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Pigskin Pundit’s Picks, Super Wildcard Week

Let’s light this candle with some good news. Damar Hamlin is out of danger and recuperating, which is a huge relief. Let’s hope he makes it all the way back to play again, but if not we wish him all the very best. More good news; Peyton Hillis looks like he’s going to be okay, after nearly drowning saving his kids from the same fate.

Okay, playoff football on tap. I was sure we would see the Packers make it in, with Detroit eliminated prior to the first snap. Well, SNAP on the Pack! They folded like a cheap suit, going gently into that good night. The Jags did what I thought they would, but not how I thought they would, letting Tennessee scare me until the very end. And the Jets…are still broken, after all these years. That unwatchable 6-11 loss to Miami was NOT pro football. And how about Dallas, whose play style resembles Two-Face from Batman? The hapless Bucs laid down for Atlanta, providing Tom Brady the indignity of his first losing season record ever. Lastly, Lovie Smith…dude, way to trash your case for a steady job in Houston, losing the #1 draft pick to Chicago AND upgrading Indy’s draft position all in the final game. Yes, you beat the Colts, but in reality they beat you. And no, I don’t think he deserved to get fired for his performance this season. But the owner has other goals. Well, I wrapped the regular season at 166-106 for 61% accuracy. It’s not the neighborhood I’m used to, but I matched my targeted benchmark at NFL Network in this crazy season. Here’s the picks.

SEAHAWKS AT 49ERS – I’ll open my analysis on the playoffs by saying this; there are five teams in these playoffs that are serious, potential champions. Everybody else is sausage meat, pretenders…not to be taken seriously. Seattle is one of the latter teams, and San Francisco is one of only two NFC teams that fit in the former category. Props to Geno Smith for willing this team into the playoffs with near-flawless football…except against the Niners, who in two victories held them to 20 points. Ouch! Expect more of the same on Saturday. Seattle will be known as the Legion of Gloom after this beatdown.

CHARGERS AT JAGUARS – After Brandon Staley sabotaged his team by leaving Mike Williams in to get hurt, this game looks a lot less certain. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Jags looked impotent on offense against a weak, lousy Titan defense last week. If that win depended on their offense, Vrabel would be calling plays this week instead of Pederson, as Long-Locks Lawrence was getting a crewcut from Tennessee until his defense put the game away. You don’t want to enter the playoffs DEPENDENT on defensive scoring to win games. Ask New England about that (best in league, out of contention). Both teams defend the pass really well, but the Bolts have a miserable run defense, and Etienne is an 1,100-yard rusher this season. The Jags defend pass-catching RBs well, and that is the strength of Ekeler’s game. Hmmm…these two hair-farming QBs are a wash, literally. Coin flip here, the game is that close. Even the Network pundits were divided evenly. I like Herbert as more resourceful under pressure….but Etienne gives Jacksonville the ability to control the clock and game tempo. If Bosa is hurt again (last game, thanks Staley), that factors huge. He and Khalil Mack-Truck could be enormous at pressuring Lawrence in the 2nd half, where he utterly failed to impress against Titan pressure when it mattered most. My gut tells me that Jacksonville is just too Cinderella to secure their first playoff win this year. Chargers clear their first playoff hurdle in the Herbert years, while the Jags ride their progress into next season.

DOLPHINS AT BILLS – Reality check. Buffalo is one of my three AFC teams that can go all the way. Miami has absolutely no business being here, and they know it. No business. They are a shell of the team that beat Buffalo once and lost a close shootout after that. No fluke is happening this week. Bills squish the Fish.

GIANTS AT VIKINGS – This will probably be the best game to watch this week. That last matchup was electrifying, with each team bringing their best, and the win determined by a last-second field goal. Expect the same kind of matchup again. Having said that, neither of these teams is on my list of finalists. Kirk Cousins embodies the Dallas Cowboys every third game, losing his mind and most of his skills in inexplicable losses, and that will manifest itself somewhere in the playoffs, as it has before. I do want to say that it is refreshing to have the Giants back in the playoffs again, as it seems to bring a certain balance back to the universe. No team with such a proud heritage should languish for years in the box of shame between playoff appearances, IMO. Ok, breakdown; both teams can run, both can throw, and the kickers are solid. The Vikes aren’t great stopping the run, vs. Mr. Barkley. Advantage: Giants. NY has trouble with tight ends, vs. Mr. Hockenson. Advantage: Vikes. Pass rush: even. Jones rushed for over 700 yards this season. Dalvin Cook averages 2.5 receptions per game at 8 yards each. The league prognosticators went 60-40 for NY. I’ll take Minnesota at home and focused in this one. Vikings fans will be kissing Cousins after a home playoff win.

RAVENS AT BENGALS – Props to John Harbaugh and his eternally gritty, overachieving Blackbirds for gutting out another brutal season of injuries and locking up a playoff spot. I don’t know where they find that deep reserve of determination each year, but my respect is genuine. But this game is another mismatch like Buffalo/Miami. Baltimore just doesn’t have the horses to go any further. Cincinnati is one of three AFC teams on my list of legitimate contenders. Not going to overthink this one. Burrow buries the Blackbirds.

COWBOYS AT BUCCANEERS – MNF, and Oh boy, two clubs that are coming off losses to inferior opponents, and suffering from mediocre play. Here are two more teams I do not consider as serious contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. Tampa is one of those teams that doesn’t deserve to be here, with the worst record of any playoff team. They boast the league’s worst run game, which means everybody knows the game rests on Brady’s arm. Tampa also struggles with tight ends, and Dalton ‘Sergeant’ Schultz is one of the better ones. Perhaps the biggest factor in this matchup is Tampa’s problem converting third downs. Dallas is likely to bring the house after Brady on thirds, which they can do with Parsons and Dorrance Armstrong. Dallas has played top-ten 3rd-down defense the entire season. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott leads the league in pickoffs, comfortably. Dallas can get after the passer, which Brady tries to avoid by quickfire passes. The Cowboys have been notoriously inconsistent the entire season, so nobody knows which team will ride into town, playoffs or not. Don’t think this will be a pretty game Monday Night, but my money is on 3rd-down stops by Dallas. The Jolly Roger runs aground as the Cowboys find pirates’ booty in Florida. Six-guns outduel cannons in this one.

Enjoy the games!

Nathan Clark

Nathan Clark is a conservative commentator who resides with his wife in New Hampshire. He is passionate about preserving the vision of our nation's Founders and advancing those tried and true principles deep into America's future. His interests range broadly from flyfishing, cooking and shooting to pro sports, gardening, live music and fine-scale modeling.