I’m not sure who came up with the idea of playing a Week 18, but whoever it was needs to immediately be promoted to commissioner of the NFL because Week 18 turned out to be the best football idea of all-time.
The final week of the NFL season turned out to be the craziest week of the NFL season and I’m pretty sure everyone would agree with that, except for maybe Colts and Chargers fans, who are too depressed to agree or disagree with anything today.
With Week 18 in the books, that means it’s now time for the postseason, and up first, we have the playoff round that I love to hate: The wild-card round. I love watching it, but I hate trying to predict it, because it always gets crazy, and I’m not talking a little crazy, I’m talking “Up is right, left is north, green is a sound,” crazy.
Just to give you an idea of how crazy things can get during the first weekend of the playoffs, just consider this: Underdogs have gone 15-3 against the spread since 2017, including 4-2 last season, which clearly means I should take every underdog to cover this week.
You can also throw home-field advantage out the window: Home teams are 4-10 straight-up in the wild-card round over the past three years, which means I should obviously pick every road team to win this week.
And if that’s not confusing enough, we have FIVE quarterbacks making their first career playoff start, which is definitely not a good thing. Since 2002, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start in the wild-card round are 11-31 straight-up, which I think means I have to pick against Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Derek Carr and Joe Burrow, but I can’t pick against Burrow AND Carr, because they’re playing each other.
So will I pick against four of those five or none of those five? Let’s get to the picks and find out.
Actually, before we get to the picks, here’s a quick reminder that you can check out the weekly picks from every CBSSports.com NFL expert by clicking here. If you click over, you’ll notice that I put everyone to shame and ended the regular season with the best straight-up picks record here at CBSSports.com. Actually, that’s a lie. The truth is that I choked in Week 18 as badly as the Colts did. I had a two-game lead and LOST IT to fantasy guru Dave Richard, who claimed the regular season title over me by ONE GAME. I also lost last year’s title by one game. I’m guessing this is a sign that I’m only going to get one of my picks right in the wild-card round.
Alright, let’s get to the picks.
Super Wild Card Weekend Picks
No. 5 Las Vegas (10-7) at No. 4 Cincinnati (10-7)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Latest Odds: Cincinnati Bengals -6
Obviously, I have to start out here by pointing out the fact that the Bengals have not won a playoff game in 31 years. As a member of the media, I’m required to mention the team’s playoff drought anytime I refer to them in the month of January. It’s in the contract we all sign.
The Bengals playoff drought started with a loss to the Raiders on Jan. 13, 1991 and I actually know that date without looking it up because it was MY BIRTHDAY. I’m like the kid in “Liar, Liar” who wished for Jim Carrey to stop lying, except instead, I think I accidentally wished for the Bengals to never win another playoff game, because that’s the only way to explain this drought.
The Bengals’ last playoff win came on Jan. 6, 1991 against the Houston Oilers and I have a confession to make, I was actually at the game. I think I ate two hot dogs that day. I definitely didn’t have any beer though, because I was only 8, and even Ohio doesn’t let 8-year-olds drink, which I think is one of only three drinking laws that state has. I’d show you pictures of me at the game, but my parents didn’t take any because I was an ugly kid. Also, my dad couldn’t take any, because he was playing in the game.
During that win over the Oilers, my dad (Jim Breech) — WHO IS NOW 65 — kicked an extra point in the fourth quarter, and to this day, that is the last time a Bengals player scored a point in a Bengals playoff win. Let me repeat that: A 65-YEAR-OLD was the last player to score a point in a Bengals playoff win. The Bengals playoff win is CLOSER IN HISTORY to JFK’s assassination than it is to 2022.
Between the streak starting on my birthday and my dad scoring the last point, I think what I’m trying to say here is that the Bengals playoff drought is a touchy subject in my family.
OK, now that I’ve gotten all of that off of my chest, I’m going to give you my pick in the game. These two teams played back in Week 11 and the Bengals won 32-13 IN LAS VEGAS even though Joe Burrow threw for under 150 yards. The game was actually close in the fourth quarter, but the Bengals blew it open when Derek Carr committed two ugly turnovers. If the Raiders are going to win, Carr is going to have to play a nearly perfect game and I’m not sure that’s going to be possible because this game is going to feature Carr’s personal kryptonite: Cold weather.
As his former coach Jack Del Rio once told us, Carr is not good in cold weather.
The forecast for Saturday is currently calling for a possibility of snow with a kickoff temperature under 30 degrees. Since 2016, Carr has made 10 starts when the temperature is under 45 at kickoff and the Raiders are 2-8 in those games and those two wins aren’t exactly impressive. One win came against the Jets and the other win came this year against a COVID-depleted Browns team.
For once, the Bengals actually have a few things working in their favor heading into a playoff game. Not only will the weather be cold, but they’re getting a Raiders team that has to fly across the country on a short week after playing an overtime game on Sunday night. If the Bengals can’t win this week, this drought might not ever end.
The Bengals’ 31-year playoff losing streak started against the Raiders in January 1991 and I’m going to say it comes full circle on Saturday with a win for Cincinnati.
The pick: Bengals 30-23 over Raiders
Record picking Raiders games this season: 8-9 straight-up, 10-7 against the spread
Record picking Bengals games this season: 12-5 straight-up, 8-7-2 against the spread
No. 6 New England (10-7) at No. 3 Buffalo (11-6)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Latest Odds: Buffalo Bills -4
This game marks the third time since December 6 that these two teams have played each other and after picking the Bills to win in each of the first two games, I have to say, I haven’t seen anything that’s going to change my mind this time around.
In the first meeting, which the Patriots won 14-10, the Bills offense played as poorly as possible and Buffalo STILL almost won. Mother Nature did her best to shut the Bills down by hitting the city of Buffalo with 700 mph winds and those winds shut down the Bills’ passing game. I just Googled the weather for Saturday night and although the temperature is expected to be just 15 DEGREES, the greater Buffalo area is not expecting to see any abnormally strong wind speeds. Advantage: Bills.
When the wind conditions are normal, like they were in the second meeting between these two teams, you can tell which team has more talent and that’s Buffalo. The Bills won the second meeting 33-21 in a game where they didn’t punt A SINGLE TIME. The Patriots simply had no answers for the Bills offense and although Belichick is a defensive genius, I’m not sure he has the manpower to do what he wants to do to slow down the Bills.
Also, let’s not forget that the Bills had one of the best defenses in football this year: They’ve surrendered the fewest yards and fewest points per game, so I won’t be surprised if they hold the Patriots under 20 points. The Patriots will be starting a rookie at quarterback and let me just tell you, a rookie is the last person you want to be starting at QB in a playoff game.
Since 2010, rookie quarterbacks are 2-6 in playoff games and the only two wins came in games where a rookie was starting for both teams so a rookie had to win. Basically, I expect Mac Jones to struggle and the only way I think Patriots can win is if the game plays out exactly like their first meeting with the Bills and I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The Patriots are 0-2 in the wild-card round over the past 15 years and I think the winless streak is going to continue.
The pick: Bills 24-17 over Patriots
Record picking Patriots games this season: 12-5 straight-up, 11-6 against the spread
Record picking Bills games this season: 11-6 straight-up, 9-8 against the spread
No. 7 Philadelphia (9-8) at No. 2 Tampa Bay (13-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Latest Odds: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8.5
I’m not sure who Tom Brady wanted to play in the wild-card round, but I have to think he would have preferred NOT to play an NFC East team. If there’s one division that’s been a thorn in Brady’s side, it’s the NFC East. Since 2007, Brady has faced a total of four NFC East teams in the playoffs and although his team was favored to win each time, Brady is just 1-3 straight-up in those games and 0-4 against the spread. Sure, three of those games were Super Bowls, but let’s not forget about last season when Taylor Heinicke and Washington gave the Buccaneers all they could handle in the wild-card round.
If anyone can beat Brady in the playoffs, it’s an NFC East team. That being said, I don’t think I can take the Eagles here. Going into this game, I have two big issues that are keeping me from picking Philadelphia. For one, they lost every big game they played in this year. The Eagles had six regular season games against teams that finished with double-digit wins and they went 0-6 in those games and lost by an average of 13.3 points per game. Of course, one of those losses came in a game where the Eagles were resting their starters (In Week 18 against the Cowboys), so if we take out that game, then they went 0-5 and lost those five games by an average of 11 points per game. Not much better.
The other thing that worries me about the Eagles is that this is basically the worst possible matchup for them. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing this year and if they were playing any other team, I’d honestly give some serious thought to picking an upset, but they’re playing a Buccaneers team that is literally built to stop the run. The Bucs surrendered the fewest rushing yards in the NFC and were one of only three teams in the NFL this year to give up less than 93 yards per game on the ground.
The last time we saw these two teams on the field together, the Buccaneers won by six (28-22) and I feel like we’re going to see something similar on Sunday. Also, we might as well go ahead and crown the winner of this game as the Super Bowl champ because any time Brady has faced an NFC East team in the playoffs, the winning team has ended up winning the Super Bowl.
The pick: Buccaneers 27-20 over Eagles
Record picking Eagles games this season: 11-6 straight-up, 7-10 against the spread
Record picking Buccaneers games this season: 12-5 straight-up, 6-11 against the spread
No. 6 San Francisco (10-7) at No. 3 Dallas (12-5)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBS/Nickelodeon)
Latest Odds: Dallas Cowboys -3
This is my favorite game of the weekend and I’m not just saying that because it’s on both CBS and NICKELODEON, although I do like the fact that it’s on both CBS and Nickelodeon, because I love everything on CBS and Nickelodeon. (As you can clearly see, one of my goals for 2022 is to start sucking up to my bosses more).
Not only is this one of the best postseason rivalries in NFL history, but more importantly, we’re finally going to know who we should be blaming for the Falcons’ epic collapse in Super Bowl LI. In that game, the Falcons head coach was Dan Quinn, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. The Falcons offensive coordinator in that Super Bowl was Kyle Shanahan, who is now the 49ers head coach.
The fact that those two guys will be on opposite sidelines adds an interesting layer of intrigue to this game. Shanahan knows everything that Quinn might throw at him on defense while Quinn is well aware of everything that Shanahan might try on offense.
The problem for Quinn’s defense is that it has struggled to stop the run over the past few months. Although everyone has been focussing on the offensive slump the Cowboys were in, their defense has also been struggling at times. Since Week 9, they’ve surrendered 130 yards per game on the ground, which is one of the worst numbers in the NFL over that span. The Cowboys are 2-4 this year when they surrender more than 125 yards on the ground and they’re playing a 49ers team that loves to run the ball.
Also, I’m still not quite sure how good the Cowboys are. Although they went 12-5, half of their wins came from beating up on their division: Dallas went 6-0 against the NFC East, but just 6-5 against everyone else. On the flip side, the 49ers seemed to thrive in non-divisional games: San Francisco went 2-4 NFC West play, but 8-3 against everyone else.
If the Cowboys really are America’s team, then I feel sorry for the 49ers, because America is going to hate them after this game.
The pick: 49ers 27-24 over Cowboys
Record picking 49ers games this season: 11-6 straight-up, 9-8 against the spread
Record picking Cowboys games this season: 11-6 straight-up, 9-8 against the spread
No. 7 Pittsburgh (9-7-1) at No. 2 Kansas City (12-5)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Latest Odds: Kansas City Chiefs -12.5
I don’t know quite remember what I was doing the day after Christmas, oh wait, yes I do, I was watching the Steelers get smoked by the Chiefs. Back in Week 16, Kansas City absolutely destroyed the Steelers 36-10 in a game where I’m not sure the score even did justice for how badly the Chiefs dominated. For one, Travis Kelce didn’t even play due to COVID, which means the Steelers lost by 26 points even though the Chiefs offense wasn’t at full strength.
If the Steelers are going to flip the script and pull off a win this time around, they’re likely going to need a miracle, which might sound impossible, but I’m definitely not going to rule out, because they also needed a miracle to get into the playoffs and we all saw how that turned out.
To pull off the upset, the Steelers are going to need to put some serious pressure on Patrick Mahomes and force him into making multiple mistakes. Of Kansas City’s five losses this year, four of them came in games where Mahomes threw at least one interception. If the Steelers defense is good at one thing, it’s getting to the quarterback. Thanks in large part to T.J. Watt’s NFL record-tying 22.5 sacks, the Steelers racked up a total of 55 sacks this year, which led the NFL. Of the 15 games Watt played in this year, the Steelers went 8-2-1 when he recorded at least one sack and 0-3 when he didn’t. If Watt can get to Mahomes once or twice, that could give the Steelers an outside chance to pull off the upset.
On the other hand, the biggest problem for the Steelers is that if this turns into a shootout, they simply don’t have the firepower to keep up.
The pick: Chiefs 30-20 over Steelers
Record picking Steelers games this season: 12-4-1 straight-up, 9-8 against the spread
Record picking Chiefs games this season: 12-5 straight-up, 11-6 against the spread
No. 5 Arizona (11-6) at No. 4 L.A. Rams (12-5)
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
Latest Odds: Los Angeles Rams -4
The one player in the wild-card round who will likely be facing the most pressure this week is Matthew Stafford and that’s because he’s getting dangerously close to Andy Dalton territory. Although Dalton has long been the face of quarterbacks who can’t win in the playoffs, Stafford might become the new poster child if the Rams lose to the Cardinals.
Stafford has never won postseason game in his career (he’s 0-3) and if he loses one more, he’ll tie Dalton and Y.A. Tittle for the most career playoff starts without a win. That’s not exactly a list you want to be on. That list isn’t the only pressure Stafford will be facing. It would also be embarrassing for both Stafford and coach Sean McVay if the Rams were to lose on Monday. McVay dumped Jared Goff because he felt like Stafford had a higher ceiling, and although Stafford is more talented, no one knows if he can actually lead a team to a playoff win, because he’s NEVER done it. On the flip side, Goff did it multiple times. In 2018, he led the Rams to the Super Bowl, and in 2020, he helped lead them to the divisional round.
If Stafford can’t even get out of the wild-card round, it’s going to be a long offseason for him. That’s a lot of pressure to put a QB who’s never won a playoff game. Speaking of pressure, that seems to be the key to stopping the Rams’ offense. In 17 games this year, the Rams went 3-4 when Stafford was sacked multiple times and 9-1 when he was sacked one or zero times.
Of course, Stafford won’t be the only QB facing pressure in this game. Kyler Murray will be making his first career playoff start, which is notable, because as I mentioned at the top, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start in the wild-card round are just 11-31 since 2002.
The problem with trying to predict this game is that both of these quarterbacks are unpredictable. One week, Stafford will throw four touchdowns, but the next week, he’ll throw three interceptions. On Murray’s end, he’ll dazzle you with a five-touchdown game one week and then turn around and throw zero touchdowns the following week (He had three games this year with zero TD passes).
This will be Stafford’s first ever playoff game at home and I think that’s going to be enough to put him over the top. Wait, maybe playing at home isn’t an advantage, at least not against Arizona and that’s because the Cardinals had the best road record in the NFL this year (8-1). On the other hand, they also went 0-3 in primetime games and this is in primetime, so I’m going with the Rams.
The pick: Rams 34-31 over Cardinals
Record picking Cardinals games this season: 6-11 straight-up, 5-12 against the spread
Record picking Rams games this season: 12-5 straight-up, 9-8 against the spread
Best pick: Last week, I predicted that the Raiders would upset the Chargers to clinch a playoff berth in the final game of the NFL season and guess what happened? The Raiders upset the Chargers to clinch a playoff berth in the final game of the NFL season. Now, did I know that the game was going to be absolutely bonkers and that the Chargers were going to let a playoff berth slip through their hands? Of course I did. This is the Chargers we’re talking about and anytime they’re playing in a big game, there’s a 100% chance that they’re going to find a new and spectacular way to lose. Only the Chargers could out-gain their opponent by nearly 100 yards, convert six fourth downs, score a TD on every trip to the red zone and still find a way to lose. The Chargers Chargering up a big game is a tale as old as time.
Worst pick: Going into Week 18, the Falcons had absolutely nothing to play for and they were going up against a Saints team that had everything to play for, so naturally, I did the smart thing and took the Saints. Just kidding. I did the dumb thing and took the Falcons and I’m not sure I’m ever going to forgive myself because that one dumb pick cost me the regular season picks title here at CBSSports.com. I have no idea why I picked the Falcons, but my theory is that it was a pity pick due to the fact that I still subconsciously feel sorry for them for blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. The irony is that no sports team in Georgia needs pity right now because that state is winning at everything. First, the Braves win the World Series, and now, UGA wins the national title. You know what? Maybe the Falcons do need some pity. I mean they’re now the only team in the state that can’t win a big game.
Straight up in Week 18: 8-8
Final 2021 regular season record SU: 174-97-1 (Ranked second overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread in Week 18: 9-7
Final 2021 regular season record ATS: 138-131-3
You can find John Breech on Facebook or Twitter and if he’s not doing one of those things, he’s probably texting his family to let them know not to blame him or his birthday wishes if the Bengals lose this week.