What to Expect in the NFL Playoffs: Super Wild Card Weekend

The regular season is over, and the NFL playoffs are here. The Bengals and Raiders will kick off Super Wild Card weekend this afternoon, so the writers for the Leonid decided to sit down and preview each wild card weekend matchup. 

NFC:

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (7)

The defending champs Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the streaking Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at 1:00 on FOX. This will be the first time Tom Brady has faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the postseason since Superbowl 52. At 44 years old, Tom Brady will be facing off against Jalen Hurts, a 23-year-old who is fighting to prove himself as the Eagles long-term answer at quarterback.

Tampa Bay Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Buccaneers have the second-best offense in the NFL based on yardage per game and points scored per game. Offensively, the Buccaneers have been a high-powered offense, star-studded with Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and Leonard Fournette, but that will not be the offense out there on Sunday afternoon. Chris Godwin tearing his ACL, Antonio Brown stripping himself and leaving the field midgame, and lingering hamstring injuries with Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette have left the Buccaneers in a tough situation to close out the year. Some good news is that Evans and Fournette will be good to go this weekend. Defensively is where things get shaky. The Buccaneers will be going up against the number one rushing offense in the NFL led by Miles Sanders, Jalen Hurts, and Jordan Howard. They have been decimated with injuries all season, but they are expecting to get Shaquill Barret and Jason Pierre-Paul back, which should help solidify their defense.

Philadelphia Strengths and Weaknesses: 

The Philadelphia Eagles have the number one ranked rushing offense in the NFL, but they have a difficult challenge ahead of them. While the Buccaneers have been awfully stingy with their run defense, they have been less effective at stopping the run these last couple weeks, as a result of missing key players on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles will exploit the Bucs’ secondary while running the ball to the perimeter of their defense if they want any shot at winning this game. Miles Sanders is continuing rehab on a fractured hand but looks like he will play on Sunday, which is a welcome sign to Eagles fans everywhere. While their offense will have to score points to win this game, their defense will have to put pressure on the seven-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady. If the Eagles allow Tom more than a second or two to get the ball out of his hands, he will torch the Eagles secondary, so having an effective four-man rush, headed by Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat will be vital to winning this game.

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles 29 

      Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 

  1. Dallas Cowboys (3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (6)

The San Francisco 49ers will travel to take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at 4:30, on CBS. Jimmy Garoppolo will take on Dak Prescott as he looks to take the 49ers back to another superbowl. The 49ers defense will have their hands full, though, as they take on the best offense in the NFL.

Dallas Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Cowboys have a superpower offense for several seasons now, but this year, they have a superpower defense. With Randy Gregory, Trevon Diggs, Demarcus Lawrence, and rookie Micah Parsons, the Cowboys have been an elite defense all season, bouncing back from last season, when they had a historically bad defense. They should be able to slow down this 49ers offense, so that even if their offense is struggling, it won’t take an immense amount of points to win. Coaching might be their weakest link. Head Coach Mike McCarthy needs to outcoach 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. He will need to use his timeouts effectively and call a good game.

San Francisco Strengths and Weaknesses:

The 49ers are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs, because they have lots of playoff experience. Two years ago, they were in the superbowl with a very similar roster, so the Niners know what is needed of them to reach their ultimate goal of winning a championship. With Kyle Shanahan’s creative playcalling, they should have no problem scoring points, despite an elite Cowboys’ defense. However, Nick Bosa and the rest of the San Francisco defense will need to stop the run and limit the big play ability of  Dak Prescott and Ceedee Lamb if they want a shot of keeping up in this game.

Prediction: San Francisco 49ers: 24

      Dallas Cowboys: 21

  1. Los Angeles Rams (4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (5)

The star studded Los Angeles Rams welcome the Arizona Cardinals to SoFi Stadium on Monday at 8:15, on ABC and ESPN. The NFC West rivals will face off for the third time this season, so far, splitting the series. Kyler Murray will make his playoff debut as they look to upset Matthew Stafford and the Rams.

Los Angeles Strengths and Weaknesses:

It’s fitting that the Los Angeles Rams are filled with showtime stars. While they have a stacked offense, it’s their defense that will have to carry them this postseason. With perennial Pro Bowlers in Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller on the defensive side of the ball, they will need to cause havoc on Monday night. With Kyler Murrays’ scrambling ability, they will need to contain him as best they can. Their biggest weakness is their quarterback Matthew Stafford. I find it hard to believe myself, but Stafford has been struggling as of late, and he will need to stop turning the ball over if they want to reach the superbowl, let alone get past the Cardinals.

Arizona Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Cardinals have not been playing great to finish off the season, but with Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins back and fully healthy and ready to go for the playoffs, never say never. Their offense has the ability to explode at any second, because of players like Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Deandre Hopkins, and AJ Green, but they will need reliable play out of newly acquired tight end Zach Ertz. If Kyler Murray can take care of the football, and not put the ball in harms’ way, the Cardinals can win this game. My only concern for the Arizona Cardinals is their ability to slow down Cooper Kupp and the Rams offense. Chandler Jones will need to put pressure on Matthew Stafford, which should lead to turnovers, which should then lead to good field position for the Cardinals offense. I am expecting a fairly high scoring affair on Monday night.

Prediction: Los Angeles Rams: 33

      Arizona Cardinals: 30

AFC:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7)

The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs, at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night, at 8:15, on NBC. In the battle, two of the most respected coaches in NFL history, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin. The Steelers will look to upset the back to back AFC champions.

Kansas City Strengths and Weaknesses:

I think it’s fair to say that the Chiefs are the favorites to come out of the AFC for a third straight season. With Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce on the offensive side of the ball, they can score on anybody. Their offense struggled earlier in the season, but I am expecting an explosive Chiefs offense as they look to make a run here in the playoffs. A cause for concern would be their inconsistent defense. Their defense had been playing very well after a slow start to the season, but last week against the Broncos, their defense gave up 24 points after the Broncos hadn’t scored more than 13 in the three weeks prior. Tyrann Mathieu will need to lead the Chiefs defense and make sure they keep an old Ben Roethlisberger in check.

Pittsburgh Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Steelers are major underdogs this week, understandably. They have a static quarterback and a team that quite frankly, shouldn’t be in the playoffs. However, they have a shot to take down one of the NFL’s best teams in the wild card round. The Steelers defense will NEED to slow down the Chiefs offense if they want any shot at winning and advancing this postseason. TJ Watt will need to get after the quarterback and make life as difficult as possible for Mahomes. Watt tied the single season sacks record with 22.5 sacks this season, so I think that he will need to leave his mark on this game. My concern for the Steelers is Big Ben. He has very limited mobility and his arm strength isn’t quite what it used to be, so can he find one more postseason run in him, I doubt it. 

Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs: 38

      Pittsburgh Steelers: 17

  1. Buffalo Bills (3) vs. New England Patriots (6)

The Buffalo Bills will take on the New England Patriots tonight, at 8:15 on CBS. After splitting the regular season series, Josh Allen will look to send Mac Jones and the New England Patriots home. It will be a game to remember, as it is going to be a frosty night in Buffalo.

Buffalo Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Bills have the number one ranked defense, and they will need that defense to show up tonight. A defense led by Jordan Poyer, will need to shut down Mac Jones and the Patriots offense. If their defense can make the Patriots offense one dimensional, they will have an excellent chance to win this game. On the other hand, the Bills will need consistent production out of Devin Singletary, who has been up and down this season. If he can find a way to run the ball effectively, especially since it is going to be one of the coldest games this season, he will make the Bills offense much harder to stop.

New England Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Patriots have a difficult task ahead of them, going to win a game in Buffalo. However, their defense is a reason for hope. Led by JC Jackson and Matthew Judon, the Pats defense will need to make life hard on Josh Allen. They will need to get pressure on him, because if they let Allen sit back and pick them apart, that is exactly what he will do. On the contrary, Mac Jones will need to show up for the occasion. Over the last month, his quarterback rating has dropped to one of the lowest in the NFL and he has struggled more than he had at the beginning of the season. He will need to find a way to complete passes despite the unfortunate weather, because if he struggles again, I don’t think the Patriots have any shot at winning this game.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills: 17

      New England Patriots: 16

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (4) vs. Las Vegas Raiders (5)

The Las Vegas Raiders travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals this afternoon, at 4:30 on NBC. Derek Carr and Joe Burrow are set to make their playoff debuts as they look to get their teams their first playoff win in decades.

Cincinnati Strengths and Weaknesses:

Cincinnati’s strength is plain and simple, it’s their offense. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd are possibly the most talented wide receiver group in the entire NFL, and that has allowed Joe Burrow to excel thus far in his career. The Bengals put up 32 on the Raiders in their one and only meeting this season, so they will look to duplicate that performance. One cause for concern, could be their lack of playoff experience. The Bengals are a very young team, and with a head coach making his playoff debut, they will need to ease into the game. I expect Cincinnati to take it to the Raiders and put up an amazing performance.

Las Vegas Strengths and Weaknesses:

After a season filled with drama, the Raiders find themselves with the chance to take out the red hot Bengals. They only put up 13 points in their matchup with the Bengals in the regular season, so they will need a much better offensive performance in the wild card round. The Raiders can rely on Derek Carr to show up. He has been the heart and soul of this team on the offensive side of the ball. With Darren Waller back, he should be able to put up some points on this Bengals defense. The only cause for concern is their defense. Maxx Crosby has been their best player on the defensive side of the ball, but they will need some more people to step up. This Bengals offense is explosive, so the Raiders secondary will need to play their best game of the season. I think the Raiders have a shot to win this game, but they will need to play close to perfect football.

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals: 28

      Las Vegas Raiders: 24

By George Keene

Sports Editor

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