NFL 2021-2022 Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide
LOS ANGELES, January 14, 2022 — The 2021 NFL regular season is now in the history books. The Wildcard matchups are set. Before new history is made, a brief look at recent history and past history. Recent history saw the NFL regular season end in thrilling fashion.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers played a game for the ages that is now an instant classic. With the threat of a tie looming, the Raiders won 35-32 when Daniel Carlson nailed a 47-yard field goal on the final play of overtime. The Raiders overcame unimaginable adversity in going 4-0 down the stretch.
Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia showed calm under intense pressure.
Meanwhile, Chargers coach Brandon Staley is being lambasted for arrogance and recklessness. Going for it on 4th and 1 from his own 18 was never fashionable. It was a crazy call, and that combined with an inappropriate timeout in overtime is why his team is sitting at home.
The regular season also saw a stunning result that was the epitome of the late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s dream of “any given Sunday.” Forget parity. The correct term is competitive balance. That balance was on display when the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts needed only a victory over the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars to make the playoffs. The Jaguars destroyed the Colts, taking a 26-3 lead and winning 26-11.
The most important aspect of these games is that the integrity of the game has been preserved.
Other professional sports leagues are being tarnished by teams tanking. The worst teams get the best draft picks, and several leagues have seen teams lose games on purpose. That does not happen in the NFL. The Jaguars could have guaranteed themselves the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. All they needed to do was lose their regular-season finale. Instead, the Jaguars won big.
With the Jaguars’ win, the Detroit Lions could have won the top Draft pick with a loss. The Lions had also won only two games all year. In the finale, they won their third game. There is no tanking in football.
Meanwhile, the Raiders and Chargers could have both made the playoffs had they settled for a tie. While the game almost ended in a tie, it was not for lack of effort.
Both teams went blow for blow and tried to win for four quarters. Even in the final minute of overtime, when it looked like both teams would settle for the tie, the Raiders made a play and went for the win.
The 1980s are long gone and the Alcoa commercials are a distant memory, but fantastic finishes still exist in the NFL. The competitive balance on any given Sunday is as strong as ever. The shocking upsets keep coming. The integrity of the game is solid as a rock.
The recent history of the NFL gives us hope for a thrilling postseason and a bright future for professional football. As for past history, these matchups offer plenty of rematches.
The Raiders and Bengals made the playoffs in the 1990 season. The Raiders were heavy favorites and the Bengals tied the game 10-10 in the fourth quarter. Yet with Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson grinding the Bengals down, the Raiders prevailed 20-10.
The Eagles defeated the Buccaneers six straight times in Philadelphia, including in the 2002 regular season.
Yet in the NFC Title Game that year, a 92-yard interception return by Ronde Barber sealed a shocking 27-10 Buccaneers victory. Now the roles are reversed. The Buccaneers are the defending champions and heavy favorites this weekend. The Eagles are trying to pull off a major upset.
The Cowboys and 49ers have played in some of the biggest playoff games in NFL history.
The Cowboys defeated the 49ers in the 1970 and 1971 NFC Title Games. In the 1981 NFC Title Game, the 49ers got revenge when Joe Montana hit Dwight Clark for “the catch. and a 28-27 49ers victory. In 1992, the roles reversed again when the Cowboys beat up the 49ers 30-20 in the NFC Title game and then again in the 1993 NFC Title Game 38-21. In the 1994 NFC Title Game, it was the 49ers who defeated the Cowboys 38-28. Then in 1995, the 49ers throttled the Cowboys in the regular season, but it was the Cowboys winning their third Super Bowl in four years.
The Steelers went into Kansas City in the 2016 playoffs, failed to score a touchdown, and parlayed six field goals into a tough 18-16 win over the Chiefs.
That game changed NFL history.
The losing quarterback was Alex Smith, who was frequently criticized for being too conservative. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes, who has set the league on fire with his exciting play.
The Bills and Patriots have been division rivals for 60 years, but they only met in the playoffs once. In 1963, they played in the first-ever AFL playoff game to decide who would win their division. The Patriots won that contest 26-8. Yet their two games in 2021 were hard-fought.
The Patriots went into Buffalo in a game played with heavy wind. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones threw only three passes as the Patriots ran the ball 46 times in a 14-10 win. The rematch saw the Bills go into New England and win 33-21. The rubber match will go a long way in determining whether the AFC East has seen a true changing of the guard or restoration to regular order.
The Cardinals and Rams have only been in the same division since the 2002 NFL realignment.
The Rams have existed since 1936, while the Cardinals were born in 1899, over two decades before the NFL itself existed. Yet they have only met in the playoffs once. In 1975, the Rams at home defeated the Cardinals 35-23. The Cardinals had Don Coryell, who would later go on to lead the famous “Air Coryell” offense in San Diego.
Jim Hart was the Cardinals quarterback.
Yet the Rams had the Fearsome Foursome of Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, and Lamar Lundy. The regular season saw the Cardinals go into Los Angles and stun the Rams 37-20. Then the Rams went into Arizona and won 30-23.
Now it is time for new NFL history.
All six home teams are favored this weekend. Also, a new NFL playoff tradition has been born. In addition to Saturday and Sunday games, for the first time, the NFL offers a Monday Night Football playoff game.
With that, Here is the NFL 2021-2022 Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by SportingNews.com and all times Eastern.
Saturday, January 15, 2022, 1:30 p.m.
Las Vegas Raiders (5)(10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (4)(10-7)(-6) —
The Raiders were 6-7 and left for dead. Then they somehow won the next four games by a combined 12 points in cardiac fashion. In the regular season, the Bengals led the Raiders 13-6 after three quarters before blowing the game open in the fourth quarter and winning 32-13. Joe Burrow is the real deal.
Jamar Chase is a superstar and Joe Mixon runs hard. The Bengals have the home field and on paper appear to be the better team. Yet they lack experience. If the Raiders can survive the early onslaught, they could make a game of this. Josh Jacobs runs with purpose. The Raiders should have Darren Waller.
If Derek Carr has the ball left with two minutes left, anything is possible. Nevertheless, go with the home field. Bengals win but fail to cover.
New England Patriots (6)(10-7) at Buffalo Bills (3)(11-6)(-4) —
Home field means nothing in this series, with both teams used to brutally cold weather. Josh Allen has played better than Mac Jones, but the Patriots are winning the game the way Belichick did his first few years with the Patriots. A Bill Parcells disciple, Belichick loves to run the ball and play defense. Jones is not asked to do as much as Allen is. Counting out Belichick has been a fool’s errand. Sean McDermott has restored the Bills to respectability, but Belichick is still the NFL’s Lord of the Rings. Until history changes, go with history. Upset special, Patriots win outright.
Sunday, January 16, 1:00 p.m.
Philadelphia Eagles (7)(9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)(13-4)(-8.5) —
Yes, the Buccaneers are the far superior team. Tom Brady is playing as well as ever. The Eagles are just happy to be there. This game has the makings of a blowout, but the Buccaneers have suffered some serious injuries on offense. A garbage touchdown is certainly within the realm of possibility. Jalen Hurts is talented and smart. Brady is so good that like Michael Jordan, Brady has to invent fake reasons to be outraged. The Eagles beat him in the Super Bowl four years ago. That was a completely different team, and he was on a different team.
Yet Brady will convince himself that this is a revenge game. Buccaneers win but fail to cover.
San Francisco 49ers (6)(10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3)(12-5)(-3) —
The Cowboys have the better record and the better team. Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers back from a 17-0 deficit last week in a stunning road win. The Cowboys breezed through the regular season. The Cowboys did lose at home to the Raiders and Arizona, while the 49ers did sweep the Rams. Garoppolo did lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl two years ago. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel are great players, but Dak Prescott can hand off to Ezekiel Elliott and throw to too many gifted receivers.
The 49ers are overmatched, and the Cowboys have the home field. Cowboys cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7)(9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)(12-5)(-12.5) —
Three weeks ago the Steelers went into Kansas City and got blasted 36-10. The game was over at halftime with the Chiefs leading 23-0. The Steelers gutted out two tough wins to get Ben Roethlisberger to the playoffs one last time. The Steelers win with tough running and defense, which is tough to do when an early deficit forces a team to abandon the running game. Mike Tomlin is an iron man, but Walrus Andy Reid is a play-calling maestro. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and a host of other playmakers. The Chiefs just have too much speed. The spread is high, and a garbage touchdown is possible. This may not be as big a blowout like last time, but the Chiefs at home will handle business comfortably.
Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Monday, January 17, 8:00 p.m.
Arizona Cardinals (5)(11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (4)(12-5)(-4) —
These teams also have rendered home-field advantage irrelevant. Both teams play in warm weather. The Cardinals started 10-2 but went 1-4 down the stretch. The Rams did stumble in their season finale, but the Rams are loaded. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are exciting, and JJ Watt could return in epic fashion.
Yet the Rams may be the most complete team in the NFL. Von Miller and O’Dell Beckham have meshed well with the rest of the team. Matthew Stafford is underrated. Sean McVay is a stud when it comes to play-calling. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey join Miller in a defense that has serious play-makers. Forget the home field. The Cardinals are exciting, but the Rams are on a mission.
Rams win but fail to cover.