HOW TO WATCH NFL WILDCARD WEEKEND
It’s time for football Heaven, everyone! We have 6 (count ‘em) 6 playoff games happening on four different networks this weekend – two on Saturday, three on Sunday and, for what I believe is the first time in NFL history – a playoff game on a Monday night. This is the first time in league history that the NFL will have so many playoff games in the same week. Math experts will generally all agree that expanding the number of teams reaching the playoffs will have that effect and I’d imagine once owners see how high TV ratings will be that next year that 30 of the 32 teams will be postseason bound. Somehow the Bears and Jags are already eliminated, though.
Saturday’s schedule begins with Las Vegas traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. These teams have faced each other in the playoffs twice before, once at Oakland and once at Los Angeles and again now that the team is calling Las Vegas home. They will meet again in the playoffs in 2041 when the Raiders’ new home stadium is built in Turks & Caicos. The second Saturday game is New England playing in Buffalo, with the historically bullied Bills trying to avenge 20 years of abuse at the hands of Belichick and the Patriots. I suspect there may be some enthusiasm Saturday among members of the Bills’ Mafia which will lead to more frequent jumping onto tables of fire.
Sunday’s early game features the Eagles going to Tampa, facing long odds despite Tom Brady and company missing several key offensive players due to injury. After that the classic playoff rivalry between Dallas and San Francisco will get renewed again after 25 years. These two historic franchises haven’t met in the playoffs since three straight NFC Championship game faceoffs in the mid-90’s and Jerry World Stadium will no doubt be electric in anticipation of the Niners’ return. The evening game has the most lopsided odds, with the heavily favored Chiefs hosting a Pittsburgh team that barely squeaked into the playoffs with an overtime win. I feel almost bad that Ben Roethlisberger’s last NFL game could be a blowout loss.
The Monday Night playoff debut game is the most difficult to predict. The Rams and Cardinals both finished the season with bad losses when they had a chance to clinch the division title, and neither looked like a convincing Super Bowl threat, seeming to trip over their own feet on the five-yard line every time they looked like they might be headed towards greatness. Arizona have lost 5 of their 8 games at home, so perhaps their blowing their chance at the NFC West title last week and forcing them to play on the road in L.A. this week was a blessing for them. Logic like that is precisely why that game is one I wouldn’t bet a dollar on.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 15
|Las Vegas||Cincinnati (-5.5 at BetMGM)||4:30 pm||NBC|
|New England||Buffalo (-4 at PointsBet||8:15 pm||CBS|
SUNDAY, JANUARY 16
|Philadelphia||Tampa Bay (-8.5 on FanDuel)||1:00 pm||FOX|
|San Francisco||Dallas (-3 at DraftKings)||4:30 pm||CBS|
|Pittsburgh||Kansas City (-12.5 at PointsBet)||8:15 pm||NBC|
MONDAY, JANUARY 17
|Arizona||L.A. Rams (-4 at BetMGM)||8:15 pm||ABC/ESPN|