The notorious Serbian Crystal Ball that before this wild and wacky NFL season predicted a Bills-49ers Super Bowl matchup has been dusted off just in time for the playoffs.
Much has changed for both teams, of course: Trey Lance (ankle) was lost Week 2 and Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) was lost Week 13 and the football world was introduced to Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy.
The Bills endured the emotional roller coaster of a near-tragedy to the uplifting, inspirational, heartwarming story of Damar Hamlin, who was remarkably released from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Monday, one week after suffering cardiac arrest making a tackle against the Bengals. ‘ Tee Higgins.
Can the Bills be a Team of Destiny and win their first Super Bowl in five tries? Can Purdy be America’s Mr. Relevant? Can Tom Brady capture his eighth ring? Can Patrick Mahomes win his second? Will Joe Burrow be smoking postgame cigars?
The Serbian Crystal Ball has it all in clear focus:
Super Wild Card Weekend
Seahawks at 49ers
Geno Smith, meet Nick Bosa. Kenneth Walker III, met Fred Warner. America, meet young Mr. Purdy, who won’t melt under the searing hot playoff lights. In two losses to the Niners, the Seahawks scored one offensive touchdown. And the Niners rushed for 189 (without Christian McCaffrey) and 170 yards.
49ers 31, Seahawks 17
Chargers at Jaguars
A matchup of Golden Boys at quarterback, Justin Herbert vs. Trevor Lawrence. Brandon Staley opted to go more Tom Coughlin than Brian Daboll in the regular-season finale and might have dodged a bullet because WR Mike Williams (back) should be good to go. Herbert has had Williams (ankle) and Keenan Allen (hamstring) together for only four games start-to-finish. If Joey Bosa (groin) is OK to team with Khalil Mack, the Bolts will enjoy an experienced pass-rush edge over Josh Allen and rookie Travon Walker. Forever Trevor will need Travis Etienne to go off against the 28th-ranked run defense.
Chargers 27, Jaguars 24
Dolphins at Bills
The Tua Tagovailoa Dolphins stood toe-to-toe and snow-to-snow with the Bills in their last-second, 32-29 loss on Dec. 17. That was before Tua’s latest concussion woes. Will Tua be cleared? If not, expect Teddy Bridgewater (pinky) instead of rookie Skylar Thompson. The long-range forecast is sunny and balmy (28 degrees) with 8 mph winds, so Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle can eat. But Josh Allen threw for 4 TDs and ran for 77 yards last time.
Win one for Damar.
Bills 33, Dolphins 17
Giants at Vikings
Daniel Jones will be armed with confidence facing the league’s 31st-ranked passing defense. Saquon Barkley is rested and ready for the 20th-ranked rush defense. Brian Daboll and Wink Martindale are dangerous the second time they see an opponent (see Commanders). Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams will contain Dalvin Cook, and Wink won’t let Justin Jefferson (12-133-1 TD) and TJ Hockenson (13-109-2 TDs) wreck the game this time. Xavier McKinney is back (Adoree Jackson too?). This time, Graham Gano, not Greg Joseph, walks it off.
Giants 27, Vikings 24
Ravens at Bengals
Their mantra Play Like A Raven is much easier when Lamar Jackson is the quarterback. He hasn’t practiced in five weeks (PCL). Burrow didn’t have Higgins in the early-season loss to Baltimore; he has him now alongside Ja’Marr Chase. The defending AFC champions have an eight-game winning streak. The Ravens passing game never recovered from the trade of Hollywood Brown. The red zone has been a dead zone for them. If it’s Tyler Huntley or Anthony Brown at quarterback, everybody sings “Who Dey?” Let’s guess on a rusty Lamar return and a maniacal defense led by MLB Roquan Smith neutralizing Joe Mixon, and Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters limiting Chase and Higgins, and JK Dobbins and Mark Andrews doing enough in a vicious, chippy steel cage match.
Ravens 24, Bengals 21
Cowboys at Buccaneers
Brady (with his seven rings) is 7-0 against the Cowboys. Dak Prescott has a seven-game interception streak. Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t been eating much lately. Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence will be problems, but Brady will get the ball out quickly to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin against rookie corner DaRon Bland. Playoff Lenny Fournette can have success against the 22nd-ranked rush defense, and if center Ryan Jensen (knee) can return, that would be a huge lift. Brady versus Dan Quinn … Falcons HC in Super Bowl 51 who blew that 28-3 lead to the GOAT, FWIW.
Bucs 24, Cowboys 21
Ravens at Chiefs
Lamar ran for 107 yards and 2 TDs in a 36-35 win early in 2021 in Baltimore to beat Mahomes for the first time in four tries. Steve Spagnuolo and Chris Jones won’t let that happen again. Magic Mahomes no longer has Tyreek Hill and it doesn’t matter. Jerick McKinnon and Isaiah Pacheco give Andy Reid more balance, and while rookie safety Kyle Hamilton has size and range, Travis Kelce will be too savvy for him. Kadarius Toney: 1 TD, 1 tweaked hamstring.
Chiefs 34, Ravens 17
Chargers at Bills
The long-range forecast is calling for light snow on Jan. 21 and snow Jan. 22. Austin Ekeler will need to be a passing-game weapon against the fifth-ranked rushing defense (104.6 yards). Allen, Devin Singletary and James Cook will lead a 150-yard rushing attack. Win one more for Damar.
Bills 33, Chargers 21
Giants at Eagles
It’s not easy beating a division rival three times in one season.
Davis Webb lobbies to start this one, citing his chemistry with Kenny Golladay, and Daboll tells the media that he will sit down with GM Joe Schoen and discuss everything on Friday night (eye roll). Anyway, a healthy Jalen Hurts and the top-ranked pass defense proves too much for Jones without a true No. 1 receiver, even though Barkley catches eight passes and totals 130 yards.
Eagles 27, Giants 17
Bucs at 49ers:
Brady versus his boyhood team. Brady versus Purdy. Brady’s last game as a Buc before leaving for the Raiders? Brady’s last game before leaving for Fox? Purdy has George Kittle. Brady doesn’t have Gronk. Purdy has Kyle Shanahan. Brady doesn’t. Demeco Ryans boasts the second-ranked (77.7 yards) rushing defense.
49ers 31, Bucs 17
49ers at Eagles
Garoppolo beat the Eagles 17-11 at the Linc early in 2021. Will Purdy blink? Remember, cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry are no slouches. But if there is a team built to win physical battles on the road, it is these 49ers. Hurts will have some success against the Niner secondary targeting AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, but Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Arik Armstead will stifle Miles Sanders and make Nick Sirianni one-dimensional.
49ers 27, Eagles 24
Bills vs. Chiefs
The next Allen-Mahomes dream showdown. An eerie environment at a neutral site — the halfway point between Buffalo and Kansas City is Indianapolis FYI. Gabe Davis won’t catch 4 TD passes against the Chiefs this time, but Stefon Diggs will haul in a couple against a group of young, inexperienced cornerbacks, including No. 1 draft pick Trent McDuffie. Last one with the ball wins. Allen is the last one with the ball.
Another win for Damar.
Bills 33, Chiefs 30
Super Bowl 2023
During the two weeks between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, Shanahan ponders the same question that Bill Belichick pondered prior to Super Bowl 36: Brady or Drew Bledsoe? For Shanny, it’s Purdy or Garoppolo, whose foot has finally healed enough. And like Belichick, he stays with the hot hand.
But when Purdy suddenly develops the yips, Garoppolo is summoned off the bench and brings the Niners back from a first-half hole. McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel began imposing their will on the night, and Marv Levy and Jim Kelly are sweating bullets in the owners’ box. But Allen, in his huddle at the start of a late fourth-quarter drive, looks up in the stands and says: “Hey look, it’s Will Smith and Chris Rock!” It eases the tension, and Allen engineers a 98-yard drive that culminates in him leaping over the end zone on third-and-goal from the 3.
Won the Big One for Damar.
Bills 33, 49ers 27