Following a disappointing 7-10 campaign, the Seahawks will unfortunately not be playing this weekend. Instead, they'll watch from home as 12 teams begin the climb towards Super Bowl LVI, including all three of their NFC West rivals.
But even though Seattle is out of the mix, the Seahawk Maven staff is back to predict the outcomes of all six wild-card affairs. Here's who Corbin Smith, Ty Dane Gonzalez, Colby Patnode, Nick Lee and Rishi Rastogi are siding with in what should be a truly wild weekend across the league.
Raiders at Bengals
Corbin Smith: Bengals 31, Raiders 20
Give interim coach Rich Bisaccia a ton of credit; the Raiders have played hard for him since he replaced Jon Gruden during the middle of the season and they enter the postseason red-hot winning each of their past four games. But with Joe Burrow under center, dynamic playmaking receivers in Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins at his disposal on the outside and a talented running back in Joe Mixon complementing him in the backfield, the Bengals simply have more offensive firepower and will snap their long drought without a playoff victory.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Bengals 26, Raiders 18
The Raiders have rallied around interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, rattling off their last four games for an unlikely run to the AFC's No. 5 seed. It's tough to pick against that kind of momentum heading into the postseason, but with Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and the Bengals' exciting trio of receivers on the other sideline, pulling off the upset in a raucous Paul Brown Stadium is going to be a tall task for Vegas.
Colby Patnode: Bengals 27, Raiders 23
The Bengals' high-powered offense goes up against the Raiders' surprisingly good defense, with each team looking for their first playoff win in literal decades. Burrow will get a ton of hype, but Joe Mixon will be the star of this game, running for 100 yards and two scores
Nick Lee: Bengals 30, Raiders 27
This was the hardest one for me. Joe Burrow's explosive offense versus Maxx Crosby and company is a fun matchup. It's time to erase over 30 years of pain for Cincy and finally win a playoff game.
Rishi Rastogi: Bengals 31, Raiders 20
The Bengals enter this game playing their best football at the right time with a solid defense that has a knack for taking over games, and that’s a great tell for which teams succeed in the playoffs. Similar to their matchup earlier in the season, I expect Joe Mixon to have another strong day on the ground as he’ll help to set a controlled tempo early and continue throughout the game. The recipe for success will likely rely on Joe Burrow and the offense not turning the ball over and giving the Raiders short fields.
Patriots at Bills
Corbin Smith: Bills 20, Patriots 17
This might wind up being the most captivating game of the entire weekend, at least if you're a football purist who loves cold weather games where running the ball and playing defense remain king. Bitter temperatures will make it tougher to throw the football, though both teams should be thrilled to know winds won't be like they were in a Monday night matchup between them earlier this year where the Patriots won while throwing the ball just three times. Josh Allen is the superior quarterback in this matchup and the Bills has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, so they won't slip up at home and will advance to the divisional round winning a physical slugfest.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Patriots 16, Bills 14
As Orchard Park dips well below freezing temperatures on Saturday, this one is going to come down to who better weathers the conditions. Bill Belichick and crew have already accomplished such a feat once against Buffalo this season, avoiding high winds by running the ball down their division rival's throats in an ugly 14-10 victory on Monday Night Football. Expect more of the same—even if Damien Harris (hamstring) can't suit up—as the new-look Patriots pull off a vintage, hard-nosed win.
Colby Patnode: Patriots 23, Bills 21
A close game between two insanely balanced teams. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick wants to handle Mac Jones in his first playoff matchup. In the frigid cold of Buffalo, the more physical team is going to win. In a battle of physicality, I’ll take the Patriots to barely edge out the Bills.
Nick Lee: Bills 17, Patriots 10
With the weather turning the thermometer blue, I look at which team is more physical on both sides of the ball. I like Josh Allen to make a play when it matters most and I like the Bills' defense frazzling Mac Jones.
Rishi Rastogi: Bills 24, Patriots 20
Bill Belichick and the Patriots' defense held the Bills' offense to 10 points in their first meeting, but I can’t imagine that happening again. That game itself featured four Buffalo red zone drives that ended with a goose egg on the board. Josh Allen should be able to get into a rhythm early, while Mac Jones remains a bit of a question. That being said, Belichick will have tricks up his sleeve going against a division rival so this game should be hard-fought and close the whole way.
Eagles at Buccaneers
Corbin Smith: Eagles 24, Buccaneers 21
With several key players poised to return from injury for the playoffs, including Lavonte David, the defending champion Buccaneers shouldn't lose this game... right? Well, Tom Brady actually doesn't have a great track record playing against the Eagles—he did lose a Super Bowl to them, after all—and the absence of star Chris Godwin, as well as Antonio Brown, truly puts a limit on the team's offensive upside. Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders and company gave Tampa Bay a run for its money earlier this year and only lost by six. Philadelphia has improved quite a bit since then and the team's ability to move the ball on the ground gives them a decent chance to pull off a monumental wild-card upset.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 21
The Buccaneers are hurting right now, particularly at the receiver position following Chris Godwin's unfortunate ACL injury and Antonio Brown's sudden departure from the team. That could severely cap their ceiling this postseason, though they still have enough firepower to move past an Eagles team that's realistically a year away from being able to win these big games. However, with the league's most productive rushing attack in 2021, Philly will stay involved until the final whistle blows. But in the end, Brady's playoff brilliance keeps Tampa Bay's title defense alive for at least one more week.
Colby Patnode: Buccaneers 24, Eagles 19
This is the matchup that not enough people are talking about. The Eagles pose a serious threat to the Bucs, who lack the weaponry they had in their 2020 Super Bowl run. Philly can run the ball and get to the passer, making this a potentially ugly matchup for the reigning champs. I’m still taking Brady, but it won’t come easy.
Nick Lee: Buccaneers 30, Eagles 17
This one could get ugly. The only way it doesn't is if the Eagles can somehow run on Tampa's defense enough to keep Tom Brady on the sidelines. Don't bet on it.
Rishi Rastogi: Buccaneers 41, Eagles 17
This is one of those games that will either be a landslide victory for Tom Brady and company or feature a potential upset. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles' offense certainly have explosive upside with the ability to capitalize quick off turnovers. The Bucs are also down to Breshad Perriman as their No. 2 receiver, and he's currently dealing with a hip injury. That said, I can’t quite see how the seven-time champion will let this game slip out of his grasp. Expect Brady to come out hot and rack up the score early, targeting veteran tight ends Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
49ers at Cowboys
Corbin Smith: Cowboys 35, 49ers 23
San Francisco has been playing great football as of late, including coming back from three scores down to beat Los Angeles in overtime last weekend and clinch a playoff spot. Deebo Samuel belongs on the list of the NFL's five most unique playmakers and his innate ability to inflict damage as a receiver after the catch and as a runner will create issues for Dallas. With that said, the 49ers don't have a great cornerback group by any means and they will have to deal with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on the outside catching passes from Dak Prescott. The Cowboys also have a pair of quality running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard; and after years of choking in the playoffs, this year seems different for a well-oiled America's team.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Cowboys 34, 49ers 24
Yes, the Cowboys have often disappointed in their playoff appearances. Yes, the 49ers are red-hot after an emotional Week 18 victory in Los Angeles to keep their season alive. With that acknowledged and out of the way, Dallas has put together its least-flawed playoff roster in quite some time. Boasting a ball-hawking defense led by former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and an offense overflowing with explosiveness, this is not the typical hype machine-driven, smoke and mirrors Cowboys. This is a legitimately well-rounded squad set to make a ton of noise this postseason, starting with a convincing wild-card win over San Francisco.
Colby Patnode: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27
Maybe it’s just because the Seahawks continue to wipe the floor with them, but the 49ers aren’t that scary. Jimmy Garoppolo is still who he is and that’s my big issue with San Francisco. This might be the most fun matchup of the weekend, however, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Nick Lee: 49ers 27, Cowboys 23
The 49ers are going into the playoffs at the right time. This game has upset written all over it as Dallas usually finds a way to choke in January. San Francisco has the better coach and better playmakers.
Rishi Rastogi: 49ers 38, Cowboys 35
This is potentially the most exciting matchup of the wild-card weekend, and I fully expect it to live up to expectations. Trevon Diggs matched up against Deebo Samuel and George Kittle against Micah Parsons should make this game a must-watch. In the end, it could very well turn into a shootout if both offenses get going early. The x-factor in that scenario would be the 49ers' explosive run game against the Cowboys' lackluster run defense, which has allowed 4.6 yards per carry—a bottom five rate in the league.
Steelers at Chiefs
Corbin Smith: Chiefs 34, Steelers 10
Potentially playing in his final NFL game, it would be nice to see Ben Roethlisberger turn back the clock a bit and help the Steelers keep this game competitive. But I simply don't see it happening. Big Ben has the textbook definition of noodle arm at this stage of his career and can't get the ball downfield, while Najee Harris hasn't had much blocking to speak of in his rookie season. Meanwhile, the Chiefs enter the playoffs playing far better football than they did for most of the season and Patrick Mahomes wants to get redemption for losing in the Super Bowl a year ago. There's no way Andy Reid's team will bow out this early, especially against a far inferior team lacking an offensive identity.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Chiefs 41, Steelers 17
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs haven't looked like themselves at times this season, yet they were still able to secure the AFC's No. 2 seed. That's a scary sight for the rest of the pack, especially now that they've looked more in line with the team that's dominated the conference for much of the past half-decade. Even though the Steelers are essentially playing with nothing to lose—which can be dangerous in scenarios like this—a washed Ben Roethlisberger is not going to lead his team to a storybook upset over Mahomes and company.
Colby Patnode: Chiefs 23, Steelers 13
It’s hard to imagine 2021 Ben Roethlisberger, who can’t complete check downs without laying down his AARP card, is going into Arrowhead Stadium and walking out with a win, but stranger things have happened. Pittsburgh’s defense is quite good, but it will need to be great to win this game.
Nick Lee: Chiefs 33, Steelers 20
Ben Roethlisberger gives it one last gasp, but it's far too little against one of the best teams in the NFL on their home turf. Patrick Mahomes isn't losing a wild card game at home. No way.
Rishi Rastogi: Chiefs 42, Steelers 20
Patrick Mahomes will blow this game out of the water before it has the chance to start. Ben Roethlisberger unfortunately doesn’t have much left in the tank and the Steelers' offense will likely be too underpowered to keep up with Mahomes and company. Only way the Steelers can keep this close is by taking over in the trenches and running the ball efficiently to keep the ball away from Mahomes. I don’t quite see that happening, even with the star power of T.J. Watt.
Cardinals at Rams
Corbin Smith: Cardinals 31, Rams 27
Neither one of these teams have been playing well as of late, and that's especially true for the Cardinals, who have lost four of their past five games limping into the playoffs. Kyler Murray has badly missed DeAndre Hopkins, who won't be available as he works his way back from a knee injury, while the defense has given up at least 30 points in three of the past five games. But oddly enough, Arizona has been a far better team playing on the road this season and already won in Los Angeles back in Week 4. Matthew Stafford has been throwing interceptions left and right, getting picked off seven times in the last three weeks alone. He has a history of not playing well in the postseason and I expect that trend to continue with Murray outdueling him in a hard-fought NFC West grudge match.
Ty Dane Gonzalez: Rams 24, Cardinals 17
Both of these teams are not playing their best ball right now, making this one a bit of a toss-up. Matthew Stafford has become turnover-happy as of late and the Cardinals' offense has simply been uninspiring with DeAndre Hopkins (knee) absent and their running back room banged up. The Rams are healthier and have the best defense in this matchup, so that's where I'm leaning. However, L.A. getting upset at home in a wild-card game would surely put a smile on the faces of a few fans in the Seattle area.
Colby Patnode: Cardinals 24, Rams 21
Do I trust Matthew Stafford to play well or do I trust Kliff Kingsbury to not vomit all over himself? I honestly don’t know. Neither team is playing all that well recently and both quarterbacks have been less-than-stellar down the stretch. I’m taking Arizona, but I have no confidence in this pick. Two stumbling teams trying to regain footing can make for one heck of a good game though.
Nick Lee: Rams 30, Cardinals 28
This could be one of the best games of the weekend. The Rams have played better more recently than the Cardinals. Matthew Stafford is desperate to remove the goose egg in his playoff win column; and Los Angeles went all in on him, so it's time to put up or shut up.
Rishi Rastogi: Rams 33, Cardinals 27
Yet another divisional matchup with teams who know each other very well. Matthew Stafford and the Rams should be able to take control of this game early against a bearish Cardinals team that has lost four of their last five games. The success of Aaron Donald and Chandler Jones should dictate which team comes out on top, but I envision it will be a comfortable win for the Rams and their explosive passing offense.