The Rubek Report: Wild Card Round

In-depth look at this weeks Wild Card games.

The+Rubek+Report%3A+Wild+Card+Round

Anthony Rubek, Sports Editor

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After a wild regular season and a wild week 18, the NFL is down to its final 14 teams as they battle for the chance of hoisting the Lombardi. 12 of those teams will be competing this week in the Wild Card round. The Tennessee Titans out of the AFC and the Green Bay Packers out of the NFC earned a first-round bye as they are the one seed in their respective conferences. Here’s a breakdown of this week’s games. 

Las Vega Raiders (10-7)  at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) (Saturday, NBC, 3:30 PM CT)

The first game of the weekend is a matchup between the fifth seeded Raiders and the fourth seeded Bengals. For Las Vegas, their road to the playoffs wasn’t easy. After facing a ton of adversity, the Raiders won their last four games of the season to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2016. In week 18, they beat the Los Angeles Chargers 35-32 in overtime thanks to a last second kick by Daniel Carlson. They are led by quarterback Derek Carr who has had an underrated year. Despite this being his eighth season, this is his first playoff game as he was injured the last time they made it. Speaking of first career playoff games, this game will practically be all of the Bengals firsts as well. After surprising the NFL by winning the AFC North this season, Cincinnati has one of the best young cores in all of football. Second year quarterback Joe Burrow has had a phenomenal year after a torn ACL ended his rookie season early. Much of this success has been in part of the chemistry between him and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The former LSU teammates haven’t missed a stride as Chase set a franchise record in receiver yards with 1,455. Add in pro bowl running back Joe Mixon and 1,000 yard receiver Tee Higgins and you have one of the best offenses in the league. As much as I would like to follow the “Just Win Baby” Vegas motto, the Bengals are far more polished and one of the hottest teams in football right now so I have them winning their first playoff game since 1990.

My Pick: Bengals 28 Raiders 24

Bold Prediction: Joe Mixon scores the game winning touchdown

New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6) (Saturday, CBS, 7:15 PM CT)

The second game of the day is a AFC East matchup between the fourth seeded Bills and the fifth seeded Patriots. The two teams split the season series which included a Patriots win where quarterback Mac Jones only threw the ball three times. Despite that game, the rookie has had a great year tossing for 22 touchdowns. It will be interesting seeing how Jones will fare under this stage as much as his success has been against below .500 teams. Because of this, Running back Damien Harris needs to have a good game after a productive season rushing for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Bills are led by quarterback Josh Allen, who is the heart and soul of this squad. One interesting matchup will be between the Bills receiver Stefon Diggs and the Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson who both made the pro bowl this season. I see this game going either way, but I got the Bills winning due to the fact that they are out for revenge after losing in the AFC title game last season. While I like the Patriots a lot, their inexperience at some of their top positions makes me believe that they are not quite ready to make a Super Bowl run.

My Pick: Bills 28 Patriots 21

Bold Prediction: Josh Allen throws for three touchdowns and runs for one touchdown

Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) (Sunday, FOX, 12:00 PM CT)

Sunday’s first game features the second seeded Buccaneers and the seventh seeded Eagles. Tampa has had the type of season everyone expected but has a lot of uncertainty surrounding them. Quarterback Tom Brady continued to prove that he’s still got it , throwing for a league leading 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns. However, his weapons have depleted towards the end of the season with receivers Chris Godwin (torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (released) both gone from the team. This puts a majority of the pressure on 1,000 receiver Mike Evans, who will not have an easy day going up against Eagles cornerback Darius Slay, who has had an All-Pro caliber year. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has done it all for the Eagles offense, throwing for over 3,000 yards and rushing for over 700. Most of his yards have gone to receiver DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert, who both will have trouble going up against the Buccaneers defense. I think that the Bucs will continue their quest to win back-to-back Super Bowls by winning this game easily. I also expect a lesser known receiver such as Cyril Grayson to have a big day as Evans is being locked down by Slay.

My Pick: Buccaneers 24 Eagles 10

Bold Prediction: Cyril Grayson over 100 yards and a touchdown

San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5) (Sunday, CBS, 3:30 PM CT)

Sunday’s 3:30 game features the sixth seeded 49ers going to Jerry World to face the third seeded Cowboys. San Francisco beat the Rams 27-24 in week 18 to earn their spot in the postseason. After a 2020 season filled with injuries, the 49ers got several key players back including tight end George Kittle and defensive end Nick Bosa who looked just as good as they have been in years past. However, the real star of the 49ers is Deebo Samuel, who has been incredibly productive not only as a receiver, but also as a running back. For Dallas, this season has been one of their best in recent memory. Quarterback Dak Prescott has been great, despite the gruesome ankle injury he suffered last year. He is accompanied by a one-two punch at running back with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard as well as second-year stud Ceedee Lamb at receiver. The Cowboys defense has also looked stellar, with rookie linebacker Micah Parsons not only making a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but also Defensive Player of the Year. Cornerback Trevon Diggs took the league by storm, leading the league with 11 interceptions. But he hasn’t been shutdown as he has given up over 1,000 yards while in coverage this year. This is why I think Samuel will put his team on his back and carry the 49ers to an upset. In order for Samuel to do it, however, he needs quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to be able to get the ball to him. While Garoppolo has been spotty all year, I think he will do just enough to propel the 49ers to victory.

My Pick: 49ers 35 Cowboys 31

Bold Prediction: Deebo Samuel over 150 total yards and two touchdowns

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) (Sunday, NBC, 7:15 PM CT)

Sunday night’s game is a battle between the seventh seeded Steelers and the second seeded Chiefs. I’m going to be completely honest here, I did not expect to be writing about the Steelers. Going into week 18, ESPN only gave them an eight percent chance of making the playoffs. If it wasn’t for the Indianapolis Colts losing to the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars and the Raiders-Chargers game barely not ending in a tie, the Steelers would be at home right now and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career would probably be over. Instead, he has one last chance to win his third championship but it doesn’t look likely as they are traveling to Arrowhead. After a slow start to the season, the Chiefs are back to looking like the powerhouse they usually are. They are led by the usual suspects of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. While Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt will be a problem against the Chiefs offensive line, I still see the Chiefs winning this one easily. This would likely be the unfortunate end to Roethlisberger’s hall of fame career and send the Chiefs into the Divisional Round.

My Pick: Chiefs 38 Steelers 7

Bold Prediction: Ben Roethlisberger zero touchdowns and three interceptions

Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5) (Monday, ESPN, 7:15 PM CT)

The final game of the Wild Card round is a showdown between NFC West rivals with the fifth seeded Cardinals facing the fourth seeded Rams. After starting the season 7-0, the Cardinals have fallen back down to earth. Quarterback Kyler Murray made the pro bowl for the second straight year but he may be without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins who hasn’t played since week 14. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ dynamic duo remains healthy with receiver Cooper Kupp’s 1,947 yards nearly breaking the all-time receiving yards in a season record thanks in part to quarterback Mathhew Stafford. While Stafford has had his ups and downs all year, he has generally played good and did enough to win games. This could very well be the game that determines Stafford’s legacy as despite having the stats of such great ones, he still doesn’t have a playoff win. I believe that will change with the Rams defense consisting of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey doing their job and shutting down the Cardinals.

My Pick: Rams 27 Cardinals 17

Bold Prediction:  Jalen Ramsey holds DeAndre Hopkins to under 50 yards if he plays

These are my picks for this weekends games. But I want to hear your picks. Fill out the Google Form linked with this story and pick who you think is going to win. Make sure you come back each week to pick the games as the top 3 records get a gift card to Chick-fil-A.