The AFC Wild Card round is shaping up to be just as exciting as over in the NFC and it all kicks off tomorrow afternoon. It was a wild week 18 for almost all of these teams and it came down to the last game of the regular season to decide the playoff matchups in the AFC. After a year of injuries and uncertainty, the Tennessee Titans have earned the number one seed and still have guys coming back. All of these games will be intriguing and it all starts with the AFC beginning the playoffs.
2022 AFC Wild Card Preview
Raiders (6) vs Bengals (3)
Date: Saturday, January 15th
We start Wild Card weekend with a bang as the Las Vegas Raiders go to the jungle to face the Cincinnati Bengals. These two teams faced each other in week 11 as the Bengals cruised to a 32-13 win. The Raiders are looking to avoid that same outcome this time around.
The Raiders have had a very inconsistent year full of controversy surrounding the team but they’ve overcome and won their last four games to get here. Their passing game on offense has been one of the best in the league thanks to Derek Carr‘s connection with Hunter Renfrow. Carr has almost thrown for 5,000 yards as Renfrow is a 1,000-yard receiver. Carr also got back one of the best tight ends in the game with Darren Waller, who’s missed five consecutive games before last Sunday.
To group with the passing game, the Raiders would love for running back Josh Jacobs to get going. He’s had a down year compared to his two previous years but injuries have contributed it to that. All eyes would be on this offense if Jacobs can create a spark for himself. The defense is what the Raiders need to worry about as they go up against a dangerous Bengals offense. They are middle of the pack in giving up yards but they need to limit the Bengals capitalizing on that if they have a chance to make some noise.
Coming into the season, the Bengals didn’t have high expectations but they’ve proved us all wrong. Joe Borrow has been phenomenal this season as he’s thrown for 4,611 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in rookie Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Don’t forget about Tyler Boyd, who’s been sneaky good this season. Running back Joe Mixon has had his best season yet as he’s rushed for 1,205 and 13 touchdowns.
Group all of this together and you have the 7th ranked offense in points scored in the league. Like the Raiders, the Bengals’ defense needs to improve if they want to make a run. This game is set up to be a tough game to call.
Patriots (5) vs Bills (4)
Date: Saturday, January 15th
Being division rivals, they’re pretty familiar with each other in the regular season but you can’t say the same in the playoffs. This is the first time they’ll meet in this capacity in nearly 60 years. This has been a pretty heated rivalry as of late and the stakes being raised like this should make it an all-out war.
This is the first time the New England Patriots enter the playoffs as a Wild Card team since the 1998 season. At one point, New England won seven in a row and it looked like they were going to be division champs yet again but they went on to lose three out of four to end the season. This team bounced back in a big way and quarterback Mac Jones was instrumental in that. In his first season taking the reigns under center, Jones has thrown for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He isn’t flashy but he’ll do whatever is asked of him.
Jones has a nice little receiving core with Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers both getting at least 800 yards receiving. Tight end Hunter Henry has been a reliable threat in the endzone as he’s brought in nine touchdowns. The Patriots have the edge in the run game with Damien Harris rushing for almost 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. They torched the Bills in the run game both times they’ve met this season. The defense has also stepped up for New England as they ranked 2nd in points allowed and pass defense, making them rank 4th in total yards. The Bills can also run the ball so the Patriot’s 22nd rush defense needs to step up.
The Buffalo Bills match up pretty well against the Patriots in this one. Josh Allen has tapered off a little but he was playing like an MVP early on in the season. He’s a dual-threat quarterback but inconsistent at times. Allen threw for almost 4,500 yards and 36 touchdowns but has also has run for 763 yards and six touchdowns. Having Stefon Diggs brought over from the Vikings a couple of years ago made this Allen and this team even better. Diggs went over 1,200 yards yet again and still has more to prove in the playoffs.
The Bills rushing attack is ranked sixth in the league so that bodes well against this Patriots run defense. Ranking 7th in total yards is great if you can turn them into points and that’s what Buffalo does, ranking 3rd in points scored. They also control the clock, tiring out the opponent on defense.
The Bills defense also gets a lot of rest from that and it shows, as they’re first in points allowed and passing yards, resulting in being number one in total yards on that side of the ball. The rush defense might be the only “weakness” on this team but even that is better than average. The rubber match between these two teams should come down to the wire.
Steelers (7) vs Chiefs (2)
Date: Sunday, January 16th
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered week 18 needing a win to get into the playoffs. They got an overtime win against the Ravens but they also needed the Raiders vs Chargers game that Sunday night NOT to end in a tie. There were some anxious moments that night as the Raiders and Chargers went to overtime. It came down to a Daniel Carlson field goal with two seconds left to win it for Steeler’s nation to finally catch their breath. Now they get a tough date with one of the best teams in the league on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh has one of the worst offenses in the league. They rank in the bottom half in almost every offensive category. They rank 15th in passing yards and 29th in rushing yards, adding up to 25th in total yards. The Steelers also have trouble converting on third and fourth down. With all signs pointing to this being Ben Roethlisberger‘s last season, fans are hoping he can show out at least one more time and show us why he’s a future Hall of Famer.
If that’s not the case, the defense is going to have to step up in a big way like last season. One guy they can always rely on is T.J. Watt. He leads the league with a whopping 22.5 sacks and that’s with him missing a couple of games. The Steelers are dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed per game with 146.1. They also allow the 20th most points scored per game but a strong part of that defense is the passing game. That defense is ranked 9th in passing yards allowed per game and that’s the Chief’s go-to game.
The Kansas City Chiefs offense is the complete opposite. The Chiefs surprisingly started the season 3-4 and didn’t look good on either side of the ball. Everyone was starting to question what was wrong with Kansas City but with Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, we knew it wasn’t going to last long. There are still some questions about this defense heading into the AFC Wild Card game with the way they performed in the past couple of games. The defense ranks 24th overall in yards allowed per game but is one of the best teams in the league in not letting the opponent capitalize on it.
Where this defense lacks, this offense makes up for it in a big way. Mahomes has thrown for almost 5,000 yards and 37 touchdowns while throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, two 1000-yard receivers. Clyde Edwards-Helaire came back for a short time but missed the last two games and will again against the Steelers because of a shoulder injury. The first time these two teams met up, the Chiefs dominated with a 36-10 victory. Many expect the same outcome but here’s to hoping the Steelers have something up their sleeve to at least make it a competitive game.