A super Wild Card weekend kicks off NFL playoffs

With the addition of two more teams, fans can feast on six games this weekend

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Graphic courtesy of the NFL

The NFL playoffs kick off this weekend with six Wild Card games, two more than in years past, because of the addition of a third Wild Card team to each conference. The top seeded Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers are the only teams with a bye this weekend.

Ben Olson, Photographer, Staff Writer

The NFL playoffs are here, and for the first time fans are treated with six games during the opening Wild Card weekend. The NFL expanded the playoffs to 14 teams this season by adding a third Wild Card spot for each conference, so only the  top seeds, Kansas City and Green Bay, receive a bye this weekend.

Here’s a preview of this weekend’s lineup of games by conference, as well as some spot-on predictions.

AFC

No. 2 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 7 Colts 7

Saturday, 10:05 a.m., CBS

The 13-3 AFC East champion Bills will host the 11-5 Colts and may be the hottest team in football right now, winning their last six games after a heartbreaking loss in Arizona. The Colts have allowed over 250 pass yards per game, ninth worst in the NFL. But they have the second ranked run defense in the entire league, while the Bills have the 17th ranked run defense. At the end of the day, this game will be won in the air, and the Colts just will not be able to handle the Bills passing attack led by quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

FINAL SCORE: Bills 27-24

 

No. 4 Tennessee Titans vs. No. 5 Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, 10:05 a.m., ESPN/ABC

Less than one year ago, the underdog Titans marched into Baltimore to knock off the heavily favored, top-seeded Ravens in the divisional round. This time, the Titans have home field advantage. The Titans already beat the Ravens in the regular season in an overtime thriller that came down to the wire. The key to this game for the Titans is plain and simple: feed running back Derrick Henry the ball. In last years’ playoff matchup, Henry ran for 195 yards and even passed for a touchdown. Henry ran for 133 yards in the regular season win over Baltimore. The Ravens have not been able to prove that they can stop Henry. The threat of the run game opens up the passing game and sets up play action for the Titans as well. It’s also hard to ignore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson and his ugly postseason history. If the Titans get their offense going, the Ravens won’t be able to stop it. This matchup should and will come down to the final seconds.

FINAL SCORE: Titans 24-21

 

No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No. 6 Cleveland Browns

Sunday, 5:15 p.m., NBC

The Browns are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002! Unfortunately, they run into a feisty Steelers defense which is ranked third in points against and have a stacked front seven. The only way the Browns will be able to get the offense going in this one is if they run the ball effectively with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. For the Steelers, the key will be to attack the Browns leaky secondary, which allows 250 yards passing per game. It’s worth noting that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will not be on the sidelines for the game because he tested positive for COVID-19, which could affect things down the line in crunch time. The combination of the Steelers pass rush and their lockdown secondary will be too much for the Browns and Baker Mayfield to handle in this one.

FINAL SCORE: Steelers 23-17

 

NFC

No. 3 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 6 Los Angeles Rams

Saturday, 1:40 p.m., FOX

The Los Angeles Rams regular season ended in a bitter-sweet manner. They grabbed one of the three Wild Card spots, but starting quarterback Jared Goff (broken thumb) may miss Saturday’s matchup against a Seahawks defense that has allowed less than 17 points per game in the second half of the season. Hard to imagine the Rams going into Seattle with a questionable quarterback situation and beating the Seahawks and Russell Wilson. Seattle should win this game comfortably if Goff is out and replaced by John Wolford, who played his only game all season in last week’s win over Arizona.

FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 24-13

 

No. 4 Washington Football Team vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saturday, 5:15 p.m., NBC

Only in 2020 would we see a 7-9 division-winning team without an official name hosting a playoff game, but that’s what we have here with the Washington Football Team. There’s only one way this game should go. The Buccaneers have the best run defense in the league, allowing only 80 yards per game on the ground. If the Buccaneers force Washington to pass, it should be a cakewalk. Alex Smith is a nice feel-good story, but in reality, he isn’t the same quarterback he used to be. Smith actually finished the season with more interceptions than touchdown passes. Tom Brady and the high flying Bucs offense should take this game with ease to round off the Saturday slate and lead his new team into the Divisional Round.

FINAL SCORE: Buccaneers 28-14

 

No. 2 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 7 Chicago Bears

Sunday, 1:40 p.m., CBS

The Bears got off to a sizzling 5-1 start, but came into the playoffs as the last Wild Card team after enduring a six-game losing streak before winning three of their final four games to finish 8-8. Plain and simple, the Saints are better at every single position besides linebacker, where the Bears have All-Pro Khalil Mack. With this game taking place in New Orleans, Drew Brees should not lose this game, but with the Saints recent playoff heartbreaks, it would be meme-worthy. The Saints contain an elite run defense, and putting the game in Mitch Trubisky’s hands is what Coach Sean Payton’s game plan should be for this one. On paper, the Saints should get a multiple possession win.

FINAL SCORE: New Orleans 31-17