The Houston Texans fan base doesn’t seem completely in love with the idea, maybe due to the Bill O’Brien era. But now it’s the GM Nick Caserio era, and the top candidates to be the next head coach in Houston figure to come from the Pats tree (as Caserio does) … and Bill Belichick’s Patriots are in the postseason again.
“Patriots South”? Might as well get used to it.
An expanded NFL playoffs field gets to begin a quest for Super Bowl LVI this weekend. SI offers a breakdown of each first-round postseason matchup, including, of course San Francisco at Dallas ...
Saturday 3:30 p.m. CT | NBC
The Raiders won four straight to close the year; sources tell us if they somehow beat the Bengals here, interim coach Rich Bisaccia (the former Dallas assistant) might just keep the job. The challenge? The Joe Burrow-led Bengals (back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015) just pounded the Chiefs, and on the road in Week 11 pounded these same Raiders, 32-13. The Bengals are 5.5-point favorites and the smart pick.
RESULT: Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, plus a couple of controversial calls, pushed Cincy to its first playoff victory in 31 years, 26-19 over Las Vegas.
The Bengals have gone from worst to first in the AFC North - a model for the Texans to emulate.
Saturday 7:15 p.m. | CBS
It's been more than 50 years since these AFC East rivals have met in the postseason, but of course they play each other twice a year otherwise - and fittingly, this year, they split the season series. The Patriots are about coach Bill Belichick. The Bills, who won the division, are about a talent-laded roster led by QB Josh Allen. Buffalo is a 4-point home favorite and the smart pick.
RESULT: A 47-17 Buffalo blowout, as QB Josh Allen throws for five TDs and the Patriots defense is exposed as looking slow.
One of the brains behind that defense is of course Pats assistant Mayo.
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No, the Texans are not likely to hold this result against the Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo; he was and is one of their top head coaching candidates. Houston will be planning to interview him quickly.
The Texans interviewed former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their first interview and it was conducted virtually Friday. Flores, who also has a Patriots background and who also interviewed virtually with the Chicago Bears, is expected to follow a methodical approach to the NFL interview process as he has drawn plenty of interest around the league after being fired by Miami despite finishing the season on an 8-1 run.
Houston's top two choices to replace the fired David Culley are likely Mayo and Flores.
Sunday 12 p.m. | FOX
Is Philly a different team than the one the Buccaneers beat, 28-22, early in the season? Maybe, in an improved way. Is Tom Brady's Tampa Bay bunch better? The Bucs closed strong, even with their injury and Antonio Brown issues. The defending Super Bowl champs are an 8.5-point favorite and the smart pick.
Sunday 3:30 p.m. | CBS
The 49ers are supposedly capable of playing "Bully Ball,'' but this idea of a "physical team vs. a finesse team'' is silly. The team with the lead can play grind-it-out ... and the team that needs to be explosive in the air can do that as well. The Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in football and a defense loaded with playmakers. Dallas needs crisp work from Dak Prescott and needs to figure out Deebo Samuel. Dallas - involved in the tightest spread of the weekend as 3.5-point favorite at home. Despite the surge of national experts making the "cute'' prediction in favor of the Niners, Dallas is the smart pick.
Sunday 7:15 p.m. | NBC
The Chiefs' struggles were an early-season mirage. They won nine of the last 10 games and led by QB Patrick Mahomes look fully capable of flipping a switch to reveal their Super Bowl pedigree. The Steelers are big underdogs and they know it - Pittsburgh lost, 36-10, to the Chiefs just a few weeks ago - and they are embracing it. How "big''? The Chiefs are favored by 12.5 points and are the smart pick.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Rams
Monday 7:15 pm | NBC
This may be the perfect example of how “this is a QB game.” Arizona’s Kyler Murray is in his first career playoff game; Matthew Stafford in his fourth - but his first as quarterback of the Rams, and no, he’s never won a playoff game. The Rams roster seems especially built for this, has won nine of its last 10 games vs. NFC West and is a smart-bet 4-point favorite.