The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the AFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Saturday.
#5 Las Vegas Raiders v. #4 Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. To put that in perspective, the first cellphone came out in 1992, and no one has texted about Cincinnati winning a playoff game in real time. This year could be different. Sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow is playing some of the best football regarding accuracy, impressive numbers and determination. Coach Zac Taylor pushed all the right buttons in the regular season. Despite a young roster, the Bengals approach every week like a veteran team.
Las Vegas won a meaningless overtime game and has to start the playoffs on a Saturday afternoon with an interim head coach who may or may not keep his job. If the Raiders played for a tie or somehow still won with backups versus Los Angeles, they would have the edge. It doesn’t help this is quarterback Derek Carr’s debut and it comes against a top tier defense.
Prediction: Bengals win 27-17
#6 New England Patriots v. #3 Buffalo Bills
The second of the Saturday and AFC playoff games, part three of the Patriots-Bills rivalry will again feature winter weather conditions. Hopefully it won’t be similar to the terrible conditions in Buffalo the first time where rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw three total passes and Josh Allen looked like his rookie self.
Both teams are on a different trajectory. Since that first game in Buffalo, Jones and the Patriots offense don’t look threatening. In fact, the rookie had the worst game of his career last Sunday in what was Brian Flores’ last win as Dolphins head coach. Defense keeps New England in the game, but the passing game has to be better against a top tier Bills defense.
Quarterback Josh Allen has played better, but Buffalo isn’t wow-ing anyone like most expected. Still, Allen has more experience in the playoffs over rookie Mac Jones, and coach Sean McDermott not just counters the best coach in the NFL, but has home field advantage to get the results.
Prediction: Bills win 16-6
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs
One of the most lopsided playoff games on paper, Steelers Chiefs part two may not have a different result. The retirement party for Ben Roethlisberger could be this Sunday with a Chiefs offense facing a a Steeler defense they picked apart in December.
Unless Najee Harris performs like a vintage Adrian Peterson, Pittsburgh’s offense will have a problem stretching the passing game and countering a rejuvenated Kansas City pass rush. On the other end, Mahomes and company will have a lot of looks and plays called against the Steeler secondary.
Prediction: Chiefs win 37-17
Week 18 picks record: 9-7
Season picks record: 163-109