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NFL wildcard playoff picks: Brady’s return and Ravens search for revenge on Titans

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Payments
Saturday, 1.05pm ET/6.05pm GMT

What the Colts have to do to win: Any group whose fundamental power is their offensive line is hardly a must-see, however the Colts are a well-balanced unit – rating within the high 10 in each offense and protection this season. If that offensive line helps rookie operating again Jonathan Taylor play to his greatest on Saturday, the Payments shall be in bother. After a so-so begin to his NFL profession, Taylor has been ripping into opponents since December, when he averaged 5.9 yards per try. In his final recreation (admittedly towards the risible Jaguars) he ran for 253 yards.

What the Payments have to do to win: Josh Allen has at all times been able to greatness, the distinction this season is that he has principally eradicated the horrible turnovers that incessantly punctuated that greatness. He has, after all, been helped the brilliance of Stefon Diggs and the sparkiness of Cole Beasley and it’s worrying for Payments followers that each receivers missed observe on Wednesday. If the Payments play someplace near their greatest although, they win this one simply.

Key participant: Philip Rivers, QB, Colts. Rivers, at 39, isn’t going to win video games single-handedly however nonetheless has the flexibility to lose them for his group (though, in equity, he has dedicated far fewer turnovers this season than he has previously). On Saturday he’ll be towards top-of-the-line cornerbacks within the league, Tre’Davious White, although. Oh, and a person used to taking part in in southern California or domes could not thrive in upstate New York in January.

Prediction: Payments

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Saturday, 4.40pm ET/9.30pm GMT

What the Rams have to do to win: Los Angeles will want an enormous recreation on the bottom towards a Seattle protection that’s been stout towards the run, particularly through the second half of the season. The Rams have managed to enhance their speeding assault since dropping star operating again Todd Gurley within the offseason, averaging 126.1 yards per recreation with a committee method (up from 93.7 final yr). However with Darrell Henderson out with an ankle sprain, Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown have been held to a mixed 54 yards in Sunday’s must-win recreation towards Arizona to clinch a playoff spot.

What the Seahawks have to do to win: Star quarterback and MVP candidate Russell Wilson will want be at his environment friendly, improvisational greatest towards a protection that ranked first within the NFL in factors allowed and at all times appears to trigger him issues. He was restricted to at least one landing and two interceptions whereas finishing 60.9% of his passes within the two regular-season conferences between the NFC West rivals and can should be a lot better for the Seahawks to prevail within the rubber match.

Key gamers: Jared Goff, QB, Rams. LA’s first-choice quarterback suffered a fractured and dislocated thumb in a Week 16 loss to the Seahawks and underwent surgical procedure on Monday after lacking the regular-season finale. Again-up John Wolford was adequate in reduction to assist the Rams to an 18-9 win over Arizona that punched their postseason ticket, however the Seattle protection may very well be a bridge too far for the understudy’s second NFL begin. Excellent news for LA followers: the two-time Professional Bowler is trending towards taking part in.

Prediction: Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Soccer Crew
Saturday, 8.15 pm ET/1.15am GMT (Sunday)

What the Buccaneers have to do to win: Tampa Bay’s offensive line might want to maintain Tom Brady clear towards a Washington protection that carried all of them season, rating second in whole protection and fourth in factors allowed. They’ve achieved a great job of it this yr, permitting the fourth-fewest sacks (22) and seventh-lowest stress charge (16.2%) within the NFL. However all 5 of the Bucs’ losses got here towards groups who have been capable of harry, hit and harass Brady, sometimes bringing 4 defensive lineman.

What Washington have to do to win: After “profitable” the NFC East title with a 7-9 file, the Soccer Crew are eight-point underdogs on advantage. Their probabilities of scoring the upset will rely upon whether or not they can reap the benefits of a protection that’s been much more prone towards the go (twenty first within the NFL) than towards the run (first, permitting solely 80.6 speeding yards per recreation). Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who underwent 17 surgical procedures over almost two years for yet one more shot within the NFL, is questionable with a calf pressure. However the 36-year-old struggle horse offers Ron Rivera’s membership its greatest likelihood after going 5-1 as a starter within the common season.

Key participant: Chase Younger, DE, Washington. The No 2 choose in final yr’s draft, who made headlines for calling out Brady after Sunday’s division-clinching win at Philadelphia, has proven glimmers of Corridor of Fame expertise in a sensational rookie marketing campaign. He’s the largest difference-maker on a defensive position that should get stress on the Bucs’ quadragenarian celebrity if Washington are to shock.

Prediction: Buccaneers

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
Sunday, 1.10pm ET/6.10pm GMT

Lamar Jackson has but to win a playoff recreation in his younger profession. {Photograph}: Nick Wass/AP

What the Ravens have to do to win: Again in August, ESPN ran a podcast titled “The way to Cease Lamar Jackson in 2020 (Trace: Pray)”. If any of these prayers concerned his offensive line and tight ends getting mangled, they have been answered as a result of the 2019 MVP regarded distinctly common round midseason. However the Ravens tweaked their ways and Jackson – and the group’s run recreation – have thrived over the previous couple of weeks. The truth is, they’ve received 5 in a row (though 4 of these 5 video games have been towards the Cowboys, Giants, Jaguars and Bengals). If these wins have been down to move coach John Harbaugh’s genius and Jackson’s resurgence then they’ll be tremendous. If the run was attributable to operating up the rating towards the likes of Brandon Allen issues may get just a little extra tough.

What the Titans have to do to win: The Titans’ run to the AFC championship recreation final season was principally right down to their wonderful protection and Derrick Henry steamrolling every thing in his path. Henry continues to be nice – has there ever been much less fanfare for somebody speeding 2,000 yards in a season? – the protection much less so. That protection might want to cease the Ravens’ rush, forcing Jackson to make large performs along with his arm (which, opposite to the opinion of some, he he’s greater than able to making).

Key participant: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans. Presumably (caveat: I’m not an NFL head coach) the Ravens’ first precedence shall be shutting down Henry. Which is able to go away the group counting on their quarterback extra. Fortunately for them, Tannehill has been wonderful since releasing himself from the shackles of Adam Gase in Miami and is even higher this season than he was in 2019.

Prediction: Ravens (simply)

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 4.40pm ET/9.40pm GMT

What the Bears have to do to win: Chicago should set up the run and use ball management to maintain Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-octane offense off the sector as a lot as doable. Meaning getting David Montgomery concerned early and infrequently. When the Bears almost knocked off New Orleans in an extra time loss again in November amid their six-game dropping streak, the second-year operating again carried 21 occasions for 89 yards.

What Saints have to do to win: New Orleans completed 12-4 and captured a fourth straight NFC South championship regardless of an virtually comical litany of accidents. However with ageless surprise Drew Brees below middle and favourite weapons Alvin Kamara (reserve/Covid-19) and Michael Thomas (ankle) anticipated to play, it should merely be a matter of taking what Chicago’s protection is giving them.

Key participant: Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints. After tying the NFL file with an eye-popping six touchdowns in a Christmas Day win over the Vikings, the 25-year-old operating again was pressured to overlook New Orleans’ regular-season finale after testing optimistic for coronavirus. The NFL scheduling gods regarded fondly on the Saints as Sunday is the primary day Kamara is eligible to return from the reserve/Covid-19 record assuming he passes all the league’s coronavirus protocols this week. His anticipated return is unhealthy information, Bears.

Prediction: Saints

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 8.15pm ET/1.15am GMT (Monday)

Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry’s Browns are in their first playoff game in 18 years
Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry’s Browns are of their first playoff recreation in 18 years. {Photograph}: Tony Dejak/AP

What the Browns have to do to win: Hope that a few of the Steelers are dominated out with Covid-19 too? Clearly the virus has inflicted much more grievous distress on the world within the final 12 months, however the truth that Covid-19 has weakened the Browns – they are going to be with out their head coach and a cornerstone of their offensive line on Sunday – for what would in any other case have been the spotlight of the spherical is an actual disgrace. As a substitute, Cleveland, who struggled to beat a Steelers group that rested a great portion of its starters final week, go into their first playoff recreation in 18 years with no clear path to victory. Baker Mayfield, regardless of his well-documented struggles to justify going No 1 total in 2018, continues to be a great quarterback and higher than the diminished Ben Roethlisberger. If Mayfield performs to his ceiling, the Browns have an opportunity. Or he may simply let Jarvis Landry prepare dinner.

What the Steelers have to do to win: The very first thing to keep away from is complacency after the Browns’ Covid-19 outbreak and the surprisingly shut contest within the final week of the common season, when the Browns made Mason Rudolph look half-competent. The Steelers have been by no means pretty much as good as their 11-0 begin to the season prompt, they usually have misplaced to the Bengals and Washington in current weeks. However with the likes of Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt again within the group on Sunday, they need to be capable to deal with the Browns.

Key participant: Kevin Stefanski, head coach, Cleveland Browns. OK, Stefanski hasn’t been a participant since he was at Penn however his intelligence and acumen have been an enormous a part of the Browns’ success this season, particularly when put next with the group’s current coaches. “I’m going to attempt to do precisely what Kevin would need to have occur,” mentioned particular groups coordinator Mike Priefer, who will step in for Stefanski, absent attributable to a optimistic Covid-19 take a look at. How properly he can substitute his boss may very well be decisive in a detailed recreation.

Prediction: Steelers

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