Hey, it’s Moneyline Mo, the man in the know and we have four weeks of playoff football to go. I officially went 167-104-1 in the regular season, but sadly never hit my goal of a 16-0 week. However, I did have three weeks where I got 13 wins and when it comes to the playoffs, THAT is the goal…achieving 13 wins. We have six games in the Wild Card round, four in the divisional round, two conference championships and one league championship. Maybe you did the math while reading that sentence, but if not, it all adds up to 13. Now typically, 13 is an unlucky number, but it was good to me this season and now I have no choice but to strive for it.

As we survey the 14 teams in contention this year, half of them weren’t in the playoffs last year, which is just a reflection that out of all sports, football is the best at parity. And for a number of teams that didn’t make it in the playoffs this year, we now get the sideshow of those teams firing and hiring new coaches and GMs. I’m sad to see my guy Slick Vic Fangio go and to see Matt Nagy depart after his years of confident ineptitude. Here’s hoping whoever is next for Chicago is just as misguided in their approach to the game.

If you waited until the playoffs to follow along with my picks, welcome aboard! For the die-hard Mo-heads out there, thank you for reading every week and hopefully using my guidance and expertise for good. And now, folks, the playoffs…

SATURDAY

CINCINNATI OVER LAS VEGAS
I think I deserve credit for my projection last week that Los Angeles versus Las Vegas would be a wild game and that the teams could have found themselves in a position where a tie might be the best outcome. I’m a “share the wealth” kind of guy (often to my own detriment), so if I was in that position I absolutely would have played for the tie. Forget the “trolley problem” scenario, “what would you do if you were coaching Las Vegas-Los Angeles” should be the next mainstream thought experiment.

I love the controversy that will forever surround that game…if Brandon Staley hadn’t called timeout, would that have increased the likelihood of Las Vegas settling for a tie to guarantee them both a spot? With the injuries that happened during the game, would it have been better for both teams to have played it safe and kneeled it the entire time? Did the league office intervene and try to influence them to not play for a tie since it was the nationally broadcast regular season finale? There’s enough there for an Oliver Stone movie! One thing is for sure, the Los Angeles-Las Vegas matchup is a slam dunk Sunday or Monday night opener next season.

I don’t think there’s any way it would be the banner-unveiling Thursday night opener, because I think this will be the end of the road for Las Vegas. I wrote them off multiple times during the season, but they managed to hang in there and prove me wrong time and time again. To me, that just says I’m overdue in being right. I think Rich Bisaccia deserves to have the interim tag removed and get a full season as head coach of the team after the job he’s done keeping them together. And I’m thrilled for Derek Carr that he’s finally in line to be a playoff participant. I know Cincinnati is a preferred opponent rather than Kansas City, who they would have faced in the tie scenario, but I think this team has accomplished all they can for this season.

In fact, I think there’s potential for Cincinnati to make a run like Jacksonville a few years ago, where they go all the way to the conference championship game. The fans in Cincinnati haven’t seen their team win a playoff game in over 30 years, so for their sake I really hope that Cincinnati gets the win. I mean, I also think that Cincinnati is the better team overall, but I’d also be happy for their fans. No matter who wins the game, it makes me happy that either Cincinnati or Las Vegas will be in the second round of the playoffs. If only there was a way they could tie this game and both advance…

BUFFALO OVER NEW ENGLAND
I don’t love divisional opponents playing each other in the first round of the playoffs, but I’m willing to make an exception this time around for both this game and the Monday night contest between Los Angeles and Arizona. This matchup is exciting for the possibility of another cold weather game in Buffalo with the potential for snow on Saturday night. Unlike the first game, I’m certain that New England will throw the ball more than three times and I’m bold enough to make that a Moneyline Mo Guarantee (patent pending).

I think New England has been a nice story this year and is further proof that Bill Belichick is a coaching genius. However, we all know Buffalo is the real contender between the two teams and they have the home field advantage for this game. I think it probably will be close, but I’d be willing to bet a whole Picasso’s Pizza for a slice of Pizzeria Regina that Buffalo will advance to the second round of the playoffs. Any takers?

SUNDAY

TAMPA BAY OVER PHILADELPHIA
This one is a harder call than you might think. I know Tampa Bay is an obvious pick as the defending champions, but they’ve been hit with injuries and controversies over the past few weeks. Out of all the teams in the playoffs this year, Philadelphia is probably the most mysterious, as I don’t think a national audience has seen what they do successfully. In the last chance to see them ahead of the playoffs, they rested a bunch of starters and played very conservatively Saturday night against Dallas.

Whatever the case, I give a lot of credit to Nick Siriani and Philadelphia for washing off the stink of how they ended last season. I thought for sure the second half rest in the final game of the regular season would have a lasting karmic effect on the team, but they somehow seem to have exorcised that haunt by firing Doug Pederson, even though he probably was acting in the best interests of their general manager. Beyond making the playoffs, they also officially will have a first-round draft pick from Indianapolis after the playing time conditions of the Carson Wentz trade were met. Plus, they have quite a bit of dead money coming off the salary cap for next season, so they could be a team to keep your eye on for the next couple years.

It would be one hell of a shakeup if Philadelphia could pull this one off and I think there might even be shades of last year’s Tampa Bay/Washington playoff game. Don’t be shocked if Philadelphia is up at halftime! In the end though, I think Tampa Bay being at home will help them overcome the injuries, at least for this game.

SAN FRANCISCO OVER DALLAS
I’m calling this one the Jim Tomsula Bowl. A showdown between two teams that employed and fired Jim Tomsula. Is that a stretch? Absolutely. But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get Jim Tomsula’s name back out in the zeitgeist with the hope that he lands on a coaching staff next season. I know he’s not hurting for money after San Francisco paid him $14 million for the one season he served as a head coach, but the league is better when he’s employed.

I’m so glad that San Francisco made the playoffs over New Orleans because I think they can be a very exciting team. The offensive gameplan for San Francisco is simple. Get the ball in Deebo Samuel’s hands. If he needs a breather, get the ball to George Kittle. And when he needs a breather as well, run the ball. And if Deebo Samuel is good to go, have him run the ball as well. For all the talk about Jimmy Garoppolo, I think as long as you don’t ask him to do too much, all the winning pieces are in place around him, he just needs to get them the ball.

Dallas has performed so much better than I thought they would this year, but in my heart I’ve always believed that it is only a matter of time before the other shoe drops on them. And I think that drop is coming this week. Whether it’s an ill-advised challenge by Mike McCarthy, misuse of timeouts or an inability to adjust, I think he’s his own worst enemy in a big spot. And one thing I hadn’t considered is with all the Kellen Moore hype during the broadcasts of Dallas games, that must be coming in large part from Dallas, and we know with that organization it all trickles down from Jerry Jones. So now the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if these are breadcrumbs he’s put out and that if Dallas fails in a spectacular way in the playoffs, Jones will be ready to move on from McCarthy and replace him with Moore. Something to keep an eye in the aftermath of this game or the inevitable heartbreaking playoff loss for Dallas.

KANSAS CITY OVER PITTSBURGH
This is the only game of the weekend that I view as a certainty. Pittsburgh has played ugly all year and are lucky to be in the playoffs. I questioned even playing Ben Roethlisberger last week because the idea of Pittsburgh making the postseason was so absurd to me. However, they are here, so we must deal with one last game for him. Somehow, Pittsburgh has had a nationally broadcast game on every network channel over the past month, so the widespread adoration of Ben Roethlisberger has been nauseating to listen to.

These teams just played each other the day after Christmas, where Kansas City won that contest 36-10. Pittsburgh didn’t score in the first half and were trailing 23-0 at halftime. They turned the ball over three times. Sure, Pittsburgh won their final two games after the loss to Kansas City, but this would be one of the all-time shockers if Pittsburgh won this game or even were within one possession at the end of it. It’s bizarre to have this be the final game on Sunday, but I’m certain it will be the final game for Ben Roethlisberger. Will Maurkice Pouncey be in attendance so he can sit with Ben on the bench after the game? If I’m Kansas City, I would fly him in and give him tickets to the game, but have them be the same seats Jordan Love’s girlfriend and mother had this season.

MONDAY

LOS ANGELES OVER ARIZONA
It’s the first ever Monday night playoff game and I think this will be the best game of the wild card round. Two divisional opponents that have superstar players and wunderkind head coaches, but also have shown the inability to get out of their own damn ways. Even the fact that they are playing each other this week is because both teams lost to divisional opponents in Week 18. Los Angeles couldn’t hold San Francisco and Arizona lost their chance to win the division by losing to a Seattle team that was only playing for pride after a disastrous year.

For how much Los Angeles has invested in this season, the funnier outcome would be for them to be knocked out in the first round. However, I think Matthew Stafford will get his first playoff win and they’ll advance to the next round. Whether it is Los Angeles or Arizona in that next round, I do feel like the Monday night game is a big disadvantage to put a playoff team through. Because of it being a 4/5 seed matchup, we will know going into the game who the winner will face, and it won’t impact the other divisional matchup, so that at least is a fair way of going about it if you are going to have a Monday game. But I think for sure that the winner should then get to play the divisional round game on Sunday. If they need to turn around and go from playing on Monday to then playing on Saturday, that is a huge misfire by the league. I want to give the league the benefit of the doubt, but in addition to making picks this season, I’ve griped about the construction of the schedule almost every week, so I don’t have a lot of hope in them to do the right thing. We shall see!

Enjoy the six-pack of games and if you’re a Packers fan like myself, let’s hope this is the only stress-free week of the playoffs where Green Bay doesn’t play.

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