by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation had been edited for grammar and clarity.
JS: Well, Eric, I think it’s safe to say the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs was an absolute shit show if you wanted a bunch of close, tight games down to the wire. We essentially only got one of those in the Detroit Lions/Los Angeles Rams game. Does that automatically make Detroit/L.A. the best of the weekend? And was Wild Card weekend the worst round of NFL playoffs you can ever remember?
EF: From a competitive standpoint, this was a terrible Wild Card weekend. We all knew how good some teams were and others proved worse than we thought. And for some of the teams that lost, there are more definite questions than answers and they will have interesting off-seasons (Dallas, Philly, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the Rams). Especially for a holiday weekend and a lot of people being snowed in as well, you would think there would be good games. Hopefully, the games this weekend in the Divisional Round will be better.
JS: Which team that lost during the Wild Card round surprised you the most?
EF: I won't say I am surprised that this team lost, but I am surprised by how they lost. It’s the Dallas Cowboys being dominated by the Green Bay Packers at home. Green Bay scored 48 points and Dallas had won 16 straight at home coming into the game. I’m patting myself on the back for picking Green Bay.
JS: Yes, I’m not surprised the Cowboys lost to the Packers because the Cowboys always do that “Playoff Cowboys” thing where they completely turn into a different and much worse team and always seem to fall to Green Bay in the postseason but I still predicted they would win. The fact that they just looked completely lost and like they didn’t care that much had me turn the game off at halftime. I didn’t watch a second of the second half. Which winning team during Wild Card weekend surprised you the most?
EF: It is a toss-up between the Houston Texans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I will say Houston because of their first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and their rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. The Texans looked like they are back to the years when they were a good team to watch in the 2010s.
JS: I didn’t watch a second of the Buccaneers' win over the Eagles because it conflicted with the Emmy Awards but the fact that they routed a team that went to the Super Bowl last year and began this season 10-1 as the worst team, at least record-wise in the entire playoffs, was surprising to me. I know the Eagles had some injuries to deal with but I thought they’d still be able to pull this game out at least. They didn’t even seem - at least by the score - like they had a chance.
EF: I am glad we chose different teams. I will say Philadelphia was not right it seems all year even though they did start 10-1. The last eight games for them were not good. I would expect them to make major changes in the offseason.
JS: If you were tasked with handing out an MVP for the Wild Card round who would it be?
EF: There are lots of great candidates but I am going with C.J. Stroud, who dominated a really good Cleveland Browns defense. He had a near-perfect passer rating. What a great playoff debut for him.
JS: What Puka Nacua did for the Rams in a losing effort with 181 receiving yards on nine catches and a touchdown was impressive but I agree with your Stroud pick.
JS: OK, let’s get into the four games of the Divisional Round this upcoming weekend… There will be two games on Saturday, January 20 and two on Sunday, January 21.
The first game on Saturday sees the Houston Texans travel up north to Baltimore to take on the No. 1 seed in the AFC in a Ravens team that, of course, had a bye week during the Wild Card round. This game will be on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. (CST). Eric, how do you see this one playing out?
EF: Well, the Ravens will be fully rested coming off the bye as you mentioned. Both teams met in Week 1 with the Ravens blowing out the Texans. Houston will have much more confidence going into this game than they did earlier this season, but I think their magical season will end in Baltimore. The Ravens will win a close but exciting game.
JS: The Ravens have seemed for most of the season like the team to beat in the AFC, surprisingly as you’d think it would’ve been the usual suspects like the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, albeit both are still in the playoffs. I think Houston could give Baltimore a run for its money but at the end of the day, I’m going with the veteran coach in John Harbaugh and a guy who’s been to the playoffs before in former MVP and possibly soon-to-be two-time MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Baltimore pulls it out.
The second game on Saturday will have the Green Bay Packers go across the country to face the NFC’s top seed the San Francisco 49ers. That game will be on Fox at 7:15 pm (CST). How do you think that one plays out?
EF: Again, the 49ers took advantage of the bye week to get healthy. Not to underestimate the Packers, especially after beating the Cowboys in the way that they did, they will be a tough out, but the 49ers and Lions are the two best teams in the NFC without a doubt. I think San Francisco will win it.
JS: I hate to sound like a broken record but the 49ers are similar to the Ravens in the AFC in that they have been the best in the NFC, especially since the Eagles started their downfall after the 10-1 start to the season. The team has one of the best defenses in the game and the offense, which was their downside for the last few years now has so many weapons for QB Brock Purdy with Christian McCaffrey probably being the best running back in the game right now and George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk both having 1000-plus receiving yards. The 49ers should take this game.
JS: The first game on Sunday sees the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel up north to Detroit to take on the Lions - good thing for the Buccaneers that Ford Field is a dome because traditionally warm weather teams don’t do well in the postseason in the cold. This game will be at 2 p.m. (CST) on NBC. Which team will win this game, Eric?
EF: This will be another game in which both teams met earlier in the regular season. It was week 5 in which the Lions won at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are a great story this season and they won the NFC South and a playoff game. They should be proud of themselves. But the Lions are the better team. The Lions will win this game.
JS: I didn’t expect the Buccs to make it this far. I don’t see any reason why they can’t at least hang with Detroit but I’m also going to agree with your prediction. The Lions got their first playoff win in more than 30 years this past weekend - why not make it two in a row? Lions QB Jared Goff had a good game against the Rams in the Wild Card round with 277 passing yards and a touchdown. Though, Buccs QB Baker Mayfield did have a better week with 337 yards and three touchdowns.
JS: The final playoff game of the Divisional Round is frankly the one I’m most excited about - the Kansas City Chiefs going up north to face the Buffalo Bills. I know these two have faced off in the playoffs before but this will be the first time at home for the Bills. Remarkably Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has played in 15 postseason games already in his career and this will be the first time he’s ever played on the road if you don’t count the neutral-site Super Bowls. Is this the best game of the weekend, Eric? And how do you see it going down?
EF: Bills vs. Chiefs is definitely the best game of the weekend. I’m glad that this game is the last game of the weekend too. As you mentioned, this is the first time the Chiefs have played on the road in the Mahomes Era. But I don’t think they will be intimidated at all. Buffalo won at Kansas City several weeks ago and therefore this is the reason why the game is at Buffalo. I expect this game to go down to whichever team gets the football last will win. I trust Mahomes a little more than Bills quarterback Josh Allen. I am going with the Chiefs to win.
JS: You’re right about the Chiefs not being intimidated. They’ve been around the postseason too much and had too much success to be intimidated. I don’t think playing away from home will change that. The Bills are on this terrific hot streak right now having won six straight games - the last five of the regular season and the Wild Card round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As you mentioned that streak started with a win over the Chiefs and that streak includes wins over the Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, teams that also made the postseason. It’s the type of streak the Bills could very well run right to the Super Bowl. But I also feel the same way you do about not feeling like I can turn against the Chiefs. Even though the team hasn’t looked as dominant at times during the season I need to see them lose in the postseason before I can count them out. I know that’s kind of a cheap prediction. It’ll be a close game, I think, but I too have K.C. winning.