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The regular season is done, now it’s time for the playoffs and Paul Higham is here with his NFL Wildcard preview which includes an upset.

Get set for one of the craziest weekends of the sporting calendar as “Super Wild Card Weekend” sees the NFL play-offs start in style with six games across three days. 

Tom Brady starts his bid for an eighth Super Bowl, but there’s plenty of competition with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs back to attempt to make a third Super Bowl in a row. 

First up on the road to Los Angeles is the wild card round, and we’ve got six massive games coming your way, two on Saturday, three on Sunday and a new slot for this year with a Monday night game. 

The home teams are all big favourites, but the away side won four out of six at this stage last year, and teams on the road have won 10 of the last 14 wild card games – so beware the underdogs… 

Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Raiders have gone 18 seasons without a play-off win, the Bengals have gone 30! And it’s kind of a free hit for both sides who were not among the favourites to make the play-offs this year. 

The Bengals had a 4,000-yard passer at QB (Joe Burrow), a 1,000-yard running back (Joe Mixon) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Ja’Marr Chase & Tee Higgins) this season – even the Chiefs couldn’t match them in their recent shootout. 

Las Vegas won their last four, including that epic against the Chargers last Sunday, just to get here, but how much do they have left? 

The Raiders lost to the Bengals 32-13 this season but they dealt with Burrow, who had just 149 yards and one TD, but Mixon did the damage on the ground with 123 yards and two TDs. 

Maxx Crosby will give Burrow a tough night again, but it’s a stick or twist job for Vegas, if they go all-in to stop the run this time then that opens them up to that dangerous pass attack. The Bengals will just have too much. 

Best bet: Bengals -6.5 at Evens 

TDs: Ja’Marr Chase & Hunter Renfrow to score a TD at 5/1 

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

It’s the 125th time these two big rivals have met, their third game since the start of December but just their second ever play-off encounter. This one should be tasty. 

Their two previous meetings spell out this game – if the Pats can run it all night and let rookie QB Mac Jones take a back seat they will win, if the Bills let Josh Allen off the leash, then he can fire them to victory. 

Jones threw the ball just three times as New England won in Buffalo, and it’s clear he can’t live with Allen in an arms race, but Pats coach Bill Belichick has more play-off games and wins than any other coach – he’ll be ready. 

The away team has won the last three meetings between these two, and the fact Buffalo lost every game that was decided by seven points or less this season is a big worry. In a low-scoring kicking contest, the Pats could just upset the odds here in a close one. 

Best bet: Over 3.5 field goals at 13/10 

TDs: Josh Allen rushing touchdown at 7/5 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady had to win three road games before lifting the Lombardi Trophy for a seventh time at home last season – he’ll only need to win one on the road to get back to the Super Bowl. But he’ll need his side’s run defence to show up in this potential banana skin. 

The Eagles are flying high, but they do their damage on the ground as the league’s best rush attack, with QB Jalen Hurts a prolific scorer of rushing TDs himself. 

Tampa Bay have a much-hyped rush defence but they’ve fallen off a cliff in the second half of the season, dropping to 13th in yards per game and 28th in yards per carry. Against an outfit that pounded it for 175 yards in seven straight games this season that’s a concern. 

Philly could easily make this a long-drive contest and keep Brady off the field for long spells, which they’ll need as the 21st-ranked secondary against the league leader in passing yards (5,316) and TDs (43). 

A fast start for Brady and this one is done, but it will probably be closer than you think. Whatever way you slice it though, Brady gets the job done. 

Best bet: Bucs –6.5pts at 4/6 

TDs: Brady over 1.5 passing TDs & Hurts to score rush TD at 14/5 

San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys

This 1990s throwback is a tasty encounter between two storied franchises, who somehow haven’t met in the play-offs since 1994. They both haven’t even made the post-season in the same year since 1998! 

Dak Prescott’s Dallas will love this match-up of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb against San Francisco’s weak pass defence, while the Cowboys D led the league in takeaways and will fancy picking off Jimmy Garoppolo and his damaged thumb. 

Jimmy G had the drive of his life to beat the Rams last week, but he still has to turn doubters into believers and the Niners would much rather use their tricky run game than leave the game in their QB’s hands. 

San Fran are 2-6 when they commit multiple turnovers in the game, and 8-1 when they have one or none. With the Cowboys managing multiple takeaways in 12 games this season – so the turnover battle is huge. 

So is Deebo Samuel, San Francisco’s receiver-turned-running back who has taken the league by storm, he even threw a TD last week! A large dose of Deebo and some ball security puts the Niners in a really good spot for the upset, and there has to be one this weekend, right? 

Best bet: 49ers to win at 11/8 

TDs: Deebo Samuel and CeeDee Lamb to score recieving TDs at 4/1 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs

It was a 36-10 walkover when these two met three weeks ago, with Patrick Mahomes able to sit out the final 12 minutes of the game – but in Ben Roethlisberger’s farewell the Steelers will provide much tougher opposition this time around. 

TJ Watt only played half the snaps that day and everything went wrong for Pittsburgh – if they can clean up on the errors then they can at least give the Chiefs a test and give Mahomes something to think about. 

Travis Kelce missed the last meeting but is back now, but there is concern over Tyreek Hill who is struggling with a heel injury. The Chiefs should be able to run the ball with ease with Darrel Williams but they’ll need speedy receivers to stretch the field. 

Byron Pringle had his best game of the season with Hill slowed last time against Pittsburgh, so watch out for another from him, and watch out for the Chiefs to get a couple of picks off Roethlisberger, who at some stage will have to chance his ageing arm. 

Hopefully Big Ben can put on a bit of a show in what looks like the last game of his career, but it seems almost certain to be a losing note he’ll go out on. 

Best bet: Chiefs –8.5pts at 3/5 

TDs: Travis Kelce & Byron Pringle TDs at 13/2 

Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams

We end the wild card round with a divisional battle at the home of the Super Bowl as the Cardinals look for a second of what they hope will be three wins this season at SoFi Stadium. 

The Rams dominated in Arizona in the return game, and Sean McVay is 5-1 against Kliff Kingsbury, but in truth both sides have questions to answer here, with the Cardinals limping over the line after a hot 7-0 start. 

LA won five of the last six but QB Matthew Stafford, the huge trade signing in the summer, the missing piece in the puzzle, has shown us his worrying trend for bad decisions when the pressure is on. 

Stafford was stellar in the first half against the 49ers last week, but dodgy in the second with two poor interceptions. He was second with 41 TDs this season, but joint-top with 17 interceptions and the clear leader in pick-sixes thrown. 

Against an Arizona side that endured a bad loss to Seattle last week, and with Cooper Kupp at receiver, Stafford may just about get away with it this week. 

Best bet: Rams –3.5pts at 5/6  

TDs: Cooper Kupp rec TD & James Conner rush TD

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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