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Inside the incredible numbers that define success for Ravens QB Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The football world is still trying to figure out what label to put on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s incredible comeback in Monday night’s 31-25 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Some saw it as a Tom Brady-like performance in regards to poise and precision. Others have compared Jackson to Michael — Jordan, not Vick — because of how he took over the game.

Colts owner Jim Irsay believes Jackson’s game should be placed in a class by itself, tweeting: “Lamar Jackson’s performance may have been the single greatest performance in the NFL’s 100 year history.”

Jackson answered questions that had lingered over him throughout his four-year career. He carried the Ravens with his arm, throwing for a franchise-best 442 yards. He showed amazing accuracy, completing 86% of his throws (a NFL record for a 40-pass game). And he delivered a monumental comeback, rallying Baltimore from 19 points down in the second half.

“Magical — that’s the only way I can describe it,” Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams said.

Before Jackson goes for an encore performance Sunday against the Chargers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), here’s a look at how his historic performance will affect the narrative surrounding him in the future:

Has Jackson finally silenced the critics?

Stat: Jackson is the only quarterback in at least the last 20 seasons to be ranked in the top 10 in passing and rushing through his team’s first five games. Jackson ranks No. 5 in passing and No. 8 in rushing. Randall Cunningham (1990) is the only quarterback to finish a season in the top 10 in passing and rushing, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Early in Jackson’s career, the criticism motivated him. Remember his “not bad for a running back” retort after he threw five touchdown passes in the 2019 season opener in Miami.

Now, it seems like Jackson has been able to close out the chatter about whether he can become an effective passer in the NFL.

“I don’t know if they’re going to stop talking about it,” Jackson said this week. “But all I know is my focus is on winning, and like I said before, [to] keep getting better. I never care [about] what they’re saying.”

“This league is full of superstars, but he’s certainly at the top of the list.”

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley
on Lamar Jackson

Jackson is right that the questions about him throwing the ball persisted even after he led the NFL in touchdown passes in his 2019 MVP season and recorded two games with a perfect passer rating. The difference this year is his passing is now the main act of the offense. His ability to throw outside the numbers, deep downfield and inside the red zone is why Baltimore ranks No. 1 in total offense.

Unlike his first three seasons, the Ravens don’t have a dominant rushing attack, outside of Jackson scrambling. After losing its top two running backs — J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards — to season-ending knee injuries, Baltimore has not gotten much from Latavius Murray, Ty’Son Williams, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell.

Jackson’s arm is going to be the reason the Ravens make noise the rest of the season, which should quiet those who doubted him.

Is this the best of Jackson?

Stat: 850 players have either gained 300 yards rushing or thrown for 1,500 yards in a five-game span in NFL history. Jackson is the only one to do both in a five-game span.

The Ravens were hoping this would be the year Jackson would take the next step as a passer. But it’s been more of a big leap so far.

How much better can Jackson get?

“I really haven’t seen my peak yet,” Jackson said. “It’s still early in the season.”

It’s realistic to expect Jackson to play better, and it’s not all about Jackson’s growth. First-round pick Rashod Bateman could provide another target for Jackson in the passing game on Sunday after he missed the first five games with a groin injury. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is expected to return at some point after being sidelined since the season opener with an ankle injury.

“He’s just scratching the surface on how good he can be,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He’s still 24 years old. I mean, this is crazy – what he’s capable of doing. I know he’s notorious for what he can do with his legs, and I feel like he got a lot of disrespect on his arm talent, and I think a lot of people are eating their words right now, and it feels good to see.”

Jackson is the youngest starting quarterback in the AFC North.

Has Jackson catapulted himself back into the NFL MVP race?

Stat: 18 teams have produced fewer total yards than Jackson’s 1,860 this season. Through five games, Jackson has accounted for 84% of the Ravens’ total yards. On Monday night, he was responsible for 499 of Baltimore’s 523 yards of offense.

Since the start of the season, Jackson’s odds to win NFL MVP shortened, but he finds himself behind more players.

His odds improved from 16-to-1 to 10-to-1 but he now trails five quarterbacks, instead of four. He is behind Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert.

The Ravens’ opponents might handicap the MVP race differently.

Lamar Jackson is probably the most dynamic player when he gets the ball in his hand,” Chargers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Bosa said. “He’s the best to do it.”

Jackson’s numbers through five games are comparable to his 2019 MVP season.

Through five games in 2019, Jackson produced 1,579 total yards, 12 total touchdowns and a 67.8 Total QBR. Through five games this year, he’s totaled 1,860 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 61.7 passer rating.

“You’re seeing a player that never played in the NFL,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “There have been some guys similar, but there hasn’t been anybody like Lamar Jackson. The thing about Lamar is there is danger on every snap. This league is full of superstars, but he’s certainly at the top of the list.”

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Raiders’ Derek Carr finally gets a playoff start, but wants more – Las Vegas Raiders Blog

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HENDERSON, Nev. — The slow, relieved smile creeping across his face as he called timeout with two seconds left in overtime Sunday night in front of a raucous Allegiant Stadium crowd that was part rowdy Raider Nation, part cool Vegas lounge act and all parts heart palpitations, said it all.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, in his eighth NFL season and after his 127th career game, was going to play in the postseason. Finally.

It didn’t matter if Daniel Carlson made the 47-yard field-goal attempt to beat the Los Angeles Chargers (the Raiders would be the AFC’s No. 5 seed and travel to the No. 4 seed Cincinnati Bengals if he did) or missed it (the Raiders would be the No. 7 seed and travel to the No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs in that case). Carr and the Raiders were in.

That Carlson drilled it for the Raiders’ record sixth walk-off win of the season, Carr’s 30th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or OT, didn’t only force Las Vegas’ way into the postseason for the second time since 2002, it allowed the Raiders to prevent the rival Chargers, whose defensive end Joey Bosa essentially challenged Carr’s manhood back in Week 4, from advancing to the tournament.

Maybe that relieved smile was more of a “Take that, haters” smirk.

Could you blame him if it was the latter? Carr, the most polarizing figure in franchise history — fans either adore him or loathe him and there is little in between — accomplished personal and team goals with the 35-32 win to improve the Raiders’ record in this extended, oft-hellish 17-game season to 10-7.

“Like my favorite player Kobe [Bryant] said, ‘Job’s not done,'” Carr said after the game.

Indeed, it may just be getting started for a quarterback and team that seemed poised to lose out and undergo a total rebuild — its third in less than a decade — after getting embarrassed 48-9 at Kansas City on Dec. 12 to fall to 6-7. Even more so after Carr’s head-scratching deep ball interception late in regulation at the Cleveland Browns a week and a day later.

But the Raiders rallied to win that game, the first of four straight victories, and now Carr can add playoff QB to a résumé that already includes virtually every passing record in Raiders history, even if he has lost 13 more games than he has won in his career (57-70). His playoff debut will come Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Bengals (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

“Yeah, it’s nice, but don’t forget, we’ve already done it — this is the second time; I just get to play this time,” said Carr, who missed out on the Raiders’ playoff appearance in 2016 after suffering a broken right fibula in the penultimate game of the season.

“For me, it’s an exciting time. Obviously, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was drafted. That’s all I want to do is get to the playoffs and try and win a championship. And the fact that we’re in the tournament, it’s really cool. Again, like I said afterwards, I’m super thankful. I’ve worked my tail off. I’ve prayed that I could experience that one day and I get to. It’s cool.

“But at the same time, my goal wasn’t just to make the playoffs; it was a part of it. But you always have bigger goals and bigger dreams and you’re always trying to achieve more. So, for me, it’s exciting, but still trying to keep that laser focus on the job at hand.”

Only two players remain on the Raiders roster from that 2016 team that finished 12-4 and got thumped at the Houston Texans in a wild-card game — Carr and running back Jalen Richard.

Talk about turnover.

“As a quarterback from [five] years ago to now, he’s way better than what he was back then, even when he was having the MVP talks,” said Richard, who added Carr is both smarter and stronger while laughing. “He loves to flex his arms.

“I hurt for him back in 2016, when he wasn’t able to finish the season the way he wanted to finish it because, again, he was having such a stellar season. Now, he’s coming in [and] he’s glowing. Man, I was so happy for him.”

Carr passed for a career-high 4,804 yards this season, fifth in the league, setting a Raiders record by eclipsing the 4,689 yards Rich Gannon threw for in his 2002 MVP 16-game season.

But Carr’s 3.7% TD percentage was the third-lowest of his career (he had 23 TD passes on a career-high 626 attempts). His 14 interceptions and 13 fumbles were career highs, while the 40 sacks he took were the second-most of his career.

And only Ryan Fitzpatrick (147) and Archie Manning (139) had played more regular-season games than Carr without a playoff appearance … until Carr takes the field in Cincinnati (Jim Zorn is next at 106 and Jeff Blake is at 100).

But to use the maxim Carr uttered the most down the stretch — nobody cares.

Not even with the distractions and adversity the team and QB faced this season, from coach Jon Gruden’s sudden resignation in the wake of his email scandal to Henry Ruggs III‘s high-speed car crash that claimed the life of a 23-year-old woman and her dog to Damon Arnette getting cut after video of him flashing guns and making death threats went viral to Gruden suing the NFL to Nate HobbsDUI arrest.

Not if the franchise motto is “Just win, baby,” right?

“He’s been the same person the whole time, just been weathering adversity year after year, week after week,” tight end Darren Waller said of Carr. “The results may not always have looked the way people have wanted them to, but Derek’s remained the same person and improved as a leader, improved as a player. And now, the results are in our favor. But Derek’s been the same general, the same leader that he’s been his entire career.

“His hair is longer, for sure, but it’s still the same guy.”

Ah, yes, the hair. Carr said he has not had it cut since training camp, the result of a still-standing bet with Pro Bowl punter AJ Cole.

“This is honestly just because he said I’ll give up,” Carr said. “I think this is a perfect segue … we didn’t give up this season. Just because he told me I’d quit is the only reason my hair hasn’t been cut since training camp. If that tells you a little bit about me and how I feel — we didn’t quit.

“Lord knows there’s been many of times I’ve gone home after talking to you all, and your human emotions are just like ‘Why do I even do this?’ And you instantly remind yourself of the reasons why you do it. … I’ve been waiting for eight years to make the playoffs.”



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NFL wild-card round playoff game picks, schedule guide, bold predictions, odds, injuries, matchup keys and more

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The NFL wild-card round for the 2021 season is stacked with great matchups, and we got you covered with what you need to know heading into the six-game weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and, of course, final score picks.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. Matt Bowen picks out a key matchup to watch for every game, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded weekend of NFL playoff football.

Let’s get into the full wild-card slate, including Joe Burrow and Derek Carr doing battle on Saturday to kick things off, the Patriots and Bills meeting for a third time, Tom Brady attempting to start yet another run to the Super Bowl against the Eagles, Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons facing off on Sunday afternoon and Ben Roethlisberger trying to keep, what could potentially be his final season, alive against the Chiefs. It all culminates with a Monday Night Football matchup between the Cardinals and the Rams on ESPN.

Jump to a matchup:
LV-CIN | NE-BUF | PHI-TB
SF-DAL | PIT-KC | ARI-LAR

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
46.3 | Spread: CIN -5.5 (48.5)

What to watch for: This game could be decided early. The Raiders need pass-rushers Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue to fluster Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who is currently in the best form of his young career. If Cincinnati goes up early and Burrow finds his rhythm, it could be a long day for a Raiders’ offense that was tied for 18th in yards per drive during their four-game win streak. Both teams will want this one badly; it’s the first playoff meeting in NFL history between teams who are each at least 18 years removed from their last postseason win, per the Elias Sports Bureau. — Ben Baby

Bold prediction: Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow will have more catches and more TDs than Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase, whose 1,455 receiving yards were the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. Weather will be a factor on Saturday, so the vertical passing game and Chase’s explosiveness could be negatively affected. But that plays into the midrange passing game in which Renfrow — who led Las Vegas in catches (103), receiving yards (1,038) and receiving TDs (9) — excels, especially as the security blanket for quarterback Derek Carr, who is not afraid to check it down. — Paul Gutierrez

Stat to know: Burrow led the NFL in completion percentage (70.4%) and yards per attempt (8.9) this season, the youngest player in NFL history ever to do both in the same season (25). However, he was also sacked 51 times, and of the previous 54 QBs sacked 50 times in a season, none reached the Super Bowl.

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Dan Orlovsky believes the Bengals might have trouble vs. the Raiders if Joe Burrow isn’t protected better by the offensive line.

Bowen’s game-plan key: Look for Bengals running back Joe Mixon to press the ball to the perimeter in what should be a high-volume day for him on Saturday. Read more on E+.

Injuries: Raiders | Bengals

What to know for officiating: This game will feature a matchup of the NFL’s least-penalized team against the third-most penalized team. The Raiders (142) were flagged nearly 70% more frequently than the Bengals (84), and Vegas offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood led the league in false starts (seven). Referee Jerome Boger received his second consecutive playoff assignment after going seven years without one, and his regular-season crew tied for No. 11 in the NFL with an average of 13.3 flags thrown per game. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Carr is 19-13 against the spread as an underdog over the past three seasons. Read more on E+.

Gutierrez’s pick: Raiders 20, Bengals 17
Baby’s pick: Bengals 31, Raiders 17
FPI prediction: CIN, 67.5% (by an average of 6.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: ‘Job’s not done’: Raiders’ Carr finally gets a playoff start, but wants moreBengals poised to end ‘Curse of Bo Jackson’Inside the chaos and weirdness of the 2021 Raiders season


Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
90.7 | Spread: BUF -4 (44)

What to watch for: Can Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen put on a performance like he did in New England a few weeks ago, or will his recent accuracy issues show up? In the last two games of the regular season, Allen completed 49.3% of passes. The Patriots, meanwhile, held opponents to the second-lowest completion percentage in the league this year, only behind the Bills. Plus, Allen has the second-worst completion percentage in freezing game temperatures over the past 15 seasons (50%), so his ability to put together a more complete game at home will go a long way in the outcome. — Alaina Getzenberg

Bold prediction: Brrrrrr. Here’s a bold prediction: They are going to run out of hot chocolate at Highmark Stadium, with temperatures projected to be around 0 degrees. The coldest game the Patriots ever played was a 17-14 home playoff win over the Titans on Jan. 10, 2004, when it was 4 degrees with a wind chill of minus-10. For the Bills, the coldest game in franchise history was Jan. 15, 1994 — a 29-23 playoff win over the Raiders when it was 0 degrees with a wind chill of minus-32. — Mike Reiss

Stat to know: Bills receiver Stefon Diggs has 15 catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns against Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson since 2020. Jackson has only allowed four touchdowns as the nearest defender to all other players combined over the past two seasons, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

Bowen’s game-plan key: In the Week 16 win over the Patriots, the Bills played man on 61% of coverage snaps against Patriots QB Mac Jones, while also using late rotation from the safeties. Jones was 14-of-32 for 145 yards and two interceptions. Read more on E+.

Injuries: Patriots | Bills

What to know for officiating: The Bills were the NFL’s fourth-most penalized team (139), led by offensive linemen tackle Dion Dawkins (nine) and Spencer Brown (eight). The Patriots ranked No. 8 (105). And referee Brad Allen’s regular season ranked No. 10 in the NFL with an average of 13.4 flags thrown per game. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Rookie quarterbacks are 0-6 outright in the postseason since 2010 (2-4 against the spread). The past three rookie QBs to reach the playoffs went 0-3 against the spread and outright. Read more on E+.

Reiss’ pick: Bills 20, Patriots 17
Getzenberg’s pick: Bills 17, Patriots 13
FPI prediction: BUF, 61.6% (by an average of 3.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Is this Belichick’s best coaching job with the Patriots?Brothers Stefon and Trevon continue to push each other to further heightsJones’ play sparks questions about rookie wall as Patriots enter playoffsTop moments from the Patriots-Bills rivalryBills, Patriots enter their first playoff matchup in 58 years on different paths


Sunday, 1 p.m. ET | FOX
Matchup rating:
68.8 | Spread: TB -8.5 (46)

What to watch for: The Buccaneers have boasted the league’s top-ranked run defense the past two years but have looked vulnerable in that department the past two weeks, giving up over 100 yards on the ground in each of the last two regular-season games. Pay close attention to the perimeter, where Eagles running back Miles Sanders is dangerous with his lateral quickness. The Eagles average 6.0 yards per carry, and the Bucs have given up 4.6 yards a pop. They also had issues defending run-pass options last week, and coach Bruce Arians acknowledged that Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts “is a lot faster than Sam Darnold.” Much will depend on how much Tampa Bay can get out of defensive starters Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David. — Jenna Laine

Bold prediction: It will take a late scoring drive by Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady for the Bucs to survive and advance. Sure, this is Hurts’ first playoff start and Brady’s 46th (Hurts was just three years old when Brady made his postseason debut during the 2001 season). And yes, the defending champion Bucs are heavy favorites. But Tampa Bay doesn’t have the same firepower on offense as it did in a Week 6 win over Philly, while the Eagles have established a new run-heavy identity (league-high 159.7 rush yards per game). The underdog Eagles will play loose, physical and inspired football and put a scare into the GOAT. — Tim McManus

Stat to know: According to ESPN tracking, Brady was pressured on 16.8% of his dropbacks this season, his lowest since 2011, and has averaged 2.5 seconds from snap to release. The Eagles have blitzed 19% of the time (lowest in the NFL), sacked opponents 4.5% of the time (third-worst) and pressured opponents 27% of the time (seventh-worst).

Bowen’s game-plan key: The Buccaneers have been Cover 3-heavy this season (31.2% of coverage snaps), but will they match up in passing situations or use a linebacker to re-route Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert — who has five or more receptions in four of his past six games — at the line of scrimmage? Read more on E+.

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Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth break down whether the Eagles have any advantage against the Buccaneers in Sunday’s wild-card matchup.

Injuries: Eagles | Buccaneers

What to know for officiating: Referee Craig Wrolstad, whose regular-season crew ranked No. 9 in the NFL with 13.8 flags thrown per game, received his first playoff appearance in five years here. Roughing the passer flags are generally thrown by the referee, and Wrolstad tied for the league’s second-most such calls (12). The Eagles and Buccaneers, however, were only called for three roughing flags apiece during the season. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Philadelphia is 10-1 against the spread as a postseason underdog since 2001 (6-5 outright), and it covered in five of its past six playoff games. Read more on E+.

McManus’ pick: Buccaneers 31, Eagles 30
Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 31, Eagles 26
FPI prediction: TB, 77.4% (by an average of 9.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: What makes Eagles quarterback Hurts tick? ‘He wants to be so perfect’Sherman put on injured reserve, shifts focus to ‘coaching butt off’ for BuccaneersBrady revisits snub of Foles’ handshake ahead of rematch vs. Eagles, says ‘I try to be a good sport’


Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
79.5 | Spread: DAL -3 (51)

What to watch for: These storied rivals are meeting in the postseason for the first time since the 1994 NFC Championship — and for the first time in the wild-card round. The Cowboys own a 5-2 advantage in postseason meetings against San Francisco and are 3-0 in wild-card games at AT&T Stadium. They can’t allow the Niners’ run game to control the tempo of the contest and need big plays on offense. San Francisco allowed 51 pass plays of 20 yards or more during the regular season. — Todd Archer

Bold prediction: San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel will remind everyone that he’s the NFL’s most dangerous multipurpose weapon, going for 200-plus yards from scrimmage. The Cowboys secondary is giving up 6.3 yards after catch per reception this season, second-most in the NFL, while Samuel is first in the league in gaining those yards (10.0). Add in Samuel’s ability to create havoc from the backfield against a Dallas defense susceptible to the run (especially on the perimeter), and Samuel is well-positioned for a big day. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is 7-0 when he doesn’t throw an interception this season and 2-6 when he does. Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs led the NFL with 11 interceptions, which was the most by any player since Everson Walls (11) in 1981.

Bowen’s game-plan key: Watch for Dallas to manipulate zone looks by overloading them and creating boundary voids. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott posted 30 explosive play throws against zone coverages during the regular season. Read more on E+.

Injuries: 49ers | Cowboys

What to know for officiating: Alex Kemp will be the referee in his second playoff game, and his regular-season crew ranked No. 8 in the NFL with an average of 14.4 flags thrown per game. He could have his hands full with the Cowboys, who were the league’s most penalized team with 153 flags — 10 more than the next-closest team. Among other players, guard Connor Williams led the league in holding calls (13) and was second overall with 15 total penalties. Cornerback Trevon Diggs had 11 total penalties. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Dallas was 10-3 against the spread as a favorite this season, the best cover percentage in those spots in the NFL. It also went 6-3 against the spread against teams with winning records this season, best among teams playing this weekend. Read more on E+.

Wagoner’s pick: 49ers 30, Cowboys 21
Archer’s pick: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27
FPI prediction: DAL, 64.0% (by an average of 4.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Why the blocks of 49ers tackle Williams went viralBrothers Stefon and Trevon continue to push each other to further heightsGaroppolo ‘could have easily tapped out,’ instead he ‘stepped up’Can Cowboys’ Parsons follow Kearse’s footsteps all the way to the Super Bowl?


Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
61.1 | Spread: KC -13 (46)

What to watch for: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a career QBR of 91.9 against the Steelers, higher than against any other opponent. Sure, it’s only two games, including one in 2018. But if the Steelers allow Mahomes to do as he pleases — he has nine TD passes with zero interceptions in the two games — Pittsburgh’s path to victory appears non-existent. The Steelers have lost three straight playoff games, giving up an average of 43.0 points in those games. — Adam Teicher

Bold prediction: The Steelers will make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. They got blown out in the regular-season meeting three weeks ago and trailed 23-0 at halftime. This time around, though, the Steelers are playing with house money. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even said his club probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs and that they’re 14th out of the 14 teams in the playoffs. But even when they can’t get off to a fast start, the Steelers have had success in second-half surges. The Chiefs have more talent, but the Steelers have the momentum after two straight wins and will make this game closer than it should be. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris had 1,200 rushing yards this season — a team rookie record — and at least 90 rushing yards in three of his past five games after doing so three total times in the first 12 games of season.

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Louis Riddick breaks down the keys to success for the Steelers to upset the Chiefs on wild-card weekend.

Bowen’s game-plan key: Look for the Chiefs to get tight end Travis Kelce involved a lot, using flood concepts and over routes. Read more on E+.

Injuries: Steelers | Chiefs

What to know for officiating: Two Steelers — receiver Dionte Johnson and offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor — tied for second in the league in false starts (six), but Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones tied for third in the NFL with a total of seven defensive offsides, encroachment or neutral zone infractions. And the Steelers might want to target Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who tied for second in the NFL with five defensive pass interference penalties. Referee Shawn Smith’s regular-season crew tied for No. 11 in the NFL with an average of 13.3 flags thrown per game. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Ten of Kansas City’s 17 games this season went over the total, tied for the second-highest over percentage in the NFL this season. But only six of Pittsburgh’s games went over the total. Read more on E+.

Pryor’s pick: Chiefs 31, Steelers 24
Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 26, Steelers 16
FPI prediction: KC, 75.9% (by an average of 9.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Steelers open 21-day window for Smith-Schuster to return from injured reserveSteadiness of Reid righted the Chiefs’ seasonRoethlisberger on Steelers’ long odds against Chiefs: ‘Let’s just go in and play and have fun’Chiefs have dominated first quarters, but after that ‘they’re stalling out’


Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC
Matchup rating:
83.3 | Spread: LAR -4 (49.5)

What to watch for: The Rams and Cardinals split the regular-season series, each winning on the road. The Cardinals dominated in Week 4 with a 37-20 win, enabled by a flawless Kyler Murray performance and their defense forcing two turnovers that were converted into touchdowns. In Week 14, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald wreaked havoc for Murray when he turned in a three-sack outing. So what can be expected in the rubber match? The Cardinals played their best on the road (8-1), while the Rams are coming off a disheartening loss in the regular-season finale and are intent on proving they can not only move on but also remain a Super Bowl-caliber team. Watch for Murray and Matthew Stafford to enter a quarterback dual, with the one who produces the fewest errors advancing to the divisional round. — Lindsey Thiry

Bold prediction: All signs point to Arizona defensive lineman J.J. Watt returning from shoulder surgery for Monday night’s game, and with him will come a major boost for the Cardinals’ defense. He will get two sacks and a fumble recovery to spark the Cardinals into the divisional round with another road win. Arizona’s defense was generating pressure on 31% of opponent dropbacks before Watt’s Week 7 injury, but that dropped to 23% without him over the rest of the regular season. — Josh Weinfuss

Stat to know: Rams running back Sony Michel has 554 rushing yards since Week 12, the third-most in the NFL over that span behind Rashaad Penny and Jonathan Taylor. But on the other sideline, Cardinals running back James Conner scored 18 touchdowns this season, the NFL’s third-most this season.

Bowen’s game-plan key: Can Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury use play designs to get receiver Christian Kirk loose on the deep corners and crossers? Kirk had three receptions for 86 yards in the last meeting with the L.A. defense. Read more on E+.

Injuries: Cardinals | Rams

What to know for officiating: Clay Martin will be appearing in his second playoff game as a referee, and his regular-season crew ranked No. 13 in the NFL with an average of 12.9 flags thrown per game. The Rams finished the season with the NFL’s third-fewest flags (92), while the Cardinals ranked No. 24 with 120. Offensive lineman Josh Jones led the Cardinals will 12 total flags, including five false starts and four holds. — Kevin Seifert

Betting nugget: Four of the past five meetings between these two teams have gone over the total. Read more on E+.

Weinfuss’ pick: Cardinals 34, Rams 24
Thiry’s pick: Rams 28, Cardinals 21
FPI prediction: LAR, 58.0% (by an average of 2.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Is Murray the best QB from Texas?Safety Weddle unretires, joins Rams for playoffsKingsbury expects Murray to play ‘best game of his career’Rams’ NFC West title spoiled by another bitter loss to 49ers

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NFL wild-card betting nuggets – Tom Brady’s history against the NFC East

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In the regular season, underdogs (53%) and unders (52%) were both profitable. Recently in wild-card weekend, both have been successful. Underdogs are 15-3 ATS in wild-card games over the past four seasons, and since divisional realignment in 2002, unders have come through 60% of the time.

This weekend likely features the biggest underdog in the history of wild-card weekend with the Kansas City Chiefs favored over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh has not been this big of an underdog since Super Bowl XXX in 1995. History is against the Steelers, as double-digit home favorites are 7-0 ATS in the wild-card round.

This week also features two divisional rematches as the New England Patriots visit the Buffalo Bills and the Arizona Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams. Since 2014, underdogs are 7-0 ATS in divisional rematches in the postseason (5-2 outright). Arizona was 6-0 outright as an underdog in the regular season, the best mark in the Super Bowl era.

Regular-season stats

Favorites: 126-140-3 ATS (.474); 169-99-1 SU

Home teams: 129-140-3 ATS (.480); 140-131-1 SU

Unders: 144-125-3 (.535) this season


Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5), Saturday, 4:30 ET

  • Las Vegas was 8-9 ATS this season (9-8 unders). Cincinnati was 10-7 ATS (8-8-1 over/unders).

  • Derek Carr is 19-13 ATS as an underdog over the past three seasons.

  • Las Vegas is 6-1 ATS and 5-2 outright in its past seven games as an underdog of at least five points (since Week 5 of last season).

  • Cincinnati has covered five straight and 10 of its past 12 games against Las Vegas. When these two teams faced off in November, Cincinnati won and covered as two-point favorites, 32-13.

  • Cincinnati has covered three straight games as an underdog (2-1 SU).

  • Cincinnati has lost eight straight playoff games (1-7 ATS) with its last win coming back in 1990. Cincinnati scored 17 or fewer points in each game.

  • Since 2017, teams favored by at least five points in the wild-card round are 1-10 ATS and 5-6 outright.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4), Saturday, 8:15 ET

  • Bill Belichick is 55-29-1 ATS as an underdog with the Patriots, including the playoffs. Belichick is also 5-2 ATS as an underdog against Buffalo.

  • Bill Belichick is 32-18 ATS with less than six days to prepare as New England’s head coach including playoffs. He is 13-2 ATS in that spot since 2016, though he lost outright as a favorite in his last playoff game in that spot (2019 wild-card game vs. Tennessee).

  • New England had a cover margin of +6.18 points per game this season, the best mark in the NFL this season.

  • New England is 8-3 ATS in its past 11 games and 6-2 ATS in its past eight games as a favorite.

  • Bill Belichick is 5-2 ATS with New England as an underdog against Buffalo.

  • Buffalo is favored against New England for the fourth time in their past five meetings after being favored in just one game across their previous 33 meetings.

  • Buffalo is 3-0-1 ATS across its past four games.

  • Rookie quarterbacks are 0-6 outright in the postseason since 2010 (2-4 ATS). The past three rookie quarterbacks to reach the postseason went 0-3 ATS and outright (since 2016).

  • Since 2014, underdogs are 7-0 ATS in divisional rematches in the postseason (5-2 outright).

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-9), Sunday, 1 ET

  • Philadelphia was 8-8-1 ATS this season (10-7 overs). Tampa Bay was 9-8 ATS this season (9-8 overs).

  • Philadelphia is 2-6 ATS against teams with winning records this season (1-7 outright).

  • Since 2001, Philadelphia is 10-1 ATS as a postseason underdog (6-5 outright). Philadelphia has covered in five of its past six playoff games.

  • Tampa Bay is 6-1 ATS in its past seven home games.

  • Tom Brady has covered three straight and six of his past nine playoff games.

  • Tom Brady is 0-5 ATS (2-3 outright) against NFC East opponents in the playoffs.

  • Tom Brady is 2-3 ATS in the wild-card round, including 0-3 ATS in his past three wild-card games (2009, 2019, 2020).

  • Since 2017, teams favored by at least five points in the wild-card round are 1-10 ATS and 5-6 outright.

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3), Sunday, 4:30 ET

  • Dallas is 10-3 ATS (10-3 SU) as a favorite this season, the best cover percentage in the NFL (min. 2 games as favorite).

  • Jimmy Garoppolo is 13-4 ATS in his career as an underdog (12-5 outright) including playoffs.

  • San Francisco is 2-1 outright and ATS as an underdog this season.

  • San Francisco went 7-2 ATS from Week 10 on, tied for the best cover percentage in the NFL over that span.

  • Over the past three seasons, San Francisco is 10-7 (fourth best in NFL) outright and 12-5 ATS (second best in NFL) as an underdog.

  • Mike McCarthy is 11-6-1 ATS in his postseason career, all with Green Bay. He is 4-1-1 ATS in the wild-card round. However, he is 0-5 outright and 2-2-1 ATS against NFC West opponents.

  • Dallas had a cover margin of +5.94 points per game this season, the second-best cover margin in the NFL this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5), Sunday, 8:15 ET

  • The largest spread ever in a wild-card game is 11.5 points. Double-digit favorites are 7-1 outright and ATS in the wild-card round, with double-digit home favorites going 7-0 outright and ATS.

  • Ben Roethlisberger has never been an underdog of 11 or more points in his career. Roethlisberger has been a double-digit underdog just twice, going 0-2 ATS in those games. One of those instances came in Week 16 at home against Kansas City (+10, lost by 26).

  • Pittsburgh has not been at least an 11-point underdog since Super Bowl XXX in the 1995 season against Dallas (+13.5, lost by 10). The next-longest span without being at least an 11-point underdog belongs to Baltimore (2007).

  • There have been four 12-point upsets in the Super Bowl era. The last upset this large was in Super Bowl XLII in 2007 (New York Giants upset New England as 12.5-point underdogs).

  • Ten of Kansas City’s 17 games this season have gone over the total, tied for the second-highest over percentage in the NFL this season.

  • Kansas City went 5-1 outright and ATS against teams with winning records from Week 10 on, the best in the NFL among wild-card teams.

  • This is the second time in Patrick Mahomes’ career that he has been a double-digit favorite in the playoffs (1-0 ATS). He is 6-9 ATS as a double-digit favorite in his career during the regular season.

  • Ben Roethlisberger is 3-1-1 ATS as a road underdog in the playoffs.

  • Since 2017, teams favored by at least five points in the wild-card round are 1-10 ATS and 5-6 outright.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-4), Monday, 8:15 ET on ESPN

  • Arizona is 6-0 ATS and outright as an underdog this season. That is the most outright wins as an underdog in a single season without a loss in the Super Bowl era.

  • Teams to go 2-0 ATS or better as underdogs during the regular season are 15-25-1 as underdogs in the postseason (Arizona: 6-0 ATS as underdog).

  • Arizona was 8-1 outright and ATS on the road this season.

  • Sean McVay is 9-1 ATS against Arizona and 5-1 ATS against Kliff Kingsbury. Los Angeles was favored in all but one of those games (underdogs in past meeting in Week 14).

  • Sean McVay is 17-8-1 ATS with at least seven days between games. Kliff Kingsbury is 8-5 ATS with at least seven days between games (7-2 ATS as underdog).

  • Four of the past five meetings between these two teams have gone over the total.

  • Since 2014, underdogs are 7-0 ATS in divisional rematches in the postseason (5-2 outright).

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