2021 Wild Card Weekend: AFC Edition
With the odds stacked against them, the NFL managed to make it through a full season without having to completely shut down due to COVID. Yes, games were postponed, teams played with quarterbacks, or running backs, or even head coaches, and the health and safety of every single player was put at risk, but here we are 17 weeks later and it seems like the NFL is going to make it through a full season.
This year is also different for another reason: an expanded playoff that now includes 7 teams from each conference and a couple of extra Wild Card games. More playoff football? Definitely nothing to complain about there. So, without wasting anymore time, let’s dive into our previews.
#2 Buffalo Bills (13-3) vs. #7 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Game Info: Saturday, January 9th at 1:05pm at Bills Stadium.
As much as I hate to say it, the Buffalo Bills are good. In fact, they’re so good that they might be the only team in the AFC capable of beating the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. But first, they’ll have to get by the Colts, who are only in the playoffs because the Bills helped them out in Week 17.
Bills QB Josh Allen earned likely earned some MVP votes with his performance this season, and the Bills have every reason to be confident going into this game. While the strength of this Buffalo team has been their pass offense, pass defense just happens to be a strength of the Colts. It’ll be interesting to see if Buffalo finds a way to get Devin Singletary and Zack Moss more involved in their game plan, or if they rely on their passing game to prove that the Colts can’t slow them down. While coaches are always trying to come up with the best game plan to beat their opponent, sometimes the best thing they can do is just keep doing what has made them so good all season long.
Wild Card Weekend wasn’t kind to the Bills last year, and there is a lot more pressure on them this time around. The Bills were the #5 seed last year, and ended up blowing a 16-0 lead against the Houston Texans. However, as the #2 seed this time around, the Bills are expected to go on a deep playoff run. Anything short of that will be a disappointment for the team.
Our Prediction: Bills Win
#4 Tennessee Titans (11-5) vs. #5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Game Info: Sunday, January 10th at 1:05pm at Nissan Stadium.
It took overtime to determine a winner when these two teams met in late November, and this one is setting up to be another close game. The Titans came out on top earlier this season, and the Divisional Round matchup between these two teams last January. While the Ravens seem to have taken a step back from the team they were a year ago, Tennessee seems to be the same team, and a big reason for that is Derrick Henry. He finished this season as the only rusher with more than 2,000 yards, nearly 500 more than the second highest rusher.
It’s no secret that the Tennessee offense runs through Henry, but Baltimore’s attack is much more balanced. Lamar Jackson is no stranger to big rushing games, finishing the season ninth in rushing with 1,005 yards. Last year’s MVP is still dangerous with his feet, but he only threw for 2,757 yards this season. With both teams relying so heavily on their rushing game, this game is likely to be decided on the ground, with the edge going to the Titans. Every team knows that Henry is going to run the ball, yet nobody has been able to stop him.
Our Pick: Titans Win
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) vs. #6 Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Game Info: Sunday, January 10th at 8:15pm at Heinz Field.
AFC North Rivals clash as the Browns make their first playoff appearance since 2002. Remember how earlier in the article I mentioned that some teams were forced to play without their head coach? Well, the Cleveland Browns are now facing that situation as their COVID outbreak continues.
These teams have both had plenty of highs and lows throughout the season. The Steelers went on an 11-0 run to start the season, but stumbled into the playoffs going 1-4 in their last five games. Meanwhile, the Browns lost to the Jets and put their playoff spot in jeopardy with only a couple weeks left in the season. The Browns won the Week 17 meeting between these teams to punch their ticket to the playoffs, but it was a game where the Steelers had opted to rest a decent amount of their starters, and the Browns still barely pulled it off. In their first matchup of the season featuring full rosters, Pittsburgh won easily, 38-7.
If the Steelers can manage to avoid the dropped passes that have become a staple of their offense over the second half of the season, they should be able to take this game pretty easily. I don’t think they’re a real threat in the AFC, but a Cleveland hasn’t done enough to prove that they’re a real threat either, and going into the game without their head coach isn’t going to help their cause. Maybe Baker Mayfield has a few tricks up his sleeve, but this is looking like it’ll be a pretty big challenge for the Browns to overcome.
Our Pick: Steelers Win