Wild Card Weekend in the NFL has just got ‘Super’!
The first round of the NFL playoffs has grown in size from four games to six this season, with two triple-headers of action spread across Saturday and Sunday night – live on Sky Sports NFL.
On the latest Inside The Huddle podcast – which you can listen to in the podcast player above – Neil Reynolds, Jeff Reinebold and Brian Baldinger break down each game from a super slate of games!
- Who has made the NFL playoffs?
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills
Saturday, live on Sky Sports NFL, 6.05pm
Reynolds: “Buffalo have won six in a row. But for the ‘Hail Mary’ from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins that would have been 10 in a row. Last week, against the Miami Dolphins, they flexed their muscles and showed us what they’re all about didn’t they? This is a form team coming into the playoffs.
Baldinger: “You mean the 56 points they put up against the No 1 defence in football?
“The quarterback [Josh Allen] is razor hot, he has the best receiver in football [Stefon Diggs]. They’re just off the charts right now.
“I saw the Indianapolis Colts last weekend and although Jonathon Taylor ran for 253 yards, and that’s impressive, Philip Rivers in the passing game has really struggled to get explosive plays down the field. That’s something the Bills can get any time they want.
“Buffalo are playing great football – you mention the streak they’re on right now – but also just the eye test, this is a hot football team and they’re hitting their stride perfectly going into Wild Card weekend.”
- Play the Super Bowl Challenge
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Saturday, live on Sky Sports NFL, 9.40pm
Baldinger: “Whether Jared Goff or John Wolford plays at quarterback, the Rams can’t score right now. They haven’t scored a touchdown [on offence] since the fourth quarter of Week 15!
“As for Seattle, people can look at the stats and they say they’re not a great defence, but those people are not paying attention. This is a vastly-improved defence.”
Reynolds: “Yes, the Seahawks defence is No 1 in the NFL in scoring over the last four weeks, only allowing 14 points per game.”
Reinebold: “From the time they lost to the New England Patriots, got humiliated [in Super Bowl LIII], the blueprint has been there on how you beat the Rams: you stop the run, with a quarterback in Goff who has proven to us time and time again he’s limited from the pocket.
“I think Wolford, frankly, with his ability and willingness to run, would give them another weapon against Seattle – if they go up there and try to win by being one-dimensional, it ain’t gonna happen.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team
Saturday night, live on Sky Sports NFL, 1.15am
Reynolds: “Tom Brady – 43 years old – has thrown 40 touchdown passes in the regular season; he has 30 career playoff wins, and that’s compared to 23 for the entire Washington franchise!
“But, Chase Young, this exciting rookie [pass rusher] from Washington, says he wants a piece of the legend.”
Baldinger: “The 40 touchdown passes Brady threw were the most he’s thrown since having 50 in 2007! He has been phenomenal.
“I love Young, you have to love that rookie enthusiasm, exuberance, it’s awesome and that’s how he plays the game. He is as smooth as can be, and yet as violent as can be. But I think Washington have their hands full.”
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans
Sunday, live on Sky Sports NFL, 6.05pm
Reynolds: “A fascinating rematch from last year. Of course, the Titans marched into Baltimore in the divisional round [of the 2019 playoffs] and knocked off a Ravens side that had won 12 straight going into that game.
“The Ravens defenders might have a few nightmares thinking about tackling Derrick Henry again. He topped what he did last year – 2,027 rushing yards [fifth-most in NFL history] this season.”
Baldinger: “How many carries can Henry get? Some of that is determined by the flow of the game; if Tennessee are in the lead or controlling the ball, he is going to get his touches, like they did when they beat the Ravens in overtime earlier this year. It’s just like chopping a tree, eventually the tree is going to fall – if he gets 25 to 30 carries.
“On the other side, the Ravens are the best running team in the NFL for the second year in a row. What they’re doing right now to the league, teams can’t figure it out – it’s like a Rubik’s Cube – with all of the misdirection. This is my favourite match-up of Wild Card Weekend – two teams that love to run it, but do it in different ways.”
Reinebold: “The Titans’ defence puts so much pressure on their offence, because they can’t effectively stop people. Rushing the passer is where they’re most deficient, but that shouldn’t be a factor this week, because I don’t think Lamar Jackson is going to be in the pocket throwing the football.
“The one thing Tennessee can do, is they can strike quick [on offence] and go deep. If they’re able to do that early in the game, then I think they really have a chance. Ryan Tannehill is a good deep-ball thrower, and if the Ravens are going to commit themselves to stopping Henry, then the Titans’ really good young receivers will be one-on-on on the outside.”
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints
Sunday, live on Sky Sports NFL, 9.40pm
Baldinger: “I can see Chicago’s defence playing really well in this one. I don’t know the status of Alvin Kamara – I’m sure he’s going to give it a go – but the Saints’ offence goes through him.
“When I watch Drew Brees, he looks like he’s in his 40s, the ball just doesn’t come out hot – he still knows where to go with it, he’s still smart as anything – but I think they’re going to live and die in these playoffs based on their defence. They have a lot of pieces, everything it takes to shut you down – that’s where this game is going to be won and lost.”
Reinebold: “Kamara is key because he can do it both as a running back and he is outstanding when they use him in the passing game.
“Also, what I find really interesting is, if Michael Thomas doesn’t play, that thrusts Emmanuel Sanders into the No 1 receiver role and I don’t know, at this stage of his career, if that’s what you want him doing.
“As for the Bears, everybody has been telling them all week that they’ve got no shot, they’re the biggest underdogs of the whole week, so why not go down there and play free? And since [running back] David Montgomery has come back into the line-up, they have scored over 30 points in four of the last five weeks.”
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday night, live on Sky Sports NFL, 1.15am
Reynolds: “These two AFC North rivals met just last week, with Cleveland winning that one 24-22. For Baker Mayfield, that was a huge moment, he was the quarterback to lead the Browns back to the playoffs [for the first time since 2002].
Reinebold: “The kid has grown so much over the second half of the season. Gone now are most of the errant throws, the forces interceptions, the plays where he doesn’t recognise what he’s seeing in the coverage and either can’t make a decision and takes a sack or forces the ball and gets it picked. He’s playing a much cleaner game of football right now and that is one of the reasons why the Browns are here.”
Reynolds: “Moving it over to the Steelers, you can’t look at last week’s game and see this one the same way – you have to prepare knowing that Big Ben [Roethlisberger], Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, T.J. Watt will back.”
Baldinger: “Watt might very well be the defensive player of the year. He led the league in sacks and quarterback hits. The energiser bunny doesn’t begin to describe how this guy plays – he sets the tempo.
“That is going to make a difference for Pittsburgh, getting those guys back. The Steelers know what time of year this is; this is when this team expects to play their best. I think they all raise their game a bit.
“All Pittsburgh get measured by is Vince Lombardi trophies and all they care about is adding another one to the trophy case.”
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