NFL Playoffs: 6 bold predictions for Super Wild-Card round

By Matt Johnson
Nov 22, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) warms up prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Playoffs have arrived and this year’s it going to be even more special with Super Wild-Card round delivering six games this weekend. With more matchups on the schedule for Saturday and Sunday, that means even more bold predictions for the upcoming slate.

Thanks to the NFL expanding its playoff format before the season, there will be six wild-card games instead of four. While there’s plenty of focus on divisional clashes between Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, this slate has a lot to offer.

It only fits that injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic will influence the NFL Playoffs. Both have caused significant problems for teams during the regular season and it’s no different now. As the Browns deal with key absences, the Rams and Washington Football Team face uncertainty at quarterback due to injuries.

Even with all the questions, there’s no better time for NFL fans than this time of year. With the NFL Playoffs set to kick off, let’s dive into some bold predictions for the Super Wild-Card round.

NFL Playoffs: Schedule and game-by-game predictions for Wild Card Weekend

Lamar Jackson explodes for 350-plus yards, four-plus touchdowns against Tennessee Titans

We all know what happened to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in 2019. The unanimous NFL MVP entered the Divisional Round looking to make a statement. Instead, the Tennessee Titans shocked the NFL world with a 28-12 victory, keeping Jackson and Co. out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Expect that to change this time around.

Tennessee’s defense isn’t just the worst in the NFL Playoffs, it might be the worst in the entire league. The Titans allowed opponents to average 398.3 total yards and 27.4 points per game in the regular season. Over its last six games, this unit surrendered 413.9 total yards per game, per Pro Football Reference, with a 102.8 average quarterback rating allowed. To make matters worse, Tennessee owns the second-lowest pressure rate (16.7%) in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s offense is averaging 37 points per game over its last five contests. Jackson is back to playing near his MVP-caliber level and this team is dominating its opponents in the trenches. The Ravens will give Jackson all day to throw, which he will use to rip the Titans apart. When all is said and done, he should walk off the field victorious after a four-touchdown performance with 275-plus passing yards and potentially a 100-yard game on the ground.

Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears shut out by New Orleans Saints

NFL Playoffs: Chicago Bears: New Orleans Saints
Nov 29, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) walks off the field after fumbling the ball resulting in a Green Bay Packers touchdown in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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The NFL Playoffs are a pivotal moment in Mitchell Trubisky’s career. After his impressive play over a three-game winning streak entering Week 17, many felt confident the Bears would re-sign him this offseason. Following a rough showing against the Green Bay Packers, though, his future depends on how he performs against the New Orleans Saints.

That’s bad news for the No. 2 overall pick. New Orleans finished with the fifth-highest pressure rate (25.6%) in the regular season and this isn’t even a defense that needs to blitz often (31.8% of defensive snaps). With Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins on the outside, the Saints also boast the talent at corner to match up with Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney with physical coverage. Outstanding play in the secondary and front seven has helped New Orleans hold opposing passers to a 67.6 quarterback rating and a 52.9% completion rate over its past seven games.

Things don’t look promising for Trubisky. The Saints will easily be able to exploit his weaknesses and it’s not like running the football is easy against this defense. Expect New Orleans to control the clock in this one and for its defense to generate some turnovers. Ultimately, the end result might be the Bears getting shutout in the NFL Playoffs.

Short-handed Cleveland Browns stun the Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Playoffs: Cleveland Browns: Pittsburgh Steelers
Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs with the ball en route to scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s fitting, given this team’s history, that its first playoff birth in years is followed by a COVID-19 outbreak. The Cleveland Browns will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski, star safety Ronnie Harrison and All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio on Sunday. On top of that, the Browns barely beat the Steelers’ backups in Week 17.

Despite it all, there’s still reason to think Cleveland can record its first victory in the NFL Playoffs in 26 years Consider that from Week 8-Week 17, Pittsburgh’s defense allowed opponents to average 137 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry against it. The Browns win with their running game and Nick Chubb can dominate in these conditions.

That’s not the only advantage Cleveland may have in the Wild-Card round. At this stage of their careers, Baker Mayfield is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger and that may be even more true under these circumstances. If Myles Garrett can win his matchup against Alejandro Villaneuva, delivering a multi-sack performance, the Browns could pull off the improbable upset.

Los Angeles Rams defense outscores Jared Goff

NFL Playoffs
Dec 27, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the third quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Sean McVay would win multiple Super Bowl rings if he had a quarterback better than Jared Goff. The 26-year-old passer has already proven he is the ceiling that keeps this offense from reaching its potential. That will be even more evident in the NFL Playoffs with his attempt to play through a broken thumb on his throwing hand.

If the Los Angeles Rams stand any chance of beating the Seattle Seahawks, it will take a Herculean effort from this defense. Fortunately, we’ve seen it happen this season. Russell Wilson, who finished the season with a 105.1 quarterback rating, 68.8% completion rate and averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt, threw two interceptions and had a 74.1 quarterback rating in two meetings with the Rams this season.

Whether Aaron Donald forces a strip-sack that is returned for a touchdown or a pick-six, the Rams need a defensive turnover to compete in this one. Based on what we’ve seen from the defense this year, it could easily happen. Fittingly, they might still do that and it won’t be enough with Goff under center for them.

Chase Young finishes with more sacks than Tom Brady throws touchdowns

NFL Playoffs
Dec 7, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) reacts after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Washington won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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As Omar once said on The Wire, if you come at the king, you best not miss. Chase Young not only challenged Tom Brady, but he also doubled down on his comments. Inviting a future Hall of Famer, especially the greatest quarterback in NFL history, to a challenge is a dangerous game. With that said, this is a moment where Washington’s rookie phenom can back up the words.

Tom Brady Stats: Buccaneers 2020 versus Patriots 2019

Young will face Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith on Saturday night. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has surrendered 35 pressures, eight quarterback hits and six sacks this season. Meanwhile, Young is playing at a ridiculous level (eight quarterback hits, four sacks, two forced fumbles) in his last six games.

Brady (54.5 quarterback rating under pressure) collapses when he gets hurried and Washington’s defensive front is one of the best at getting to the quarterback. There likely won’t be a ton of scoring in this matchup, which will limit Brady’s opportunities to rack up the scores. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Chase Young gets more sacks (2.5) than Brady throws for touchdowns.

Buffalo Bills crush Indianapolis Colts by three scores

NFL Playoffs
Jan 3, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are back in the NFL Playoffs, accomplishing it without Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck at quarterback. It’s certainly an accomplishment this organization can be proud of and a sign of this team’s promising future. With that said, it’s difficult to trust the Colts getting the job done against the hottest team in the NFL.

Many believe Indianapolis boasts one of the best defenses in the NFL. It was true for the majority of the season, but there have been some alarming issues recently. Over the final seven games, opponents averaged 296.9 passing yards and a 102.5 quarterback rating against Indianapolis, completing 69.2% of passes with a 13/4 TD/INT ratio.

It doesn’t bode well against Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Buffalo’s offense averaged 37.8 points per game in the second half of the season, with Allen playing like an NFL MVP and Diggs the best receiver in the NFL. The Bills will have a huge advantage when comparing these offenses. If the Colts have to keep matching scores, that’s problematic with a 39-year-old quarterback in freezing temperatures.

Given how well Buffalo is playing as of late on both sides of the ball, a blowout is possible. If the Bills can contain Jonathan Taylor and force Rivers to throw often, they could win this one by 17 points.