After a regular season that ended with an OT thriller that decided the fates of three teams on the very last play, this year's playoffs begin with a couple of potentially excellent Saturday contests. In the first, Las Vegas, the mercurial underdog, travels to Cincinnati to take on the supremely talented Bengals, surprise winners of the AFC North. In the other, Pre-season favourite Buffalo hosts their ultimate nemesis, as Bill Belichick brings his resurgent Pats to town.
Each team features talented young QBs, and both games have a favoured division winner hosting a dangerous underdog. The key word is PRESSURE; who can handle it, who will succumb to it.
Let's get to it!
Wild Card Picks
Winners in Bold
Las Vegas at Cincinnati
Realistically, Vegas shouldn’t even be here. Their season consisted of mostly close wins and some blowout losses (They and Pittsburgh are the only two playoff teams with a negative points differential). Their high-profile head coach had to leave the team after he was revealed to have won Bigot BINGO in a series of e-mails. Their best receiver killed someone in a drunken joyride (Aside: I sure do wish the media would stop characterizing this as a team hardship; an innocent woman and her dog were killed by an intoxicated athlete who was speeding in a luxury sports car.) The team endured numerous injuries to key personnel.
Which is precisely why they’re so dangerous.
Cincy should be able to beat Vegas handily. They’re absolutely loaded offensively, and can score quickly and abundantly. Plus, they have a solid defense. The key for Cincinnati is to execute, avoid turnovers, and (ESPECIALLY!) to not be overconfident. These Raiders are dangerous. Maxx Crosby has been a game-wrecking force as a pass-rusher, and the underrated Derek Carr is smart and talented enough to lead his offense to success against any foe.
Joe Burrow has looked phenomenal this season. He is already an elite QB in terms of skill, and he is confident. This Cincy team surprised a lot of people this year. As much of an underdog as Vegas is, Cincinnati has to keep that “no one believed in us” attitude, and just handle their business.
New England at Buffalo
This is a very intriguing and hard to predict matchup, made all the more interesting due to the teams’ history and rivalry.
Buffalo entered the season with extremely high expectations after an AFC Championship game appearance last season. At times this season, they have looked like an unstoppable force. However, they have at times been inconsistent, turnover-prone, and unfocused. Offensively, they have relied too much on Josh Allen, and he has taken a beating as a result.
New England began the season cautiously optimistic. Their defense played well, and they brought Mac Jones along slowly. Gradually, they allowed the rookie QB to get more involved in the offense, and he responded with solid play, as the team went on a tear, even overtaking Buffalo for the division lead for a time. Injuries slowed the team somewhat towards the end of the season, but the Pats enter the playoffs as a serious threat.
Head-to-head, it’s tough to draw a bead on how these two teams will match up. Their first meeting was an odd affair, played in a howling wind storm. Their second meeting was a poorly-officiated contest, in which both teams performed well, belying the final score. Buffalo was dynamic on offense, and played solid defense. New England had success with their trademark grinding offense, producing a pair of 16-play TD drives that lasted over seven minutes apiece, and playing well from behind.
This should be Buffalo’s game to lose. However, the cold weather could favour New England’s run-heavy offense. TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith will be key players in both the running and passing game. The Pats’ defense will have to play better than it did in the teams’ previous meeting, winning one-on-one battles in the secondary, and containing Josh Allen’s running.
Lots of pressure on Buffalo here. Losing in the first round would be a huge disappointment, to be sure, but losing to New England would really sting. If Buffalo can slay this dragon and emerge healthy from this game, I think they could roll over all comers in the AFC.