The remaining four Wild Card games feature three intriguing underdogs, and one reanimated rotting corpse. To score an upset, the key for each of these teams is to hang in, control the pace, and keep the score close. In a close game, the pressure is on the favourite.
Pressure makes diamonds. Pressure bursts pipes.
We'll see what happens.
Wild Card Picks
Winners in Bold
Philadelphia at Tampa
You could say that the defending champs were lucky in which team they drew for their opening game in this year’s playoffs. On paper, this looks like a foregone conclusion. Tampa was second in scoring offense during the regular season, and their talented defense appears to be getting healthy at the right time. Philly might not be an easy out, however. Their physical running game wears out defenses. Jalen Hurts is dangerous with his legs, and though he didn’t put up spectacular passing numbers, he played efficiently, and with relatively few mistakes. Tampa is still quite vulnerable. Injuries (and assholery) have depleted their rushing and receiving options. Tom Brady will need huge contributions from Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, and Gronk. Falling behind Philly could result in an early exit for the Bucs.
San Francisco at Dallas
There have been stretches during this season when Dallas looked like a juggernaut. They scored more points than any other team, and their defense surprised, in large part due to the contributions of second-year CB Trevon Diggs (11 INTs), and rookie DE/LB Micah Parsons.
San Francisco struggled at times this season due to injuries. When they’re healthy, they’re a handful for any team on both sides of the ball. Their offense is efficient, creative, and versatile. TE George Kittle is a difference-maker on offense, both as a top-tier pass catcher and as a punishing blocker. Deebo Samuel is a game-breaking threat as both a receiver and a rusher.
From a talent standpoint, Dallas is the rightful favourite in this matchup. They will want to score quickly, and force San Fran to open up their offense. Dallas’s lack of playoff experience, plus the fact that they’re coached by Mike McCarthy, puts them at a definite disadvantage. If San Fran can slow the pace of the game, control the clock, and win the turnover battle, they could win a close one.
Pittsburgh at KC (no pick)
This is one of those “Bane Games.” By that I mean that the best outcome for me to root for would be for Bane to blow up the stadium during the game (like in “The Dark Knight Rises”), preferably while the fans are doing that racist chant. Hate KC. Hate their fans. Hate Tyreek Hill. Hate Frank Clark. Hate Pittsburgh. Hate Ben Roethlisberger. Hate JuJu. Hate the stupid Rooneys. Hate Roethlisberger some more. No way I’m watching this shit.
(Fun Fact: The kick returner in that scene is none other than former Steeler Hines Ward. My buddy Vince likes to joke that the most unrealistic thing about this scene is that Hines Ward could never run fast enough to avoid falling into the hole with the rest of the players.)
Arizona at Los Angeles R
This is possibly the hardest game to pick, as these teams match up well, and are familiar with each other. LA’s offense under Matthew Stafford is pass-heavy, with big plays, but also susceptible to turnovers due to Stafford’s maddening propensity to throw ugly, inexplicable INTs. The Kyler Murray-led Arizona attack is more balanced, with a better run game, and a QB in Murray who spreads the ball around, extends plays, and is always a threat to break a big run. I’m leaning towards Arizona, because I think that the pass rush will affect Stafford more than it will Murray. Should be a good game, regardless.