens, and Chiefs, and the Bengals are the better team in this matchup. The Bengals beat Las Vegas 32-13 in the regular season, and just like that game, the Raiders won’t be able to keep up with Burrow’s offense on Saturday. Cincinnati should win this one at home.
Bengals win 34-23, Bengals win ATS
#6 New England Patriots (10-7) at #3 Buffalo Bills (11-6)
Line: Buffalo Bills (-4.5)
Time: 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots will meet on Saturday night in a decisive third meeting of the season, after splitting the regular season series 1-1. Mac Jones and the Patriots prevailed despite barely throwing the ball in a sloppy early December meeting in Buffalo, but Josh Allen and the Bills got their revenge in a Week 16 meeting that essentially decided the AFC East.
This could be one of the best matchups of Wildcard Weekend, both from a storyline standpoint and a pure football point-of-view. Buffalo possesses the league’s third-best offense (28.4 PPG) and stingiest defense (17.0 PPG allowed) while the Patriots feature the NFL’s sixth-highest scoring offense (27.2 PPG) and second-best defense (17.8 PPG allowed.) This game should be an absolute battle on both sides of the football on a brisk January night.
Besides being the home team and finishing the season with a slightly better record, I’m picking the Bills because they’re playing better football right now. If New England was playing like they had been during their seven-game winning streak, they would be an easy pick here, but the Patriots dropped three of their final four games, beating only the Jaguars in a 50-point outburst that raised their scoring average. Allen and the Bills, on the other hand, won four straight games by 12 points or more to end the regular season.
The Bills took the most recent meeting between these two teams, and as the hotter team at this moment in time, should take round three as well.
Bills win 27-20, Bills win ATS
#7 Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-9.0)
Time: 1:00 PM ET/11:00 AM PT
Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles nearly came back in a 28-22 early-season loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that dropped them to 2-4. Now, at 9-8 with six wins in their last eight games, could the Eagles give the defending Super Bowl champions a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs?
While anything is possible, there’s no reason to think Tampa Bay won’t be able to overcome Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. Yes, the Eagles are 6-2 in their last eight games, but none of those wins came against playoff teams, with Philadelphia feasting on the Giants, Jets, and Washington Football Team for four of those six wins. Against teams that posted a winning record this season, the Eagles finished 1-7.
Tom Brady still leads the second-highest flying offense in the NFL, averaging 30.1 points per game, and even with the losses of Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown over the past month, Tampa Bay still has the tools to quickly dispatch Hurts and the Eagles.
Buccaneers win 33-17, Buccaneers win ATS
#6 San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at #3 Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Line: Dallas Cowboys (-3.0)
Time: 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT
Channel: CBS (with alternate broadcast on Nickelodeon)
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys finished a strong 12-5 this season, just a game behind the Packers and Buccaneers for the best record in the league. But upon further inspection, the Cowboys did the majority of their damage by beating up on their weak NFC East competition, going 6-0 against the Giants, Eagles, and Washington Football Team but just 6-5 against all other opponents. Dallas also went 5-4 in their last nine games, with only two wins against opponents with winning records.
The Cowboys aren’t complete frauds, but their electric offense (NFL-high 31.2 PPG) can disappear against good teams with solid defenses.
Enter an oppurtunistic San Francisco 49ers team.
While there’s been no point this season where the 49ers have looked like Super Bowl contenders, San Francisco has rebounded nicely from a 3-5 start, finishing the season on a 7-2 tear. That included a 3-1 record against playoff teams, with a tight loss to the Titans in Week 16 but wins over the Rams (twice) and the Bengals.
With a Top 10 scoring defense (21.5 PPG) and an efficient offense led by Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers just might be able to upset Dallas on their home turf. The Cowboys went 5-3 at AT&T Stadium this season, while San Francisco went 6-3 away from home.
The Cowboys are favored as the better-finishing team with the more reliable offense, but if the 49ers can keep the scoring in the 20’s, I think they can pull off the first upset of Wildcard Weekend.
49ers win 27-24, 49ers win ATS
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)
Time: 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are the biggest favorite of Wildcard Weekend, and for good reason. After a midseason slump, the Chiefs finished the season on an elite 9-1 run, which notably included a 36-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. With neither team changing much since then, there’s no reason to think the Steelers won’t suffer another big loss in Kansas City this weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers stumbled into the postseason with a 4-4-1 stretch over their last nine games, but won back-to-back games over the Browns and Ravens to sneak into the postseason. But even with solid running back Najee Harris and a more than capable receiving core, Pittsburgh finished 21st in scoring this season with 20.2 PPG. The Chiefs, on the other hand, average 28.4 PPG, fourth in the NFL, and have averaged an eye-popping 35.4 PPG over the last five weeks.
Mahomes is a tough out in the playoffs, with a 6-2 career postseason record, being eliminated only by Tom Brady. Roethlisberger and the Steelers simply won’t be able to keep up, and the final whistle will likely indicate Big Ben’s last moments with the Steelers organization.
Chiefs win 37-16, Chiefs win ATS
Monday Night Football
#5 Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at #4 Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
Line: Los Angeles Rams (-4.0)
Time: 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
Wildcard Weekend expands to Monday night as the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams meet for the third time this season in an NFC West clash. Arizona won a Week 3 meeting 37-20 with both teams entering the game undefeated, but the Rams won 30-23 in a Week 14 win that helped pushed Los Angeles to the NFC West title.
After enduring a three-game losing streak to the Titans, 49ers, and Packers, the Rams won five straight games before losing to the 49ers in Week 18. Losing Robert Woods and adding Odell Beckham Jr. came with some growing pains, but the former Pro Bowl wideout has been a key contributor to the Rams offense over the past few weeks. Arizona was the league’s last undefeated team at 7-0 before a loss to the Packers, and went 4-6 over their last ten games to back into the playoffs. The only thing going for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals lately was a 25-22 win over the Cowboys in Week 17.
The Cardinals simply haven’t been the same team since the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, but with 55 points scored in the last two weeks, Kyler Murray’s offense may just be waking up again.
Matthew Stafford and the Rams finished the season strong, but finished just 3-5 against eventual playoff teams. The Cardinals finished 5-2 against playoff squads, as well as 8-1 on the road. Los Angeles is deservedly the favorite here, but I can’t just pick the favorite in every matchup. I think Murray and the Cardinals will find a way to stun their divisional rivals on their home turf and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Cardinals win 33-27, Cardinals win ATS
- 2021-22 NFL Power Rankings: Post-Week 1, Post-Week 2, Post-Week 3, Post-Week 4, Post-Week 5, Post-Week 6, Post-Week 7, Post-Week 8, Post-Week 9, Post-Week 10, Post-Week 11, Post-Week 12, Post-Week 13, Post-Week 14, Post-Week 15, Post-Week 16, Post-Week 17, Post-Week 18
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- 2021-22 NFL Predictions: AFC West
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Header Photo: Getty Images via Heavy.com