NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview and Predictions

Colts at Bills (-6.5)

My initial thought was that this spread feels a bit on the low side but I can see why the spread is around 7 now. The Bills will be hyped as being able to win this one easily but I’m not sure this will be a blowout. This is because the Bills actually are quietly fairly poor against the run. They have a bottom half run D despite only facing 1 elite running back all season and have given up 21 rushing touchdowns. I appreciate they are a lot fitter defensively now than before but the Colts are one of the best running teams in the league so I’d expect Jonathan Taylor to have a big day here. But for me the Colts have to lead early to have any chance in this one, if they go behind and have to rely on Rivers to get back in the game then they’ll likely struggle against a strong secondary with a turnover prone QB like Rivers.

The Bills will likely be having to do most of their damage through the air here but that’s fine as they’re far stronger through the air than on the ground and the Colts have a poor secondary that can be exploited by guys like Diggs and Brown. The big strength of the Colts D is their D-line and they’ve been very good at getting to the QB this year but I like Allen to be able to get the ball out of his hands quickly and the Chiefs have a nice O-line anyway.

For me the Bills should be too good here, if they get a couple of quick scores to start the game then they should be able to cruise and Allen is a far better QB than Rivers these days. The only way the Colts can win is if they score in the first possession of the game and try and game manage from there and it feels a lot safer to be on Buffalo who look to be stronger in most positions than the Colts.

Bills 27-17 Colts

Rams at Seahawks (-3)

This is probably going to be the biggest slugfest of the weekend. It’s a hard one to call as well as even though the Seahawks have a massive edge at QB, the Rams are probably stronger in a lot of other positions in the field.

The Seahawks have struggled to protect Wilson all season but this weekend is the first time they have their full O-line fit for months and that is huge in this matchup. The Rams have had the best D for yards conceded this season in the NFL this season but part of me isn’t fully sold on their ability to stop top QBs, they’ve played a lot of teams with either mediocre QBs or injured O-lines this season and I can see Seattle having a decent amount of joy through the air in this one if their linemen are fully ready to go this weekend. I can’t see them doing quite as much on the ground though as the Rams have the number 3 rush D and have faced a fairly solid slate of rushing teams so that ranking feels very legit and with the Seahawks possessing mainly average RBs, it feels like Wilson will have to put the offense on his back in this one.

Meanwhile for the Rams, it looks like Goff will be back for this one but the question is how fit is he. Having a hand injury is a concern for a QB and I’ve not been sold on him anyway. Any team that can get to him gives him nightmares and with Seattle registering 3 sacks in each of their games against the Rams, you’d fancy them to get a similar number here again. I’m just not sold on how much offense they’ll be able to generate as Seattle are also quietly strong against the run having played some nice rushing offenses and still coming out with the number 5 run D and if Goff isn’t fully firing then it could be a long day for the Rams.

For me, this boils down to the case that I don’t trust Goff. He’s a lot worse than Wilson and with Seattle being the healthiest they’ve been since September, I think they’re actually a very real Super Bowl contender and should be able to get the win here even if the Rams play well on the defensive side of the ball.

Seahawks 21-13 Rams

Tampa Bay (-8) at Washington

For a lot of people, this will be the easiest win of the weekend. The NFC East has been a laughing stock all year and the Washington offense isn’t exactly intimidating.

Speaking of the Washington offense, I really worry for them in this one. They’re at their best when they’re running the ball well and they’re coming up against the best run D in the league here so it may be on Smith to generate offense and even though the Tampa Bay secondary is very beatable, I just can’t see Washington getting past 17 points here unless they score a defensive touchdown. Logan Thomas is likely a good bet to score a TD though since he looks a nice red zone target and I do expect Washington to score at least 2 TDs here.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay offense will live off how well they can protect Brady against a very solid D-line. I can see them being fine though as Washington struggle in coverage and with the many weapons Brady has to throw to, there should be a mismatch there and Brady is very good at getting the ball out of his hands quickly which boosts my confidence in Tampa Bay to be able to generate some offense though they may struggle to get over the 25 point mark.

My overall view is that Tampa Bay will win this game, but Brady may struggle early on while Washington are hyped up to make a statement before the Buccaneers get ahead in the second half. So I’m leaning towards saying Washington will cover even though they will lose.

Buccaneers 24-17 Washington

Ravens (-3) at Titans

This game is being dubbed as the biggest shootout of the 6 games and it’s actually a really hard one to call.

The Titans have a very strong recent history against the Ravens and Henry has caused them nightmares over the last couple of years. The Ravens have a solid run D but have been torched on a few occasions this season and I can see something similar happening here today with Henry playing really well right now. The passing offense will likely have more issues with Baltimore having a stout pass D and I actually do like the Baltimore D to stop this offense more than on the last 2 times these sides faced.

The Ravens offense should have an easier time of things potentially since the Titans D is utterly embarrassing right now against the pass but I’m still not completely sold on Jackson. He looked terrible early on this season and has had a relatively easy run in to get to the playoffs. The Titans are the best run D he’s faced in a while meaning he’ll likely need to throw for much further than he has lately to keep up with the Titans offense.

For me, this game will actually have less points than people may think and feels more like a 47 point game that gets decided by 1 score than a 60+ point shootout. I have a feeling that the Titans may just be a little more clutch than this Ravens team and I wouldn’t trust Jackson late with the game on the line which makes me want to pick Tennessee to win this one despite their terrible secondary.

Titans 24-21 Ravens

Bears at Saints (-10)

I feel this spread may be too high. The Bears played the Saints within 3 points at Soldier Field and I can see them being competitive for at least the first half if not further.

The Bears offense actually has looked a lot better as of late when Trubisky isn’t busy giving the ball to the other team and with the Superdome being indoors, at least he won’t have to worry about adverse weather conditions. But the Saints D is very strong and is top 5 in both passing and rushing yards meaning they will likely stop the Bears a few times and force a turnover or 2 as well. Allen Robinson looks the most likely TD scorer for the Bears and I can’t shake the feeling that Jimmy Graham will have some red zone plays dialled up for him at the stadium of his former team.

The Saints offense will likely live off how fit Brees is. He looked pretty solid last week and the Bears secondary was easily torched by Green Bay last week so I’m leaning towards him having a fairly solid game in this one. The Saints running game also seems to be effective no matter who is on the field for them and though the Bears will get a couple of sacks and maybe force 1 turnover, I can’t see them doing enough to keep the Saints under 25 which they will likely have to do to stand any chance of winning.

Overall, this feels like a Saints win by either 7 or 10 points which is why I like Chicago on the spread, they should be able to give Trubisky some protection and the Saints D has struggled at home on occasions this season so I can see the Bears getting 24 points and covering.

Saints 31-24 Bears

Browns at Steelers (-6)

A divisional matchup to end Wildcard weekend and the first appearance for the Browns in the playoffs in a long time.

But I love the Steelers here. They blew out the Browns at Heinz field earlier this year and considering their backups kept within 2 points of Cleveland away from home, I’d expect Pittsburgh to win this one comfortably. There have been complaints about the offense, but in the 5 game run where it looked shocking, you could make a case for at least 3 of the teams they faced having very strong defenses and the Cleveland secondary hasn’t been great this year so guys like Claypool, Johnson and Juju should be able to get open against a bottom half pass D.

Meanwhile Mayfield could have a torrid time here. The Pittsburgh D-line will be extremely fired up and should be able to get to Mayfield 4 times here potentially even though the Browns have a solid enough O-line. The best chance the Browns have will be to run the ball well and in fairness they did do that last week. They actually have a similar situation to the Colts where if they can establish the run early, they suddenly have every chance but I can’t see that happening in this one. Tomlin will also have extra footage of the Browns offense and what they’ll try to do to the Steelers D after the game last week and can probably make preparations to stop the Browns having the same success on the ground as last week.

Overall, I love the Steelers here. They have a brilliant record at home to Cleveland and having rested their starters, an effective extra week of rest and preparation for this game. I trust in Tomlin enough as a coach to use that to his advantage and to get the win here.

Steelers 28-14 Browns


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