Nostrathomas Predicts: It’s Not Just Wild Card Weekend Anymore, It’s “Super Wild Card Weekend!”

The NFL not only super-sized the 2021 NFL season, they found that last year’s playoff format was so successful that they kept it and added the word “Super” so fans would fully understand how special this opening round of the postseason really had become.

If you don’t think that’s special, consider that for the first time in NFL history, they will be staging a Monday night playoff game. The NFL continues to be the only major sports organization that understands how modern-day marketing works. They create spectaculars and the fans eat up every bite.

We are already two games into this Super Wild Card Weekend. Unfortunately, work was very exhausting for last week and I didn’t have the chance to preview Saturday’s games. I was able to put out a tweet that put my picks on record for those games though.

And as we saw Saturday play out, the Cincinnati Bengals outlasted the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 and the Buffalo Bills blow out the New England Patriots 47-17.

So, with two games successfully in the books, here’s how I see the rest of Super Wild Card Weekend playing out.

Super Wild Card Sunday

Philadelphia Eagles +8.5 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1PM ET; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL)

The Philadelphia Eagles made the postseason for the first time since 2019 and their reward is a first-round matchup with the defending Super Bowl Champions.

These teams did face each other in Week 6 of the 2021 season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travelled to Philadelphia and won easily, 28-22 after being up 28-7 in the third quarter.

The difference between this game and the one played in Week 6 is that over the course of the second half of the season, the Eagles found their identity on offense. Nick Sirianni’s team succeeds when they can establish their running game.

That strength starts with quarterback Jalen Hurts, who ran 139 times for 784 yards. At running back, Philadelphia has a trio of capable ground-pounders in Miles Sanders, who is expected to play, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard.

As for the Buccaneers, their defense gave up the third fewest yards on the ground last season, which sounds impressive until you see that their defense faced the fewest rushing attempts of any team in the league. More accurately, Tampa Bay is mid-range in their run defense, allowing an average of 4.3 yards per rush attempt, 13th in the league.

The one thing that the Buccaneers do very well on defense is to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Tampa’s defense racked up 47 sacks, seventh best in the league, and were second in quarterback hits. That pressure is going to be important because both the team’s cornerback’s, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are on the injury report as questionable.

Fortunately for the Buccaneers running backs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard are coming off injured reserve and will play in this game. They’re going to be needed because the weather report for the game calls for a 60 percent chance of rain early with wind gusts up to 22 miles per hour.

The weather conditions, along with their depleted receiving corps are going to severely slow Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians passing attack. With running back Ronald Jones out for this game, Fournette is going to be called on to carry this Buccaneers offense on his back.

Because of the weather slowing down Tampa Bay’s offense slightly while playing directly into what the Eagles do best, I don’t see them pulling away from Philadelphia as easily as they did in Week 6. This game will stay within the 8.5 point spread but it’s too much to expect the Eagles to take out the defending world champions on their home turf. Take Tampa Bay to move on from Super Wild Card Weekend with the victory.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 Philadelphia Eagles 19

San Francisco 49ers vs Dallas Cowboys -3 (4:30PM ET; AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX)

What’s the difference between this and previous postseason versions of America’s Team since their glory years? This year’s edition is really good. As in, Super Bowl contender good.

Dallas led the NFL in scoring in the 2021 season and were first in points per play and second in points per drive. The only rough patch that the Cowboys offense suffered through this season was when quarterback Dak Prescott tried to return too soon from a calf injury.

On defense, Dallas can be just as scary. The Cowboys were seventh in points allowed. Their defensive front may have only finished 13th in sacks this season but they were third in quarterback pressures and knockdowns. Their defense is also third in defensive passer rating allowed.

If 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gets enough protection from his offensive line, he should be able to get the ball downfield to Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Garoppolo will have to keep close tabs on where Trevon Diggs is in the Dallas secondary though.

San Francisco should also find some success moving the ball on the ground with running back Elijah Mitchell against a Cowboys defense that is ranked 22nd in yards per attempt allowed.

The 49ers did well to battle their way into the postseason tournament but they’re going to need Dallas to play a bad game to have a chance to continue past this weekend. Except, this is the NFL playoffs where good teams rarely suffer let-down games. Expect the Cowboys to play to their potential and win and cover.

Dallas Cowboys 30 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs -12.5 (Sunday Night Football; GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO)

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Las Vegas Raiders came through for the Pittsburgh Steelers to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s career for one more week. The problem with that season extension is, they get to face the same team that thrashed them 36-10 in Week 16 and do it on the same field.

The Kansas City Chiefs defense has struggled at times this season, especially against some of the best offenses in the NFL, they’ve been successful in holding down the average to good offenses they’ve faced, and Pittsburgh is one of those.

Kansas City was fourth in points scored this season, the Steelers were 21st. The Chiefs were first in points per drive, Pittsburgh was 27th.

Kansas City isn’t invincible. Rookie running back Najee Harris should have success running against the defense ranked 31st in yards per carry allowed. The Steelers defensive front will also have Patrick Mahomes running for his life all afternoon.

Still, after Week 16 the Chiefs have a solid template for how to beat Pittsburgh and I don’t think the Steelers have enough quality players on offense to make that template obsolete.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Super Wild Card Monday

Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams -4 (Monday Night Football; SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA)

Here is the game between two teams that opened the season looking like Super Bowl contenders but are both breaking down at the worst possible time.

Both teams were in the fight for the NFC West Championship heading into Week 18 but were going about it from two different directions.

Los Angeles followed a three-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak before losing in Week 18 to the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals finished the season losing four of their last five games, including a Week 18 loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks that cost them the division title.

One trend that stands out in this game is, in three tries quarterback Matthew Stafford has never won a postseason game. Granted, those three games were during his time with the Detroit Lions.

Arizona is coming into this game beat up and stumbling after winning their first seven games of the season. As for the Rams, there’s plenty to be afraid of with Stafford’s ability to make mistakes at the worst possible moment but overall, they’re better on defense and have more healthy playmakers than the Cardinals will be fielding.

This is the pick I’m shakiest on but I’m taking the Los Angeles Rams to win and cover.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Arizona Cardinals 20

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