NFC Wild Card Round Preview
Unlike an AFC slate that has some intriguing Wild Card teams in the Ravens and Colts, the NFC looks to be pretty top-heavy. But even if it seems pretty easy to go chalk in your office playoff brackets, there are is some potential for chaos.
The quarterbacks leave some wiggle room for intrigue. Russel Wilson has been elite at points this year, but has shown that he can be reigned in. We have senior discount Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Drew Brees quarterbacking the two most talented teams. Then we have some truly mediocre QBs in John Wolford/Jared Goff, Alex Smith and Mitch Trubisky of it all. On top of that, all three NFC underdogs possess elite defences. There is a road in which we see one of the “favourites” have their quarterback completely bottled up with the football world watching.
I exonerated myself from AFC talk due to the Bills playoff jitters. So I let Cameron preview the AFC match-ups. So here I’ll break down what’s what you need to know in the NFC.
#6 LA Rams (10-6) at #3 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Game Info: Saturday, January 9th at 4:40pm at Lumen Field
The line on this game is the closest of the three NFC match-ups with the Seahawks as -3.5 favourites. But if John Wolford, alumni of the short-lived Alliance of America Football league and LinkedIn endorsement aficionado, is starting under center for the Rams I just don’t see the Seahawks losing this game.
The Rams sport one of the premier defences in the NFL. They led the NFL with the fewest points scored against per game (18.5), the fewest total yards against per game (303.8), the fewest passing yards per game (190.7) and the third-fewest rushing yards per game (91.3). Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald is the driving force of this unit and could be considered the most dominant player on any team headed into the playoffs.
The Rams make up for the sheer dominance of their defence with an offence seemingly allergic to the football. Despite an attack that can gain yards in the air and on the ground, the Rams were tied 22nd with the Bears with just 23.3 points per game due in large part to a staggering 25 turnovers which is second worst among playoff teams.
On the other side of the field Seattle will go as far as their Jekyll and Hyde offence can take them. If there’s a quarterback who can counter LA’s frightening pass rush, it’s Russell Wilson. Russ has always had a penchant for making throws on the run. The Seahawks offence hasn’t been the dynamo that we saw in the first half of the year but they still have formidable weapons in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson.
The Seahawks won the regular season series 2-0 against their NFC West rivals. I do think that Sean McVay is still enough of a football genius that can scheme up a win for the Rams. But at the end of the say it comes down to the fact that it’s Russ versus Goff or Wolford. The Seahawks are the rightful favourites. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at #4 Washington Football Team (7-9)
Game Info: Saturday, January 9th at 8:15pm at FedEx Field
The only thing to keep in mind with this game is the -9 Tampa Bay spread. I just don’t see a way that a Washington team led by Alex Smith can win this playoff game. Smith might be the worst quarterback in the playoffs and the 7-9 “Football Team” from Washington is the worst team to host a playoff game since the 2014 Carolina Panthers won their division with a 7-8-1 record. Every snap Smith takes–right or wrong–I am terrified for his health. The comeback story is amazing. From leg amputation conversations to starting a playoff game three years after his horrific leg break. I just don’t feel comfortable watching him out there.
Now that isn’t to say that the game can’t be close. The Bucs are 0-4 when playing top ten defences this year having lost to the Rams, Bears and twice to the Saints. The Buccaneers have weapons for days but we have yet to see Tom Brady and the coaching staff properly adjust when facing legitimate pressure this year. And if there’s one thing you can take to the bank about this Washington defence is elite. They are top five in almost every traditional and advanced metric and have individual difference makers all over the field.
Washington’s horrendous offence loses them the game, the all-world defence keeps it close. If Alex Smith limits the turnovers maybe they make Tampa sweat a bit.
# 7 Chicago Bears (8-8) at #2 New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Game Info: Sunday, January 10th at 4:40pm at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Am I crazy to think that the Bears have a shot?
The Saints have been extremely good on both sides of the football when they’re clicking. Despite a sharp regression in arm talent, Drew Brees still knows where to put the football and Alvin Kamara is one of the most versatile game breakers at the running back position. But Brees’ lack of arm strength is exactly the roadmap for a potential upset. If a defence can pressure him and force him to air it out, it can be an ugly scene.
That isn’t to say that Mitch Trubisky doesn’t soundly lose this QB match-up on paper. He is pretty much the antithesis of Brees with flashes of throwing a good ball and superior athleticism, stifled by inconsistency and baffling decision making.
I feel like I’m repeating myself in saying that the game will hinge on the underdog’s bad quarterback limiting turnovers and letting their elite defence keep the game close. We’ve seen these two teams match-up in Week 8 when the Bears, who were starting Nick Foles at the time, took the Saints to overtime only to lose 26-23.
Upon writing this the Saints are a -9.5 favourite and it isn’t hard to see why. They finished the season fifth in points per game with 30.1 and fifth in points against per game with 21.1. They are the most complete team in the entire NFC and Sean Payton is a top five coach in the NFL.
All of that being said I just can’t get Chicago’s big physical defence out of my head. They just have so many playmakers all over the field. Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller. There’s just so much talent there. Maybe I’m a moron, maybe I’m a romantic, but I think that Da Bears have a bit of juice.