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AFC Wild Card Preview

Eighteen teams have fallen and only fourteen remain. That can only mean that Super Wild Card weekend is upon us, as twelve of those fourteen teams will do battle to survive another week. Since Green Bay and Tennessee finish the season as their conference’s number 1 seed, they get a bye this week. Last postseason I failed to correctly pick at least 50% of the games. This year I’m determined to do a much better job. For this edition we will focus on the three AFC matchups this weekend.

#7 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #2 Kansas City Chiefs

Against all the odds the Steelers managed to sneak their way into the playoffs. Their reward is to play on the road against a Kansas City team that has won the AFC the last three years. Despite the odds being stacked against them again, the Steelers are more than happy to be in this game. The Chiefs, on the other hand, could’ve avoided this game had they beaten the Bengals two weeks ago. The loss knocked them out of the one seed and thus denied them a first-round bye. The Chiefs will be plenty motivated to put down a statement for the rest of the AFC. So, let’s jump in and see how these two teams stack up.

In one corner you have a Steelers team that just wouldn’t die, as they did just enough to get into the playoffs. But making the playoffs and winning in the playoffs are two completely different things. Luckily for the Pittsburgh faithful, they have some of the most experienced leaders in their ranks. Head coach Mike Tomlin and QB Big Ben have seen more than their fair share of playoff games. The concerning question for this team will be the health of Big Ben. He’s seemed really limited these last few weeks and the Steelers will need him at his best.

The real key for the Steelers will be how well their defense holds up against KC. The Steelers boast some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. They will need their playmakers like TJ Watt to make some impactful plays. The Steelers offense likely won’t be able to keep up in a high scoring game. So, it’s imperative that the defense finds ways to consistently slowdown that KC offense.

Speaking of the KC offense, they are once again led by Patrick Mahomes. After a slow start to the season, they found their groove and marched onto another division title. Unlike the Steelers, this team goes as its offense goes. With weapons like Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs can put up a bunch of points in a hurry. If their offense clicks in this game, you can rest assured that they will win. If the offense struggles and turns the ball over, then suddenly we might have a nail-biter.

The Achilles heel of the Chiefs is its defense. That being said, the last time these two teams met the KC defense held the Steelers to only 10 points. A repeat performance will surely see them through to the next round. But if the defense regresses that could be the way for the Steelers to pull off a shock win. What’s in favor of the defense is the location of the game. The KC faithful will be loud and that should disrupt the Pittsburgh offense a bit. The added noise should be enough to help them slow down the Steelers.

Verdict: Chiefs 34 Steelers 17

#6 New England Patriots @ #3 Buffalo Bills

AFC East division rivals meet for the third time this season with both teams having a win apiece. So naturally this will be the grudge match for all the bragging rights and oh, a place in the next round. Since 2009 only these two teams have reigned supreme in the AFC East so, in a way, it’s fitting that one can’t move on without defeating the other. Weather will likely play a part in this game as it should be freezing. That being said, let’s take the time to see how they matchup.

The Patriots are no strangers to being in the playoffs; this however will be the first time in two decades that Tom Brady won’t be the QB leading them. Rookie QB Mac Jones is the man at the helm this time around. He’s no stranger to big games as he won the national title with Alabama last year, but the playoffs can be an entirely different beast. Jones will need to avoid making mistakes if they want to win this game. A heavy reliance on the run game led by Damien Harris will likely be the way to go for New England.

Thanks to the weather being so cold there’s a decent chance this game will turn into a defensive struggle. That’s where the Patriots defense will need to shine. They can’t afford to let the Bills run up the score due to their limited offense. The Patriots did a fantastic job of keeping the Bills offense at bay in their first meeting but failed to contain them the second time. Bills QB Josh Allen is prone to turnovers in big games. Being able to force turnovers will go a long way towards helping New England win.

The Bills come into this matchup as winners of their last four games. That includes a 33-21 victory over the Patriots. Josh Allen will want a repeat performance this weekend. The offense has been humming lately, scoring at least 27 points in each of their last five games. In a playoff game between division foes 27 points might be more than enough to secure the victory. As mentioned before, Allen tends to turn the ball over. Limiting the turnovers is necessary for the Bills–they don’t want to give the Patriots any type of handout.

Defensively this unit could make or break the game. If they keep the New England offense quiet, it should be a straightforward game for the team. However, if they allow the Patriots to get into a rhythm, that could cause fatal problems. It’s imperative that the Bills rattle Mac Jones early and often. Taking him out of the game mentally and emotionally will go a long way towards securing victory.

Verdict: Bills 24 Patriots 20

#5 Las Vegas Raiders @ #4 Cincinnati Bengals

Like the other two games in the AFC, this matchup involves teams that have already played each other earlier this season. The first meeting saw Cincinnati run out as comfortable winners by the score of 32-13. Naturally, the Raiders will be looking to flip the script and get revenge. Both teams come into this game with some positive momentum. The Raiders won their last two games to smash their way into the playoffs. The Bengals convincingly won the AFC North and are looking to make a deep playoff run. Both teams are looking to end droughts pertaining to winning in the playoffs. The Bengals haven’t won one since 1990 and the Raiders haven’t won since 2002.

The Raiders survived one of the most bizarre games in recent memory, that almost ended in a tie. To say the Raiders have had a bizarre year in general is an understatement. This team lost their head coach due to an email scandal. Then lost their best WR due to a DUI that resulted in the death of a civilian. It would’ve been understandable if this team faded due to its off-field distractions. Yet here they are in the playoffs, and ready to make some noise. Credit the leadership of Derek Carr and the ability of this franchise to move on. Carr’s level of play this weekend should have the biggest impact on whether the Raiders survive this week.

That isn’t to say that the defense is completely meaningless. They will have a crucial role to play themselves as that Bengals offense has shown some serious firepower. The Raiders defense will need to be at their best to give their offense a chance. Let the Bengals run wild, and it will be a long day at the office. Contain the Bengals and the Raiders give themselves a very good chance at advancing into the next round.

Two years ago, the Bengals had the worst record in the league. Fast forward to today and Cincinnati are not only in the playoffs, but they are the champions of the AFC North. If the Bengals are going to finally end their 32-year drought of winning a game in the playoffs it will be due to QB Joe Burrow, who has taken massive strides. The combination of Burrow and WR Jamar Chase was a deadly one for opposing defenses. Chase in just his rookie season has already emerged as a premier receiver. Joe Mixon at running back gives this offense balance as they can attack opponents in multiple ways.

If the Bengals defense fails to repeat their success from the first meeting, we could easily be in store for a shootout. While the Raiders can’t quite score at will like the Bengals, they can still cause problems for opposing defenses. That’s why it will be crucial for this defense to get stops and get off the field. The quicker the defense can get off the field the more time Burrow has to score points. Failure to do so will allow the Raiders to eat up the clock and make this a nail-biting affair.

Verdict: Bengals 30 Raiders 27

Justin Walker

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