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 NFC for NFL Wild-Card Weekend.
New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears
Spread: New Orleans Saints, -10
After squeaking into the playoffs with an even .500 record, the Chicago Bears will face the New Orleans Saints in the first round.
The Bears are attempting to make it past the wild card game for the first time since 2010. Despite an overall turbulent season, quarterback Mitch Trubisky righted the ship in time to qualify for the playoffs. Trubisky led the team to three wins out of the remaining four games. Running back David Montgomery has been an underrated player all season. He achieved his first 1,000-yard season and finished with ten total touchdowns to lead the team. The Bears defense also deserves its respect as they ranked 6th in total defense this season. Edge rusher Khalil Mack and linebacker Roquan Smith are two players to watch on the defensive side of the ball for the Bears.
The Saints are undoubtedly the favorites but will go into the game with uncertainty. The good news is that star receiver Michael Thomas was activated from the IR and will be eligible to return for the game. His presence will be an essential part of jump-starting the Saints passing offense. The bad news is that star running back Alvin Kamara’s status for the game on Sunday is “unknown” according to head coach Sean Payton. Kamara contracted COVID-19 and was absent from the Saints Week 17 game.
*UPDATE: Saints are “hopeful” that Kamara will be able to play vs. the Bears
Key Matchup: Saints Running Game vs Chicago Run Defense
Regardless if Kamara plays or not, the battle between Chicago’s defense and the Saints rushing attack will be crucial to winning the game. The Bears defense ranked 2nd in rushing touchdowns allowed this season with just ten allowed.
Michael Thomas will return for the Saints passing game, but he and Drew Brees have only played a total of ten quarters together this season. The Saints will need their rushing attack to help set up short third downs for Brees and others to convert on.
Prediction: Saints win, 28-20
Seattle Seahawks vs Los Angeles Rams
Spread: Seattle Seahawks, -3.5
In a matchup between two NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks will meet the Los Angeles Rams for the third time this season.
The Rams finished second in the NFC West and they should be considered underrated going into this wil-card matchup. Head coach Sean McVay has done a fantastic job of putting the players on the roster in positions on the field to maximize their potential. Receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp may not be the league’s flashiest names, but they have quietly been one of the best receiver tandems in the league. Defensively, they have been stellar, ranking second in total defense.
The Rams finished with 49 sacks on the season, and any defensive line featuring Aaron Donald should incite fear in opponents. Quarterback Jared Goff’s thumb injury is one to watch before the weekend game. If Goff cannot go, backup John Wolford will be given the keys to the offense in a pivotal wild-card matchup. Even if Goff can play, history suggests it will be a challenging game. In his five career games versus Seattle, Goff has thrown for more than one touchdown in only one of those games.
The Seahawks are certainly not lacking talent either. Quarterback Russell Wilson continued to show why he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. With over 4200 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, Wilson produced an MVP-worthy season. Second-year receiver D.K Metcalf took the league by storm in a breakout season where he exceeded 1300 receiving yards. Metcalf’s insane combination of speed and size is unlike any other player to play in the NFL ever.
Metcalf, receiver Tyler Lockett and running back Chris Carson are just a few of the weapons that Wilson has at his disposal on offense. Defensively, the Seahawks struggled early to defend against the pass. However, it appears they have righted the ship in recent weeks. Safety Jamal Adams and defensive back Quandre Diggs are two players to watch to make impact plays for Seattle.
Key Matchup: Seattle Passing Game vs Rams Secondary
The effectiveness of Wilson and Co. will be the deciding factor in the game. The Seahawks rely heavily on their passing game to generate the majority of their offense. The Rams opponents ranked last in points, passing yards, and passing touchdowns when playing the Los Angeles defense. The secondary, highlighted by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, has arguably been the best in the league. Wilson’s lowest pass rating of the season came against the Rams in Week 10. Wilson will have to play a perfect game to avoid costly turnovers and to keep the Seahawks competitive.
Prediction: Seahawks win 26-16
Washington Football Team vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spread: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, -8.5
With the strangest of all wild card matchups, the Washington Football Team will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final NFC Wild Card matchup. Notice it says the WFT is hosting. Despite Washington’s record being 7-9 and the Buccaneers record being 11-5, Washington will be the home team since they won the porous NFC East.
Washington finished 1st in the division for the first time since 2015 and squeezed into the playoffs after a controversial Week 17 win over the Eagles. Led by quarterback Alex Smith on offense, the Football team has struggled to produce consistent offense. However, running back Antonio Gibson and wide receiver Terry McLaurin are two of the most dynamic players in the league and can blow the game wide open for the Football team.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady finds himself in uncharted territory coming into this wild card game. This is the first time in his entire career that Brady will play in a wild card matchup. Despite the unfamiliarity, Brady and Co. have little reason to be concerned. One of the most talented offenses on paper, the team converted on that talent as the Buccaneers were among the best offenses in the league. Tampa ranked 2nd in total pass yards and passing touchdowns and 3rd in total points. The wide receiver trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown is the best receiving trio in the league.
Key Matchup: Washington Defensive Line vs Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line
The Washington Football Team will need to capitalize on their biggest strength to have any chance in this game. Washington ranked 6th in the league in sacks with 47 this season. Along the defensive line are players like Montez Sweat, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Chase Young, all first-round picks. That quadruplet accounted for 21.5 of the Football Team’s entire sack total this season. They will be matched against a Tampa Bay offensive line that surrendered just 22 sacks this season. If Washington can get pressure in Brady’s face as he is throwing, they will be able to create unforced errors to swing the balance of the game in their favor.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins, 38-14