San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs the ball during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
- Can the Las Vegas Raiders keep their magical run going against the Cincinnati Bengals?
- The 49ers and Cowboys renew their rivalry in what should be the closest game of the weekend
- Last week’s picks went 2-0, winning us 5.05 units so we close out the regular season +14.66 units (21-26 record)
It’s finally here! As much we love the regular season, is there anything better than the NFL Playoffs? Every game is a winner-take-all as our field of 14 franchises will soon be whittled down to just two teams bound for L.A. and Super Bowl 56.
And in case the novelty of six wild card games has worn off, the league added a new wrinkle for this weekend: the Rams and Cardinals will play the first Monday Night playoff game in NFL history.
Our upset picks ended the season on a high note and we’ll look to keep that momentum rolling on Super Wild Card Weekend. By mere happenstance, I like one underdog for each day of games, so we’ll have an upset to root for all across this weekend.
NFL Wild Card Upset Picks
|Las Vegas Raiders vs Cincinnati Bengals||CIN -5.5||+194||Raiders||1|
|San Francisco 49ers vs Dallas Cowboys||DAL -3||+136||49ers||1|
|Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams||LAR -4||+166||Cardinals||1|
Raiders vs Bengals
Joe Burrow and company have an excellent opportunity to end the Cincinnati Bengals’ 31-year playoff victory drought, a streak that the Raiders started back on Jan. 13, 1991. Now, things come full circle, as the Bengals are 5.5-point favorites over the Las Vegas Raiders in the kickoff to Super Wild Card Weekend.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with a win over the Chiefs in Week 17 and were able to rest some guys last weekend, including Burrow, who tweaked his knee late against Kansas City.
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) January 2, 2022
The Raiders didn’t punch their ticket to the postseason until the final play of the final game of the 2021 season. Las Vegas won their last four games of the year to sneak in, but now they’ve drawn a winnable matchup.
For all the firepower Burrow and this Cincy offense possess, their glaring weakness in pass protection is just about the only area this Raiders defense – ranked 21st in DVOA – can exploit.
Maxx Crosby, Yannick Ngakoue and the Raiders defensive line will need to put the heat on Burrow to stop him from finding Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins for big plays downfield. Fortunately for Vegas, Cincinnati ranks 30th in pass block win rate.
Most pressures — 2021 #NFL season
1. Maxx Crosby — 101
2. Aaron Donald — 86
3. Rashan Gary — 81
4. Myles Garrett — 78
T5. Nick Bosa — 75
T5. Trey Hendrickson — 75
— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) January 11, 2022
Offensively, the Raiders got Darren Waller back from injury last week. He’s still not at 100%, but the freak tight end should be able to draw some of the Bengals’ focus away from Hunter Renfrow, who has been a beast down the stretch.
Hunter Renfrow has gone OFF this season:
Targets: 128 1st
Receptions: 103* 1st
Rec. Yds: 1,038 1st
Rec. TDs: 9 1st
*2nd MOST in season by a Raiders wide receiver EVER pic.twitter.com/Vr3BP2dh71
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) January 11, 2022
Both Burrow and Derek Carr will be making the first playoff start of their career in the cold conditions in Cincy. And though Carr’s 0-5 career record in the cold (37 degrees or less) has been circulating as a reason to fade Vegas here, it’s worth noting that most of the losses were to KC, a team that thumps the Raiders in any weather. (No wonder they played for the win against the Bolts.)
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 10, 2022
Ultimately, I like the resilience Carr and this Raiders team have shown throughout this tough season. Vegas has thrived when the going gets tough, posting a 7-2 record in one-score games. The Bengals haven’t done so well, as some questionable decisions by Zac Taylor have left them with a 4-5 record in one-score contests.
As good as Burrow has been, I don’t trust the rest of this Bengals cast to do their part here.
49ers vs Cowboys
Your father’s favorite rivalry finally joins the 21st century, as the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The Sunday afternoon tilt is the tightest spread of the weekend, with the Cowboys favored by a field goal.
San Francisco comes in hot off an overtime win in L.A. to clinch their spot in the dance. The Cowboys eschewed an opportunity to rest their starters in Week 18, blowing out the Eagles in an ultimately meaningless game. Still, it was an encouraging sign for a Dallas offense that’s been underachieving since Dak Prescott returned from injury: it was the second time in three outings that they topped 50 points.
Well it’s confirmed. The starting offense for the Cowboys is better than the Eagles backup defense.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 9, 2022
While the Cowboys offense should have some success against this shaky San Francisco secondary, this game will be determined by what happens on the other side of the ball. After years of terrible units, Dallas is finally living up to its Big D nickname.
Led by DROY lock Micah Parsons and NFL interception leader Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys have the second-best pass defense in the NFL by DVOA. But if Kyle Shanahan has his way, they’ll rarely be tested through the air.
San Francisco will look to use their varied rushing attack to shorten the game and limit Jimmy Garropolo’s opportunities to screw things up. When the often criticized QB plays a clean game, the 49ers are 7-0 this season; when he has at least one interception, they’re 2-6. Relying on Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell in the ground game, San Fran can have success against this Cowboys defense.
.@SarahSpain says 49ers-Cowboys will come down to Dallas’ defense. BUT, there’s a but:
“But it’s also worth noting that this defense is not well-suited to a great run offense on the 49ers side.” pic.twitter.com/w4DJkvHV7X
— Around The Horn (@AroundtheHorn) January 14, 2022
With this likely to be a close contest, Greg Zuerlein could become the goat in a Dallas loss. The unreliable Cowboys kicker has missed six extra points this season, and that could prove to be a difference maker here. Then again, Mike McCarthy is still the coach of this team, so he’s sure to be the target of fans ire. Those two elements alone are enough to make me back the Niners here.
Cardinals vs Rams
The first Monday Night playoff game will pit two teams that are losing public confidence fast, as the Los Angeles Rams host the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams are four-point favorites in the team’s third meeting of the season.
Arizona took the first matchup 37-20 in Week 4, part of their red hot 8-1 start. But the Cards have fallen off in the second half again, and slink into the playoffs losers of four of their last five. Los Angeles won the second meeting 30-23 in Week 14, but following that, Matthew Stafford began a four-game streak where he had eight interceptions, prompting the online community to revisit the Jared Goff trade.
Rams pass protection being amazing again is definitely an under-the-radar important story of the season pic.twitter.com/eQV0zt3mTs
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 10, 2022
The Cardinals could be getting some major reinforcements on defense for this one after J.J. Watt returned to practice this week. The defense hasn’t been quite the same without him, but still finished the year ranked sixth in defensive DVOA. However, they’ll need his help to get pressure against this Rams o-line that has playing great.
#Cardinals defense this season before & after JJ Watt’s injury:
Pressure %: 31%
Total QBR: 37
Pressure %: 25%
Total QBR: 61 (highest QBR allowed in NFL since wk 8)
— ✯✯✯✯✯🥋 (@FTB_Vids_YT) January 7, 2022
Arizona’s offense is relying on Kyler Murray to carry the load even more than usual with DeAndre Hopkins out. No matter the surrounding cast, Murray is still capable of generating explosive plays, and led the league in completions of over 20 yards.
Highest-graded QB on deep passing
🚀 Kyler Murray pic.twitter.com/Tin2p19C6r
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 12, 2022
A few explosive plays from Murray and a boneheaded turnover or two by Stafford is all Arizona would need to pull the upset here. Considering the Cards went 6-0 straight up as an underdog this year, I’d say there’s a good shot of that happening.