NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview

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Michael Howes '22, Staff Writer

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview 

Happy New Year!!! The NFL regular season has ended at last. 256 games completed, not a single game missed due to Covid-19. This season was special in many ways. A game was played on every single day of the week this year, something we may never see again! The Cleveland Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought. And finally, Alex Smith returned to the field after having 17 surgeries and nearly dying. What a comeback story! 

The playoffs are now here, and that means that it is a whole another season now. The previous 16 games these teams have played do not matter anymore. Any given week a team can boom or bust. Since the Wild Card system was inherited, only ten wild card teams have reached the Super Bowl, but 6 of the ten have won it. The six seeded Titans made a miracle run to the AFC Conference Championship and just fell short of making the Super Bowl last year. And this year, the NFL has incorporated a seven seed into the playoffs, adding another team on each conference. Because of this, there is only one first round bye team per conference. So enough talking, let us get to the games.  

 

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (12-4) 

How to Watch: Saturday 1:05 EST on CBS 

Game Preview: The Bills enter the game on a six-game winning streak and with MVP candidate Josh Allen. The offense is spectacular this year, being second in both points per game and yards per game. Unlike previous years, it is the passing game that is the focal point of the offense. The defense, however, is massively underperforming. After being one of the league’s best units last year, the defense has fallen to 16th in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed.  

On the other sideline, you have the Indianapolis Colts, seemingly a reverse of the Bills. The Colts offense, led by 39-year-old Phillip Rivers under center, has been a dominant rushing attack the last few weeks. In the last four weeks, the Colts have averaged 184.75 rushing yards per game. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards mark and had 11 rushing touchdowns.  

On the other side of the ball, the Colts defense has been dominant this year. The Colts are top 10 in both points allowed and yards allowed. They are also 5th in the league in forced turnovers, with twenty-five.  

Score Prediction: Bills 27, Colts 26 

 

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 

How to Watch: Saturday 4:40 EST on FOX. 

Game Preview: The Seattle Seahawks are a tale of two different teams this year. During their first eight games, they went 6-2. The offense averaged 34.25 points per game and the defense allowed 30.37 points per game. For the last eight games, they also went 6-2 but the play of the defense and offense changed. The offense then averaged 23.1 points per game and the defense allowed 16 points per game. If the offense and the defense can both play a complete game together, the Seahawks could be a scary team. 

The Rams, on the other hand, have been a defensive marvel the whole season. They have allowed the least amount of both yards and points this season. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an absolute game wrecker, as he has double-digit sacks once again for another season. The offense, on the other hand, struggles. They have scored only the 22nd most points in the league, one of the worst in this year’s playoffs. To add to that, starting quarterback Jared Goff could be out for a second straight week with a thumb injury on his throwing hand that he suffered week sixteen against the Seahawks. He received surgery on December 28th and is questionable to play. In the cold, slick weather in Seattle and an injured throwing hand, I would expect it to be hard for him to play and possibly another week for backup John Wolford to play.  

Score Prediction: Seahawks 21, Rams 20 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Washington Football Team (7-9) 

How to Watch: Saturday 8:15 EST on NBC 

Game Preview: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Football Team have been two of the most exciting teams to watch this year. The Buccaneers last offseason signed quarterback Tom, one who some consider the greatest of all time. Since then, the offense has flourished. They are 3rd in points per game and 7th in yardage. The defense has also played well, allowed the 8th least points and the 6th least yards. However, when the Buccaneers play a good team, things get a bit shaky. They are 1-5 against winning teams and 10-0 against losing teams.  

The Washington Football Team, on the other hand, has one of the greatest comeback stories of all time. On November 18, 2018, Alex Smith suffered one of the most gruesome leg injuries of all time. He would then undergo 17 surgeries, countless infections, and a near-death experience. This year, he finally made his way back on the field and led a 2-6 Washington Football Team to a 7-9 record. When Alex Smith started this year, the Football Team was 5-1, compared to 2-8 when he did not start. He is the clear comeback player of the year this year. To add to that, the Football Team has one of the most feared defenses in the league. They have allowed the 4th least points per game and the 2nd least yards per game. They have one of the best defensive lines in football, being 5th in the league in sacks. 

Score Prediction: Football Team 22, Buccaneers 25 

 

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5) 

How to Watch: Sunday 1:05 EST on ESPN/ABC 

Game Preview: Probably one of the more anticipated games happens early Sunday afternoon. For the past year, the Ravens and the Titans have become bitter rivals. It all started in the 2020 divisional round, where the six seed Titans upset the one seed Ravens at home. Then this season in a Week 11 matchup, the Titans went to Baltimore and beat the Ravens in overtime. This time, some extracurriculars happened before the game, which consisted of a Titans team meeting on the Ravens logo and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh voicing his displeasure with it. 

The Ravens enter this game hoping to quiet all the critics and beat their rival Titans. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is 0-2 so far in the playoffs and wants to end the narrative that he is a playoff choker. Since catching Covid-19 on Thanksgiving, Jackson’s play, as well as the team, has drastically improved. After losing to the Steelers on Wednesday afternoon football on NBC, the Ravens have gone on a five-game win streak where they have averaged 267.4 rushing yards per game.  

The Titans as well are a strong rushing team featuring MVP candidate Derrick Henry, who had rushed for 2,000 yards this year. He had become the 8th player to ever do so, joining NFL legends OJ Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, and Adrian Peterson. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not played shabby either, having passed for over 3,500 yards and having 33 passing touchdowns. The defense is the main problem for the Titans, as they have allowed the 5th most yards in the league and the 9th most points in the league. 

Score Prediction: Ravens 28, Titans 24 

 

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4) 

How to Watch: Sunday 4:40 EST on CBS/Nickelodeon/Amazon Prime Video 

Game PreviewIn what could be Drew Brees’ last postseason, the Saints look to take care against the Chicago Bears. The Saints enter with the 5th highest-scoring offense. Led by running back Alvin Kamala, it is hard to take care of them when they get going. The defense has also been spectacular, allowing the fifth least points per game. They have talent all over the defense, including defensive linemen Cam Jordan and Trey Hendrickson. Linebacker Demario Davis, who is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, is having another spectacular season this year. Their special teams unit is also amazing, featuring Wil Lutz and Thomas Morstead.  

For the Chicago Bears, they have been extremely inconsistent this year. After starting 5-1, they went on a six-game losing streak. They then finished on a 3-1 stretch where they restarted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who was benched early in the season. Running back David Montgomery has been a break star this year, posting 1000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is another playmaker on the offense, who had 1250 yards receiving with six touchdowns.  

The defense is the strength of the Bears this year. Although they are not as dominant as years prior, they still have great playmakers. Linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan combined for a total of 251 tackles this year. Defensive backs Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are among the best at their position. Edge rusher Khalil Mack is always a threat to wreck a game with his pass-rushing ability.  

Score PredictionSaints 27, Bears 22 

 

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburg Steelers (12-4) 

How to Watch: Sunday 8:15 EST on NBC/Peacock/Telemundo 

Game PreviewThe last game on wild card weekend is between AFC North division rivals. The Steelers enter the game bolstering one of the best defenses in the league. They have allowed the 3rd least points in yards in the league. They are not the weak spot on this team, it is the offense. Over the last six games, the offense has averaged only 19 points per game. They are also struggling to rush the ball, averaging the least amount of rushing yards per game.  

The Browns, on the other hand, are one of the best rushing teams in the league. They average the third-most rushing yards per game in the league, 148.3 yards per game. Their defense though has not been good. The defense is 21st in points allowed per game, allowing 26 points per game. The Browns are also dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak in their facility. Many coaches, including head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski, will not be able to coach on Sunday due to testing positive for the virus.  

Score Prediction: Steelers 26, Browns 23