Wildcard Weekend Wishes and PredictionsPosted:Jan 14th, 2022 11:07 am
Got some time on my hands on this snowy Friday, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the first ever Super Wildcard weekend, and what I believe is the best case scenario for the Pack.
To be honest, the best case scenario for the team is the news out of Titletown this week, with the return to practice of Za’Darius Smith, Billy Turner and in a shocker, Whitney Mercilus. So when the Pack takes the field at Lambeau next weekend, there is a very good chance that the team’s preferred starting O-line will be intact for the first time all season. In a perfect world, a line that plays together gets better the more it’s on the field together.
But if the Packers have Bakhtiari and Turner at tackle, Myers at center and guards Jon Runyan and Lucas Patrick at guards, the offense is poised to be even more lethal. Toss in the return of Randall Cobb in the slot and it should be fun. The only concern is the status of MVS, whose back injury has him on the sidelines this week. His downfield speed is a huge element in how teams have to defend the Pack.
With Smith and Mercilus practicing, the beief is that both will be ready next weekend. I’m shocked that either is back, Mercilus in particular. A torn bicep usually means that’s a wrap on the season. He vowed to be back and here he is. With Rashan Gary and Preston Smith still slated to start and take the majority of snaps, having the two vets to spell them, rather than Garvin and Galeai is a gigantic upgrade for the defense. Oh, and then there’s the presumed return of Jaire Alexander. That should bump Rasul Douglas to the slot to replace Chandon Sullivan, giving Joe Barry an All Pro to handle potential slot WRs like Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, or even tight ends like Zach Ertz or George Kittle.
For me, the best case scenario is for the Cowboys to beat the 49ers and for the Packers to get the winner of the Rams-Cardinals game on Monday night. The team that moves on will be working on a short week, with the game at Lambeau coming up six days later. But the bigger issue is the danger the 49ers present. They earned their playoff spot thanks to an unlikely 90 yard last minute touchdown drive in LA. That can spark a run in the postseason, and as you all know, San Francisco can present a lot of problems for the Pack.
First, they’re happy to run the ball down your throat, and Green Bay’s D has not exactly been stout against the run this season. Kyle Shanahan knows how to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and if rookie Elijah Mitchell is getting chunk yardage on early downs, Samuel and Kittle will be a handful.
Defensively, their pass rush remains one of the toughest in the league and in linebacker Fred Warner, they have one of the best tackling machines in the world. The Pack has a huge advantage against their secondary, but if it is as cold as it’s being forecast to be next weekend, the more physical team, and the one that runs the best could come out on top. I expect this game would be a dogfight.
If Dallas gets the win, I don’t have a huge preference between the Rams and Cards. Obviously, the Pack has already beaten both and they each have plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball, but I don’t see either team coming into Lambeau with temps in the single digits and beating this team.
Here’s how I see the weekend unfolding:
Bengals 27 Raiders 24: Nobody expected the Raiders to be here after their tumultuous season, but they’re a resilient group and I think they’ll give Who Dey Nation all they can handle. Ultimately, I think Joe Burrow and his leadership are built for the playoffs and I think they do just enough to get the win. Throw in the fact that Vegas played a hugely emotional game Sunday night and had to regroup quickly and turn their attention to the Bengals. A late field goal sends the Bengals to the divisional round.
Bills 20 Patriots 17: Another tight one on Saturday as these divisional foes take the field on a frigid night in Buffalo. I think the defenses shine and both teams rely on their running game. The Bills’ Devin Singletary has come on of late and I think they ride his legs, along with Josh Allen’s. The road team won in the previous two meetings, but this time the home team prevails, and Bill Belitchick is knocked out in the wildcard round, for like the first time ever.
Bucs 24 Eagles 17: I get the feeling this one is going to come down to the fourth quarter. The Eagles are playing with house money, a surprise playoff participant, with two top first round picks in April’s draft safely ensconsed in their back pockets. The Eagles’ strength, running the ball is also Tampa Bay’s strength, though they’ve faltered a bit of late. Tampa’s defense is getting healthier, but I think they’ll be closer to full strength next weekend. Studs Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett returned to practice Friday, but we’ll see if they’re teady to go. And their offense is a shell of its former self. The return of Leonard Fournette would be huge—he also returned to practice on Friday. I just see Philly playing loose and being a bit frisky. There’s rain in the forecast, but it sounds like it may end before the fun begins.
49ers 30 Cowboys 26: It’s the trendy upset—it may be a bit too trendy—but I don’t really think it would be an upset. The Cowboys have maybe one significant win (vs. the Pats in overtime in somewhat fluky fashion) and the Niners are battle tested from the tough NFC West. I see them being able to control the clock by running it down the Cowboys’ throats, lessening the impact of studs like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. If they get a lead, they can force Mike McCarthy and Dak into panic mode, which will turn Nick Bosa and that pass rush loose. I hope Dak comes out on a mission and throws early and often against the weak SF secondary, but I trust Shanahan more than Mike and I think that comeback in LA has them wearing Cindarella’s tiara.
Chiefs 35 Steelers 16: This is my one blowout of the weekend. It’s already happened once this season and I see no reason it won’t happen again. Yes, Mike Tomlin loves to wear the underdog tag and loves to rally his troops, but he doesn’t have an offense that can keep up with the Chiefs. Yes, Watt and Heyward can cause some problems, but Mahomes will make plenty of plays and Ben isn’t throwing the ball more than ten yards downfield these days. It’s a horrible matchup for Black and Gold and KC rolls on to a heavyweight matchup with the Bills.
Cardinals 31 Rams 30: I think it’s a shootout and I think Murray wins it at the end with his legs, either scoring or setting up a game winning field goal. Like the Bills and Pats, each team beat the other on the road, with Arizona crushing them 37-20. The way the Rams coughed up that lead and game last weekend makes me trust them not at all. Matthew Stafford turns the ball over as often as I turn in to Culver’s and despite the all-star all-in roster, they don’t know ho to close the deal. Add in, the Rams lost safety Jordan Fuller, the captain of their defense and were forced to sign Eric Weddle, who hasn't suited up since 2019. Advantage Kyler.
If I’m right, that sets up the 49ers in Green Bay and the Cardinals at Tampa in the NFC. In the AFC the Chiefs host the Bills and the Bengals head to Nashville. I hope I’m wrong. I’m not sure I’ve ever rooted for the Cowboys in a game, let alone a playoff game, but I hope they get their first postseason win in 27 years on Sunday.
Note: With the Packers on the bye, there is no “Packer Preview” on Sunday. We’ll be back next Sunday morning at 8am, no matter when the Packers play.