After two days and six incredible games, we finished Super Wild Card Weekend. And what a weekend it was! Two Wild Card teams advanced in each conference, setting up some interesting matchups for the Divisional Round. I went 3-3 in picks Wild Card Weekend, so not the hottest start. Hopefully I can do better in Round Two!
Without further ado, let’s get on to the Divisional Round games.
Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)
The Rams went into Seattle last Saturday and clocked the Seahawks hard. But it didn’t come without a cost. Quarterback John Wolford was knocked out early and ended up visiting the hospital before being cleared. Aaron Donald was banged up and missed some snaps and Cooper Kupp banged up his knee. But Jared Goff soldiered on through a broken thumb that had required surgery just 12 days prior, and rookie running back Cam Akers carried the offensive load while the top-ranked defense carried the load for the Rams and stymied the Seahawks. Now, they get a trip to Green Bay and the top-seeded Packers. Aaron Rodgers had a heck of a season, passing for 48 touchdowns on his way to a likely MVP Award. Davante Adams caught 18 of those touchdowns and is one of the premier receivers in the game, but he’ll likely face a tough task in corner Jalen Ramsey. The Packers are the favorites, and should get the win, but the Rams have a shot. They just need things to break right. Goff should be even further along with another week to recover, but the Rams have found success riding the running game. The Packers’ defense is better against the pass than the run, so that could help. But, mostly, the Rams need that No. 1 defense to hold the Packers in check. They need to pressure Rodgers, blanket Adams and keep the score low. Some think this game will be lopsided, but I suspect the Rams will hang tough as Sean McVay does his best to keep his former offensive coordinator, and current Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur, from coasting his way to the NFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Packers 20, Rams 17
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)
The Ravens finished the regular season as the hottest team, going for five straight wins on their way to the No. 5 seed in the AFC. They continued that streak on Sunday, riding timely passing and great running from Lamar Jackson with great defense on the way to a 20-13 win over Tennessee. The Bills, meanwhile, rode an incredible season from Josh Allen to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Bills also got their first playoff win since 1995 on Saturday, opening Super Wild Card Weekend with a 27-24 win over the Colts. But it was an uneven performance. Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs are still banged up, while rookie Zack Moss suffered an injury and will miss the rest of the post-season. That leaves the offense a little short-handed, but still a potent one. The key here will be Allen continuing to put up points while the Bills’ defense holds Jackson in check. This one has potential to be the most exciting game of the weekend, making it an ideal choice for the Prime-Time slot on Saturday night. This is two good teams led by two great young quarterbacks.
Prediction: Bills 27, Ravens 24
Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
The Browns went through a week struggling with COVID issues and a lack of practice time, which had some thinking it was going to be rough sledding against the Steelers. Instead, the Browns came out hot, had a near perfect start and put up 28 points in the first quarter on the way to a 45-37 win. Now, they get a trip to battle the top-seeded Chiefs, who finished with an NFL best record. The Chiefs are the defending NFL champions and led by one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Patrick Mahomes. While Chase Claypool, the Steelers’ rookie wide receiver, was quick to pronounce the Browns would get thumped by the Chiefs after his team got dismantled by Cleveland, I’m not so sure. The Browns have played with a lot of fire and a lot of heart this season, and despite a great record it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Chiefs. Kansas City is the better team, but there’s a wide range of outcomes here, especially if the Browns can pressure Mahomes and get their running game going strong. They also need to work to contain the Chiefs’ passing game, particularly star receiver Tyreek Hill and star tight end Travis Kelce. It’s possible, but like the Rams in Green Bay, the Browns will need a lot to break their way. I think this is going to be a good game, but ultimately the Chiefs road won’t end here.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Browns 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)
It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. On opening day, the Saints won a battle with the Buccaneers 34-23. On November 8, the Saints went into Tampa Bay and won 38-3. That was part of a run that helped the Saints to the No. 2 seed and the second-best record in the NFC. It was also a turning point for the Buccaneers, who finished the season strong after a rocky middle, ending up as the No. 5 seed. Now these division rivals clash again, the third meeting of Tom Brady and Drew Brees in this season. Can the Saints win again, pushing them one step closer to the Super Bowl? Can Brady use his experience to bring his new team to an NFC Championship in his first season? There’s a lot on the line here. The Buccaneers have a plethora of weapons, so even with Ronald Jones banged up Brady will have no shortage of help. The Saints, meanwhile, are getting healthier at the right time. Both Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara were activated just before Sunday’s game with the Bears, and both shook off the dust as both scored touchdowns in the 21-9 win. This is two teams that know each other well, and we’ve seen some surprising results in the division re-matches in the playoffs so far. And in both cases last week the road team (the Browns and Rams) got the victory. That combined with the tough recent playoff history should give Saints fans pause. But I picked them for the Super Bowl pre-season and I’m not ready to give up on Brees and Sean Payton just yet.
Prediction: Saints 27, Buccaneers 24
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.