Fourteen teams. One dream.
One more chance for Tom Brady to repeat for the second time and hoist his eighth Lombardi Trophy.
One matchup in Super Bowl 2022 above all others that would break the Internet: Brady versus Bill Belichick.
One GOAT versus another.
Here’s what the Serby Crystal Ball sees:
SUPER WILD CARD ROUND
Las Vegas Raiders (5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4)
Rich Bisaccia force feeds Josh Jacobs as early and as often as he can because his best chance is to mimic the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV blueprint against the Jim Kelly Bills is to keep Joe Burrow and his three amigos (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd) off the field.
No playoff jitters for Burrow, or for Derek Carr in his maiden playoff game. Defensive tackle B.J. Hill, dedicating the game to Dave Gettleman, the man who drafted him, helps Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, and eventually makes Carr one-dimensional. A touchdown to Hunter Renfrow, a touchdown to Darren Walker, nothing much else.
Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley doesn’t let Joe Mixon, who gashed him in November, rumble in the jungle and defensive end Maxx Crosby is once again Burrow’s worst nightmare. But Burrow hits Chase and Higgins with TD bombs, and Eli Apple, dedicating the game to Jerry Reese — the man who drafted him — seals the deal with a fourth-quarter Pick 6.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Raiders 20. Burrow lights up the postgame cigar and leads the dancing to “Get the Gat”, following the franchise’s first playoff win in 31 years.
New England Patriots (6) at Buffalo Bills (3)
Sean McDermott has made it clear that he didn’t come to Buffalo to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. Temperatures for this cold-blooded grudge rubber match will be hovering near zero at kickoff.
It’s Tyler Bass versus Nick Folk early. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier loads up against Damien Harris and makes Mac Jones one-dimensional. Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tries the Kendrick Bourne-to-Nelson-Agholor trickeration that resulted in a 25-yard Week 7 touchdown against the Jets, but Micah Hyde isn’t fooled, and intercepts the pass in the end zone.
But a 35-yard fleaflicker TD to Jonnu Smith gives the Pats a lead before Josh Allen (6 touchdowns, 7 interceptions in cold-weather games), having already run for 80 yards, behind an offensive lineman that frustrates Matt Judon, hits Dawson Knox on a seam route and then Stefon Diggs against J.C. Jackson on a slant for a 14-yard TD in the final minute, and ding dong, the Wicked Witch of the AFC East is dead again.
Prediction: Bills 26, Patriots 23. No Belichick versus Brady Super Bowl.
Philadelphia Eagles (7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)
For the express purpose of distracting Tom Brady, Antonio Brown sneaks past security and begins prancing bare-chested on the visiting sideline before they escort him out. Jalen Hurts’ RPOs and Miles Sanders and Boston Scott running wide help keep Brady on the sideline for long stretches, but not long enough. Darius Slay limits Mike Evans, but Brady hits Rob Gronkowski twice for touchdowns and Tyler Johnson for a third, before DeVonta Smith hauls in a TD prayer from Hurts for the late backdoor cover.
Prediction: Bucs 28, Eagles 20. No Philly Special to stun Brady this time.
San Francisco 49ers (6) at Dallas Cowboys (3)
The cameras catch Robert Saleh in the stands holding up an “all gas, no breaks” sign. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knows that his former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will try to play Bully Ball, and Deebo Samuel should be good for 130 yards receiving and rushing, and probably a TD. And George Kittle is always a problem. And all the pressure is on the home team. And with left tackle Tyron Smith banged up, Fred Warner helps contain Ezekiel Elliott. But Dak Prescott sprays the ball around to CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper and Cedric Wilson and Dalton Schultz against a vulnerable secondary before Nick Bosa can get to him. And Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence make life miserable enough for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw two interceptions to Trevon Diggs.
Prediction: Cowboys 26, 49ers 24. Star Wars, for 60 minutes.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)
Ben Roethlisberger was the first to tell everyone that his team has no chance. The Terrible Towelers will be the first to remind everyone that no one gave Rocky a chance against Apollo Creed. A young Big Ben might have relished a shootout against Patrick Mahomes, but the current iteration requires a monster game from Najee Harris running and catching, plus T.J. Watt and Cameron Hayward keeping Mahomes from slinging the ball all over the place to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Big Ben is a proud old gladiator, but he’s ill-equipped to play catch-up. Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepts Mahomes to position Ben for a 10-yard TD pass to Diontae Johnson, and it isn’t a blowout this time only because Hill (heel) isn’t his dynamic, explosive self.
Prediction: Chiefs 28, Steelers 17. Appearing soon on the Manning Cast, Big Ben.
Arizona Cardinals (5) at Los Angeles Rams (4)
J.J. Watt (shoulder) makes an inspirational return as Chandler Jones’ partner-in-crime and forces a struggling Matthew Stafford to throw a Pick 6 to Budda Baker. James Conner (rib) toughs it out, but it is a magical Kyler Murray who keeps Aaron Donald from wrecking the game. He hits Zach Ertz for the early lead, before Odell Beckham Jr. makes a Helmet Catch for a touchdown and Cooper Kupp scores one with his 18th catch of the night.
Prediction: Rams 24, Cardinals 23. DeAndre Hopkins would have made the difference.
Cincinnati Bengals (4) at Tennessee Titans (1)
Logan Wilson, meet Derrick Henry. Joe Mixon, meet Jeffery Simmons. Ryan Tannehill plays a clean game, connects with A.J. Brown when he isn’t handing off 30 times to King Henry and keeps Burrow & Co. off the field.
Prediction: Titans 30, Bengals 24. Mike Vrabel — tough coach, tough team.
Buffalo Bills (3) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)
Hill and Kelce combined for 22 catches, 190 yards and 2 TDs in the 2020 AFC Championship game. Mahomes attempted 38 passes and was sacked once. Leslie Frazier’s defense remembers. Unsung hero Levi Wallace makes a huge interception, Devin Singletary juices the ground game and Allen finds Gabriel Davis with a bomb and goes to-to-toe with Mahomes and never blinks.
Prediction: Bills 31, Chiefs 27. Cole Beasley is so excited he promises to get vaccinated.
Los Angeles Rams (4) at Green Bay Packers (1)
Aaron Rodgers’ return to Lambeau Field spooks Stafford, whose wife flings a bratwurst at Shailene Woodley, Rodgers’ girlfriend. Davante Adams beats Jalen Ramsey for a TD but Kupp answers by beating Jaire Alexander. OBJ makes a one-hand catch falling backwards in the snow but Rasul Douglas intercepts Stafford late and Rodgers hits Aaron Jones with a perfect wheel route TD pass. A video of Hub Arkush booing from wherever he is goes viral.
Prediction: Packers 31, Rams 24. Rodgers vows that he won’t boycott the NFC Championship game.
Dallas Cowboys (3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)
Bones Fassel orders a successful onsides kick to start the game, and every time Brady marches into the red zone, a shirtless Antonio Brown is waving his arms in the stands behind the end zone to distract him. The Bucs’ offensive linemen contains Parsons, Lawrence and Randy Gregory, Vita Vea makes Prescott one-dimensional and Brady launches a TD bomb in the final minute to Cyril Grayson — who else? — to send Jerry Jones home again too soon.
Prediction: Bucs 33, Cowboys 27. Brady can smell the Super Bowl.
Buffalo Bills (3) at Tennessee Titans (1)
A rematch of the Music City Miracle that robbed the Bills in the 1999 AFC wild-card game. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll helps his head coach stock by calling a tackle-eligible TD pass to Dion Dawkins, and when Allen finds Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone, King Henry’s impact is mitigated, and Tannehill cannot play catch-up.
Prediction: Bills 27, Titans 23. Better quarterback wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers
The rematch. Rodgers is so exercised over Bruce Arians’ comment that it would be a travesty should Brady not be the MVP that he throws a Pick 6 to Antoine Winfield Jr. and later blames it on the “woke media mob” and “cancel culture.” He hugs Erin Andrews anyway. A bare-chested Antonio Brown spends the first half holding up a deflated football for Brady to see before leaving Lambeau with frostbite.
Prediction: Bucs 27, Packers 24. Brady tells Andrews he will play until he’s 70.
SUPER BOWL 2022
Buffalo Bills versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers
SoFi Stadium is filled with Bills Mafia. Some are holding up signs that read: “It’s TOM for us to win one.” A bare-chested man wearing a Scott Norwood mask is apprehended by security. Jason Pierre-Paul pressures Allen and Jordan Whitehead intercepts him in the first quarter, and later Devin White sends him into the medical tent with a head-rattling tackle. Brady throws a pair of touchdown passes to Gronk
Prediction: Bucs 30, Bills 21. Sixteen years after he became the last Super Bowl quarterback to repeat, Brady does it again.