Wild Card Week was, all things considered, a bit of a disappointment. Only half of the games were decided by one score, and some were outright snoozers (looking at you, Bears-Saints). With that being said, we had some excellent individual performances by guys like Josh Allen, Cam Akers, Tom Brady, and Lamar Jackson. And, for a sense of symmetry, both sets of two, five, and six-seeds advanced.
Every year, Divisional Week is hailed as the best round of football all year. This season, we will have a plethora of intriguing matchups to consider. Can Baltimore’s rushing offense exploit Buffalo’s run defense? Will there be any defense at all between Cleveland and Kansas City? Or how about the Packers’ top-ranked scoring offense pairing with the Rams’ top-ranked scoring defense? Pull up a chair, because we should be in store for some action.
Of the eight remaining teams, we are ranking based on both performance and potential. Injuries and environment count for something. As does recency bias. Let’s dig in!
8. Los Angeles Rams (11-6, Last week: 12)
Equipped with an innovative scheme and arguably the best defensive lineman (Aaron Donald) and defensive back (Jalen Ramsey) in the league, the Rams’ top-ranked defense can beat anyone. Unfortunately, both of their quarterbacks are dealing with injuries. Jared Goff played admirably but is still only two weeks removed from thumb surgery. If he and Akers can stay ahead of the chains and avoid turnovers, Los Angeles might escape Green Bay with an upset. Donald and Cooper Kupp will be playing through injuries too, though.
Next week: at Green Bay (13-3)
7. Baltimore Ravens (12-5, Last week: 5)
Baltimore struggled out of the gate in Tennessee but then completely took over. They are built to run the ball and take away an opponent’s running game. That aligned well with the Titans, and Jackson should be able to move the ball against Buffalo. However, the Bills’ offense is considerably more explosive than Tennessee’s, so another early deficit may be harder to overcome. In other words, scoring only 20 points again will not get the job done in Western New York.
Next week: at Buffalo (14-3)
6. Cleveland Browns (12-5, Last week: 11)
This just in: the Browns have scored again. Cleveland jumped all over rival Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and the palpable emotion was easy to observe. One must wonder, though, if that game was more of a revving engine or a volcanic eruption. Can they keep that momentum going, or are they going to be physically and emotionally spent? The good news is that several key players and coaches should return from the COVID-19 reserve list this coming weekend. All hands on deck!
Next week: at Kansas City (14-2)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5, Last week: 7)
Tampa Bay toyed around with undermanned Washington on Saturday, winning a one-score game to advance to their rubber match with New Orleans. Brady was sacked three times in Washington, and the Saints have a similar pass rush (45 sacks in 2020, compared to WFT’s 47). What the Football Team lacks, of course, is an offense similar to New Orleans’ (20.9 points per game to 30.1). Brady and the Bucs are rolling, so don’t assume this is a Saints victory quite yet.
Next week: at New Orleans (13-4)
4. New Orleans Saints (13-4, Last week: 4)
The Saints made short work of Chicago, although the 7-3 halftime score is a bit of a head-scratcher. In their two games against Tampa Bay this season, New Orleans has scored 72 combined points and allowed only 26. But as we’ve seen for 20 years now, there’s a difference between early season Brady and postseason Brady. Expect a much closer game in the third installment of this rivalry, and Drew Brees better come out firing to avoid another one-score first half.
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay (12-5)
3. Buffalo Bills (14-3, Last week: 3)
The Bills and Colts went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes on Saturday, and Buffalo was able to capture its first playoff victory since 1995. Allen made several incredible plays (namely his quarterback power-turned-touchdown pass in the first quarter), and Matt Milano was a disruptive force on the other side of the ball. Buffalo’s defense was able to contain Jonathan Taylor relatively well, but the Colts as a team still rushed for 163 yards on a 5.4 yards per carry average. Baltimore’s run game is a horse of a different color, so Milano and company will need to bring their “A” game to keep this dream season going.
Next week: vs. Baltimore (12-5)
2. Green Bay Packers (13-3, Last week: 2)
The preliminary forecast calls for a high of just 27 degrees in Green Bay on Saturday, when the Packers host the Rams. For comparison, the evening low in Seattle last Saturday was 39. Of course, the Packers are more than simply a product of their environment, and they boast one of the most dynamic offenses in football this season. Los Angeles has allowed opponents to score 30 or more points only once; Green Bay, on the other hand, has crossed the 30-point threshold 12 times. Whoever can dictate style of play will likely come out on top of this matchup.
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams (11-6)
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2, Last week: 1)
An extra week off should have allowed Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins to improve on their nagging injuries (all were listed as questionable on Saturday’s injury report). With a full complement of offensive playmakers at their disposal, the Chiefs will be tough to stop. Their opponent on Sunday–the Cleveland Browns–put up 48 points on the road in Pittsburgh and eclipsed 40 three other times during the regular season. Might we be in for a shootout in Arrowhead?
Next week: vs. Cleveland (12-5)