Thursday, January 28, 2021

NFL Wildcard Round Preview

The NFL playoffs are here. Just fourteen teams remain.

For the first time in NFL history, there are six wildcard round games, three from the AFC and three from the NFC.

Here is my preview of the six games along with my score predictions.

AFC Predictions

(7) Indianapolis Colts vs Buffalo Bills (2)

The Bills are easily the most in-form team in the NFL. If it were not for the Kyler Murray hail mary touchdown pass to Deandre Hopkins, the Bills would be on a ten-game winning streak.

Indy are an impressive team on defense and snuck in on the last Sunday of the regular season.

However, I cannot see any way past Bills quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

The key matchup is how both offenses perform. Colts rookie Jonathan Taylor has been the running back Indy have needed and that Buffalo have lacked. Allen has been exceptional this season and Colts quarterback Rivers has had his moments. However, Allen has been far the superior of the two quarterbacks.

The Colts will run them close but ultimately the gap between the two offenses is a lot wider than the gap between their defenses.

My Prediction: Colts 27-35 Bills

(5) Baltimore Ravens vs Tennessee Titans (4)

Derrick Henry scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime during the regular season.

The Ravens have been in excellent form of late, winning their last five games straight.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson is somewhat back to his best and the defense is performing.

The Titans have this seasons best running back in Derrick Henry. Their wide receiver A.J. Brown and quarterback Ryan Tannehill have the ability to win games if Henry is having an off day.

As good as those three are, Tennessee’s defense is lacklustre and will let them down on Sunday against an in form Ravens, but this will be a close affair.

My Prediction: Ravens 44-37 Tennessee Titans

(6) Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers (3)

AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland only met in week 17 and this was a close encounter, with the Browns winning by two points. This all took place with the Steelers playing backup quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben is not the same player anymore but is still capable of turning it on. The Steelers were already preparing for the playoff game with their decision to rest Roethlisberger. They will have more focus on this game than they did a week ago.

Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett will put the pressure on this Steelers offense. Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt will also be back after missing the week 17 clash, adding to a defense that recorded four sacks in that game.

The fact Cleveland barely beat a Pittsburgh side without many regulars has me worried for the Browns. Despite their brilliant running threat, I am predicting that a field goal will be the difference in this game.

My Prediction: Browns 24-27 Steelers

NFC Preview

(6) Los Angeles Rams vs Seattle Seahawks (3)

Both teams have had their issues going into this game. The Rams have been inconsistent and the Seahawks have fallen off a cliff after an impressive start to the season.

It is unclear whether Rams quarterback Jared Goff will play in this game and Seattle wide receiver DK Metcalf looks a shell of the player we saw in the first half of the season.

Aaron Donald is always a reason for the Rams to win a game and he will need to be at his best alongside linebacker Leonard Floyd to try and get to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson has shown that he can be exposed to pressure from opposition defenses. He has been the third most sacked quarterback this season (47).

As it has been when they have played in the regular season, the key matchup this game is Metcalf vs Jalen Ramsey.

Rams defensive back Ramsey has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league during the past few seasons. He proved this against many top receivers, with one of them being Seattle’s Metcalf.

In the two games in the regular season, Metcalf was restricted by Ramsey to a combined total of just eight passes from 12 targets, a combined 87 yards and no touchdowns. 

Even if Ramsey takes Metcalf out of the game, Seattle will manage to get the job done. This will either be through the improving Seattle defense making the most of erratic nature of the Rams offense or the magic of Russell Wilson.

Neither team has been exciting of late and this game will follow suit.

My Prediction: Rams 10-14 Seahawks

(5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Washington Football Team (4)

Both teams go into this game back in the playoffs after time away from the postseason.

This will be the first playoff appearance for the Buccaneers since 2008 and the first for Washington since 2016.

Rookie defensive end Chase Young has had a brilliant second half to the season and is the favourite for Defensive Player of the Year. He will have a task on his hands to stop the greatest of all time, Tom Brady.

The key matchup will be between Young and fellow defensive end Montez Sweat. They will look to get to Tampa Bay’s offensive line which includes rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs.

Can Young and Sweat get to Tom Brady? If they manage this then they have a chance. Otherwise, it will be a tall order for Washington.

Washington’s secondary will need to be able to stop the offensive weapons at Tampa’s disposal.

Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby will have busy days, with Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to deal with.

Sadly for Washington fans, this is where the journey ends for them and I cannot see this being anything other than a Buccaneers win.

For me, this will be the largest points difference in any of the playoff games this weekend, possibly throughout the whole postseason.

My Prediction: Tampa Bay 30-9 Washington.

(7) Chicago Bears vs New Orleans Saints (2)

The Bears go into this game just happy to be in the postseason after a topsy turvy season.

They go into this game as severe underdogs.

The key matchup will be this Bears defense up against Saints quarterback Drew Brees and running back Alvin Kamara.

Can the Bears stop the Saints offense ticking?

This is my shock of the week. I think the Bears will shock the Saints and win this game.

The Saints have a negative recent history in the playoffs, with three heartbreaking playoff losses in the past three seasons. Will history repeat itself?

Drew Brees is not his usual self and many are predicting this to be his last season in the NFL. His arm strength has been absent this season.

Kamara has been the Saints’ offense this season, with 16 rushing touchdowns, with 6 of those coming in one game.

He has shown his ability to both run and catch. He missed last weekend for COVID-19 related reasons and there is no guarantee he will be back this weekend.

We all saw Cam Newton’s form drop off after he missed time for the same reasons. Kamara is a better player but there are no guarantees that he will be fully ready for the game, with rust potentially a factor.

If both Brees and Kamara not at their best, this is where Chicago would capitalise. Mitch Trubisky has improved since returning as the starter, albeit against lesser opponents.

Against a team who has allowed the fourth least total yards this season, Trubisky has a difficult game on paper. It will be the defense that wins the game for Chicago, but Trubisky has the confidence at the moment that could see him play a big role.

My Prediction: Bears 20-17 Saints

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