Four months ago, before a single regular-season game has been played, I picked the Las Vegas Raiders to win the Super Bowl.
Now, the playoffs are about to begin, and the Raiders are one of 14 teams with an opportunity to be the last team standing.
That’s the beauty of the NFL playoffs. You don’t need the best roster. You don’t have to have the best record. Get hot and that Super Bowl trophy can be yours.
Of course, a wild-card team’s chances are boosted by having John Elway, Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady at quarterback. But the 2000 wild-card Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl with QB Trent Dilfer (and three defensive Pro Bowlers, including Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson).
Seven Wild-Card Super Bowl Winners
Seven wild-card entrants have become Super Bowl champions, most recently when Tampa Bay took it all last year.
The Oakland Raiders were the first, knocking off the favored Philadelphia Eagles to cap the 1980 season. All the Raiders had to overcome was the loss of starting quarterback Dan Pastorini to a broken leg (thus ushering in Jim Plunkett!), the do-we play in Los Angeles or Oakland drama (thank you, Al Davis), and going on the road for playoff and conference championship games.
In that same vein, this year’s Raiders have overcome tons of adversity to reach their matchup against a talented and hungry Bengals team in Cincinnati.
Did you know that no one has ever sent a text message celebrating a Bengals’ playoff victory? That’s because the last time they won a playoff game was 1991 — a year before the world’s first text (“Merry Christmas”) was sent by engineer Neil Papworth.
(You can listen to David Carr’s podcast with his former New York Giants teammate Mark Herzlich titled The Super Hero Dads at this link.)
Raiders Can Count on Carlson
Both teams enter with 10-7 records, but the Bengals are favored by five points because they’re playing at home and beat the Raiders in Las Vegas, 32-13, on Nov. 21. But it was a close game until the fourth quarter, and tailback Joe Mixon powered the Bengals’ victory with 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The Raiders have since shored up their run defense. In addition, that strong Raiders pass rush should make life miserable for Cincy QB Joe Burrow, who has been sacked 51 times this season. But, given time to throw, Burrow has a bevy of options to connect with, including rookie Ja’Marr Chase (81 receptions, 13 TDs).
Offensively, the Raiders have an opportunity for a big day from tight end Darren Waller. And. they have the NFL’s best kicker in Daniel Carlson, who has made 40 of 43 field goals and never flinches in the face of pressure. I know Daniel pretty well and I think the reason he’s so unflappable is he’s hyper-competitive about everything from swimming pool basketball to poker.
It will be cold in Cincinnati, but the Bengals are bringing in the pride of Fresno’s Edison High School, former Bengals tailback Ickey Woods, to fire up the crowd.
I expect nothing less than a great game.
The Ickey Shuffle is coming to the throne!
Ickey Woods is Saturday’s Ruler of The Jungle! pic.twitter.com/Jo5OA8iGu2
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 12, 2022
Playoff Quick Hitters
San Francisco (10-7) at Dallas (12-5) — This game takes me back to my childhood when the 49ers and Cowboys always had elite teams. I know there is a lot of hype about Dallas, but the Cowboys went 6-0 in the weak NFC East and 6-5 against the rest of the league.
I can see the 49ers running the ball 40 times, dominating the time of possession, and forcing QB Dak Prescott to be impatient when the Cowboys do have the ball. Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo made some big-time throws in rallying SF past the LA Rams, but he has to be careful about throwing into areas where Trevon Diggs (11 interceptions) is lurking.
Yes, the Cowboys have favorable matchups with wideouts Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb against the 49ers secondary, but I like the 49ers to win this one.
New England (10-7) at Buffalo (11-6) — The Bills drafted Josh Allen as their franchise quarterback because they believed he had the mental and physical make-up to thrive in frigid conditions like those expected Saturday.
I see the former Firebaugh High School star doing whatever is asked of him to win the game — running, throwing, or both. Don’t be surprised if the Bills take away the Patriots’ short passing routes and dare QB Mac Jones to throw deep. Even if Jones connects on one or two long passes, it won’t be enough to derail the Bills, who easily handled the Patriots three weeks ago.
Arizona (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5) — The Rams’ signing of safety Eric Weddle, who hasn’t played in two seasons, reeks of desperation. In fact, Weddle is so old (37) I played against him.
Even though the Rams have impressed at times, they still are struggling for an identity. And, as glossy as Matt Stafford’s passing stats (4,886 yards, 41 TDs) are, he’s been the player holding the Rams back because of his carelessness with the football.
The Cardinals also limped into the playoffs, but QB Kyler Murray has an opportunity to exploit the Rams inside linebackers with his arms and legs while also making big plays on the edge. If Cardinals RB James Conner is healthy for Monday’s kickoff, it could be a long night for the Rams.
About the Author
David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 overall draft pick, and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with GV Wire’s Bill McEwen. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Healthcare.