Sports

NFL Playoff Predictions: Our Picks for the Wild-Card

The NFL playoffs are here and with them comes the extra stage for the first Wild Card game Monday night and two teams meeting for the third time this season that will anchor the opening weekend of the post-season.

Saturday night Patriots-Peels 3 and Monday’s 3rd sandwich competition between the Cardinals and Rams competitors at West NFC this weekend is where parity — and familiarity — should be on display. A rematch between the Raiders and the Bengals, and a contest between the Cowboys and the 49ers, two of the NFL’s most famous franchises, should intensify the drama after both Las Vegas and San Francisco needed extra time to claim their playoff spots.

This weekend, though, the NFL’s sudden-death overtime rules will apply: The overtime extends to 15 minutes from 10, and there’s no question about kneeling because games will continue until someone scores.

Here’s a look at the random card roundup of the NFL Playoffs, with all the selections made against the spread.

Record last week: 6-10

Regular season record: 129-143

All times are oriental.

Las Vegas Raiders in the Cincinnati Bengals, 4:30 p.m., NBC

Font: Bengals -5.5 | Total: 49.5

Few stories in this post-season are more intriguing than the Raiders (10-7), a team once considered outside of the playoff fray to even finish the regular season by winning four consecutive single-division matches to earn a Wild Card spot. They face a Bengals attack (10-7) that has thrived under Joe Burrow, who enters the game with a chop, after throwing for more than 300 yards in three of his last four starts.

Burrow could take advantage of the Raiders minor unit, the most vulnerable unit in Las Vegas’ defense, which has allowed over 300 yards to pass four times this season. Pro Bowl Maxx Crosby’s defensive end and the other man of the line can generate pressure against a foreclosed 55-bag Bengals front. But the Bengals have a Plan B in Joe Mixon, who finished third in the league in quick yards (1,205), and could thrive as a receiver on the inspection roads against the Raiders’ area-based defense. Cincinnati beat Las Vegas comfortably in Week 11, and there’s little reason to believe it won’t happen again. picking Bengals -5.5

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m., CBS

Font: Bills -4 | Total: 42.5

Round 3, anyone?

Every good fight needs a third installment, and this meeting between the Bills (11-6) and the Patriots (10-7) could be similar to the first, in Week 13, when New England allowed McJones to attempt only three passes in their win over Buffalo. Forecasts in Orchard Park, New York, Saturday are around 0 degrees and a 30 percent chance of snow, a look that once again favors heavy reliance on a running game.

The Bills defense allowed for the league’s lowest in yards and points in the regular season, but was prone to running. At the teams meeting in late December, a Buffalo win, Bills forced Jones to perform 14 of 32 passes with no touchdowns and interceptions. Assuming more of an offensive burden in recent weeks, Jones has looked like the rookie he is, and confidence in the first-year lane to beat spread, on the road, in the cold, against a rising team isn’t really a safe bet. picking -4 . bills

Philadelphia Eagles in Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 pm, Fox

Line: pirate -8.5 | Total: 49

Tom Brady will have to bear a mention of the Super Bowl LII and the Philly Special as he prepares for the Eagles (9-8), who have focused their season by focusing on running so much that Philadelphia finished with the league’s highest rush rate (159.7 yards per game). The Eagles’ salvation plays a strong role in Tampa Bay’s strength, as they clear just 92.5 yards per game, the third lowest in the league.

The injured Pirates (13-4) players returned to the squad. Coach Bruce Arians said Monday that he expects linebacker Leonard Fournette (hamstring), linebacker Shaquille Barrett (knee) and edge burner Jason Pierre Paul (shoulder) to play on Sunday. This bodes well as they try to defend the Super Bowl, not revisit Brady’s nightmares. picking pirate -8.5

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., CBS

Font: Cowboys -3 | Total: 50.5

This is the closest spread to a wild weekend, and for good reason: The 49ers (10-7) can counter everything Dallas does well defensively. The short attacks and fast attacks that are a staple of coach Kyle Shanahan’s attack belies full-back Micah Parsons’ ability to generate pressure and sacks (he has 13 this season). San Francisco doesn’t rely on deep throws, which could neutralize Trevon Diggs, the Dallas cornerback who led the league in interceptions (11).

Despite Dallas’s 12-5) beating of the Philadelphia backups last week, the Cowboys’ offense often suffered from miscommunication between Dak Prescott and his receivers and from an inconsistent running game. Behind versatile receiver Deebo Samuel and a defense that has only averaged 260 yards over the last four games of the regular season, the 49ers could be looking to secure a surprise, or at least keep the score uncomfortably close. picking 49ers +3

Pittsburgh Steelers in Kansas City, 8:15 p.m., NBC

Line: Kansas City -12.5 | Total: 46

One could argue that the Steelers (9-7-1) are the luckiest team in the post-season, as they took advantage of the Colts’ inexplicable collapse in Week 18 against the Jaguars to slip into the playoffs. That magic – and Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL career – should end against Kansas City (12-5), which Pittsburgh won by 26 points in Week 16.

Kansas City coach Andy Reed expects to play Terrick Hill (heel), backs Daryl Williams (toe) and Clyde Edwards Heeler (shoulder). Sure, Kansas City lost in their season-ending win against the Broncos, but nothing in Pittsburgh’s recent showings suggests the Steelers have been more than a bump in the road. picking Kansas City -12.5

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams, 8:15pm EST

Font: Rams -4 | Total: 49.5

The best team in the NFL until October, the Cardinals (11-6) have lost four of their last five games and ceded their home field advantage, and now have to travel to face the division rival Rams (12-5). Arizona could get some much-needed help if JJ Watt, who returned to training this week after a three-month absence, is available, although his status remains uncertain. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has a knee injury and has not played since Week 14, will not be available.

Matthew Stafford ended the league tie season for the first time in interceptions (17), and his decision-making will be scrutinized with a microscope as the playoffs progress, given the public capital project, General Manager Les Snead gave up for Detroit to trade in his favour. But in the first round at least, he can count on the Cardinal’s mistakes to be more damaging: Arizona has been flagged for at least six penalty kicks per game in five games, and has fumbled on an egregious 17 midfield shots. this chapter. picking Rams -4

A quick primer for those unfamiliar with betting lines: favorites are listed next to a negative number representing the number of points they should win to cover the spread. Raiders -5.5, for example, means that Las Vegas must defeat Chicago by at least 6 points for their backers to win their bet. Players can also bet on the total score, or whether the combined score of the teams in the game is over or below the preselected number of points.

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