“Super Wild Card Weekend:” A Preview of the First Round of the NFL Playoffs
By Maya Gomes
In a season ravaged by COVID-19, against all odds the NFL managed to complete their regular season. For the first time, the NFL is attempting a 14 team playoff structure, which means that only the first seed in each conference will have a first round bye, and wild card weekend will feature three games each day. The standings for each conference are listed below.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
4. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
6. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
3. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
4. Washington Football Team (7-9)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
6. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
7. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Wildcard Playoff Schedule:
Saturday January 9
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (1:05pm)
Despite an incredible regular season that ended red hot, the Bills feel like an underestimated team coming into the playoffs. Josh Allen has led the Bills to one of the top scoring offenses in the league, which will be tested against a tough Colts defense. Conversely, the Colts also have an extremely productive offense, which could lead to a shootout in the first game of wild card weekend.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (4:40pm)
In the third meeting this year between these two teams, Los Angeles waits anxiously for the status of star quarterback Jared Goff, who injured his thumb against the Seahawks in week 16. If he remains sidelined, the Rams will have to depend on backup John Wolford, who has started only one game in his career (the week 17 win against the Cardinals) against a strong Seattle team, boosted by a finally healthy offensive line and a stellar Russel Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team (8:15pm)
In his first playoffs with Tampa Bay Tom Brady will lead the Buccaneers to Washington, to play a team that got to the playoffs by virtue of playing in football’s worst division (not to mention securing their playoff spot against an Eagles team that seemingly threw the game). Washington will have to rely on their defensive line (especially star rookie defensive end Chase Young) to combat the Buccaneers loaded offense, while scrambling to find some semblance of offensive success that eluded them in the regular season. Nonetheless, Washington quarterback Alex Smith deserves a round of applause for his play this year after coming back from a nearly fatal, 17 surgery injury suffered in 2018.
Sunday January 10:
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (1:05pm)
In a rematch of last year’s divisional round upset, Baltimore heads to Tennessee looking to redeem themselves against a Titans team led by running back Derrick Henry, who just joined the short list of running backs to ever rush for 2000 yards in a single season. Containing the run is going to be key for Baltimore, something they have struggled to do all season. On the other side, Lamar Jackson is going to need a big game against a weaker Titans defense if Baltimore wants their revenge, particularly by exploiting the lack of pressure generated by the Titans defensive line.
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints (4:40pm)
Despite limping to the end of the regular season with a loss to Green Bay, Chicago heads to New Orleans to take on a strong Saints team led by the recently returned Drew Brees. New Orleans will be closely watching the status of star running back Alvin Kamara who is undergoing the COVID-19 testing protocol, as well as wide receiver Michael Thomas, who will be returning from the injured reserve list. Bears fans will be watching the play of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who shows promise or is a huge bust depending on who you ask. The Bears will depend on star defensive end Khalil Mack and the defense to keep the game close against a diverse Saints offense.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (8:15pm)In perhaps the most unbelievable event of the year, the Cleveland Browns have finally made the playoffs after a 18 year drought, and will attempt to win their first playoff game in 26 years against division rival Pittsburgh. The Steelers started the season 12-0, but lost four of the last five games. The two teams met in week 17 in a close Cleveland win, though Pittsburg was resting several starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, and Cam Heyward. Despite concerns, this game will be Pittsburgh’s to lose, but if it happens, it will happen by a strong passing attack from Baker Mayfield and heavy pressure from Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.