Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" came out in 1963 when the NFL playoffs were only one game. So it's understandable why he would rank Christmas season as the most wonderful time of the year, but now that the Super Wild Round is six games across three days, I think we know what is truly the most wonderful time of the year.
It's year two of the new 14 team format, and only one team per conference gets a bye. Could we see a 2 seed knocked out before the divisional round for the first time in NFL history? Both conference champs from 2020 are this year's 2 seeds.
This could easily get proven in the upcoming weeks, but this season feels more wide open than ever. I think 11.5 of the 14 playoff teams have legit Super Bowl chances. People are even trying to convince themselves these Steelers have a little '05 in them (they're the .5 of 11.5). I don't see it, but I also had the Vikings, Seahawks and Broncos making the playoff this year, so what the fuck do I know?
What I do know is that we have some great matchups this weekend between division rivals, teams looking for their first playoff win in multiple decades, and five QBs making their playoff debut. I cannot wait for the action to start, but before it does, let's take a look at what should be an awesome weekend of SUPER Wild Card games.
(5) Las Vegas Raiders @ (4) Cincinatti Bengals [-5.5/49]
Saturday 4:30 pm, NBC
It's been a few years, but the Bengals are back in the Saturday afternoon Wild Card Game. It just feels right.
I love this matchup; either way, a team that hasn't had---any playoff success in decades will win its first playoff game in ages. As a hashtag good guy, it's bittersweet; I'm friends with a Raiders and a Bengals fan. Only one will get to experience something I've enjoyed 30 times (and hopefully counting after tonight) for the first time in either 19 years or his entire life.
The Bengals may have the NFL's longest active playoff win drought, but these are not your Andy Dalton or Carson Palmer Bengals. In his first full season after tearing his ACL as a rookie, Joe Burrow lit the league up with 34 touchdown passes and a 70.4 completion percentage, despite getting lit up himself. Joe Brrr got sacked a league-leading 51 times, which bodes well for the Raaaaiders. Yannick Ngakoue had a 10 sack season, and Maxx Crosby led the league in pressure and went 2nd team All-Pro.
IMO the Raiders are the best story of the entire season. Nobody faced more off-the-field adversity this season. They lost Jon Gruden to cancel culture, and their best WR killed a woman and her dog. I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting (R.I.P. Coach Madden), but those are enough to take the cake.
Plus, the Raiders peppered in a 1-5 stretch in the middle of the season (that included a 32-13 loss to Cincy). It felt like more of the same for the start-hot and end-cold Raiders, but after dropping to 6-7, they won out to clinch their first playoff berth since 2016. Derek Carr went 12-3 that season but missed their playoff game due to injury, so after 127 starts, he's finally making his first playoff appearance.
I keep going back and forth on this game because the Bengals passing game has the potential to absolutely shred the Raiders weak secondary. This year, Vegas allowed 29 passing touchdowns, which was the 9th most in the league. Joe Burrow passed for nearly 1,000 yards (971) with 8 TD and 0 INT this year.
But at the same time, the Bengals lost to the Bears and Jets. They're a good, young, fun team but also inconsistent at times. They could've easily lost the Jags and Broncos too.
I love the Raiders story and think Rich Bisaccia deserves Coach of the Year consideration for getting this team to the playoffs, but they're coming off a rollercoaster SNF game and a month of do-or-die games. Meanwhile, the Bengals are fresh after resting key starters week 18. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Raiders cover, but I think Cincy gets its first post-text message era playoff win. I also love the over.
(6) New England Patriots @ (3) Buffalo Bills [-4.5/44]
Saturday 8:30 pm, CBS
We've got a third installment of Pats-Bills in the true AFC East championship game. The road team won the previous two matchups. Of course, I have a sliiight bias as a Patriots fan, but I'll admit I'm worried. Last game, the Bills didn't fucking punt, which had never happened against a Belichick Patriots team. Idgaf about spreads with my team. I want wins, but in the playoffs since 2003, road underdogs vs. a divisional opponent are 13-6 ATS (h/t Tommy Smokes).
I don't know what to expect with this team. A month ago, the entire NFL media landscape was ready to put them in the Super Bowl, but since winning seven straight games, the Pats are 1-3, and that lone win was against the Jaguars....BUT, those Jaguars beat the Bills AND the Colts who also beat the Bills (and the Pats but that doesn't matter for this tangent).
Like their previous matchup in Buffalo, the weather should play a considerable role in this one. Gametime temperatures are expected to be between 5 and 11 degrees. Word on the streets is Josh Allen isn't wearing sleeves. Haaarddooo.
The way I see it, this game is all about the first quarter. The Bills are bipolar AF. One week they'll look like the 2007 Pats, and others, it's like their first time playing together. New England isn't built to come back from a significant deficit. If it's 14-0 early, the Pats will be in serious trouble, but I'd still take them live. I just hope Belichick and McDaniels don't coach scared and let Mac sling it a little.
The Pats have a massive advantage in the running game, and if they can control the clock and dictate the game, they can secure their second win in Buffalo this season. Damien Harris scored four touchdowns against the Bills in 2021.
Obviously, I'm taking the Patriots, but I am worried about Josh Allen, especially out of the pocket, where he was statistically the best QB (tied w/ Joe Burrow). This is the first time since like 2001 that the Patriots played a playoff game where their opponent has the better QB. It's like being in a game 7 where the best player is on the other team...not ideal! However, it's Belichick vs. McDermott. Give me the GOAT every time. No Wynn for the Pats might be a blessing in disguise. #FreeOnwenu. Maybe this is the game Matthew Judon draws a holding call?
(7) Philadelphia Eagles @ (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers [-8.5/45.5]
Sunday 1:00 pm, FOX
The Eagles 9 wins came against the following teams: Falcons, Panthers, Lions, Broncos, Saints, Giants and the Football Team twice. They're great on the ground, but vs. top shelf competition they haven't come close to competing. These teams met in Philly week 6 where the Bucs won 28-22 and it wasn't as close as the score would indicate.
Luckily for the Eagles, the Bucs are a bit banged up. Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette are game-time decisions. AB is gone, Chris Godwin tore his ACL. It's supposed to be windy and rainy in Tampa. On paper these factors all benefit the Eagles (who led the NFL in rushing yards).
That's all well and good, but it's Tom Brady in the playoffs. I don't think the Bucs will repeat, but Brady will find a way to keep them alive another week. Philly covers, but Tampa wins, although the sloppier it gets, the more life Philly has. If the Bucs do lose, the NFL and USAA should be legally required to stop forcing those terrible Gronk commercials down our throats like Iron Jawed Angels.
(6) San Francisco 49ers @ (3) Dallas Cowboys [-3/51]
Sunday 4:30pm, CBS & Nickelodeon
This is a classic NFC matchup that Kyle Shanahan's young guys just don't appreciate! I hope John and Pat are on the call up above.
Whoever survives this game has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but I love the 49ers in this spot. They lead the league in yards per play (6.1), and the Cowboys can get gashed with the best of them. I spent way too much time on the graphics, and these write ups are getting progressively shorter, but the 49ers have the edge. Jimmy G is playing for his next job, and Deebo Samuel might be the biggest nightmare for opposing defenses in the league. Sometimes you gotta go with the narrative. The Cowboys are 4-10 in the playoffs since 1996. The 49ers have been to five NFC title games and 2 Super Bowls during that same timeframe. Is Mike McCarthy really going to be the one who turns it around? You mean the same guy who only won one Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers?
Those historical facts won't affect what happens on the field Sunday (or will they?), but when you factor that with the 49ers coaching and Trent Brown being the best LT in football, they're gonna pull off the minor upset.
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers @ (2) Kansas City Chiefs [-12.5/46.5]
Sunday 8:15 pm, NBC
When these two teams met in week 16, they weren't playing the same sport. 36-10 might as well of been 360-0.
Of all the games this weekend this is the one I'm looking least forward to; I don't fuck with either of these teams (I did have a soft spot in my heart for KC before Mahomes). If the Steelers win (assuming the Pats do too) it leaves the door open for a home AFCCG for the Pats which would be cool. It's now 2 am, and part of me wants to just be a basic bitch and take the Chiefs, but they're struggling right now. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill aren't themselves. They barely beat the Broncos and would've lost to Chargers if Brandon Staley didn't coach like a 14-year-old playing Madden.
For the Steelers to have any chance in this game, they're going to need to score on defense. I don't know how Big Ben can go point for point with Mahomes, even with how banged up the Chiefs are. TJ Watt is out of this world, but KC has a top 1/3 offensive line in the league based on my models. I saw on PFF's twitter today that Creed Humphrey was the highest-graded center this season. That won't help too much with TJ, but the Chiefs line is legit.
Mike Tomlin's Steelers seem to always play to the competition. As dogs, they bark and often win outright, but when favored against bums, they'll end up tying the Lions.
I'd love to see Big Ben's career end like Dan Marino's, but I just have a hunch the Stiiiiillers keep it close. I'm a ML chaser, so I might pepper Steelers ML depending on how I do in the games before SNF. Fuck it; I'll be bold. This is for you Jersey Jerry. KC becomes the first 2 seed to lose in the Wild Card round! Three years of Mahomes sure caused a lot of people to forget about how historically bad Kansas City is at home in the playoffs.
(5) Arizona Cardinals @ (4) Los Angeles Rams [-4/49.5]
Monday 8:15 pm, ABC/ESPN
Just like the other divisional matchup, the Cardinals and Rams split the season series with the road team victorious each time.
Of all the games this weekend, there may be nobody with more pressure than Sean McVay. The Rams are in full Super Bowl or bust mode and if they can't at least get as far they did last year with Jared Goff, this year will ultimately be graded a failure.
I have absolutely no feel for this game. I don't believe in the Cardinals defense, but Stafford has been playing like Lions Matty the last monthish. The fact that this game is still two full days away means I'll change my mind a million times and it's now 2:30 on the dot. I drafted Cooper Kupp in fantasy so fuck it, I'll Rams.