The field is set, and the brackets have been filled for the 2021 NFL Playoffs. With the best teams in each conference enjoying a bye week, twelve teams will take to the field over three days to narrow down the playoff participants from fourteen to eight during NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. So, with the Packers and Titans taking the weekend off, here are my previews and predictions for first round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs.

Las Vegas at Cincinnati:  The last team to make the AFC playoff field kicks off the NFL postseason Saturday by traveling to visit the AFC North champions in Cincinnati.  Las Vegas won the final game of the regular season by defeating the Chargers, knocking out their AFC West rivals when a tie would have sent both teams to the playoffs.  The Bengals play well in 2021 with an offense that lit teams up at home and a quarterback in Joe Burrow who has found his place in the NFL among the elite at his position. This is why Cincy reached the middle of the week at a 5.5-point home favorite over the Raiders, with bettors bringing down the number a point from where it opened and the computers telling the pros to lay the points in what is projected to be an eight-point game.  With the Raiders admitting they would have accepted a tie Sunday against the Chargers, it feels like to me they are just happy with being in the playoffs after overcoming a difficult season for their former head coach and some of their players. The Bengals, however, feel like they know they are good enough to make some noise in the playoffs and their business extends beyond this weekend. That, along with how well Cincy plays at home has me laying the points and taking the Bengals.

New England at Buffalo:  These two AFC East rivals compete is Round Three of their battles this season, with this one being not only the series tiebreaker, but for a place in the Divisional Round.  New England struggled in their season finale against Miami last week while Buffalo dominated late against the Jets and secured the East title.  When these teams played in the regular season, it was only a windy Monday night that slowed down the Bills offense in a Patriots’ win; because when they faced each other in New England under better conditions, Buffalo won, helping them roll into the postseason.  With the forecast calling for light winds Saturday night, it is no wonder the Bills Mafia is favored by four over the Pats; but slightly more than half the early bets are taking those points, fearful that the Jedi Master Bill Belichick might have one more trick up his hoodie.  The computers like Buffalo, and so do I since they are a more dynamic team that, without any bad weather, will show it on Saturday night.  Give me the Bills -4 to win and cover over the Patriots.

Philadelphia at Tampa Bay:  The Eagles will begin the NFL’s Sunday tripleheader by heading south and taking on the reigning Super Bowl champions.  Winners of the NFC South, Tampa Bay will look to go back-to-back with a home playoff game, something they didn’t have during last year’s title run as a Wild-Card team.  While Philly fans are probably happy with their team’s success this year, they likely know this Eagles squad is not ready for a title run, which is why the hosting Buccaneers are a solid 8.5-point favorite and money is coming in on Tampa Bay by a 3-to-2 margin in early action.  The 44-year-old Tom Brady lead all NFL QBs in passing yards this season, and even without Antonio Brown at wide receiver, bring a group of offensive weapons difficult for any defense to matchup against.  When at their best, Tampa Bay is probably 10 points better than Philadelphia … and without the players on defense to slow down Brady and company, and lacking much talent on their own offense, pulling off an upset doesn’t appear to be in the Eagles’ future this weekend.  Taking the Buccaneers -8.5 to win by 14.

San Francisco at Dallas:  A win over the Rams in Week 18 helped the 49ers earn their Wild-Card spot and their trip this Sunday to take on the Cowboys in Dallas.  The Cowboys, winners of the NFC East, are hosting a playoff game with a lot of pressure on them and a mixed bag of expectations, especially for their head coach Mike McCarthy.  Some see a Super Bowl contender while some people (like me) see they just being talented enough to win a weak division but are lacking the coaching to make a long playoff run.  Dallas is the smallest of all the favorites of Wild-Card weekend, being given only the token 3-points by oddsmakers made worse by the public taking those points by a 5-to-4 margin and the computers calling for this game to be close.  Some a calling this game a matchup of old rivals, when in reality you need to be old to remember when these teams were rivals on the field and for players during free agency during the early days of the Jerry Jones era with the Cowboys. And since I doubt Steve Young or Troy Aikman are donning their #8 Hall of Fame jerseys for this Wild-Card game, I am only rooting for a competitive affair.  The Cowboys (hopefully) didn’t come this far just to cough up their first playoff game at home, so for me laying the field goal is easy before there will be plenty of time for the ‘Boys to be eliminated from the postseason, just not this weekend. Dallas -3 to survive and advance.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City:  As the network airing the Super Bowl this season, it appears that NBC had the last pick among this weekend’s game for their Sunday Night game … Why else would they air the biggest mismatch of Wild-Card weekend in their primetime slot?  The traveling Steelers needed until midnight and the Chargers to make the mistake of calling a timeout rather than settling for a tie last weekend against the Raiders to make the trip to Kansas City … While the AFC West winners gave up a bye week late in the season with a loss, forcing them into this 2 vs. 7 seed games against Pittsburgh, facing this Steelers team should be fairly easy for a Kansas City offense that now understands how to win by playing a ball control game.  That’s why KC is favored by 12.5-points and was the two-time AFC champs will win this game going away, sending a certain quarterback from the Steel City into retirement as the best the city has ever seen.

Arizona at LA Rams:  The place where Super Bowl LXVI and the 2021 season will end is also where the Wild-Card weekend will climax on Monday Night as the Cardinals head to LA to take on their NFC West rivals the Rams.  Arizona was the toast of the NFL early in the season before injuries to QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins slowed down their team, allowing Los Angels to steal the divisional title from them.  That’s why in this 4 vs. 5 matchup the Cardinals are on the road and the Rams are a 4-point home favorite.  This does appear, however, to be one of those games that could go in any direction since the public is siding with Arizona by nearly a two-third margin in early wagering while the computers are predictions a three TD win for the Rams.  The Cardinals were a better road team (8-1) than home team (3-5) this season, so maybe the bettors are banking on another big performance from Arizona; or perhaps the people just see more than a FG being offered by the oddsmakers in a divisional rivalry game and just can’t pass up the points.  Either way, the Rams MUST win this game while the Cardinals would like to, yet don’t have the same level of pressure LA does.  The Rams didn’t give up all they did just to be a one-and-done postseason team this season, that’s why, for me, the easy choice is LA -4 to win by at least ten. 

 


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