NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND – JANUARY 9
By Leo Haggerty

LET THE PLAYOFFS COMMENCE

After some bumps in the road, the National Football League has managed to navigate to its second season.  The chase for the coveted Lombardi Trophy begins today.

Below are my picks as to which teams I believe will survive and advance.  First, I’ll take a look at the Saturday tilts.

Indianapolis at Buffalo (-6)
The Colts are a dome team and have to not only deal with the Bills but Mother Nature as well.  Honestly, it could be worse for the Horseshoes when it comes to the elements.  Temperatures in the 20’s and light wind but no snow in the forecast and that’s not bad for January on Lake Erie.  Still, Buffalo is 13-3 for a reason and a big part of that is QB Josh Allen but Bills are searching for their first playoff win under HC Sean McDermott.  That drought ends today.  BUFFALO, 27-20, with a late stop to seal the deal.

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle (-3)
Should be the best game of the day and perfect football weather as well.  No rain and upper 40’s is a blessing this time of year in Seattle. The matchup of the Rams defense against Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is must see TV.  Look for this one to go down to the wire with the home team finding a way to win.  SEATTLE, 24-23, with a FG in the final seconds.

Tampa Bay at Washington (+8)
On paper, this looks like a mismatch but let me remind you of this.  The only two times a division winner has hosted a playoff tilt with a non winning record ended in a victory for the home team so the Bucs need to bring their A game.  Weather shouldn’t be a factor with little chance of precipitation and the temperature in the 30’s.  Look for a close game in the first half but the Buccaneers have too many weapons on offense at QB Tom Brady’s disposal.  Plus, the Pewter Pirates have the stingiest run defense in the league holding teams to right around 60 yards a game on the ground.  For Washington to emerge victorious the Bucs have to beat themselves and that won’t happen today.  TAMPA BAY, 34-20, as Brady throws for three second half TDs.

Now, lets take a look at the Sunday contests.  Very interesting as well.

Baltimore at Tennessee (+3)
Not the most exciting contest but the most intriguing of Wild Card Weekend.  Both teams want to run the pigskin and, when that fails, run it some more.  That will keep the game clock running and that equates to a low scoring game. Ravens have elusive QB Lamar Jackson to tote the leather and the Titans have bulldozing RB Derrick Henry carrying the pigskin who only gets stronger as the game progresses.  For that reason, I like the underdog.  TENNESSEE, 19-16, with the Titans playing keep away late in the fourth quarter with #22 leading a ground assault salting away the win.

Chicago at New Orleans (-10)
For the Bears to win they need a few things to happen.  Chicago has to win the turnover battle and get a defensive score plus control the clock on the ground along with protecting QB Mitch Trubisky when the Bears have to throw.  Do you see that happening?  I don’t especially when Saints QB Drew Brees may be making his last run at the title.  NEW ORLEANS, 38-24, and the Saints go marching on.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6)
An AFC North rivalry that spills over into the playoffs and the pandemic is having a huge effect on this contest.  Browns HC Kevin Stefanski, who is a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate by guiding the Browns to an 11-5 mark, will not make the trip to the Steel City due to testing positive for Covid.  The big change is the Cleveland head honcho is also the play caller and that’s a huge problem.  Yeah, I know the Steelers are 1-4 to finish out the season but a lot of that had to due with rescheduling due to coronavirus issues with opponents.  Also, the Black & Gold are rested with something to prove and Mother Nature does not look to be a factor.  In my book, that’s a recipe for success.  PITTSBURGH, 34-27, with Big Ben tossing 4 TD passes.

See you next weekend for my prognostication for the Divisional Playoff round.  Stay safe.