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2022 NFL Wild Card Predictions

This NFL postseason feels like the most wide open of any in recent history with many paths for different teams to go to Super Bowl LVI. The AFC side of the bracket sports one of the weakest no. 1 seeds in the last few years with the Titans ranking just 20th in overall DVOA on the season, though they might be getting healthy at the right time with Derrick Henry’s return on the horizon. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs also loom as perennial Super Bowl contenders, and Buffalo has the best pass defense in the league.

On the NFC side, the Packers are heavy favorites to go all the way with MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers at the helm, but the reigning Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay remain an obstacle with 44 year-old Tom Brady scheduled to play in his 42nd playoff game on Sunday, and Dallas is a well-rounded team on offense and defense as well. The postseason all starts this weekend with the first slate of playoff games in 2022. Here are my NFL wild card predictions for the first round.

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2022 NFL Wild Card Predictions


Las Vegas Raiders (5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4)

It’s been three decades since Cincinnati won a playoff game, with their last win having come against the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) on January 6, 1991. No doubt Bengals fans have plenty of apprehension about this game, but they shouldn’t. The Raiders are playing on a short week after beating the Chargers last Sunday night to squeak into the postseason, and there seems to be little worry about Joe Burrow’s knee from his late-game injury in their win over the Chiefs in Week 17. Cincinnati boasts a dangerous trio of receivers, and the only real concern is Maxx Crosby’s ability to perhaps single-handedly disrupt their plans, as Crosby ranks third among edge defenders in run-stopping and 10th in pass rush.

Still, the Bengals had a good plan to neutralize his impact when these teams met in Week 11 by getting the ball out quickly and emphasizing the run game, limiting Crosby to just one quarterback hit and no sacks. Expect a similar plan on offense for Saturday afternoon, which may make Joe Mixon a bigger factor than Burrow in their first playoff matchup. For the Raiders, they’ll need a healthy Darren Waller to produce like he did in Week 11 with 116 receiving yards, but even that wasn’t enough. Las Vegas has played well on offense despite few explosive plays, so it wouldn’t be outrageous to see them jump out to an early lead. However, they’re overmatched on the whole, and their stamina could wane as the game progresses. This one should be fairly straightforward and give Bengals fans a sigh of relief after three long decades.

Prediction: Bengals 34, Raiders 20


New England Patriots (6) at Buffalo Bills (3)

On Saturday night, the temperature in Buffalo is expected to be in the single digits with the wind chill at negative 10 to 15 degrees, making it likely one of the coldest games in NFL history. However, there’s a key difference between this game and the Patriots’ upset win over the Bills in similar cold weather in Week 13. In their first matchup this season, there were sustained winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour throughout the game with some gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. This coming game, low winds of under 10 miles per hour are forecasted, making it a non-factor. Additionally, New England will be missing left tackle Isaiah Wynn with defensive tackle Christian Barmore questionable, two potentially massive losses in the trenches on either side of the ball.

New England’s offense ranks seventh in rushing DVOA behind an offensive line that ranks ninth in adjusted line yards against a Buffalo defense that ranks 11th against the run but has been susceptible to giving up some big plays. Bill Belichick is sure to scheme up some exotic looks on defense with the run game powering the Patriots’ offense, but it may not matter as long as Buffalo can score, as they did in their last matchup. If the Patriots fall behind, it’s probably too burdensome to expect Mac Jones to lead a comeback effort. Despite how well he’s played as a rookie, New England lacks playmakers at receiver, and the Bills’ defense ranks best in the league against the pass. This game should be a close, low-scoring matchup for the most part. Although a Patriots upset wouldn’t be shocking, possibly gaining a boost from a trick play or two if they’re trailing in the second half, the Bills have a better offense overall with a more seasoned quarterback.

Prediction: Bills 23, Patriots 20


Philadelphia Eagles (7) at Tampa Bay (2)

The forecasted weather in Tampa Bay of rain in the morning along with sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour could make this a slog of a game. Many have voiced that the weather potentially caters to the strength of the Eagles’ offense, their ground game. Philadelphia’s offense ranks third in rushing DVOA and behind an offensive line that ranks fourth in adjusted line yards. Having realized their strength, the Eagles have been the most run-heavy offense by far this season with just a 48 percent pass rate. On the other hand, the once-vaunted Buccaneers run defense has faltered a bit this year, ranking just 12th run defense this season. However, it’s worth noting that their struggles have coincided with major injuries to their front seven. With key players in Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul expected to return on Sunday with defensive captain Lavonte David questionable, the Eagles’ rushing attack may not be quite as dominant as it has been in recent weeks.

And on the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers’ run game is being overlooked by some. Tampa Bay’s offense ranks fourth in rushing DVOA behind an offensive line that ranks fifth in adjusted line yards this season. Le’Veon Bell and Ke’Shawn Vaughn will need to step up with both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones ruled out, but the Eagles’ defense has struggled more this year, ranking just 19th against the run and 25th in overall defense. The ground game could prove crucial in this matchup on both sides due to the weather, but while Philadelphia’s rushing attack has been touted, the Buccaneers have a strong run-blocking offensive line as well. This game may be a bit too close for comfort for Tampa Bay fans throughout, but the Buccaneers have a fair chance to pull out a win at home nonetheless if their front seven is healthy.

Prediction: Buccaneers 26, Eagles 24


San Francisco 49ers (6) at Dallas Cowboys (3)

In spite of Jimmy Garoppolo’s limitations, the 49ers shouldn’t be counted out. After all, they made it to a Super Bowl just two years ago with Garoppolo, though their defense was more menacing that season. San Francisco boasts a strong offense that ranks fifth in both passing and rushing DVOA, and despite some inconsistent play, Garoppolo has been efficient. He surprisingly ranks sixth among quarterbacks in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A), and even more shocking, Garoppolo leads all quarterbacks in pressured completion rate. Much of this hinges on his ability to get the ball out quickly under pressure to some of the best receivers in the league in creating yards after the catch. While Dallas’s defense ranks second against the pass and leads the league both in takeaways and turnover differential, they also rank just 16th in rushing defense and can be beaten on the ground.

The biggest issue for San Francisco will be stopping the Cowboys’ passing attack, which ranks sixth in DVOA. While the 49ers’ defense ranks second against the run, their pass defense ranks 16th, and their cornerbacks have been extremely suspect in coverage despite having allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards this season. Nick Bosa anchors a strong front seven that ranks fifth in pass rush win rate and should be able to pressure Dak Prescott, but the expected return of left tackle Tyron Smith this week should provide a boost to Prescott’s pass protection. This game could be high-scoring with both offenses playing efficiently. The 49ers managed to overcome two interceptions from Garoppolo last week against the Rams to make it to the playoffs, but an untimely interception from him on Sunday afternoon paired with a big play or two given up downfield by the secondary could seal their fate.

Prediction: Cowboys 33, 49ers 30


Pittsburgh Steelers (7) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)

On Wednesday, Ben Roethlisberger spoke with media and said of the coming game at Kansas City: “Let’s just go play and have fun and see what happens.” That statement pretty much sums up this game. Now, it’s important that the Chiefs don’t look past the Steelers too quickly because anything can still happen, but they’re a well-run organization that has generally peaked in the playoffs the last few years, so that’s a small concern. Another potential worry is Tyreek Hill’s heel injury, which could limit his snaps or effectiveness again this Sunday night even if he’s active. Even so, Patrick Mahomes should dispatch Pittsburgh with fair ease with the offensive line coming together during the season to rank fourth in adjusted sack rate and second in pass block win rate. It’s hard to envision the Steelers slowing down the Chiefs’ offense much even with sack-leader T.J. Watt, as he recorded zero quarterback hits or sacks against Mahomes in Week 16.

Kansas City should also find success on the ground against Pittsburgh, as the Chiefs rank 10th in rushing DVOA behind an offensive line that ranks eighth in adjusted line yards against a Steelers defense that ranks just 27th against the run. As for Pittsburgh’s offense, they rank just 26th on the year with Roethlisberger ranking second-lowest in intended air yards per pass attempt (IAY) behind only Jared Goff in 2021. It’s difficult seeing a scenario where Roethlisberger can successfully play catch-up at Arrowhead even with the surprising return of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Never say never, but the Chiefs should handle the Steelers and send Roethlisberger quietly into the night in what could be his final NFL game.

Prediction: Chiefs 30, Steelers 16


Arizona Cardinals (5) at Los Angeles Rams (4)

Although the Cardinals lost to the Rams in their last matchup in Week 14, they had more passing yards and more rushing yards in the loss. Arizona’s downfall came largely off two interceptions from Kyler Murray, who at the time was playing in just his second game back following an ankle injury that kept him out for three games. Although the Rams’ defense ranks sixth against the pass and fifth overall in DVOA, they’re 11th in passing yards allowed and have given up the 18th most points to opponents. This game could come down to turnovers, and the two teams have been trending in opposite directions in turnover differential in recent games. The Cardinals rank fourth in turnover differential this season at +12 with Murray’s 10 interceptions having accounted for most of their 15 giveaways. However, he hasn’t thrown an interception over the last three weeks. The Rams rank 13th in turnover differential on the year at +2 with Stafford having accounted for 19 of their 23 giveaways with his interceptions and fumbles, and Stafford has thrown seven interceptions over his last three games.

It’s uncertain how much injuries are affecting Stafford, as he hurt his toe against San Francisco in Week 18 and has reportedly been playing through chronic back pain. Los Angeles is likely to limit Stafford’s turnovers with their 12th-ranked rushing attack behind an offensive line that ranks sixth in adjusted line yards, and the Cardinals have struggled to stop the run due to injuries, having allowed an average of 116 rushing yards to opponents in their last four losses, including a whopping 190 yards to Rashaad Penny last week. It’s worth noting that there’s an outside chance of J.J. Watt returning for this game after injuring his shoulder in October and having undergone surgery in early November, but his availability and effectiveness remain in question. The Rams should be able to dominate on the ground, but the Cardinals can keep pace in scoring as long as Murray is more careful in not turning the ball over on Monday night. Los Angeles is the favorite for a reason, but a single ugly interception from Stafford late could be all it takes for Arizona to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Cardinals 28, Rams 27


For more fantasy football and NFL content, follow me on Twitter @FFA_Meng.

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