It came down to the very last play in overtime of game 272, but the NFL’s playoff field has finally been decided. With the Las Vegas Raiders defeating the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night, the Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers became the final two teams to secure their places in the AFC playoff field. In the NFC, the last piece of the playoff puzzle also fell into place in overtime, as the San Francisco 49ers rallied to beat their division rivals the Los Angeles Rams to punch their ticket to the postseason (it was a rough day for football fans in LA).
The schedule for Super Wild Card weekend has now been announced, including the first-ever Monday Night Football playoff game on ESPN. We were able to chat with ESPN's Mina Kimes and Field Yates to get their thoughts on the Wild Card round. Check out our interview below, along with the full schedule of this weekend's games; to watch the Monday Night Football game—as well as the Manning-cast with Peyton and Eli on ESPN2—subscribe to Sling Orange using the link at the bottom of this page.
Wild Card Round
|Sat. Jan. 15|
|4:30pm||Raiders at Bengals||NBC*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|8:15pm||Patriots at Bills||CBS*||Locals*|
|Sun. Jan. 16|
|1:00pm||Eagles at Buccaneers||FOX*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|4:30pm||49ers at Cowboys||CBS*||Locals*|
|8:15pm||Steelers at Chiefs||NBC*||Select Markets/ Locals*|
|Mon. Jan. 17|
|8:15pm||Cardinals at Rams||ESPN||Sling Orange|
First-Round Bye: Titans, Packers
Wild Card Predicitions
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Field Yates: Cincinnati. Joe [Burrow] plus Joe [Mixon] plus those wide receivers, it’s too much to handle.
Mina Kimes: I’ve got Cincinnati in this one. The Vegas pass rush makes it a little bit challenging, but Joe Burrow unleashed with this passing attack and the weapons they have—Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins—it’s just too many skilled players for Las Vegas to stop.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
FY: I’m going Buffalo. This is the trilogy, the rubber match, if you will. [I’ll take] Josh Allen and the Bills playing at home on a very cold night.
MK: I am leaning Buffalo in this one, based mostly on what we saw in round two [of their regular season games]. I thought the Bills defense was so well-coached and so deliberate in the way they force Mac Jones out of his comfort zone. And then on the other side of the football, Josh Allen has been a little bit inconsistent down the stretch, but what he’s been able to do with his legs gives them a floor that i think should give them the win.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
FY: I’m gonna go with Tampa Bay. Philly had an incredible run to get here, but Tampa, even with some recent injuries, is still a superior team.
MK: I think this will actually be closer than it seems because of some of the struggles Tampa has had in run defense and how good Philly is running the ball. But I just don't think the Eagles defense will be able to stop Tom Brady with those quick passes where they are vulnerable. And [Brady] is excellent, so I’m taking the Bucs.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
FY: Here’s my upset special: The 49ers go to Dallas and beat the Cowboys at Jerryworld.
MK: I will take the upset here and go with San Francisco. It hurts because I’ve been pro-Dallas all year. Their pass rush is amazing, [and] Dak Prescott is playing good football, even though the offense has been up-and-down as of late. I just think this is a really challenging matchup for them, facing the San Francisco rushing attack. I think it’s gonna be close, but I’m leaning Niners.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
FY: Kansas City. This one feels to me like the most lopsided of the Wild Card matchups. I just think that Pittsburgh is a great story but not necessarily a great foe against Kansas City.
MK: I’m going with Kansas City. Not too surprising I suppose, even Ben said no one believes in the Steelers! I mean, they demolished Pittshburgh last time they played and with T.J. Watt healthier than he was then, I could see it being closer. I think Patrick Mahomes plays patiently, hopefully [doesn't] turn the ball over, and that Kansas City Chiefs pash rush should be enough as well.
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
FY: I’ll take the Rams. Can’t wait for this one, Monday Night Football on ESPN, what could be better? Playing at home gives [Los Angeles] the narrowest of edges.
MK: I’m taking LA in this one. I think it’s close. I think the injuries Los Angeles has at safety and some of the issues at linebacker could be a problem. But on the other side of the ball, I just don't see this Cardinals defense stopping Mathew Stafford. The pass rush is very dependent on the blitz, even with J.J. Watt back. The Rams just have too many weapons for them to defend.
If the 49ers make a run, how should San Francisco handle Jimmy Garoppolo?
FY: It depends on how deep of a run they make. Because if the 49ers go all the way to the Super Bowl, they have to think long and hard about one more year with Jimmy Garoppolo as their starter, provided he plays well during that stretch. It’s probably a bit more of a nuanced question, but I don’t think that keeping Jimmy G for one more season is totally off the table.
MK: I think more likely than not the 49ers are going to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, I mean, if he takes them back to a Super Bowl, maybe all bets are out the window. But when you invest that sort of draft capital in a pick like they did with Trey Lance—the rookie quarterback, who I thought did show a lot of improvement when he got his second start of the season—at some point you gotta pull the ripcord. But again, Jimmy maybe can prove me wrong and lead them to the Super Bowl. I don’t really see it happening but if that did happen then I’d change my tune.
When it comes to evaluating who wins their Wild Card game, what's more worrisome: Stafford's recent struggles or Arizona losing to the Seahawks?
FY: I think it’s Matthew Stafford's recent struggles, because it’s over a prolonged period. He actually ended up tied, in terms of interceptions this year, with Trevor Lawrence, at 17 apiece. I know Matthew Stafford is incredibly talented and had some unbelievable games this year for the Rams, but the playoffs are about—oftentimes—one, two, three plays that change the course of [the game]. And if Stafford has any of those meltdown moments as a passer, those could be the difference between a win and potentially a loss.
MK: I think Stafford’s struggles. The turnovers in the worst possible moments are more concerning, largely because they are kind of the only reason to be seriously concerned about the Rams offense. I mean, otherwise they are so efficient, they’re so explosive, the weapons are amazing, the offensive line has mostly been good—not so great against the San Francisco 49ers at the end there—but it does feel like, if he can just protect the football they should win, they should be unstoppable. Whereas with Kyler Murray, I do understand some disappointment in Week 18 and how things went and his protection was an issue as well, but I think he has shown the ability to bounce back from games like that.