The playoffs are here and this weekend’s Wildcard round is shaping up to be an outstanding run of games. With all NFL action shown on Sky Sports in the UK and you can you also access NFL Game Pass International with a UK VPN. If you use a USA VPN then you can access the America version of NFL Gamepass as well as NFL streaming networks like NFL Network, ESPN, CBS, Amazon Prime Video, NBC Sport and Fox; as well as their streaming partners lie Hulu, SlingTV and FuboTV. Need an NFL VPN?
With Tennessee and Green Bay securing the number one seeds on the AFC and NFC sides of the ballot respectively they get to take the weekend off. Fun Fact: ‘NFL VPN’ is one of the most searched sports phrases on Google!
The Titans and the Packers get to rest, relax and recover. They’ll no doubt be watching closely to see who it is they’ll face when they enter the playoffs at the Conference Semi-Final stage. With those two sitting out, there are 12 teams in action across six games this weekend so let’s take a look at what’s on offer this weekend, starting with the AFC.
Up first, on Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals will host the Las Vegas Raiders. The Bengals earned their spot in the playoffs by winning the AFC North. In just the second season of the Joe Burrow era, the Bengals went from worst to first in the division. The usually hapless franchise, with the cheapest owner in the league and a history of underachievement, have taken massive strides this season with Burrow and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase reuniting and bringing the magic that saw them win a College Football National Championship, to the Bengals. Chase had a sensational rookie season, one of the best ever by a wide receiver, and the duo will give the Bengals a real chance at their first playoff win since 1990.
The Raiders defeated the Chargers last weekend to earn second place in the AFC West and they will be chasing their first playoff win since 2002 when Bill Callahan led the to the SuperBowl. The Raiders have overcome so much inner turbulence this season with the departure of Jon Gruden in controversial circumstances, and the legal issues of star young receiver Henry Ruggs. It speaks volumes to the job that Rich Bisaccia has done since taking the reigns that this team have reached the playoffs and they will come into this game confident, knowing that they are playing with house money as nobody believed this team was going to make playoffs when Gruden left in mid-October.
The late game on Saturday is an AFC East battle between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. This is a long running rivalry, but it has been incredibly one sided over the past 20 or so years. Bill Belichick has owned the Bills, but Sean McDermott has to believe that this is the time for his team to slay the dragon and establish themselves as the major contender from their division. Last season the Bills won two playoff games, beating the Colts and Ravens, to break a barren run that extended back to 1993. The run began with their fourth straight SuperBowl defeat, and hung over the franchise like a dark cloud. With momentum behind them, and Josh Allen under centre, the Bills should be confident of victory this Saturday.
The Patriots are likely slightly ahead of schedule in their post Tom Brady rebuild, and with the pressure off in an underdog role this weekend they could be primed to spring the upset. Having already defeated the Bills at Highmark Stadium this season while splitting the season 1-1, the Patriots know that they can not only compete with the Bills, but beat them on their own turf. There are still major question marks over rookie QB Mac Jones, who is yet to show he is capable of winning games when he is relied on to throw the ball a lot. Expect the Pats to try and drag the Bills into the trenches. A low scoring game favours the Patriots, who know they simply can’t compete in a shootout.
The final AFC game is the late game on Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs welcoming the Pittsburgh Steelers to Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs started the season slowly but once they settled down they showed their incredible quality and finished the season on a 9-1 run. Aiming to make their third straight SuperBowl, and shed the demons that exist from last season’s defeat to Tampa Bay in the big game, the Chiefs will once again rely on their lethal offense, which is powered by the three headed monster of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Hill and Kelce both accumulated 1100+ yards and scored nine touchdowns this season, and Mahomes will once again lean on them as his top targets as the Chiefs try to overcome their inconsistent running game.
Ben Roethlisberger is in the final days of his career but doesn’t seem ready to hang it up just yet. Last weekend’s overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens may well go down as the final win of a Hall of Fame career for Big Ben, and if that’s the case then it’s probably the win he’d want to go out on more than any other than a SuperBowl victory. To reach the SuperBowl, the Steelers would have an incredibly tough path through Kansas, Tennessee and potentially Buffalo and with the best will in the world, this Steelers team does not appear capable of that. They reached the playoffs because the Indianapolis Colts inexplicably choked at the final hurdle and somehow lost to a terrible Jacksonville team, rather than anything they did themselves.
In the NFC, the action begins with the early game on Sunday between the reigning SuperBowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bucs will be heavy favourites going into the game but with no Chris Godwin, no Antonio Brown, and question marks over their running game, there’s going to be a big need for Tom Brady to dig deep into his bag of tricks. Mike Evans is one of the best receivers in the game, but if he’s Brady’s only weapon then the Bucs might find it hard to move the ball. They should have enough talent on the defensive side of the football to disrupt the Eagles on that side of the football but unless Leonard Fournette rediscovers Playoff Lenny as he returns for the injured reserve list, they’ll struggle to move the ball.
The Eagles were not supposed to be here. This was a rebuilding year, in which they would look to rebuild their culture and establish a new way of playing. There were two problems with that plan though. Firstly nobody seemed to tell either the players or first year Head Coach Sirianni. The second issue, is that the NFC East is a truly terrible division outside of the Cowboys. Sitting at 5-7 after 12 games, the Eagles managed to win four in a row, including a win over the Giants and two over Washington to finish 9-8 and secure a playoff spot. Dig a little deeper into that 9-7 and you’ll find only one quality win, a road win in New Orleans. The other eight all came against teams with losing records. The Bucs injury issues give them a chance on Sunday, but not a big one.
Next up is NFC East Champions, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys play host to the San Francisco 49ers who timed an end of season run towards the playoffs to absolute perfection and potentially saved Kyle Shanahan’s job in the process. The Cowboys cruised to the division win with the aid of six straight forward wins in their division but they have claimed quality wins over the Chargers, Patriots and Saints this season. The Cowboys seem to possess better balance to their roster this season, with Trevon Diggs becoming a star and cornerback, and rookie Micah Parsons looking like a generational talent at linebacker. The Cowboys are sweating on the health of Parsons, who has recently had Covid, but will be confident they have enough to defeat the Niners at JerryWorld.
The 49ers have had such an odd season, with much of the blame for that falling on injuries and Covid. They’ve never really been able to find their groove and string together a long run of wins, but a favourable late season schedule, a huge road win in Cincinnati and their bizarre mental dominance of the LA Rams saw them win seven of their last nine games to sneak in as the third placed team in the NFC West. They do have some injury concerns, especially over Jimmy Garappolo who has a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand, but they will still fancy their chances of beating the Cowboys. This one has the potentially to be the game of the weekend.
The final game of the weekend sees two NFC West teams square off on Monday Night as the Arizona Cardinals march into LA to take on the Rams at the incredible SoFi Stadium. The Rams clinched the division with a 12-4 record largely because the Cardinals stumbled and bumbled their way through the last five weeks, but will enter this game as favourites and will be relying on All World Receiver Cooper Kupp to carry his incredible form into the post season. Kupp won the receiving triple crown this season, leading the NFL in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. When Robert Woods went down injured, the Rams leaned heavily on Kupp and were rewarded with an all-time great season from the receiver. He has some help now with Odell Beckham in town, but the former New York Giant has been inconsistent since he joined the Rams having been cut by the Cleveland Browns.
The Cardinals started the season like a house on fire and 11-2 after 13 games and flying towards the division title. Quality wins over Titans, Rams and 49ers(x2) had marked them as an early SuperBowl favourite, and even a close loss to Green Bay didn’t dampen expectations around the team. Defeat to the Rams in the second meeting between two teams, followed by a shocking defeat in Detroit against the awful Lions ruined their momentum and they managed to win only one of their last five games. This team will only go as far as Kyler Murray can carry them, and after looking like an MVP through the early parts of the season, the physical punishment he takes behind a shaky offensive line has begun to slow the QB down. Kliff Kingsbury entered the season on the hot seat, and while a playoff berth has likely assured him of keeping his job for next season, he still has a lot to prove. How he does against Sean McVay this weekend will be telling.
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