Hot rivalries spice NFL’s wild-card weekend

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer

Not only do NFL fans get three night games to savor during wild-card weekend, but they also can revel in the rivalries.

AFC East foes New England and Buffalo, who split victories on the road during the season. NFC West opponents Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams, who also went 1-1 against each other.

Plus San Francisco and Dallas rekindling one of the great postseason series of bygone days, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.

“I’m damn fired up, man,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Are you kidding me? The early ’90s Dallas-Niners, some of the championship games, for me, coming up and watching those ones, I can hear (John) Madden and (Pat) Summerall talking it through. My first Dallas and Niner playoff game, I’m pretty fired up to do it man. It’s exciting.”

It’s also a difficult matchup to handicap. The Cowboys are the more dynamic side, and the 49ers are the more physical group. Dallas prefers to face opponents built more in its image, and San Francisco most definitely isn’t.

Dallas has some big-time playmakers on defense who will need to clamp down on All-Pro Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and a solid rushing attack. If All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs can work his magic with an interception and DeMarcus Lawrence can get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, the Cowboys could be in business.

But the Niners are more powerful in the trenches.

The 49ers, ranked 10th in the AP Pro32, needed a brilliant rally and overtime against the Rams — talk about archrivals — just to make the playoff field. The No. 5 Cowboys cruised through the NFC East, but have endured enough inconsistency to make you wonder about their staying power.

Dallas is a 3 1/2-point favorite at home. Sounds about right.

COWBOYS, 23-20

No. 14 Pittsburgh (plus 12 1/2) at No. 3 Kansas City, Sunday

Even Ben Roethlisberger admits the Steelers are 14th out of 14 playoff teams. The Chiefs might be the best.


No. 11 New England (plus 4) at No. 8 Buffalo, Saturday

There’s something unreliable about the Bills this season, indicating a short playoff stay. Like one game.


No. 12 Las Vegas (plus 5 1/2) at No. 7 Cincinnati, Saturday

Are we the only ones wondering why the Raiders are playing in the first game of the weekend? After such a physically and emotionally exhausting path into the postseason culminating with that wild Sunday night overtime victory against the Chargers? Now traveling east and into the cold weather?

BENGALS, 26-17

No. 13 Philadelphia (plus 8 1/2) at No. 2 Tampa Bay, Sunday

Philly went 0-6 against playoff teams, yet made its way into the playoffs. The 2022 season looks very promising for the Eagles. Sunday does not.


No. 9 Arizona (plus 3) at No. 6 Los Angeles Rams, Monday night

The most mystifying of the six contests. If the Cardinals can put pressure on Matthew Stafford, they could pull it off.

RAMS, 20-19