Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers
The only question here is how much—as in, by what margin—will the 49ers beat the Seahawks for the third time this season?
Geno Smith and his Seattle pass catchers pose no real threat to San Francisco’s league-leading defense. Nick Bosa could well be named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. And safety Talanoa Hufnaga reminds me very much of Steelers’ Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
If Brock Purdy can avoid the "January Jitters" that many rookie quarterbacks experience, this team appears bound for the NFC championship game.
Los Angeles Chargers vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Of the two young, well-coiffed quarterbacks starting this game, one has demonstrated big-moment professionalism while the other remains on the verge.
The Chargers’ Justin Herbert may possess the best throwing arm I’ve ever seen. Who might be better? John Elway? Bert Jones? Sammy Baugh? Nope, the third-year phenom from Oregon is piling up passing records. All he needs now are a few playoff victories.
Trevor Lawrence is flourishing under Doug Pederson, but he failed to deliver in the second half last week with a postseason berth on the line. He’s on his way to great things, but he’s not there just yet.
And the Chargers’ defense ain’t bad, especially against the pass.
Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills
As if the Dolphins don’t have enough concerns, the game-time temperature in Buffalo is projected to be about 31 degrees.
Yes, Miami’s two wide outs can score on any given play. But the Dolphins are starting a third-string passer against a stout Bills defense. If Miami somehow outscores Buffalo, it will go down as a Bills' loss rather than a Dolphins' win—and Josh Allen will likely get the blame.
But I doubt very much that scenario will transpire.
New York Giants vs Minnesota Vikings
On Christmas Eve, the Minnesota Vikings needed a 61-yard field goal on the game’s final play to beat the New York Giants.
What’s different less than a month later? The Vikings lost their starting right tackle. But the Giants have won only three games since Halloween, and their offense has sputtered against better defenses.
No matter, Minnesota’s defensive unit ranks in the bottom half of the league (or lower) in several key categories. The Giants are only slightly better. The best people on the field for both teams play on offense. So guess what?
The last team with the ball may win this game—again!
Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals
This weekend’s third battle featuring divisional rivals might turn hostile. These two teams tend to slug things out, sometimes long after the whistle blows.
Baltimore’s blitzing defense disrupts opposing game plans. But the Ravens’ run-heavy offense revolves around their quarterback Lamar Jackson, and he will once again be inactive. His 764 rush yards still lead the team, and Lamar has missed more than a month. That’s not good.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow only runs when necessary. He throws the ball to win, and Burrow’s team has now won eight straight, including a 27-16 victory over the Ravens last week.
If the Bengals remain true to form, the Ravens offense likely will not keep up, and Cincy will earn a divisional round shot at the Buffalo Bills, this time in western New York.
Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two statistics jump out at me when I analyze this game.
Tom Brady’s Bucs made the postseason with an 8-9 record, the worst in the playoffs.
Dakota Prescott threw 15 interceptions in 14 games, tied for the league’s highest total.
Tom Brady knows how to win postseason games. Dak Prescott is 1-2 over his seven year career, which should set off multiple alarms. Not only are the Cowboys not winning playoff games during Prescott's tenure, they’ve only qualified four times!
Yet Dallas’s performance in twelve other games suggests the team should find a way to put the Bucs out of their misery, even if Dak does toss one Tampa’s way.
To me, this game looks like a tossup—pardon the pun!