Wild Card Weekend Preview

In-depth look at this weekends Wild Card games.

Wild+Card+Weekend+Preview

Anthony Rubek, Sports Editor

After a season full of questions, the NFL has narrowed it down to the final 14 teams as they battle for a chance to win the Super Bowl starting this weekend with the Wild Card round. There will be more games this year with the NFL expanding its playoffs from six to seven teams per conference. With this, the one seeded Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers get a first round bye. Here are this weekend’s games.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3) (Saturday, CBS, 12:05 PM CT)

The first matchup of Wild Card weekend is the seventh seeded Colts and the second seeded Bills. The Colts are led by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers who in his first year on the team threw for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns. They are also led by rookie running back Jonathan Taylor who is a week removed from a career high 253 yard performance in week 17. Meanwhile, the Bills are arguably the hottest team in football at the moment, winning their last six games by at least ten points. The Bills offense has been unstoppable thanks to the play of MVP candidate quarterback Josh Allen, who has 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns this year, as well as Pro Bowl receiver Stefon Diggs, who leads the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535). Both defenses feature All-Pro caliber players such as Colts linebacker Darius Leonard and Bills corner Tre’Davious White. While the Colts are a very intriguing team, I don’t think there’s any team getting in the way of the Bills at the moment.

My Pick: Bills 35 Colts 24

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4) (Saturday, FOX, 3:40 PM CT)

The second game of the Saturday schedule is a divisional showdown between the sixth seeded Rams and the third seeded Seahawks. The teams split the regular season matchups with the Rams winning the first 23-16 and the Seahawks winning the second 20-9. The Rams are facing some uncertainty at quarterback with their starter Jared Goff questionable to play with a thumb injury. Backup John Wolford started the Rams game last Sunday and put up fairly similar stats to Goff, as well as putting up 56 rushing yards, the most by a Rams quarterback in a game since 2000. If Wolford were to start, expect the Rams to run multiple read options involving rookie running back Cam Akers. The Seahawks are led by quarterback Russell Wilson who was the favorite to win MVP earlier in the season before going through a rough patch of games that knocked him out of the race. Wilson will be throwing to his two 1,000 yard receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett who will face a challenge as they will be covered by Rams corners Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams. While Seattle’s defense consists of Pro Bowl safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, the Rams defense is far superior led by arguably the best player in the league Aaron Donald. The main factor of this game comes down to who the Rams will start at quarterback. I personally think they should go with Wolford due to the added running game but I still think the Seahawks win a close one.

My Pick: Seahawks 24 Rams 21

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Washington Football Team (7-9) (Saturday, NBC, 7:15 PM CT)

The primetime game on Saturday is a showdown between the fifth seeded Buccaneers and fourth seeded Washington. Tampa Bay has looked great as of late, winning their last four games. They are led by quarterback Tom Brady who at the age of 43, is playing some of the best football in his career. Surrounding him are plenty of weapons such as receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs have potential to run the table and win the Lombardi. Washington, however, can’t say the same. After winning the terrible NFC East division with a losing record, they are without a doubt the least talented team in the playoffs. While they have players with bright futures such as receiver Terry McLaurin and edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat, they aren’t yet ready to carry a team. At the helm is quarterback Alex Smith who is one of the best stories in sports after coming back from a life threatening leg injury just two years ago. As much as it would be cool to see Washington go on a run, they have one of the worst offenses in the league and I expect Bucs players such as Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaquil Barrett to have a field day.

My Pick: Buccaneers 38 Washington 14

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5) (Sunday, ESPN, 12:05 PM CT)

The first game of the Sunday slate is the fifth seeded Ravens heading to Tennessee to take on the fourth seeded Titans. After starting 6-5, the Ravens went on a five game win streak to reach the playoffs thanks to the phenomenal play of quarterback and former MVP Lamar Jackson. Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to have two 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Meanwhile, Titans running back Derrick Henry became just the eighth player in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards in a season. Henry leads a high power offense which also features proven vet Ryan Tannehill at quarterback and young stud A.J. Brown at receiver. That being said, the Titans defense is one of the worst in the league giving up the fourth most passing yards per game in the league. What also doesn’t help is that the Ravens have a top ten defense in the league featuring pro bowlers Calais Campbell, Matthew Judon, and Marlon Humphrey. I predict the Ravens defense to shut down the Titans offense and that Ravens speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown exposes the Tennessee secondary for over 100 yards and a score.

My Pick: Ravens 28 Titans 17 

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4) (Sunday, CBS, 3:40 PM CT)

The second game of the Sunday window features the seventh seeded Bears and the second seeded Saints. After starting 5-1 then proceeding to go on a six game losing streak, Chicago finished the year 3-1 after head coach Matt Nagy gave up play calling as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor stepped in. The Bears have gained life in a dormant offense with quarterback Mitch Trubisky playing great after being benched earlier in the season. They also have running back David Montgomery who stepped up big time in the past couple of weeks and receiver Allen Robinson who has remained a consistent target throughout the year. While the Bears defense hasn’t been as scary as years past, they still have phenomenal players such as edge rusher Khalil Mack and linebacker Roquan Smith. The star of the Saints at this point of the season is usually quarterback Drew Brees, but due to age and a couple broken ribs, has had a rocky season. Most of their offense has come from running back Alvin Kamara who leads the league with 21 total touchdowns this year. However, Kamara tested positive for COVID-19 and is gametime decision for Sunday’s game. Another game time decision is receiver Michael Thomas, who after winning Offensive Player of the Year last season, has had an injury riddled year. The Saints defense has been one of the best in the league with key players like linebacker Demario Davis and defensive end Cam Jordan stepping up big time this season. Even if Kamara and Thomas are out, I see the Saints taking care of the Bears easily.

My Pick: Saints 24 Bears 7

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (Sunday, NBC, 7;15 PM CT)

The Final game of Wild Card Weekend pits the sixth seeded Browns and the third seeded Steelers. The two teams play each other just one week after their last matchup which resulted in the Browns winning 24-22. However, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not play in the two point loss. The Browns are playing in their first playoff game since 2003. They are led by quarterback Baker Mayfield who has quietly had a great year. They also have the best backfield in the league consisting of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Steelers started out the season 11-0, but have lost four out of their last five. Unlike Cleveland, Pittsburgh has not been able to run the ball at a high level this season but have made up for it in the passing game with receivers/tiktokers Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster having productive seasons. Both sides feature a potential Defensive Player of the Year with the Browns having defensive end Myles Garrett and the Steelers having outside linebacker T.J. Watt. I originally had the Browns winning another close matchup until it was announced Tuesday that Cleveland head coach Kevin Stafanski, who many people consider the Coach of the Year, tested positive for COVID-19 and is unable to coach this week’s game. Due to this, I think the Steelers win the battle with their rival.

My Pick: Steelers 21 Browns 13

No matter if your team is playing or not, you’re in store for two days of amazing football.