The NFL playoffs have arrived with six games in the wild card round due to the expanded playoff field. Storylines abound, from the recent history between the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens to the Cleveland Browns’ COVID issues. The 110 Sports crew is here to predict the winner of all six matchups.
(7) Indianapolis Colts @ (2) Buffalo Bills (Jan. 9, 1:05 p.m. EST)
Joshua Doering: Buffalo Bills
There is no reason to overthink this one. The Bills have outscored their last three opponents 142-54 and have scored at least 26 points in eight straight games. Their only home loss was to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Indianapolis is 3-4 against playoff teams but 0-2 since Week 12. Nobody is entering the playoffs with more confidence than Buffalo. Bills Mafia will get to celebrate the team’s first playoff victory in 25 years.
Chris Brown: Buffalo Bills
The Colts are a deserving playoff team that’s generally well-rounded and can beat an opponent in several ways. But the Bills are clearly a top three team in the NFL right now, are firing on all cylinders at the right time, and still might actually be underrated despite a 13-3 regular season record. Two of those losses were in games that were rescheduled and the other was on a hail mary against the Cardinals. There’s certainly a chance for an upset, but the Colts, who posted a 2-4 mark against opponents with a winning record, likely don’t have the firepower to keep up with the surging Bills.
Josh Mullenix: Buffalo Bills
In the last six weeks, the most impressive team in football has been the Bills and it isn’t particularly close. They haven’t lost since Nov. 15 and their smallest margin of victory in that stretch is 10 points. With that being said, the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs in 17 seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since 1995. This is very much unchartered territory for this era of the Bills, but I don’t think it will matter. Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and co. will be just a little too much for a very good Colts defense and Philip Rivers hasn’t been great against good football teams this season. Buffalo moves on.
(6) Los Angeles Rams @ (3) Seattle Seahawks (Jan. 9, 4:40 p.m. EST)
JD: Seattle Seahawks
This would be a much more difficult game to call if Jared Goff was completely healthy. The Rams limited D.K. Metcalf to eight total catches for 87 yards in their two meetings during the regular season and boast the league’s best pass defense. However, Seattle hasn’t given up more than 23 points since Week 9 and Russell Wilson has won at least one playoff game in six of his seven playoff appearances. That trend is not going to change this season, especially if he’s going up against John Wolford.
CB: Seattle Seahawks
This game could be close, but this was still a relatively easy call. The Rams enter the playoffs having lost four of their last six games and with Jared Goff working his way back from thumb surgery. The Seahawks have concerns of their own, of course, with an offense that’s been hit-or-miss just as the defense has been playing much better. That being said, Russell Wilson is capable of a magical performance at any moment and is the biggest deciding factor for me. It also doesn’t hurt that Seattle has never lost a home playoff game under Pete Carroll.
JM: Seattle Seahawks
It’s either Russell Wilson, a Super Bowl champion, at home against either a banged up Jared Goff that has been uninspiring all season or John Wolford. This shouldn’t be a discussion. The Rams failed to score an offensive touchdown last week against Arizona and Cam Akers rushed for 1.6 yards per carry. If anything similar happens this weekend, it won’t be all that close. The Seattle defense is much improved in the last third of the regular season and there aren’t many quarterbacks I trust more in the playoffs than Wilson. Don’t think too hard, it’s Seattle over the Rams.
(5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ (4) Washington Football Team (Jan. 9, 8:15 p.m. EST)
JD: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Look at the playoff disappointments Tom Brady’s had in the twilight of his career and you’ll find a trend supported by his 16 games as a Buccaneer: a strong pass rush is the way to bother Brady. Washington has just that with the likes of Chase Young and Montez Sweat. The matchup favors Washington, but that’s assuming the two teams are comparable talent-wise and that’s just not the case. Tampa Bay wins in a game that’s closer than it should be on paper.
CB: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady and the Bucs’ offense have really been clicking in recent weeks, averaging 37 points per game in the team’s final four regular season contests. But Washington’s defense is actually relatively scary, with Chase Young leading a group that allows just over 20 points per game. As much fun as it would be to pick the feel-good story to continue, though, reality says otherwise. The Bucs are the more talented team in just about every aspect, and Brady won’t have to dominate against a team with a frankly disastrous offense. Washington will have to play nearly mistake-free football to make this game actually interesting.
JM: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The best quarterback of all time and his team who scored at least 31 points the last three weeks of the season get to play the worst playoff team ever. The matchup doesn’t favor Washington. I’m not sure why we’re interested in looking at Brady’s playoff disappointments when he’s 30-11 in the playoffs for his career. Chase Young will be a force in the NFL for a long time but that team is bad. Brady, like Lebron James, basically never loses to teams he’s not supposed to lose to. This is the definition of that and I expect the Bucs to control from start to finish.
(5) Baltimore Ravens @ (4) Tennessee Titans (Jan. 10, 1:05 p.m. EST)
JD: Baltimore Ravens
This is the most interesting game of the weekend from both a recent history and talent perspective. Derrick Henry rushed for 250 yards in the Titans’ Week 17 win over the Texans. The Ravens rushed for 404 in their beatdown of the Bengals. While Tennessee’s offense is improved from last season, its defense is allowing 6.7 more points per game than it did in 2019. That spells trouble against a Ravens team that is closer to the 14-2 squad from last season than their record indicates. I find it hard to believe anyone other than Kansas City is capable of beating Lamar Jackson three times in the span of a calendar year (plus a couple days).
CB: Baltimore Ravens
Derrick Henry vs. Lamar Jackson. This could very well be the best game of the weekend. The biggest factor for me is significant defensive concerns for the Titans, who’ve allowed 78 points over their past two games. I don’t think they’ll be able to contain the most athletic quarterback in the NFL, and I’m one to side with the team that’s clicking at the right time. That definitely describes a Baltimore team averaging 37.2 points per contest during its current five-game win streak. Henry will help keep this game close, but the Ravens’ stout defense won’t let him completely take over, which I think Jackson will be able to do.
JM: Tennessee Titans
This is easily the best game of Wild Card Weekend, at least on paper. Two 11-5 teams that each have one of the best players at their position in the NFL. Last year, Derrick Henry ran for 195 yards against Baltimore and Lamar Jackson threw two interceptions. I have very serious questions about Jackson in big games and he’s been pretty bad in those this year. I’m clearly not as impressed by a five-game winning streak in which the Ravens beat Dallas, Cleveland, Jacksonville, New York and Cincinnati. I’m much more interested in their 2-4 record against playoff teams not named the Browns and that’s including a win over the Washington Football Team. It’s been over a month since Baltimore has played a competent football team, I’ll take the Titans at home in a close one.
(7) Chicago Bears @ (2) New Orleans Saints (Jan. 10, 4:40 p.m. EST)
JD: New Orleans Saints
I don’t feel as good about the Saints as I did when I picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season started, but I certainly haven’t cooled on them enough to pick the Bears, regardless of what New Orleans’ running back situation ends up being. Chicago has one win against a playoff team, and that came in a 20-19 win over the Buccaneers on Oct. 8. The farther removed from his injury Drew Brees is, the healthier and more in sync he will be. Saints win as long as at least one of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara are able to play.
CB: New Orleans Saints
From the potential best game of the weekend to what I’d consider the relatively likely worst game of the weekend, the mismatch on both sides of the ball is significant in this matchup. Mitchell Trubisky does appear somewhat rejuvenated, and the Bears’ defense is impressive (though not especially consistent). But the Saints have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent high-end teams in the NFL this season thanks in large part to a strong defensive foundation. And Drew Brees, who’s perhaps set to retire after the season, is just not going out with a home loss to the Bears.
JM: New Orleans Saints
The Bears, like the Washington Football Team, are not good. Props to Mitch Trubisky for looking like a competent QB and shouts to the Cardinals for managing to cough up that last playoff spot. With that being said, Chicago is 1-6 against playoff teams and that one win came early on against Tampa Bay when the Bucs were still getting in sync and we thought the Bears defense was elite. As long as Drew Brees, Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara have an impact on this game, I don’t expect New Orleans to have to sweat this one out.
(6) Cleveland Browns @ (3) Pittsburgh Steelers (Jan. 10, 8:15 p.m. EST)
JD: Pittsburgh Steelers
You’ve got to feel for the Browns. They finally reach the postseason only to have Kevin Stefanski and Joel Bitonio test positive. Yet it’s still tempting to pick Cleveland because of how reliant the Steelers are on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger and how bad they’ve looked since starting 11-0. The Browns will have to be much better than they were in their Week 17 win, which is a lot to ask with the amount of people currently on the COVID list, most notably Denzel Ward. This is another reminder of the unfortunate reality that the pandemic has ensured these playoffs — like every other sporting endeavor in 2020 — have an added level of injustice to them.
CB: Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s no denying that the Browns’ Week 17 victory over the Steelers to secure their first playoff berth since 2002 was impressive. But they barely beat a Steelers’ JV squad, which doesn’t provide much reason for optimism they’ll pick up the win here. There are obviously legitimate concerns for Pittsburgh, but this seems like a team determined to show they’re for real in the postseason. Cleveland’s defense didn’t perform all that well against Mason Rudolph and a weak Steelers run game, so Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to have to be superman to pull off a victory here. Further complicating matters is COVID-19 problems for the Browns, who will be without multiple players and head coach Kevin Stefanski this weekend.
JM: Pittsburgh Steelers
Oh, right. There’s still a global pandemic and it was probably going to have some sort of impact on the playoffs. Enter the Cleveland Browns. They finally deliver on expectations and make the playoffs, but they’ll have to go to battle without Kevin Stefaski and Joel Bitonio. I was leaning Pittsburgh even with Cleveland’s head coach and most important offensive lineman in the equation. Does anyone really have any faith in Baker Mayfield, the playoff quarterback? I don’t, even with his head coach on the sideline and I have even less without him. Do the Steelers depend too much on Ben Roethlisberger’s arm? Yes. But it’s still Big Ben and he’s done enough this season and in his career to get the edge over Mayfield and the Browns.
Photo by Tammy Anthony Baker / Flickr