For the Wildcard Weekend, Red was 4-2 correctly picking the Bengals, Bills, Bucs and Chiefs and missing out on the Rams and 49ers wins. Red was happy to have missed out on the 49ers whomping of the Cowboys. Red also can’t say he is surprised by the continuing late-season swoon of the Cardinals who were never in the game and need to seriously think about moving on from the Kingsbury experiment. KK probably should be coaching at the Division II level where he could win national championships.
The only real surprise of the weekend was the tortured ending of the Niners-Cowboys game. A quarterback draw with only 14 seconds on the clock was an incredibly risky maneuver. Especially if your team is not familiar with the rule that requires the Umpire to set the ball for play. With 17 seconds on the clock, the play probably works. But the Cowboys did not deserve to win the game anyway and set a new NFL record of 11 playoff appearances in row without reaching the conference championship game. With a 4-11 playoff record since the last NFL championship in 1995, Red continues to wonder why this franchise gets such favorable TV scheduling and fan interest. The Cowboys have been a low-mediocre franchise for 26 years and counting.
On to this weeks picks:
Titans over Bengals. Not since the days of the Boomer and Icky had the Bengals tasted playoff victory. That record setting drought is over and seems unlikely to be repeated with Burrow and company running a potent offense. But the elation in the Queen City will be short-lived. The Bengals last playoff victory before Saturday was against this franchise in the 1990 playoffs when the Bengals topped the then Houston Oilers – who were unceremoniously run out of town by Bob Lanier so that one of his buddies could get a new Houston franchise – something which Red has never really gotten over. Suffice it to say that Red has a soft spot in his otherwise hard cold heart for the Titans who should have never been forced out of Houston. More than Red’s emotions are at play here because the Titans are getting All-World running back Derrick Henry back in the line up – and presumably healthy after being out for 10 weeks after suffering a serious foot injury in the Week 8 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Notably, Henry still ranks in the top ten for rushing yards even though he hasn’t played since October. The extra week of rest means the Titans are as about as healthy as they’ve been since training camp after an injury-plagued season. The Bengals barely escaped with their lives against a fairly mediocre Raiders team. That won’t work against the Titans who beat 8 teams with a winning record this season (an NFL record) all while using 91 different players (another record). The Titans are formidable and if Tannehill doesn’t make mistakes and it is hard to seem them losing. The Bengals real hope is that offensive line can give Burrow enough time to make big plays. That is a tall order against a very good Titans defense. The 3.5 line doesn’t particularly excite Red, but he likes the over at 47 if the weather cooperates. This could be the second highest scoring playoff game of this season – even if it doesn’t come close to the 96 point overtime barnburner (more on that later) between the Cardinals and Packers in 2009. Or it could be a Titans blowout. In Vrabel’s four years of leading the Titans, the team has gone 4-0 coming off of a bye and won those four games by an average of just over 20 points per game. The Titans won’t win by 20 as the Bengals make a furious rally but fall short. Tennessee 41 Cincinnati 34.
Packers over 49ers. Nothing like a Saturday night game in the frozen north. At least the Packers have had the good sense to heat the playing surface at Lambeau Field since 1967 when the franchise installed electric coils underneath the playing surface to keep the ground soft in frigid conditions. That was true during the “The Ice Bowl” – 1967 NFL Championship game between the Packers and Cowboys – but the sub-zero temperatures overwhelmed the recently installed heating system. Since 1997 a network of underground pipes filled with antifreeze has kept the turf soft and playable even in the worst conditions. But it will still be cold (by some accounts at least 10 degrees colder than its ever been in San Francisco) and that of course favors the Packers. All credit to the Niners for making the best Cowboys team in quite some time look like a bunch of also-rans on Sunday. That’s much more credit to the Niners than Dak gave in his press conference to the Cowboys “faithful” in Arlington who pelted the Refs (and some Cowboy players) with trash after the game. But the Niners played about the best possible game they could play and still almost lost. Meanwhile up north, Green Bay is notorious for folding like a card table in the playoffs. Edging up on the Cowboys, the Giants have made 7 playoff appearances without reaching the Superb Owl since 2010. Notably, the Niners took them out in 2012 and 2019 – a meaningless stat in the fast-changing world of professional football. Green Bay won’t be giving up sacks or handing out penalty first downs like the Cowboys. That is Green Bay won’t beat themselves like the team from North Texas. Take the Packers giving up 5.5. Green Bay 24 San Francisco 17.
Rams over Buccaneers. Now that Matthew Stafford has the playoff hex off his back he can turn to beating a real team. In sunny Florida, the Bucs haven’t beaten a real team since knocking of the Bills in Week 14. And they lost to the Rams in LA early on. The Bucs have had inexplicable let downs at times this season and are pretty beat up. The Rams probably have the best defense left standing and a good enough offense to win a close game. Red thinks this one won’t be that close as the Rams are the team with the best chance to beat the Bucs out of any team left. Their defense is formidable. The Rams will shut down Mike Evans leaving Brady to rely on Gronk – but there isn’t enough magic left there. Remember how the Bucs blitzed on every down against the Chiefs in the Superb Owl. If the Rams are sending 5 or 6 on every other play their defensive coordinator should be fired. Throw in a combined 6 sacks by Aaron Donald, Von Miller and crew against a beat-up Bucs offensive line and Brady will be lucky if he isn’t carried off the field in a basket. Los Angeles 31 Tampa Bay 19.
Chiefs over Bills. Talk about a tough call. The Bills are more than capable of winning this game if they play like they did against the Patriots. Seven drives with seven touchdowns will win you the game almost every time if you can put 11 defenders on the field. Some have called it the most perfect offensive game in NFL history. With accolades like that confidence is high (and should be) in Buffalo – that is, until you think about having scored all of 6 points against the Jaguars – 6 points – the Jaguars – really? Which Bills team shows up on Sunday night? Red thinks Josh Allen has rounded to form and can handle whatever the Chiefs defense throws at him. Meanwhile back in Kansas City we have a team that beat six playoff teams, but was also awful early on and later masterful in closing out the season on a 9-1 run. The vaunted Chiefs offense just bizarrely disappears at times – like in the first 20 minutes of the Stealers game. The Chiefs first 5 possessions were – punt, punt, interception, punt and a fumble resulting in Stealers touchdown. But after that – touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown – capped off with a punt when the game was firmly in hand. That kind of opening won’t work against the Bills. The Chiefs can’t fall behind by 24 (like they did against the Texans in 2019) – the Bills are not the Texans. No team is really the Texans – not even the Texans. If the Titans and Bengals don’t put on a barnburner (there’s an interesting origin story there – but perhaps for another time), it seems likely that – weather permitting – these two teams will. Hold on to something. The over seems pretty steep at 54.5, but Red thinks 60 is a more realistic number given the capability of these two offenses. Kansas City 41 Buffalo 38.