Open a Budweiser, throw some hot dogs on the grill and start talking touchdowns, because the NFL playoffs are coming up.
Wildcard’s weekend is always one of the highlights of the NFL season and with the playoffs expanding, there are now six games for fans to indulge in.
We’ve reviewed each of the matches and picked the main matches where the best teams in the league lock in for a chance to land on the Super Bowl berth.
* All times AED
Las Vegas Raiders vs Cincinnati Bengals – Sunday, 8:30 a.m.
The Raiders have a very scratchy defensive back court, and Joe Burrow in the center of the Bengals quickly looks like one of the best players in American football. You can perform calculations on it.
The Bengals have reached their level at just the right time and in Burrow and a broad future Ja’Marr Chase have two of the best young players in the league.
Las Vegas won’t go away easily, but their epic overtime victory over the Chargers last week looked a bit like the Super Bowl and after all the drama they’ve been through this year (including, but not limited to, The High) the resignation of coach Jon Gruden and wide receiver Henry Roggs is charged with four felonies for his alleged role in a fatal car crash) just making the playoffs is a fair feat.
Receiver Hunter Renfrow has thrived in recent weeks, making a good mix of quarterbacks Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs, and they’ve both found form in the running back, but this still looks like a losing game for the Bengals.
As it happens, losing is exactly what the Bengals have done in the playoffs for a very long time now. The last time they got a taste of a post-season victory was in 1991, so any playoff win would be cause for celebration in Cincinnati.
New England Patriots vs Buffalo Bills – Sunday, 12:15 p.m.
It will be cold in Buffalo. Not “Geez, we can’t get too warm today, can we?” Type cold, I’m talking about frigid cold tundra, cold arctic blizzard, and so cold that you forget how warm it feels.
The kick-off forecast is -1C and once you get the winds and potential snow cool it could get even colder – but there will be plenty of heat when these two East Asian rivals meet for the third time this season.
On an even playing field, the Bills should be able to get through the Patriots – they are more powerful in attack, and quarterback Josh Allen is talented enough to win matches on his own.
New England looked like a contender in the Super Bowl midway through the season, with coach Bill Belichick building a solid defensive game and solid attacking, complemented by impressive rookie Mac Jones in the middle.
The past few weeks have not been kind to the Butts, as they have dropped three of their last four, including one of their encounters with the Bills.
But the weather will be a big equalizing factor and in similar circumstances in Week 13, the Patriots managed a tough 13-10 win as Jones threw only three assists.
The same stunt isn’t likely to work twice, but throwing the ball will be a challenge for Jones, whom Belichick has managed well throughout the season while rarely asked to do anything outside of his skill set.
Should Allen’s arm strength help him survive in chilly conditions, and blocking other Belichick master classes with the holster, the Bills should be able to get by with this.
Philadelphia Eagles vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Monday, 5:00 a.m.
The defending Super Bowl champions Tampa aren’t as strong as last year now that receiver Antonio Brown has left the team and Chris Goodwin is injured, but they still have Tom Brady, the best quarterback in the sport’s history, and the 44-year-old old boy still has plenty of juice.
Philadelphia has struggled defensively for most of the year, and Brady’s ability to break up area defenses has the Bucs well positioned to move forward while chasing back-to-back titles.
The Eagles will count on a big show from their QB, fleet-bred Jalen Hurts, as their best shot for pulling a fast one on old man Brady.
San Francisco 49ers vs Dallas Cowboys – Monday, 8:30 a.m.
Set your favorite Nirvana record and switch back to dial-up internet, this is a throwback to the classic ’90s confrontations between two of the league’s most storied franchises. Close your eyes and Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Troy Ekman and Emmett Smith might be there.
It’s been an inconsistent season for the 49ers, who needed to overturn a 17-0 deficit against the Rams just last week for the playoffs, while Dallas has one of the highest caps of any team in the league but if you’re looking for a surprise this weekend this might be the game. Your best chance.
The Cowboys have plenty of star power on both sides of the ball, and they’ve made plenty of highlights all season, but merging them together has been a challenge at times for Team America.
The key will be San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – he’s playing with a broken bone in his right thumb, but he held the rookie position on rookie Tre Lance.
Garoppolo can be an inconsistent passer, but as long as he takes care of the ball and can get explosive receiver Deebo Samuel and a tight end to George Kettle in the game, the Niners have a fighting chance.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs – Monday, 12:15 p.m.
The Steelers don’t stand a chance. That’s not to be dismissive, that’s what Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thinks.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be here. Maybe we’re not a very good football team,” Roethlisberger told reporters this week.
“Of the 14 teams in the playoffs, we are probably number 14.
“We are probably a 20-point underdog. I know they are not the top seed but they have won the AFC title in the last two years. We don’t have a chance. So let’s just go in and have fun.”
Roethlisberger is expected to retire at the end of the season, so this may be the last time the Steelers legend takes the field, and if Kansas City plays anywhere near their best, it certainly will be.
The Chiefs boast missile-armed Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the game, and their explosive attacking assists in assists in the last two Super Bowls.
Find the usual suspects Travis Kecle and Tyreek Hill to associate with the Mahomes whenever possible, and the Steelers will have demon time trying to contain the superhero trio.
Is there a chance Roethlisberger could summon a little old-fashioned magic that helped him lead Pittsburgh to two championships in one last display of brilliance before he hung up his helmet? Maybe, but you don’t want to rely on it.
Arizona Cardinals – Los Angeles Rams – Tuesday, 12:15 p.m.
The Cardinals looked every inch a Super Bowl contender in the early stages of the season but faded somewhat. The return of defensive superstar JJ Watt should give them a real boost but the Rams have their own defensive beast of their own in tackling Aaron Donald.
It was Donald who made the difference in the Rams’ 30-23 victory on the cards in Week 14, good enough to take the fate of the game once again in his own hands.
Cooper Cobb, a Rams recipient, has put in MVP-type numbers and will once again be the key to Los Angeles’ attack, while Cardinal Keeler Murray and returnee James Conner will be the key men for the visitors.
Jordan Fuller’s injury to the Rams’ safety has weakened them secondary somewhat, and Murray will be looking to take full advantage.