One of the best parts about Pickwatch is that it gives fans direct access to the very best experts around the web, and even allows them the ability to aggregate and analyze their opinions.
To that end, for the 2022 NFL Playoffs, we're bringing some of those best experts to you for a roundtable discussion. This week, we have some great guests:
- John Breech of CBS Sports, on Twitter @JohnBreech
- Christian D'Andrea of For The Win and The Post Route, on Twitter @TrainIsland
- Josh Katzowitz of Pickwatch Pro and Forbes, on Twitter @JoshKatowitz
Which "Surprising" Playoff Team (Philadelphia Eagles, Las Vegas Raiders Pittsburgh Steelers) Has the Best Chance to Have an Extended Playoff Run?
John Breech: I'm automatically going to take the Steelers off this list because I give them about a 0.0% chance of beating the Kansas City Chiefs. Actually, let's change that to 0.1% because this is the playoffs and anything can happen, so I can't completely rule out an upset. That being said, out of these three teams, I think the Eagles have the best chance of an extended playoff run. The Eagles obviously aren't the most talented team in the postseason, but they did lead the NFL in rushing, which is huge, because if they can run the ball in the playoffs, that will give them the ability to shorten the game, which gives you a better shot of beating more talented teams.
I didn't mention the Raiders here, but maybe I should have because they get to open the postseason against a team that hasn't won a playoff game in 31 years.
Josh Katzowitz: Once every four years, it seems, the Eagles become a team of destiny. And maybe now that the Eagles are winning games and Quarterback Jalen Hurts is barely avoiding getting injured when a stadium falls apart around him and the running game has come alive, it's time for the Eagles to surprise the league again, kind of like what Nick Foles did in 2017. Playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who suddenly aren't looking that great, might be the best opponent for Philadelphia to kick-start an impromptu run.
Christian D'Andrea: Give me the Raiders, in part because I believe in QB Derek Carr and feel like he won't waste his first playoff start in an eight-year career. Las Vegas has overcome a ton to get here, both on and off the field. The Raiders defense isn't good, but it's light years better than it has been recently. They'll probably still give up a few big plays to Bengals QB Joe Burrow, but I'm absolutely not betting against a Carr comeback.
Plus, drawing a Bengals team with a shaky head coach and a history of implosions in 2021—giving up 40+ to the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers, losing to the New York Jets—gives Vegas the best chance at being able to win even with a B+ performance.
Which favorite is the most susceptible to getting an early upset and why?
John Breech: To me, the answer here feels like the Dallas Cowboys. Their 12-5 record is a little deceiving because they racked up six of those wins against pisional opponents. In non-pision games, they were just 6-5. Not to mention, they've basically been struggling on offense for about six weeks and scoring 51 points against the Eagles' backups doesn't make me feel any better about them. Also, the defense has been giving up an average of 130 yards per game on the ground since Week 9 and that's not an ideal number when you'll be opening the postseason against a team that loves to run the ball in the San Francisco 49ers.
Katzowitz: Tampa Bay really seems to be living on the edge these days. It's a strange thing to say for a team that has won seven of its last eight games, but having to really stretch to beat the Jets in Week 17 and then letting the Carolina Panthers hang around for far too long in Week 18—it just gives me shaky vibes. The Eagles are playing well. The Buccaneers are playing meh. It would not surprise me to see Philadelphia pull the upset. Besides, QB Tom Brady's playoff dominance can't last forever, right?
D'Andrea: While I do like the Raiders' chances, it's gotta be the Los Angeles Rams, right? They already have a 17-point loss to the Cardinals on their resume and while they won the rematch they were also outgained by nearly 100 yards in the process. QB Matthew Stafford has vacated all the early-season momentum he once had and LA is coming off a game where it blew a 17-0 lead to another NFC West rival at home in a high stakes environment. Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald and Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp can only do so much when their quarterback's trend line has been going downhill.
Which Young QB (Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Mac Jones) is most ready for the Big Stage of a playoff game?
John Breech: Burrow. He played on the big stage in college and was highly successful. Plus, Burrow has already beaten three of the other six teams in the AFC playoff field (Steelers x 2, Chiefs, Raiders), so he'll have plenty of confidence going into each game.
Katzowitz: You've got to figure it's Burrow. He's been on the biggest stage before, winning a national championship with LSU, and he's coming off the best season by a Bengals quarterback in at least 17 years. Burrow is the real deal, and he'll lead Cincinnati to its first playoff win since the Houston Oilers and the Los Angeles Raiders were real things. Better yet, there can't be much pressure on him. He had such a fantastic season that even if he fails in the first round of his first playoffs, he'd still only be 20% of the way to an Andy Dalton level of postseason ineptitude.
D'Andrea: It's Burrow, who has proven he can be a championship quarterback with a supercharged wide receiver corps. He did it with Ja'Marr Chase at LSU in 2019 and can do it again against an improved Raiders secondary, but still one liable to be gashed for big gains. Particularly on fourth down, if Week 18's game against the Chargers has taught us anything. Burrow has been a football lunatic as of late, throwing for 971 yards and eight touchdowns in his last two starts. He probably can't keep that pace, but he should still put up big numbers against Las Vegas.
What is the most underrated unit/position group/trend that people are overlooking from this playoff field?
John Breech: As a guy who spends 50% of my life talking about kickers, I'm going to say kickers. Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby had an ugly year and that will be something to watch when the Packers play in the pisional round. Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein has also been struggling, hitting just 87.5% of his extra points, which was the second-lowest rate this year for any kicker who attempted 20 or more. The Tennessee Titans' Randy Bullock and the Buccaneers' Ryan Succop are other kickers who have struggled at times, so it won't be surprising if we see a missed kick decide a game or two.
Katzowitz: I think people are overlooking the 49ers in general, probably because hardly anybody believes in Jimmy G., but San Francisco's pass rush has been hot. In Weeks 13-15, the 49ers averaged 28 pressures on opposing quarterbacks, and in the last three weeks, they've accumulated 12 total sacks. It's not just Nick Bosa. Arik Armstead, Samson Ebukam and D.J. also play a significant role. The way this unit has played in the second half of the season, the Cowboys should beware.
D'Andrea: I have high hopes for the Packer defense that's been the team's fatal flaw in each of the last two postseasons. Green Bay is still lousy against the run, but De'Vondre Campbell has been worth roughly 10 times what he's being paid and capable of filling holes up front. The pass rush will get a boost with Za'Darius Smith's return, giving it a four-headed monster of Smith, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Kenny Clark up front. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry will get a little extra license to blitz with Jaire Alexander back in the lineup to put opposing WR1s on an island. He, Eric Stokes, and a rejuvenated Rasul Douglas (a 44.1 passer rating in coverage!) could make the Packers' passing defense the star of the show en route to the team's first Super Bowl appearance in more than a decade.