Somehow, despite all of the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the question marks that loomed over multiple games throughout the year, the NFL managed to make it through all 17 weeks of the 2020 regular season. Now, the league is onto the playoffs..
The 2020 postseason, featuring an additional Wild Card team that brings each conference’s total representatives to seven, is arguably the most loaded playoff field the NFL has seen in the 21st century.
Six teams enter the playoff bracket with 12 or more wins, with three holding 13 or more, and the Kansas City Chiefs enjoying a week off with a 14-win regular season record.
Outside of the Washington Football Team out of the NFC East, each of the divisional winners from either conference has a legitimate case as a Super Bowl contender, and five of the eight divisions had Wild Card qualifiers that could spoil the party for any of the league’s top teams.
Four of those Wild Card qualifiers recorded 11 wins in 2020, with the 10-win Los Angeles Rams and eight-win Chicago Bears still holding better records than the NFC East champion Washington Football Team.
With so much talent across the board, it makes sense that the NFL deemed the 2020 postseason’s opening slate as the “Super Wild Card Weekend.”
Ahead of the biggest Wild Card Weekend in NFL history, here’s the full schedule and analysis for each of the round’s six games, split up by conference and organized by seeding rather than time.
AFC Wild Card Round:
- No. 2 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 7 Indianapolis Colts: Saturday, January 9 at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS
Who would’ve thought the Buffalo Bills would enter the 2020 playoffs as the second seed in the AFC?
With QB Josh Allen at the helm under center and WR Stefon Diggs tearing up defenses, the Bills’ offense turned into one of the NFL’s highest-powered operations in the regular season.
In the process, the franchise transitioned from an on-the-fringe, Cinderella-esque contender like they were in recent years to a legitimate threat to the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020 playoffs..
But, the Indianapolis Colts are no slouches as the conference’s last Wild Card qualifier, and are aiming to make the Bills wish they had earned the second seed in a year where the top two teams in each conference got first-round byes.
Philip Rivers has turned things around for the Colts in 2020, evident by their 11-5 record, and could easily serve as a spoiler to the Bills’ playoff hopes if Allen and company falter under the massive spotlight they’ve put themselves under.
In the end, however, the Bills’ hot streak should continue despite the cold temperatures in Buffalo, and they should move onto the Divisional Round for the first time since 1995.
Prediction: Bills win 27-17
- No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No. 6 Cleveland Browns: Sunday, January 10 at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC
For the second week in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will square off against each other. However, this go-around will feature a litany of differences, specifically as it relates to the game’s stakes.
Their Week 17 battle, set in Cleveland, served as a meaningless game for the Steelers, and led to Ben Roethlisberger being benched as a healthy scratch.
When the two do battle in primetime on Sunday, January 10, the game will be held in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger will be back on the field, and the Browns will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski due to COVID-19 protocols.
Browns QB Baker Mayfield will have to take the reins offensively in a major way and put up career numbers to get Cleveland on the right track, and defensive veterans like DE Myles Garrett and potentially CB Denzel Ward (who missed the Week 17 game against the Steelers due to a positive COVID-19 test) will have to step up to thwart the Steelers’ offense.
Seeding isn’t a true indication in this one, and it has the potential to be one of the closest games of the weekend. When the dust settles, the Steelers and their top-tier defense should be able to stifle the COVID-19-impacted Browns and move into the Divisional Round.
Prediction: Steelers win 23-20
- No. 4 Tennessee Titans vs. No. 5 Baltimore Ravens: Sunday, January 10 at 1:05 p.m. ET on ESPN
After the Tennessee Titans defeated the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 11 of the 2020 regular season, fans were left wanting more from the two teams, ideally a rematch in the postseason.
Luckily, fans got their wish, as the fourth-seeded Titans will host the fifth-seeded Ravens in Tennessee in the weekend’s first Sunday afternoon game.
Last time the two teams met, there was loads of pregame drama that involved Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Titans CB Malcolm Butler, and numerous other players and staffers from both sides.
After the game, it looked like Harbaugh snubbed Titans coach Mike Vrabel during a postgame handshake, but the two shot down the drama when talking to reporters after the fact.
Regardless, the storylines are endless in this one. A heated rivalry that led to a closely-contested, overtime thriller in Week 11, less than a year after the Titans pulled off a massive upset to eliminate the Ravens from the 2019 playoffs.
Many will likely say the third time’s the charm and pick Baltimore in this one, but we’ll assume the Titans are the Ravens’ kryptonite and will advance to the Divisional Round for the second year in a row.
Prediction: Titans win 24-20
NFC Wild Card Round:
- No. 2 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 7 Chicago Bears: Sunday, January 10 at 4:40 p.m. ET on CBS
From a regular season records standpoint, the New Orleans Saints will have the second-best matchup out of the six weekend’s Wild Card Round games when they take on the Chicago Bears down in Louisiana.
The 12-4 Saints came up just short of a first-round bye when stacked up against the 13-3 Green Bay Packers, and would have earned an off-week of their own in any other year but 2020.
Instead, they have to take on the 8-8 Bears, who actually managed to lose their way into a postseason spot during a Week 17 defeat against the Packers.
Bears fans may be excited about this first-round matchup, given the close, overtime game the two teams played back in Week 8 when Nick Foles was the Bears starter.
But, the Saints are coming off a 33-7 Week 17 win against the Carolina Panthers, and a three-touchdown performance from QB Drew Brees in that game should lead you to believe that the Saints starter is back at full strength heading into the playoffs.
This one could easily stay a one-possession game depending on which half of the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Bears offense shows up, but a Saints victory seems like an easy call before what could be a stacked NFC Divisional Round.
Prediction: Saints win 30-13
- No. 3 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 6 Los Angeles Rams: Saturday, January 9 at 4:40 p.m. ET on FOX
It’s a shame that Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff suffered such a severe injury in Week 16 of the regular season, or else this could have been one of the best games of Super Wild Card Weekend.
The NFC West was widely regarded as the best division in football through the first half of the year, with the Seattle Seahawks, Rams and Arizona Cardinals all finding themselves in first place at one point or another. Then, as the second half of the year progressed, the Seahawks emerged as the division’s top team, while the Cardinals and Rams faltered.
With a playoff spot on the line in Week 17, the Cardinals and Rams went head-to-head in a battle of backup quarterbacks, as Goff sat out due to a thumb injury on his throwing hand, and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray leaving the game early with an ankle injury.
The Rams went on to win the lackluster game, and are left to hope and pray for Goff to somehow be able to suit up Saturday afternoon against the Seahawks.
The teams split their two games during the 2020 regular season, with the Rams winning 23-16 in November and the Seahawks cruising to a 20-9 win in December in the game where Goff got hurt.
With Goff either out of the picture or not at full strength if he is able to play, this one should result in the Seahawks moving on to play what will likely be the Saints in the Divisional Round the following week.
Prediction: Seahawks win 24-10
- No. 4 Washington Football Team vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Saturday, January 9 at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC
Imagine saying last year that the Washington Football Team would be a higher seed than a Tom Brady-led franchise, regardless of where Brady would end up for the 2020 season?
Somehow, that’s exactly where the NFL stands, as TB12’s 11-5 Tampa Buccaneers enter the playoffs as the fifth seed and top Wild Card qualifier, while the 7-9 Washington Football Team sits at 7-9 with an NFC East title under their belts.
It may seem preposterous to even give Washington a chance when looking at this game on paper, especially when you consider what Brady was able to do in nearly two decades of playoff games during his tenure with the New England Patriots.
But, Washington has been able to string together some strong performances in 2020, highlighted by how they handed the Steelers their first loss of the year in early December.
Even with Buccaneers WR Mike Evans’ health up in the air, it’s tough to imagine Washington taking out Tampa Bay in the Wild Card Round after all of the hype surrounding Brady’s first year with the team.
So, it’s time to start mentally preparing for the first-ever playoff matchup between Brady and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in the Divisional Round.
Prediction: Buccaneers win 31-13