NFL Playoffs Preview: Looking ahead to Super Wild Card Weekend
After 17 weeks and 256 regular season games, we made it. The NFL Playoffs are here.
It’s been a strange old season with COVID-19 leading to schedule interruptions, a lack of fans inside the stadiums and a bunch of players either opting out or missing out due to Coronavirus.
So it seems almost fitting that this is the season in which we get used to the new-look NFL Playoffs. The 12-team format upgraded to allow for two additional Wildcard slots and get this… no New England Patriots.
The new format now brings us Super Wild Card Weekend, with six mouthwatering games kicking off the postseason. Then we have the Divisional Round, the Championship Games and BOOM… Super Bowl 55 on February 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Florida .
We’re going to take a quick look at the Super Wild Card match-ups and a few fancies, before the Number 1 seeds – Green Bay Packers from the NFC and reigning champs Kansas City Chiefs of the AFC – enter the fray.
NFL PLAYOFFS: SATURDAY
AFC: Indianapolis Colts (#7) at Buffalo Bills (#2)
Buffalo are the number 2 seed with a 13-3 record, thanks to quarterback Josh Allen performing at an MVP level and Stefon Diggs finishing the regular season with the most receptions and receiving yards. FYI… you can back Diggs to reel in the first touchdown of the NFL Playoffs at 9/1.
The Bills finally shook off the Patriots to clinch their first AFC East title since 1995 and are arguably the hottest team going into the postseason, winning their last three games by 29, 29 and 30 points respectively.
Infamous for reaching four successive Super Bowls in the 90’s and losing all four, this team could finally put things right this year.
But there’s always a good story in the NFL. Frank Reich was quarterback for the Bills during that period and now he’s the head coach in Indianapolis, aiming to get one over on the franchise where he spent almost a decade as a player.
The Colts are up against it here but will provide a stern test, and they have weapons. Rookie Jonathan Taylor has established himself as the lead back and went off for 253 yards in the final game of the season. Bills, beware.
NFC: Los Angeles Rams (#6) at Seattle Seahawks (#3)
Divisional match-ups in the NFL Playoffs are good. Especially when they come from the NFC West – arguably the best division in football. San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl last year and they didn’t even make the playoffs this season. Insane.
Seattle Seahawks clinched the division but they’re no longer being carried by the famous Legion of Boom defence that helped them reach back-to-back Bowls in 2014 and 2015. Russell Wilson has always been a star but now has the receiving corps to help Seahawks outscore, rather than stifle, their opposition.
DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett both set franchise records this season, with the former finishing the campaign with 1,303 yards. Meanwhile, Lockett hauled in 95 receptions to write his name into the Seahawks history books.
BUT… they face the Los Angeles Rams, who boast the top-ranked defence in all of football. The Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals to squeeze in on the final day but make no mistake – Seattle will not relish this one.
Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald has been a wrecking ball again this season. At this point in time, Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback around and has consistently shut down the best WRs all season long – including Metcalf.
The big question comes at quarterback. Will Jared Goff return following his thumb surgery, or will Sean McVay roll with John Wolford after the backup QB stepped up to deliver an impressive debut display?
The over/under points total is set at 42.5, after the two divisional meetings finished 23-16 to the Rams and 20-9 to the Seahawks. But with the Grosvenor Sport slider, you can adjust the total as you see fit. Under 39.5 would have landed in both and is available at 13/10.
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#5) at Washington Football Team (#4)
“I want Tom” were the words yelled out by Chase Young, after the rookie defensive end helped Washington controversially defeat the Eagles and book their first postseason berth since 2015.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians responded, saying “be careful what you wish for.” And he might be right. Tom Brady, at the tender age of 43, has quietened his critics with a terrific season in which he threw for 40 touchdowns.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller make for a scarily-good WR group, and his trusted pal Rob Gronkowski is definitely better as a Tight End than a Masked Singer contestant. Only just, though.
The defence is pretty good too and Washington, who scraped through from the woeful NFC East, will do well to avoid going one-and-done. Whatever happens, all credit to Alex Smith. The quarterback thought he might have his leg amputated after a horrific injury. Instead, he’s fought back against the odds, guided Washington to the playoffs, and he’s 100% the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Buccaneers are one of two lower seeds going into this week as favourites as they bid to become the first franchise to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium. They should complete step one, and a -13.5 handicap at 17/10 looks like value.
NFL PLAYOFFS: SUNDAY
AFC: Baltimore Ravens (#5) at Tennessee Titans (#4)
Last year, Lamar Jackson became only the second unanimous MVP, inspiring Baltimore Ravens to an AFC North title, a 14-2 record and the number 1 seed. Then they bumped into Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
Despite a 12-game winning streak, Ravens stumbled on the big stage. One early interception from Jackson proved costly and then Derrick Henry got going, rushing for 195 yards and even completing a touchdown pass in a 28-12 win for the Titans.
And Henry is still very much a problem. He led the league in rushing for the second straight year, surpassing 2,000 yards – only the eighth man in NFL history to achieve the feat.
Ravens’ rush defense is ranked 8th in the NFL and they need to be at their very best to stop Henry and the AFC South champions here. Henry to score first in a Titans win is 13/1, but Baltimore are favourites to advance.
NFC: Chicago Bears (#7) at New Orleans Saints (#2)
It’s not often you get an easy ride in the NFL Playoffs, but out of the six weekend games, this is probably the most straightforward when it comes to picking a winner.
No shade to Chicago. David Montgomery and Allen Robinson have been immense down the stretch and probably helped a lot of people pick up a Fantasy Championship. But there are still big questions over Mitch Trubisky under centre.
It looked like time was up in Chicago for the QB famously chosen ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he returned to help the Bears to an 8-8 record and a Wildcard spot. But there was a lot on the line against Green Bay in Week 17 and he just didn’t show up.
As for New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees always shows up. And so does his team. Saints have suffered plenty of playoff heartache in recent years, but they’re primed for a good run at it this year. The Saints are good on all sides of the football, and Alvin Kamara comes out of COVID-19 protocols just in time to play.
New Orleans should advance.
AFC: Cleveland Browns (#6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (#3)
Saving the best ‘til last. Cleveland Browns were on the longest playoff drought in the NFL, without a postseason showing since 2002. Yet, despite an outstanding season, they still had to beat division rivals Pittsburgh Steelers on the final day to make it.
Steelers rested their starters and Cleveland were in control, but this is the Browns. To say it was a nervy finish wouldn’t do it justice. But here they are – and it’s an immediate rematch, this time in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers went 11-0 before ‘collapsing’ to 12-4, still enough to win the AFC North and take the number 3 seed. DPOTY candidate TJ Watt will return from a week off, as will Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and QB1 Ben Roethlisberger.
However, Cleveland have enough on both sides of the ball to cause an upset here. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are possibly the best RB tandem in the league, QB Baker Mayfield is capable of big performances and Pro-Bowl selection Myles Garrett leads the assault on defence.
Early-season Pittsburgh wins this, but the Browns are more than capable of upsetting the odds on current form.
Let the rollercoaster ride begin.
For all the latest NFL betting and Super Bowl LV odds, head to Grosvenor Sport. And if you’re after the other type of football, check out our Million Pound Picks preview – where you could win £1M for free every single week.
*All stated odds correct at time of writing