Red has been missing in action all season – much to the disappointment of his 3 regular followers. Fear not, Red is back in time for the mostly exciting, sometimes excruciatingly boring NFL playoffs. Red will go over his preseason picks another time.
After the first-ever 17 game NFL season, the final playoff spots went down to the wire on Sunday night. If the Chargers don’t attempt to exact revenge next season against division-rival the Raiders who could have taken a knee and still made the playoffs, then you don’t know much about the NFL. A tie would have sent both teams to the playoffs and ousted the Stealers. The main problem was that the Raiders had something to play for in winning. The win means they face the Bengals and not the Chiefs. Red isn’t saying the Bengals are a pushover, but they haven’t won a playoff game in 31 years as opposed to a very playoff-experienced Chiefs squad.
On to the fun:
Bengals over Raiders. Lest Red sound repetitive, the Bengals have not won a playoff game smacking the then division-rival Oilers in 1991 during the “run and shoot” era. Led by the Boomer, the Bengals drubbed the Oilers with Cody Carlson at the helm (Warren Moon being injured). The next week the Raiders held the Bengals to 182 yards of offense in a game that was more lopsided than the 20-10 score. That began the Bengals 7 straight playoff game losing streak including 2 games to the Texans. The Raiders have their own sad playoff saga having not won a playoff game since their last Superb Owl appearance in 2002. And in those 20 years have made one playoff appearance in 2017 against the Texans. The game was predictable in that the Raiders were down to 4th string [?] QB Connor Cook who was playing in his first and last ever NFL game.
But enough ancient history. Red likes the Bengals with Joe Burrow peaking backed by an impressive running game. Burrow threw for almost 1000 yards in Weeks 16 and 17 when it counted. That the Raiders made it to the playoffs with the turmoil of losing their coach (to being an asshat) and their top receiver (to being a criminal asshat) and some other obstacles along the way is something of a testament to some inner team fortitude. Then there is the problem of Derek Carr and cold weather. Carr’s cold game record stinks (2-8) and the two wins were against bad teams. And the Raiders are on the short week with double inverse time zone demi-hex. But the Bengals are the ones on the hot seat on Saturday. This is probably a close one, but Red believes the Bengals have too much firepower. Notably, this is the crappy time spot that the Texans always get when making the playoffs (but at least it always got Red home in time for dinner). For the betting folks, Red likes the Bengals to cover 6.5 and a close call on the O/U at 48.5. Cincinnati 31 Las Vegas 23.
Bills over Patriots. Brrr. Forecast for 15F at kickoff but sadly no snow. Red never discounts Bill Bellicheat’s ability to win a playoff game. But he has never won a playoff game with a rookie quarterback – and rookie quarterbacks don’t win a lot of playoff games. But the Bills have been strangely inconsistent this season. It looked grim at 7-6 for the Bills with an inexplicable 9-6 loss the Jaguars, but they righted the ship against inferior competition and the Patriots for a 4-0 finish averaging 30 points per game in the process. The Bills have all the tools to win this game – but will they? Meanwhile in Foxboro, the Pats had a shaky 2-4 start followed by a 7 game win streak and an even shakier 1-3 finish with the sole win being a complete drubbing of the aforementioned Jaguars. Which team shows up on Saturday is anybody’s guess. Both teams have 2 wins over playoff squads and more or less feasted on the weak sisters. Red would put his bucks on Josh Allen over the rookie Mac Jones. Red doesn’t particularly like the odds on this one, but in the unlikely event of snow or lake force winds (Please God make it snow) he might consider the under at 43.5. Buffalo 24 New England 14.
Buccaneers over Eagles. No need to miss a late brunch for this one. The Eagles did well to make the playoffs with a week to spare, but knocking off the defending champs is a big ask. It’s not impossible as they only lost 28-22 in the regular season match up. But the Eagles are 0-6 against playoff teams this season. Can they beat a team that doesn’t suck? Red just doesn’t see how the Eagles can score enough to keep up with the Bucs offensive juggernaut. But this one may be a lot closer than expected. Red thinks the Eagles just might cover 8.5, but just might doesn’t cut. He does like the over at 49. Tampa Bay 35 Philadelphia 29.
Cowboys over 49ers. Talk about your storied playoff rivalries. Red – who in a former life was a Cowboys fan (more on that some other time but BARRY SWITZER!!!) – still remembers “The Catch” Much as Red loathes making this pick, he has to go with the hated evil empire from North Texas. Red does note that other than beating the division-rival Eagles twice (once in Week 2 when the Eagles were lost and again in Week 18 when the Eagles sat their starters), the Cowboys have one quality win this season against a Patriots team who blew it in OT. The Boys were a perfect 6-0 against the NFC East and 6-5 against everyone else. That cannot inspire too much confidence. Still it is hard to discount yet another offensive juggernaut in a playoff game at home in perfect conditions with a rabid crowd consisting largely of members of the Trump Personality Cult (that’s an insult Dallas fans if you’re keeping track). That’s not to say that the 49ers are a pushover. They beat two playoff teams in OT (Bengals and Rams) and only lost by more than one score once all season (Cardinals). But turmoil has been the watchword with questions at QB and coaching spots. Again this one might be closer than expected and Red is sure hoping he is wrong. No bets here. Dallas 31 San Francisco 23.
Chiefs over Stealers. The Chiefs should still be smarting from getting butt whipped in the Superb Owl and have been waiting for the opportunity to show that it was a mere aberration in the long-running Andy Reid show featuring the amazing arm of Pat Mahomes, the consistency of Travis Kelce and the flashing speed of a host of other established and up and coming stars. Without a doubt, the Chiefs are the most battle-hardened team left standing right now. They faced 9 playoff teams and went 6-3 beating the Eagles, Packers, Raiders (2), Cowboys and Stealers while losing to the Bills, Titans and Bengals. Too bad they aren’t in the NFC playoffs. Big Ben’s last hurrah is a nice story and Red would never right off the Stealers chance of winning a tough playoff game. It took a major miracle for the Stealers to make the playoffs, so who knows? And the Stealers did beat the Bills and the Titans, but Red cannot see the Stealers keeping pace with a healthy Chiefs team unless there are a lot of turnovers and favorable bounces. 12.5 points are a lot to cover, so hold your powder dry on that one. The O/U looks suspiciously low at 46.5. Red likes the over here. Kansas City 33 Pittsburgh 20.
Cardinals over Rams. Red has thought that the Rams were imposters all season but they won a tough division due to the late season swoon of the Cardinals. The Rams beat one playoff team (an impressive win over the Bucs) other than the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Cardinals seemed determined to throw their season away after a 10-2 start. They salvaged the season with a 25-22 win over the Cowboys in Week 17 but couldn’t beat a mediocre Seahawks squad to win the division. So what to think? This is the biggest toss up of Wildcard Week. Red doesn’t really have a clue. Kyler Murray is making his first playoff appearance – not usually a recipe for success. Maybe long-suffering Matthew Stafford is finally due a playoff win. If that doesn’t happen, he will join the ignoble company of Andy Dalton and Y.A. Tittle as the only QB’s to lose their first 4 playoff games. No bets on this nailbiter. Arizona 17 Los Angeles 16.