Author: Sam Gemini
MADISON – Let’s break down Sunday’s playoff matchups for this year’s wild card weekend.
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
The offensive firepower on display to kick off wildcard Sunday is more explosive than any other this weekend – both teams feeding off their outstanding running games. Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins vs. Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry; who has the edge? On paper, Baltimore has the advantage due to its elite defense. But can Jackson, who was absolutely awful in blowout losses his first two playoff starts, deliver a quality performance on the biggest stage? We all know what happened when these two teams faced off in last year’s postseason: Jackson laid an egg and the Titans ran the Ravens out of their own building. These squads rematched in the regular season, Tennessee getting the win again in a much closer contest. Baltimore is as hot as anybody, and the Titans’ defense is far below average; however, the Ravens have seemed unable to beat this team in recent meetings, and I need to see Lamar Jackson be serviceable in the playoffs once before I back him. I’ll go with Tennessee by a score of 31-28 in what is sure to be a thrilling game.
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
This game is an exhibition of everything that is wrong with the playoff expansion. Devaluing the accomplishment of making the playoffs: check. Decreasing the importance of regular-season games: check. Adding another blowout game to wild card weekend: check. Chicago went through a period of total dysfunction in a six-game losing streak this season. They got blown out by their rival Packers – twice. They do not deserve a sniff of the postseason and, if not for the addition of the third wild card spot, would have finished two games out of it. It is highly unlikely that this game will be close; Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears will not score touchdowns on the New Orleans defense; Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara will move the ball against a Chicago defense that has severely underperformed. It is worth noting that the Saints have had some highly disappointing playoff performances in recent years, losing on the last play of the game each of the last three years. As a proud Windy City native, I will be rooting for an outcome that is very bad for football and will significantly diminish the excitement of the playoffs, but I do not think football fans will have to worry about that. Saints win 31-13.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
The weekend wraps up with a great, historic rivalry that has been quite one-sided for most of my lifetime. The poor, poor Cleveland Browns make the playoffs for the first time in seventeen years only to be decimated once again by COVID-19. The most notable absence is Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive and will not be able to attend the game. Baker Mayfield will be making his first postseason start without his first-year head coach, going against the battle-tested hall-of-fame head coach and quarterback of their arch-nemesis Steelers. This will be the third matchup of the season between these two teams and the second in as many weeks as the Browns beat the Steelers’ backups by two last week to punch their postseason ticket. Ben Roethlisberger will surely have his way with the brutal Cleveland secondary, and Mike Tomlin’s ferocious defense will wreak havoc on the inexperienced Browns offense. Pittsburgh will defend their home field – 41-17.