Following the conclusion of Week 17, playoff teams turn their attention to their wild card matchup, and the imminent do or die games. Under the new playoff format, only the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers will receive first-round byes. That makes for six enticing wild card games in what will be one of the most exciting wild card weekends ever. Here are the preview and predictions for three matchups in AFC for NFL Wild-Card Weekend.
Buffalo Bills vs Indianapolis Colts
Spread: Buffalo Bills, -6.5
For the two vs. seven matchup on the AFC side, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Indianapolis Colts. While the seeding suggests that the game is a foregone conclusion, this could end up being the closest of all the wild card games.
The Bills have enjoyed their best season in recent memory after former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bolted for Tampa. The Bills won 13 games for the first time since 1991 and finished first in the division for the first time since 1995. They have a high-powered offense led by MVP candidate Josh Allen and star receiver Stefon Diggs which had the second-most points scored in the league this year.
However, the Colts are no pushover, and the Bills would be mistaken to take them lightly. They are a well-rounded team led by veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers. The offense was efficient this year, ranking 9th in points scored and 3rd-last in total turnovers. All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard leads the defense for a Colts defense that has forced the third-most turnovers this season with 15 interceptions and nine fumbles.
Key Matchups: Bills Passing Game vs. Colts Secondary
The Bills will rely heavily on the Allen-Diggs tandem in what is the most crucial game of the year up until this point. Since coming over in a trade from the Vikings, Diggs has proved that he can be the No. 1 receiver on a competitive team. The productivity of the Bills offensive duo will be the deciding factor of this wildcard game. The Colts ranked 10th in interceptions this season with 15. The secondary will need to force turnovers from Josh Allen and Co. for the Colts to remain competitive.
Prediction: Bills win, 35-24
Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Spread: Pittsburgh Steelers, -6
The 2020 NFL season continues to make history as the Steelers will face their divisional rivals, the Cleveland Browns, in a wildcard game. Their matchup comes after the two teams played each other just last week. However, both teams will look considerably different come game time.
The Steelers started the season hot, going undefeated through the first twelve games of the season. They then dropped 4 of their last five games to finish out the season. Not a convincing way to close out the season, but the Steelers should still not be taken lightly. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had a great season after missing the majority of the 2019 season. Rookie Chase Claypool has been a standout performer for the Pittsburgh offense as he led the team with nine receiving touchdowns.
The Browns barely squeezed into the playoffs after defeating the Steelers in Week 17. They are a talented team but have faced issues with COVID-19 protocols over the past couple of weeks. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for the virus, and his status to coach in the wild card game is unclear. Key players on the Browns COVID-19/Reserve list also include safety Ronnie Harrison, defensive back Denzel Ward, and guard Joel Bitonio.
Key Matchups: Steelers Defensive Line vs. Browns Running Game
While the Browns have relied on quarterback Baker Mayfield throughout the season, they also have used a formidable run game to set up their passing game. The running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has been a significant part of the Browns offense all season. They will face off against a Steelers defensive line that may be the best in the entire league
Steelers edge rusher T.J Watt led the league in sacks with 15 on the season, and the Steelers as a team led the league with 52. If the Steelers can hold Chubb and Hunt to less than their average, the Browns may struggle to put points on the board.
Prediction: Steelers win, 31-14
Tennesee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens
The AFC North will have another representative in the playoffs when the Ravens take on the Titans in the final of the three matchups for the AFC.
The Titans won the AFC South but not without their flaws. Offensively, they were stellar. Led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, the team ranked 6th in total yards and 2nd in rushing touchdowns. Henry rushed for over 2,000 yards on the season and was crucial in the Titans’ run-heavy offense.
Wide receiver A.J Brown also had a great breakout year for the team. Defensively, the team has underachieved. The team ranks 3rd-last in yards allowed and last in sacks.
The Ravens are the more well-balanced team out of the two. Led by former MVP Lamar Jackson, the Ravens use a versatile run game to put points on the board. The Ravens rank 1st in rushing yards and 2nd in rushing touchdowns. Defensively, they have also made impact plays and held opponents to a minimum. They rank 2nd in total points allowed and 3rd in total turnovers.
Key Matchups: Titans Rushing Attack vs. Ravens Defensive Line
This game will be an old-fashioned, battle in the trenches type of contest. Both teams are committed to the run, meaning that the game will be decided on which team plugs the gaps better. Titans running back Derrick Henry is undeniably one of the best running backs in the game and has already gashed the Ravens for 133 yards and a touchdown in a game earlier this season. The Ravens will rely on their stout defensive line to hold Henry to a reasonable tally of yards.
Prediction: Ravens win, 35-28