NFL Playoffs are Here


Liam Bradford, Sports Editor

The 2021 NFL regular season has come to a close. With 18 of the 32 teams already eliminated, the playoffs between the remaining 14 teams will begin on January 15. The wild card round will be continued into Monday night on January 17 and for the second straight season, there will be three wild card matchups in each conference. 

Saturday will feature two AFC wild-card matchups, the first of the two matchups being the Las Vegas Raiders vs. the Cincinnati Bengals from Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Each of these teams finished 10-7, however, they were in very dissimilar positions entering week 18.

Cincinnati sat in third place in the AFC, requiring a win over Cleveland to maintain that position. Cleveland ultimately came out on top 21-16, dropping the Bengals to the four-seed.

Las Vegas entered the final week needing a win or a tie against the Los Angeles Chargers and prevailed 35-32 in an overtime nailbiter sending the Chargers home for the season.

Cincinnati has enough offensive talent between Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, and Ja’marr Chase to pull off the home win over the pesky Raiders.

My personal prediction for the first wild card weekend matchup is a 31-26 Bengals victory, which would be their first playoff win since 1991. 

The second of the two matchups on Saturday features the New England Patriots in a familiar position against division rivals, Buffalo Bills. The game will be played in Buffalo, New York at Highmark Stadium. Buffalo finished the season 11-6 with the third seed and the Patriots finished 10-7 with the sixth seed.

My prediction for this game is a 28-23 New England victory in upset fashion. My thought process behind this pick is that Bill Belichick rarely ever gets eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It will be interesting to see rookie Mac Jones command the Patriot’s offense in the playoffs against veteran Josh Allen’s Bills. 

On Sunday, there will be three matchups including two NFC games and the final AFC game. The first Sunday game is expected to be the least close of all the wild card matchups and features the two-seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the seven-seed Philadelphia Eagles at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

The Bucs enter the playoffs with a 13-4 record, while the Eagles clinched the playoffs with a 9-8 record. I think that the Eagles will keep it a close game but ultimately, Tom Brady and the Bucs will come out on top 37-24. 

In the six-seed vs three-seed matchup, the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys play host to the 10-7 San Francisco 49ers. Although the Cowboys are favorites in this game, San Francisco has been on a hot streak as of late.

I expect them to continue their run into the first weekend of the playoffs. Between the stellar defensive front with Fred Warner and Nick Bosa and two juggernauts in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel on offense, I think the 49ers will pull off the upset, 23-16. 

The final AFC wild card matchup features the seven-seed Pittsburgh Steelers traveling to Kansas City to play against the two-seed Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers just barely scraped into the playoffs at the last second with a 9-7-1 record, while the red hot Chiefs stand at 12-5 after starting the season 3-4.

In Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, many people are hoping for a cinderella story win for the Steelers, however, I predict that early in the game, the Steelers will come back down to earth and the Chiefs will pull off the victory 38-14. 

In the final wild card matchup of wild card weekend on Monday night, the five-seed Arizona Cardinals head to the home of the super bowl in Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles, California to face division rivals Los Angeles Rams. The Cardinals stand at 11-6 while the Rams are 12-5.

I expect this to be a very close back and forth game. Ultimately with the raw talent on the Rams roster I expect them to pull off a late 27-19 victory. Although Kyler Murray is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league, with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller on defense it would be hard for the Rams to lose.