SUPER WILD CARD WEEKEND!!
Seattle Seahawks 9-8 @ San Francisco 49ers 13-4 (49ers under 27.5)
There appears to be a train of thought that this maybe the toughest test for San Francisco because Pete Carroll and the Seahawks know them so well. I don’t see it!
It’s one thing to be division rivals, it’s another to take down a team on top of their game, with a better roster, on their own turf. That’s the challenge facing Seattle this weekend. Let’s not forget, they’re only here by virtue of an overtime win, at home, over the beleaguered Rams and a Packers loss. It’s worth keeping in mind that this was perceived to be a rebuilding year in Seattle as well with Geno Smith at QB. While their offense has been a pleasant surprise. Finishing top 10 in scoring with 23.9 points per game. Defensively they’ve largely struggled. Ranked 26th overall, 25th in points allowed (23.6ppg) but most worryingly 30th in run defense. Allowing 150.2 yards per game.
When you’re facing a team which specialises in running the ball, that’s an issue! San Francisco have the 8th best rushing offense in the NFL. They’re have the 6th best scoring offense (25.6ppg) and they don’t turn the ball over. Only 2 teams have committed fewer turnovers than the 49ers’ 17 this season. That’s despite now playing their 3rd starting QB this year. However, Brock Purdy’s play has been nothing short of sensational in his first 5 games as a rookie. Calm in the pocket, mobile and able to make plays on the move.
The 49ers swept Seattle in the regular season meetings and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win again here. However, 27 points was the most they scored in either game and they’re unlikely to need to score more than that to get through to the Divisional round.
PICK: San Francisco 49ers under 27.5
LA Chargers 10-7 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 9-8 (Total Points over 46.5)
This could turn out to be the most entertaining games of the weekend. Two teams making their return to the post season after prolonged absences. The Chargers are back for the first time since 2018 and the Jaguars since 2017.
The Chargers are likely to air the ball out. They finished the regular season with 4 players having over 700 receiving yards. Their QB, Justin Herbert finishing 2nd in completions (477) and passing yards (4739) this season. This could make for an entertaining matchup against a Jags pass defense which ranks a lowly 28th in the league.
On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville have a home run hitter in RB Travis Etienne. He finished the year with 1125 yards and 5 TDs. He’s going up against the Chargers’ 28th ranked rush defense, which gives up an average of 145.8 yards per game.
The Jaguars come into this game riding a 5 game winning streak. The Chargers had won 4 in a row prior to a regular season finale against Denver which had nothing riding on it. The bigger concern for LA this week will be the status of WR Mike Williams, who left that Denver game, walking very gingerly with a back issue. He is a difference make on their offense and if he’s not good to go, it’ll be a major blow.
When these two sides met in September, the Jaguars ran out comfortable 38-10 winner in LA. Expect there to be plenty of points again this weekend with both teams having offensive playmakers and both teams averaging at least 23 points per game. It’s likely to be decided by who holds the ball last. Sit back and enjoy….
PICK: Total Points – Over 46.5
Miami Dolphins 9-8 @ Buffalo Bills 13-3 (Dolphins Under 14.5 points)
Miami are returning to the post season for the first time since 2016 but it took an excruciating 11-6 win over the New York Jets to do it. Tua Tagovailoa finished the year with the NFL’s highest passer rating (105.5) but he has been ruled out as he recovers from a concussion.
Teddy Bridgewater would be his replacement, but Bridgewater is 0-2 starting for the Dolphins this year and he missed last weekend’s win with a dislocated finger. Which means Miami may once again turn to 7th round rookie, Skyler Thompson – he’s completed just 57.1% of passes in the NFL and thrown 3 interceptions with 1 TD.
The Dolphins do have enough playmakers to put some points on the board. Two receivers (Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle) have over 1000 receiving yards this season. An offense which ranks in the top 10 – both in total and passing offense and averages 23.4 points per game. Without doubt though, their best games are when Tu plays. Another problem they’ve got is this Buffalo Bills team are coming off the back of a huge emotional win over the Patriots last weekend. The Bills also came out on top in a 32-29 shootout when they last met 3 weeks ago. They head into this matchup with an offense ranked 2nd overall and 2nd in scoring (28.4ppg). They’re also riding a 7 game winning streak. Miami will battle but without their starting QB, they don’t have enough to beat their division rival and likely won’t put up more than 14 points in this game.
PICK: Miami Dolphins – under 14.5 points
New York Giants 9-7-1 @ Minnesota Vikings 13-4 (Giants +3)
For the first time in 6 years, the New York Giants are back in the playoffs – and they’ve done it in Brian Daboll’s first season as head coach! Offensively they’ve been unspectacular, but their defense has been resolute.
The Minnesota Vikings hold an impressive 13-4 record, having won the NFC North. Also with a first year head coach, Kevin O’Connell. But they’re the first 13 win team in NFL history to have a minus point differential (-3). They’ve won 11 games by 8 points or less, including a 27-24 win over the Giants in week 16. Everything points to a game that’ll be won in the trenches and likely another 1 score game.
The concern for the Vikings isn’t, as the popular narrative would have it, quarterback Kirk Cousins. He’s been good this year, engineering eight 4th quarter comebacks. It’s not the offense as a whole. They’ve averaged 24.9 points per game – ranking 8th in the NFL. The problem lies with their defense. Ranking bottom 5 in points allowed (25.1), total yards (388.7) and passing yards (265.6). Throw into the equation a rush defense which ranks 20th, and the offense has to play well every game just to keep their noses in front.
We already know the Giants gameplan will feature a heavy dose of Saquon Barkley. He’s had a resurgent year, amassing 1312 yards on the ground. He’s scored 10 TDs. The Giants want a physical game that leaves them with an opportunity to win in the 4th quarter. QB Daniel Jones is enjoying his best year as a pro, setting career bests in completion percentage (67.2), yards per attempt (6.8) and passer rating (92.5).
No team has won as many one score games in a regular season as the Vikings have this year. Expect this to be another one score game and this time expect their luck to run out.
PICK: New York Giants +3
Baltimore Ravens 10-7 @ Cincinnati Bengals 12-4 (Bengals 0ver 25.5 Points)
Last weekend the Bengals had their way with the Ravens, and I see no reason why that should change on Sunday night.
The talk had been that, after missing the final 5 games of the regular season with a knee injury, QB Lamar Jackson would return, and this game would be different. Well, at the time of writing, reports are that Jackson is struggling to be fit for this matchup. Which means even if he does play, it’s not going to be the Lamar Jackson we are used to.
The Ravens rightfully will point to a defense which finished the season ranked 3rd in points allowed but look at their opponents over the final two months. Pittsburgh twice, Cleveland, Atlanta, Denver and Carolina! The only time they faced a potent offense, Cincinnati dominated the game. Now you expect us believe that Baltimore, without a healthy franchise QB starting the game are going to roll into Cincinnati and win?
The Bengals offense finished the season averaging 26 points per game. Their defense ranks 6th, giving up 20.1 points per game. The bottom line is, the Bengals have too many playmakers on offense, and they don’t give up points on defense. They came back from an 0-2 start this season to win the division with a 12-3-1 record. They will win again this weekend and they’ll do so comfortably.
PICK: Bengals – over 25.5 points
Dallas Cowboys 12-5 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-9 (Cowboys -2.5)
They finished the regular season with a losing record. At times their offense has looked dysfunctional and father time may finally be catching up with their quarterback. Yet, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found their way into the post season for the 3rd straight year and another Super Bowl success remains a possibility.
Tom Brady is a perfect 7-0 when playing against the Dallas Cowboys in his career – which includes opening weekend wins in each of the last 2 seasons. Here’s the thing though. The Buccaneers offense has been woeful this season – 24th in points per game, dead last in rushing yards per game, last in explosive plays and 21st in 3rd down conversions. Frankly, the only reason the Buccaneers find themselves in the playoffs is because the NFC South is an awful division this year!
I understand Tom Brady is their quarterback. I understand he’s won 7 Super Bowls but that was then…. this is now!
Everyone in Dallas is up in arms after the way they finished the regular season with an inept display in Washington. That game doesn’t matter. They ran a basic offense against the Commanders. Very little play-action, almost no misdirection. What does matter is an offense which has been averaging over 30 points per game since week 7. An offensive line which gets it’s starting centre, back on Monday night. A defensive front which likely welcomes back Jonathan Hankins to help stop the run, along with Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker. One area the Bucs will look to exploit is a potential weakness in the Cowboys secondary. Injuries mean they’ve struggled to find an adequate replacement at cornerback to play opposite Trevon Diggs. However, to exploit that, Brady will need time in the pocket. Time which a makeshift offensive line has struggled to give him this season. Against a Dallas defensive front which finished the season tied 3rd in sacks with 54. If Tampa can’t find a way to keep particularly Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence quiet, this is going to be long day for Brady.
Tampa have only scored more than 23 points once since October 3rd. That’s once in 3 months! So, if they are to progress, they’ll need turnovers from their defense. The good news is, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott leads the NFL with 15 interceptions this season.
The gameplan for Dallas appears to be straight forward on Monday night. Don’t turn over the ball and Dallas will win this game. Forget the noise around this matchup. The bottom line is, Tampa are not a good team this year and Dallas should win comfortably.
PICK: Dallas Cowboys -2.5