by Jamaar Hawkins, i64sports
NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview
In normal years this weekend would constitute the NFL Divisional Playoff round. But this year has been anything but normal to say the least. Instead, last weekend saw the first NFL Super Wildcard weekend in league history that also saw, among other things, a Cleveland Brown postseason win. ‘
Here is a look at the Divisional Playoff matchups which begin on Saturday, January 16:
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers, Saturday 4:35pm
What happens when one of the NFL’s top defenses face the probable regular season MVP? We will find out today when Aaron Donald & Jalen Ramsey head to Lambeau Field for a duel with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers has done more than enough to quell any rumors of his demise what a season for the ages finishing the regular season with 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns through the air. Will Ramsey add Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams to his checklist of shutdown pass catchers? Adams tied the Packers all-time franchise mark with 18 touchdown catches during the regular season to go along with 115 receptions (franchise-record) and 1,374 yards.
On the other side, Ramsey, an All-Pro selection, has yet to allow a 100-yard receiver this season. The two have faced off just once in their careers in 2016 when Ramsey was still a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now a member of the Rams, Ramsey is a large part in Los Angeles finishing with the regular season leading the NFL in total defense and scoring defense. Of course Donald, the league’s premier defensive lineman is a large part of that as well.
Can the Rams come close to repeat last weekend’s performance against Seattle? Against the Seahawks Los Angeles was able to jump out to a big first half lead and never looked back. Rookie running back Cam Akers torched Seattle for 131 yards and a touchdown last week. The Rams could use a repeat performance with game time temperatures hovering around the 30’s.
Prediction: Green Bay 24, Los Angeles 10
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, Saturday 8:15pm
The first of two matchups featuring quarterbacks from that 2018 draft class. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was finally able to get the postseason monkey off his back with a win over Tennessee last week. Despite falling behind 10-0 early, including a Jackson interception, the Ravens went on to score 20 of the next 23 points for the comeback win. Baltimore’s reward is a road contest against number two seed Buffalo. The Bills started out strong against Indianapolis last week before holding on for a 27-24 win. With all the talk of Josh Allen’s improved quarterback play the Buffalo quarterback even further fanned those flames with a phenomenal 26-35, 325 yard, two-touchdown performance against the Colts. Allen also finished with zero interceptions and broke a franchise record with a 74.3 completion rate. He added 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The quarterback matchup will get all the talk heading into this contest but Baltimore’s running game could be the difference in this one. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins collected only 43 yards against Tennessee but that was with only nine attempts. In the regular season finale Dobbins lit up Cincinnati for 160 yards on 13 carries. The Ohio State product has four touchdowns in his past three games. If the Ravens can contain Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs their chances of squeaking out a road win today increases drastically. Which I fully expect to happen.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, Buffalo 17
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 3:05pm
This matchup has all the makings of an upset. A dominant rushing attack going against a number one seed that hasn’t played competitive football in two weeks. Cleveland went on the road and spanked Pittsburgh last week. The Browns rushing attack is a thing of beauty thanks to a top-ranked offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland ended the regular season with the league’s best offensive and defensive lines.
Make no mistake Kansas City is still Kansas City. If this game becomes a shootout put the Chiefs will win going away. This is not college. Baker Mayfield does not want to get into a duel with Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. Cleveland must keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes and that means a heavy dose of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt who combined for 124 rushing yards against Pittsburgh.
Kansas City counters with the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFL led by two of the league’s top pass catchers, Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelce. I expect Cleveland to stick around for the first three quarters with Kansas City pulling away late for their second consecutive trip to the AFC championship.
Prediction: Kansas City 30, Cleveland 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints, Sunday 6:40pm
I think it’s safe to say Tom Brady is not a system quarterback. The 43-year-old has outperformed expectations in his first with the Bucs tossing 40 touchdowns to go along with 4,633 passing yards. This could very well be the final game of Brees’ career. At least in New Orleans as the Saint and head coach Sean Payton seem prepared to go in another direction. Brees turned 42 this week and unlike Brady seems to be heading down a steeper downturn to his career. If he retires after this season Brees would likely still hold the NFL record for career passing yards (80,358) with Brady just 1,154 yards behind. New Orleans won both regular season matchups scoring over 30 points in both contests. Tampa Bay will need vintage Brady on Sunday night.
Prediction: New Orleans 27, Tampa Bay 21
Last week’s record: 4-2
Best pick: Baltimore over Tennessee