The NFL Playoffs are here. Finally. They will start during Wild Card Weekend with the Indianapolis Colts taking on the Buffalo Bills in what should be a tremendous AFC matchup.
The Baltimore Ravens will look to exact revenge against the Tennessee Titans following their loss in the NFL Playoffs last season. Meanwhile, Drew Brees wants to make sure this is not his final game as his Saints host the Chicago Bears in one of the most-lopsided matchups of the weekend.
It’s in this that we look at the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs with game-by-game predictions.
Update: Jan. 10, 6:45 AM EST
NFL Playoff schedule: Sunday wild card games
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
Time/station: 1:05 PM EST, ESPN
Ravens-Titans point spread: Ravens -3.0 (over/under 55.0)
Despite the ridiculous play of running back Derrick Henry, who went for over 2,000 yards on the ground during the regular year, there’s some major concerns for these Titans heading into the NFL Playoffs. That has to do with the defensive side of the ball. This past week saw Tennessee give up 29 second half points in narrowly defeating the hapless Houston Texans. All said, Tennessee has yielded 78 points over the past two games. Ouch!
As for the Ravens, they are headed into the NFL Playoffs on a high note. After some COVID-related issues at the midway point of the season, Baltimore has run off five consecutive wins. It is also averaging 37.2 points during that span. Sure Henry could keep this close. Heck, it might be a repeat of the NFL Playoffs last January. Even then, I don’t envision the Titans’ defense being able to stop Lamar Jackson and Co. in what promises to be a high-scoring affair.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Ravens 35, Titans 31
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Time/station: 4:40 PM EST, CBS
Bears-Saints point spread: Saints -9.5 (over/under 47.0)
About as lopsided as it comes for a playoff game, the .500 Bears will have to head to Nola to take on a Saints team that has Super Bowl on its mind. Perhaps ready to retire after the season, future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees will want to make sure this is not his final game.
The good news for Saints fans is that I just don’t see this coming to fruition. After losing six in a row earlier this season, embattled Bears head coach Matt Nagy shockingly led the team to the playoffs. Mitchell Trubisky looks to be rejuvenated. Even then, this is a tremendous mismatch on both sides of the ball.
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Chicago finished the regular year losing six of seven against teams with winning records. Its ability to make the playoffs came largely due to wins over the likes of the Texans and Jaguars. Heck, this squad lost to the hapless Detroit Lions. Let that sink in before picking a major upset during the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Saints 30, Bears 13
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Time/station: 8:15 PM EST, NBC
Browns-Steelers point spread: Steelers -6.0 (over/under 47.5)
We have to give the Browns credit. Dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that threatened to derail their season, Baker Mayfield and Co. responded Week 17 against these very same Steelers to clinch their first playoff spot since 2002. Although, it must also be noted that said win came with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger resting.
Remember, Pittsburgh took care of Cleveland by the score of 38-7 back in Week 6. Prior to Sunday’s game, the Browns also posted a disappointing 2-4 record against teams with winning marks, primarily taking advantage of bottom-feeders to win 11 games.
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With all of that said, we’re looking at a bitter rivalry game under the bright lights in Pittsburgh. It’s also important to note that Big Ben and the Steelers lost four of five to end the season after starting 11-0. Could that give the Browns reason for hope? I say yes.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Browns 27, Steelers 24
NFL Playoff schedule: Saturday wild card games
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Time/station: 4:05 PM EST, CBS
Colts-Bills point spread: Bills -6.5 (over/under 51.5)
The Bills finished up the regular season with a 13-3 record and in style by virtue of a blowout 56-26 win over the Miami Dolphins. It’s a game that saw MVP candidate Josh Allen throw three touchdowns in just over two quarters of action to finish the regular year with a franchise record 45 total touchdowns. All said, Buffalo averaged an otherworldly 47.7 points in their final three regular-season games. Talk about entering the playoffs on a high note.
Buffalo will host a limited number of fans for its wild card game against the underdog Colts. For Indianapolis, getting into the playoffs with an 11-5 record was no small accomplishment. Philip Rivers played pretty darn good football in his first regular season with the team.
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At issue here is a lackluster season-ending performance from the Colts. Their Week 17 game against the one-win Jaguars was within one score in the final stanza. Indy also finished 2-4 during the regular season against teams that boasted a winning record. Despite the feel-good story in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine Fran Reich’s squad keeping pace with the high-flying Bills.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Bills 31, Colts 24
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Time/station: 4:40 PM EST, Fox
Rams-Seahawks point spread: Seahawks -3.5 (over/under 42.5)
Update: Seahawks star S Jamal Adams (shoulder) questionable
Update: Rams QB Jared Goff (finger) limited participant in practice Wednesday
Despite seeing John Wolford lead them to a playoff-clinching win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, there’s certainly some concern in Los Angeles right now. Will Jared Goff be ready to go in the wild card round of the NFL Playoffs against the division-rival Seattle Seahawks after suffering a fractured and dislocated thumb in his throwing hand back in Week 16? That seems highly unlikely, leaving the Rams to rely on Wolford once again. It’s not a great situation for head coach Sean McVay and Co. to be in right now.
Even if Goff is able to go, it’s not like he was setting the world on fire ahead of suffering the injury. In fact, the former No. 1 pick had thrown three touchdowns against three interceptions in his previous three starts. That included a horrendous performance in a 20-9 loss to Seattle in Week 16.
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The backdrop here is a Seahawks offense led by MVP candidate Russell Wilson, who accounted for 42 touchdowns while leading Seattle to over four touchdowns per game during the regular season. I fully expect the Rams’ top defense to keep this close for a while with Aaron Donald doing his thing against Wilson. I just can’t pick an upset given Goff’s struggles and the fact that he’s unlikely to even play in this one.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Seahawks 27, Rams 13
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team
Time/station: 8:15 PM EST, NBC
Buccaneers-Washington point spread: Buccaneers -8.5 (over/under 45.0)
Update: Washington QB Alex Smith (calf) limited participant in practice Wednesday
It’s definitely a feel good story in the nation’s capital. Head coach Ron Rivera battling through cancer. Alex Smith returning under center after suffering a life-threatening foot injury back in 2018. Washington’s players overcoming a disastrous owner to show out and win the pedestrian NFC East.
None of that is going to matter at home against GOAT Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come the NFL Playoffs. Brady threw for nearly 400 yards and four more touchdowns during Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons. He finishes the season having thrown 40 touchdowns while leading the Buccaneers to an absurd 30.6 points per game. Antonio Brown is finding his groove. Rob Gronkowski continues to do Rob Gronkowski things.
I would absolutely love to go with Washington in an upset. It would be a tremendous story for Rivera, Smith and Co. Unfortunately, reality tells me otherwise. This is not going to be a close game.
NFL Playoffs prediction: Buccaneers 35, Washington 16