NFL Playoff Predictions, Wild Card Round

NFL DFS predictions post here every week, including projected outcomes and players to watch for every matchup. For more player selections, check out our free NFL Lineup Builder (now in beta).

Saturday, Jan. 15th (2 Games)

RAIDERS (10-7) AT BENGALS (10-7) — 4:30pm ET NBC

Favorite: Cincinnati (-5) O/U: 49

The year’s first playoff matchup pits two franchises that haven’t seen the postseason in over half a decade: the Raiders and Bengals. You’ve got to hand it to the Raiders and their coaching staff for how this season culminated. Few foresaw a playoff berth for the silver and black after Jon Gruden abruptly resigned due to scandal back in October, followed by the loss of their best receiver to a senseless tragedy. Most teams might have crumbled under that adversity. Instead, after starting out 6-7, they finished with four straight wins and find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, this time with a healthy Derek Carr under center. Their matchup is none other than the 10-7 Cincinnati Bengals, 2021 AFC North champions. The Bengals, much like their wild card opponent, exceeded all expectations this year behind a blistering offense spearheaded by Joe Burrow. Burrow’s rapport with rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase and the ground and pound running game of Joe Mixon helped Cincy score the 8th most points per game this season (Vegas was 18th). Couple that with an improving defense and you have a legitimate threat in the AFC. The Raiders’ best chance at an upset is for their offense to play keep away from Joe Burrow. To do that they’ll rely largely on TE Darren Waller, who returned in week 18 after a 6 week injury. Waller’s best game of the season (116 yards) was against Cincinnati in week 11. But even with a solid lead you’re not safe from the vaunted Bengals’ offense. Just ask the Chiefs how their double digit lead over the Bengals worked out in week 17. Winner: Bengals.

DFS Player to Watch: Darren Waller (TE, Raiders) — Waller is the team’s best ball catcher and toughest matchup for defenders. With Cincy giving up the 4th most FPs to tight ends, he should easily eclipse 10 targets. Waller has 100-yard potential and QB Carr should look for him at least once or twice in the end zone.

PATRIOTS (10-7) AT BILLS (11-6) — 8:15pm ET CBS

Favorite: Buffalo (-4) O/U: 44

The football gods have gifted us with Pats/Bills III, the first playoff matchup between these two AFC East rivals in 58 years. The two teams split the season series with the road teams taking both victories. Buffalo and New England rank #1 and #2 in fewest points allowed. The Bills have been playing solid football to close the season, winning four straight—including a road victory against the Patriots back in week 16. The Patriots haven’t been nearly as sharp as they’ve lost three of their last five, mostly due to costly mistakes by Mac Jones and uncharacteristically sloppy play from their formidable defense. It’s safe to assume that Bill Belichick will do all he can to fluster Josh Allen but New England’s pass rush isn’t the same caliber as Buffalo’s. It’s been a long time since the Patriots were underdogs in a playoff game but here they are. Mac Jones will have to shake off his rocky season finale against the Dolphins and get ready for the intensity and pressure of playoff football on the road. If he has another subpar performance out of the gate, Allen (the NFL’s fantasy point leader) could build an insurmountable lead. Winner: Bills.

DFS Player to Watch: Devin Singletary (RB, Bills) — Singletary tallied 6 TDS in his last four games and clearly has his groove back. With wind and cold in Buffalo tonight, Buffalo will attack the Patriots’ weakest defensive attribute, it’s run stopping. Singletary, who’s established himself as the team’s goal-line back, will get a healthy allotment of carries. He’s had 84 in the last four weeks alone.

Sunday, Jan. 16th (3 Games)

EAGLES (9-8) AT BUCCANEERS (13-4) — 1:00pm ET FOX

Favorite: Tampa Bay (-8.5) O/U: 46

The early 2000’s rivalry between the Buccaneers and Eagles gets a new installment as the seventh seeded Eagles take on Tom Brady’s second seeded Buccaneers. The Eagles have quietly snuck into the postseason with a balanced offense led by dual-threat Jalen Hurts. Their defense is what gets them into trouble, however. It’s allowed more points to opposing offenses than 62% of NFL teams. Meanwhile, Tampa has scored the second most points in the NFL. If there’s one Eagles stat that’s particularly alarming it’s that all eight losses came against teams with a winning record. That doesn’t bode well as they take on 13-4 Brady in Tampa, a man who rarely loses at home. Still, despite winning the NFC South and securing the two seed in the NFC, the Bucs are far from the 2020 Bucs in health and efficiency. The loss of Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for the season is a serious blow, as are its injured running backs, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. Defense-wise the Bucs are vulnerable in the secondary but their run defense is still one of the best in the league. Winner: Buccaneers.

DFS Player to Watch: Ron Gronkowski (TE, Buccaneers) — With 22 mph winds, Brady may not want to air it out as often. But Tampa throws more than any other team so it’ll need a close target. Who better than Gronk, who’s coming off two 100+ yard performances and is always playoff ready. Gronk should get sufficient looks given that Tampa’s top two RBs are out and they only have one strong receiver left (Evans).

49ERS (10-7) AT COWBOYS (12-5) — 4:30pm ET CBS

Favorite: Dallas (-3) O/U: 51

Speaking of rivalries renewed, how about the Niners and Cowboys meeting in the postseason for the first time since the January 1995 NFC Championship game back. The Cowboys and 49ers have a long and storied rivalry that goes back all the way to 1970 when these two teams first met in the NFC Championship game. The 2021 version of these storied franchises stack up quite well. Few would argue against the Cowboys being the more talented team on paper but the 49ers have plenty of blue chip players on both sides of the ball. Both teams can run the ball, air it out and hit the quarterback. Dallas has allowed 130 rush yards per game since week 9 so its key to victory will be stopping Eli Mitchell on the ground and making Jimmy G beat them with a busted thumb. Barring that it could be curtains on their Super Bowl hopes. The Niners love to sap their opposing defense’s souls with draining drives that can take the better part of a quarter.

Fun fact: “The Catch”, the 1981 NFC Championship game between these two titans where Dwight Clark caught the game winning TD to win the game, occurred 40 years ago on January 10th, 1982. Both teams could be using that iconic moment as motivation tonight. Winner: 49ers

DFS Player to Watch: Brandon Aiyuk (WR, 49ers) — Dallas is the best in the business at defending opponents’ #1 receiver and as WR2, Aiyuk can produce. He’s coming off a 107 yard performance against the Rams. Given the 49ers may have to deviate from their run-biased gameplan to keep up, Aiyuk is solid value at just a $5,200 (DraftKings) salary.

STEELERS (9-7-1) AT CHIEFS (12-5) — 8:15pm ET NBC

Favorite: Kansas City (-12.5) O/U: 46

In fifteen years at the helm, the Steelers Mike Tomlin has yet to suffer a losing season. Think about how remarkable that is, especially with the injury riddled rosters he’s been saddled with in recent memory. The 2021 Steelers’ offense has been borderline unwatchable, outside of Najee Harris blossoming into one of the hardest hitting backs in the game. They now meet one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season — on the road. Barring an unexpected collapse from the Chiefs this will be Ben Roethlisberger’s last game in the NFL. It’s a borderline miracle the Steelers even made the playoffs at all considering how abysmal their passing offense has been all year. The Steelers were crushed 36-10 by the Chiefs in Arrowhead on December 26th. The playoffs are an entirely different beast but the Steelers are still heavy underdogs. Their defense, despite a solid pass rush, likely won’t be able to cover Mahomes’s targets adequately. Winner: Chiefs

DFS Player to Watch: Najee Harris (RB, Steelers) — If KC has a weakness on defense, it’s defending passes to running backs. The Steeler’s rookie had 1,667 all-purpose yards this season. He should see above-average targets as Rothlisberger is forced into shorter passes.

Monday, Jan. 17th (Monday Game)

CARDINALS (11-6) AT RAMS (12-5) 8:15pm ET ABC

Favorite: Los Angeles (-4) O/U: 49.5

Cardinals vs Rams III will be played in SoFi Stadium after the Rams won the NFC West even with their inexplicable OT loss to the 49ers last week. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost to the Seahawks at home 38-30. The Cardinals beat the Rams in L.C. back in week 4 but lost to the Rams at home in week 14. Truthfully, the Cardinals are probably relieved this game will be on the road as their away record this year is 8-1, versus 3-5 at home record. The key to victory for the Cards will be forcing Matt Stafford to make turnovers, which he’s been good at lately. In the Rams’ last three games Stafford has thrown at least two interceptions per game. On the season he has seventeen interceptions, tied for most in the league with Trevor Lawrence. The Cardinals will no doubt dial up the pressure on defense sending Chandler Jones and the newly reinstated J.J. Watt after Stafford as often as possible. On the other side of the field the Cardinals will need Kyler Murray to utilize both his arm and legs for this one. Aaron Donald and the NFL’s #1 pass rush will be hunting him like a dog, especially on obvious passing downs. NFC West games have been some of the most thrilling and exciting and this one should be no different.  Winner: Rams

DFS Player to Watch: Odell Beckham (WR, Rams) — The Cardinals are much worse at covering secondary receivers than the WR1, and L.A.’s WR2 Van Jefferson has a bum shoulder (check the NFL DFS injury report before the game for his status). That leaves WR3 Beckham—who loves the prime time spotlight—with favorable potential. His cheaper salary is a bonus.

About the Author: Steven A. Cravens has been a professional sports better and analyst for over a decade. As a former Fox Sports NFL researcher and data logger, he specialized in player profiling and performance statistics.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all fantasy stats are based on point per reception (PPR) scoring.

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