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Bold predictions for NFL Wild Card Weekend: Top QBs shine, big upset in NFC

Matt Johnson
NFL Wild Card Weekend, Joe Burrow
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Wild Card Weekend has arrived and this year’s edition is more special than ever with playoff games across three days. The action will be intense as 12 teams battle for spots in the divisional round. We’re expecting some huge performance, a blowout and even an upset.

Fittingly, it all begins with the AFC controlling Saturday’s slate. Fans will get to watch a rematch between the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders to begin the afternoon. On Saturday night, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills square off for the third time this season.

It’s a three-game NFL Wild Card Weekend slate on Sunday and there is plenty of intrigue. Things start off with Tom Brady facing Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles. Shortly after, the playoff returns to AT&T Stadium as the Dallas Cowboys host the San Francisco 49ers, a classic NFL rivalry. Closing out the slate, an AFC duel between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Finally, playoff action on Monday Night Football. A new tradition starts in 2022, a fitting NFC West clash between the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals. Now, let’s dive into our bold predictions for NFL Wild Card Weekend.

Joe Burrow, Bengals’ offense lights up the scoreboard

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals
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This is the matchup the Bengals secretly wanted. It’s about more than the meeting the last time these clubs faced off. The score was lopsided, with Cincinnati winning 32-13, but it was a three-point game early in the fourth quarter. The Bengals know they can run on Las Vegas, demonstrated by Joe Mixon’s 123-yard performance in the last meeting. But we’re expecting a shootout on Saturday afternoon.

Related: NFL QB Rankings – Patrick Mahomes-Joe Burrow battle sets stage for fireworks

The Raiders will need to pick their poison in this meeting. If Casey Hayward Jr. lines up over Ja’Marr Chase, there are other problems. Tee Higgins (1,091 yards) and Tyler Boyd (828 yards) will torch Brandon Facyson in coverage. Look at what Justin Herbert (567 yards, 6 TDs), Mahomes (662 yards, 7 TDs) and Prescott (373 yards, 106.1 QB rating) did to the Raiders’ secondary. We could see a four-touchdown, 350-yard game from Burrow and a victory in his first playoff game.

Josh Allen delivers four-touchdown performance against Bill Belichick

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
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It’s fitting that we get a rubber match between the Bills and Patriots in NFL Wild Card Weekend. New England used hurricane-line winds to neutralize Josh Allen at Highmark Stadium on Dec. 6, allowing just 10 total points, 145 passing yards and 4.8 ypa. A few weeks later, with the weather more quarterback-friendly, Allen scored three touchdowns in a 33-21 win.

Weather will obviously play a factor in this duel between Allen and Bill Belichick. Buffalo isn’t exactly a vacation spot, but things look promising on Saturday night. Wind gusts are projected t top ut at 14 mph with no rain or snow in the forecast. So, Mother Nature won’t be stopping Allen.

Opponents have averaged just 140 passing yards per game against New England since Week 9. But many of those matchups came against bad or inexperienced quarterbacks. We just saw the Patriots surrender 314 passing yards to Allen in Week 16. If the BIlls’ defense generates some short fields, Allen could finish Saturday with three touchdowns through the air and one on the ground.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers blowout the Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Tampa Bay entered the week as an 8.5-point favorite over the Eagles and that number might keep rising. It’s a surprise that Philadelphia reached the postseason, but it certainly earned it thanks to a winning record with some impressive victories. But those hoping for a close game might not be accounting appropriately for the Brady factor.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2022 – Davante Adams, Chris Godwin top loaded WR class

This is the greatest quarterback in NFL history for a reason. He enters NFL Wild Card Weekend with 12,449 passing yards and 83 passing touchdowns in 45 playoff games. While he only completed 58.7% of his attempts during the Super Bowl run last year, it came with a 98.1 passer rating and 10-3 TD-INT ratio.

Philadelphia does catch a bit of a break. Chris Godwin (injured reserve) and Antonio Brown (cut) are both gone, taking away two Pro Bowl weapons. The Eagles can put Darius Slay (76.1 passer rating allowed when targeted) in man coverage against Mike Evans, but Brady will just funnel targets to Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Tyler Johnson. If the Bucs get ahead early, which we expect, Jalen Hurts is forced to throw a ton and that’s a recipe for the Eagles losing by two touchdowns.

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San Francisco 49ers stun AT&T Stadium

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
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The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium with a ton of confidence. They destroyed the Eagles in Week 18, dropping a 50-burger with Dak Prescott throwing five touchdowns and the Cowboys’ rushing attack (171 yards) dominating. But that came against Philadelphia’s backup defense and we’ve already seen dropping a 50-burger one week doesn’t translate to success in the next game.

While the Cowboys’ offensive line can be great, there is also inconsistency. The Cowboys allowed Prescott to be sacked three-plus times in four games this year and they entered Week 18 ranked 23rd in ESPN’s pass-block win rate. That’s a concern against San Francisco’s defensive front, which boasts one of the highest team pass-rush win rates in the NFL. They don’t need to blitz either because Nick Bosa (71 pressures), Arik Armstead (38 hurries), D.J. Jones (38 run stops), Samson Ebukam (32 pressures, 21 stops) often dominate.

If the Cowboys protect Prescott, he can relentlessly attack San Francisco’s secondary. But it’s far from a guarantee that the pocket is clean. It’s also not the only concerning matchup. Kyle Shanahan loves to run the football, using motion and creative looks to open up running lanes behind a great offensive line. Meanwhile, opponents averaged 130 rushing yards per game against the Cowboys in their last 10 games.

The 49ers’ pass rush can take over a game, preventing Dallas from taking shots downfield. Pair that with San Francisco’s ability to control the clock and we could see Cowboys fans devastated at AT&T Stadium again.

Ben Roethlisberger ends his career on an ugly note

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
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The Steelers only had an 8% chance of making the playoffs entering Week 18 and everything somehow unfolded perfectly to make it happen. As a result, Ben Roethlisberger gets to keep playing a little bit longer. Unfortunately for him, there won’t be a storybook ending.

  • Ben Roethlisberger stats: 64.5% completion rate, 86.8 passer rating (24th), 6.2 yards per attempt (29th)

Big Ben averaged just 168.5 passing yards in his final four games this season, a downward trend that also happened in 2020. He is playing behind a bad offensive line, a unit that finished with one of the lowest pass block win rates in the NFL this season. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs finished to0-10 in pass rush win rate and will be throwing Chris Jones (65 pressures, 10 sacks), Frank Clark (46 pressures) and Melvin Ingram at Pittsburgh.

Everyone saw what happened the last time these two met, a 36-10 blowout at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City will be even more motivated in this meeting and it won’t take its foot off the brake with an early lead. Multiple interceptions and a two-touchdown loss on NFL Wild Card Weekend is how Big Ben’s career will end.

Matthew Stafford comes up short on NFL Wild Card Weekend

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
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The Rams traded two first-round picks for Matthew Stafford, confident he would become an MVP candidate with Sean McVay calling plays. Things looked very promising early. Entering November, Stafford looked like an All-Pro quarterback with the Rams holding a 7-1 record and becoming the Super Bowl favorite.

  • Matthew Stafford stats (Week 1-8): 2,477 passing yards, 22-4 TD-INT ratio, 68.8% completion rate, 118.0 QB rating
  • Matthew Stafford stats (Week 9-18): 2,409 passing yards, 19-13 TD-INT rate, 65.8% completion rate, 90.4 QB rating

Pick-sixes proved especially costly, often deciding games. While the Robert Woods injury might have played a role, Odell Beckham Jr. has thrived as the Rams’ No. 2 receiver. It’s also not all on the offensive line, although it did struggle in the second half of the season.

Stafford is better at home (21-6 TD-INT ratio, 107.7 passer rating) than on the road (20-11 TD-INT, 98.4 passer rating). He also posted a 110.5 rating with 567 passing yards against the Cardinals’ defense in two meetings this season. But beating a playoff-caliber opponent three times in one season is extremely challenging.

Considering how close the Rams and Cardinals are, this game will almost certainly come down to the wire. It will set the stage on Monday for Stafford to deliver the perfect capper to the Super NFL Wild Card Weekend. But given his recent play and the interceptions he can’t seem to knock, we think he and the Rams will come up short.