Wild Card Weekend Final Digest
For the first time in NFL history, Wild Card Weekend will feature six games on its slate. The introduction to the playoffs has been a chaotic mess in past years, which have featured late-game heroics by the likes of Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry. But it's also been the stomping grounds for goofy miscues like Josh Allen's lateral attempt that sent the majority of Bills Mafia into a violent drinking binge. I mean, who could possibly forget one of the most jaw-dropping plays in Wild Card history?
The Wild Card is just that—a weekend full of Wild Cards. The Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens all have qualified Super Bowl aspirations. Those expectations have been in place since August, and this weekend is the inception of their opportunity to prove themselves. On the other side of the ball, there are the just-happy-to-be-here teams like Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles. Their seasons could've gone in any number of directions, but nevertheless—they've earned themselves spots in the first-ever 14-team NFL Playoffs.
Anything could happen this weekend, so we've gathered together our NFL writers to discuss how they're feeling about each of the respective Wild Card games.
Saturday, January 9
#7 Colts @ #2 Bills
12:05 PM CT
Spread: Bills -6.5
Ralph James: Are there two more different quarterbacks in this playoffs? I’ll keep it a rack with you here—I find the Indianapolis Colts to be the most boring team remaining by a wide margin. Rivers bores me because of his lack of mobility and predictability. I’m far more excited to see him in the Monday Night Football booth than I am to watch him on Sundays. On the plus side, Buffalo has demonstrated all season just how electric they can be. Josh Allen has evolved into a whirling dervish of chaotic brilliance. When you watch this game, please do me a favor and crank the volume up a notch. I swear on my dog’s life that you can legitimately hear the ball zip through the air. It’s like a friggin’ laser-beam, to quote the great Dr. Evil. And that’s exactly who the Bills are to me— Dr. Evil. Attempting to spoil the magic of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Austin Powers. That’s a bad metaphor, I know. But I really wanted to say friggin’ laser beam when talking about Allen. As a resident, hopeless Chicago Bears fan, I hope that Bills Mafia will accept me as their bandwagon boy. I will dive deep in the trenches for you, Buffalo. I’ve been holding onto this Cole Beasley stock for a long, long time and I’m not ready to let go. So, for heaven’s sakes, send Indy packing and congratulate Philip Rivers on a wonderfully above-average career.
Players to Watch: Young elite linebackers (Tremaine Edmunds and Darius Leonard)
Gambling Pick: Buffalo -6.5
Rest of the Team's Picks
Fadden: Jonathan Taylor O73.5
Harris: IND +6.5
Sheehan: BUF -9.5 (+138)
#6 Rams @ #3 Seahawks
3:40 PM CT
Spread: Seahawks -3
Ryan Dobbs: Don’t we all just love a playoff game that we know should be super tight-knit and action-packed? Well, that's exactly what this NFC West wildcard showdown will be. In fact, it's been two whole seasons since these opponents had a game that was more than a two-score difference. Perhaps since these franchises always play such fiery games, it's only right to expect a dominant showing from one of these squads. I simply don’t see it that way, and here’s the case.
The Seahawks' offense has been on the decline since the second half of the season started. Fortunately for them, their defense that started the season on a historically bad stretch and has found its groove and is actually a unit to, dare I say, be reckoned with right now. The Rams are a bit of a more complicated team at the moment.
Well, for starters, it hasn’t been determined if Jared Goff is playing according to the team (thumb injury). Going without your starting quarterback for a game of this magnitude is obviously game-changing on levels that I don’t have to explain. For the sake of practicality, we will assume that Goff is playing; because if he doesn’t, I don’t think the Rams will have much of a chance to pull this out, which goes without saying.
I heavily assume the Rams are thinking this, as well—even though they'd never say it. However, even when Goff does play, it's either fire or ice. The problem is that more often than not, that fire is more like boiling water, at best. Look, it’s not that I'm trying to drag the man. The simple truth is that he's been inconsistent as all hell. Hell, he’s consistent at being inconsistent. I'll give him that. If the Rams win this game, then it will very likely come down to a fantastic defensive showing which they are tremendously capable of. The question really is: Will their offense show up and show out regardless of Goff's status?
Players to Watch: The Premiere Outside-the-Numbers Matchup (Jalen Ramsey/D.K. Metcalf)
Gambling Pick: SEA -3
Rest of the Team's Picks
Fadden: SEA -3
Harris: LAR ML +150
Sheehan: Tyler Lockett O5.5 Receptions
Compiano: SEA -3
#5 Buccaneers @ #4 Washington Football Team
7:15 PM CT
Spread: Buccaneers -8
Connor Sheehan: This Saturday night game is unique to this playoff board. It features the greatest player of all time and the below-.500 NFC EAST champions. What a matchup. This game should be a blowout.
The Buccaneers earned their right to be in the postseason winning 11 games, and the same thing can’t be said about the Football Team. Tampa has one of the best offenses in the league and their defense rivals Washington’s. So, it comes down to Alex Smith, Scary Terry and that poor offensive line who's going to be asked to keep up with Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. It just simply cannot be done. This is a DON'T overthink game. I like Tampa -8.5 and even -13.5 at +170 odds via DraftKings.
Players to Watch: Antonio Brown, Tristan Wirfs
Gambling Pick: TB -8
Rest of the Team:
Fadden: WFT +8
Harris: TB -8
Dobbs: WFT ML +310
Compiano: TB -8
Sunday, January 10th
#5 Ravens @ #4 Titans
12:05 PM CT
Spread: Ravens -3.5
Ralph James: If you’ll reach back in your memory bank to Week 11 when the Titans beat the Ravens 30-24 in overtime behind Derrick Henry’s 133 rushing yards, you’ll recall a beef transpiring before kickoff. In other words, these two teams don’t like each other much. The formula for a genuine rivalry in the modern NFL looks like this:
The Titans put the nail in the coffin on Lamar Jackson’s MVP season in 2019.
Both teams have cornerstones to their franchise in their respective tough guy head coaches: Mike Vrabel and John Harbaugh. Both teams mount two of the best rushing attacks in the league, but do it in different ways.
The Titans ride Derrick Henry’s Grand Canyon shoulders to the finish line week-after-week, while the Ravens rush by a committee featuring Jackson, Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill.
Both offenses feature mobile quarterbacks who are above average passers with the potential to break a defense's game plan with either their arm or legs. In conclusion, these teams are eerily similar.
The tale of this game, however, will be told by Tennessee’s defense. A defense that's been lackluster all season on third down and is yet to find a pass rush worth noting despite their addition of Jadaveon Clowney. If Lamar and the Ravens can convert on third downs at an efficient rate, prevent Henry from going ballistic and wreak havoc on Tannehill with their own pass rush, then they’ll control both the time of possession and the game.
Players to Watch: The Browns (Marquise and A.J.)
Gambling Pick: BAL -3.5
Rest of the Team:
Fadden: Buy down to BAL -3
Dobbs: BAL -3.5
Harris: TEN +3
#7 Bears @ #2 Saints
3:40 PM CT
Spread: Saints -10
Matt Harris: The 8-8 Chicago Bears will get an opportunity at revenge this Sunday as they take on the 12-4 New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Super Dome in NOLA. These two teams met in Week 8, where a Will Lutz field goal propelled the Saints to victory in overtime. However, the Bears will have a new look at QB, as Mitch Trubisky gets the start instead of Nick Foles.
New Orleans has had to overcome a ton of adversity this season. They were without all-pro wideout Michael Thomas for most of the year, as well as Drew Brees, who broke his ribs midseason and had to miss multiple games. Still, they found a way to go 12-4 and put themselves in a position to once again contend for a Super Bowl. Alvin Kamara was terrific and practically carried the offense on his shoulders for most of the season. He's currently in COVID protocols but is expected to be out there Sunday. Thomas, who went on IR late in the season, is also expected to be out there.
Chicago's season can be summarized by a lot of ups and downs. They started off 4-1 despite a change at quarterback in the middle of game three. After that, they stumbled—losing six straight and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. They went back to Mitch, and despite a heartbreaking loss to the Lions, the offense seemed to be clicking. They rattled off three straight impressive victories against the Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bears have a key injury on the defensive side of the ball. Roquan Smith, a third-year linebacker out of Georgia, injured his elbow against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He hasn't practiced at any capacity this week. If he's out, that's a huge loss for this defense, as they looked lost without him on the field.
The key to this game will be the Bears' running game against the Saints' stout front seven. Montgomery had 89 yards on 21 carries, but a majority of those came on a 38-yard scamper. However, the Bears' offense seems to run the ball better with Trubisky taking snaps. Whoever wins that battle will likely win the game. On the other side, Chicago's defense is going to have to play a lot better than they have over the past few games. If they allow Brees to get into a rhythm, look out.
Players to Watch: Trey Hendrickson, Kindle Vildor
Gambling play: CHI +10
This is going to look biased but take the Bears +10. They'll likely try to play keep away from the Saints offense and with the amount of running and short play-action they do, I think they can move the ball somewhat effectively.
Rest of the Team:
Dobbs: NO -10
Sheehan: CHI ML +400
#6 Browns @ #3 Steelers
7:15 PM CT
Spread: Steelers -6
Dylan Fadden: The last game of Wild Card Weekend will be a game between two teams that are all too familiar with each other. This will be the third time that these two teams will play each other this year. In the first two, we saw a split series with the Steelers dominating the Browns the first game, and the Browns edging out a two-point win the second time around. In their Week 17 matchup, the Browns were the beneficiary of a Steelers team resting their key players—a massive reason why they were able to get the win. Without their defensive stars on the field, they were able to get Nick Chubb going early and often, which allowed the Browns to manage the time of possession and even opened up the secondary for downfield passing opportunities.
This time around, the Browns won’t be so lucky, as we’ll see Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Joe Haden take the field again. When you factor in the fact that the Browns will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski and they haven’t been able to practice all week due to COVID-19, it'd be a miracle if they were able to pull off a win against their division rival. There is a chance, but it just isn't likely.
For the Browns to pull off the upset, they would have to get Nick Chubb going early and gash the Steelers' defense through their explosive run game—a task that is not easy to accomplish against a stout defense. This would allow them to keep the Steelers' offense off the field and open up the deep passing game. With that being said, those are major ifs; I really don't expect them to happen. I have no doubt in my mind that the Browns will come to play and even be competitive through most of the game, but I don't think they're capable of beating a tough Steelers team—especially given their circumstances.
Players to Watch: Nick Chubb, TJ Watt, Diontae Johnson
Gambling Play: U47.5
I would love to pick the Browns in their return to the playoffs, but I just can't. The circumstances are stacked far too tall for them to overcome. I love the under as a play here, but you should also feel comfortable taking the Steelers spread at -6.
Rest of the Team:
Sheehan: Diantae Johnson O6.5 Receptions
Compiano: CLE ML