Somehow, the NFL turned a quarter and long after another into a treacherous 100 yard pandemic minefield. Now the pandemic playoffs begin on Saturday as 14 masked teams try so desperately to socially distance themselves from a vicious virus for eternity as they want to march towards Tampa and Super Bowl LV Steel to play the ultimate game « Survivor » to play.
Even the Browns, who haven’t seen the playoffs since 2002, were struck in the solar plexus when coach / play caller Kevin Stefanski and left guard Joel Bitonio were put on the COVID-19 list and were declared for their wildcard showdown against the Steelers.
The pain of having a 16-point lead in an overtime loss to the Texans in last year’s wildcard round left coach Sean McDermott’s grazing division champions and the 6,772 Bills Mafia members allowed to take part driven.
Talented Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus has a fast paced unit that knows about takeaways and assaults , but his 18th pass defense has his hands full with MVP-caliber quarterback Josh Allen with a double threat. He needs bolts Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner to make an impact.
Bills wide receivers Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Gabriel Davis will have to play a bigger role for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll if WR Cole Beasley (knee) is limited or out. Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes fought as teammates of the Vikings and they could get to know each other again quickly.
This is Philip Rivers’ last desperate attempt to win that elusive first Super Bowl championship. He’ll need another 253-yard rushing day when rookie Jonathan Taylor runs back behind bone-breaking security guard Quenton Nelson and Bill’s cornerback Tre’Davious White WR T.Y. Hilton.
If Jared Goff (thumb surgery) can’t walk, Sean McVay will turn to John Wolford, who couldn’t even beat Sam Darnold at training camp 2018 as an unoccupied free agent. In both cases, WRs Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are devalued, and the Seahawks are number 5 in the run defense.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s defense needs security Jamal Adams (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jarran Reed ( oblique), who booked two sacks in a win in week 16 of 20-9. When in doubt, let Russell Wilson cook against the number 3 defense, but if he again avoids throwing to DK Metcalf against Jalen Ramsey, he’ll have to meet up with Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks offensive line is back together for the first time since Week 14 to face Aaron Donald.
Just don’t expect Bruce Arians to outperform Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of a close game for Blaine Gabbert. Washington Young rookie defensive end Chase Young wanted aspiring Brady, now he has him. WFT coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have a line of defense that could give Brady flashbacks from Super Bowl 42 against the Giants. And her secondary liver isn’t hacked.
Brady will be keen to get the ball quickly to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and old friend Rob Gronkowski. Even without rookie linebacker Devin White, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles uses a # 1 running defense that slows RB Antonio Gibson and forces Alex Smith to perform a one-dimensional offensive under duress. Smith must take the ball to WR Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas. Rivera could turn Smith and Taylor Heinicke? A Heineken or three is recommended for the WFT fan.
Hide the women and children. A rematch from last year’s divisional round that was upset by the titans in Baltimore when Derrick Henry fell for 195 yards, forcing Lamar Jackson to catch up. Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have to face the bully. But it could be a case of collecting your poison, with Ryan Tannehill on WR’s A.J. Brown and Corey Davis – this is where full-backs Yannick Ngakoue and CBs Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have to make a difference.
The emergence of rookie RB J.K. Dobbins gives Jackson a partner in crime. Jackson wants to win his first playoff game in three tries. His 46 touchdowns without a break in the red zone speak for themselves. So watch out for TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise « Hollywood » Brown. Placekicker Justin Tucker is a weapon.
Bear’s defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s pass rush has collapsed recently, and Drew Brees was hit only once (Khalil Mack) in 41 passes in the Saints’ 26-23 OT win in Chicago in November sacked.
Nick Foles won’t be the opposing quarterback this time. That would be Mitch Trubisky, the GM Ryan Pace preferred to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky and WR Allen Robinson won’t have an easy time of it against an elite secondary school led by CB Marshon Lattimore and S Marcus Williams.
Chicago RB David Montgomery faces the No. 4 run defense. Saints WR Michael Thomas (Knuckles) will be back after a three week absence and RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-19 list) is expected to be cleared. What Taysom Hill tricks could Sean Payton have up his sleeve?
Prediction: Saints 27, Bears 13th Brees (24 touchdowns, six interceptions), recovering from his 11 broken ribs and punctured lung, starts one final Super Bowl Run.
Pittsburgh visitors lost 17 straight times, not because Baker Mayfield cares. But it will interest him that Stefanski and Bitonio are not on the sidelines. Is Jim Brown available to call plays? Johnny Manziel maybe? Good luck Mike Priefer!
Myles Garrett holds his helmet on but doesn’t have a Olivier Vernon bookend (torn ACL) to track Ben Roethlisberger. Watch out for Diontae Johnson when he wipes the butter off his fingers and Chase Claypool. If Mayfield doesn’t try to keep Big Ben on the sidelines with a healthy dose of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, he’ll likely target Steeler CB Cam Sutton, a likely replacement for Joe Haden (COVID-19 list). T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are playmakers.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Browns 24. Big Ben and Mike Tomlin know how to win these games.
The Chiefs own the # 21 rush defense, the trouble against Jackson could mean if he can keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. But the defending champions will be rested after parting, while the ravens from the wild card game could be carried to a break. Raven’s defensive coordinator Don « Wink » Martindale couldn’t stop Mahomes (385 yards and four TDs) from overtaking Jackson (97 yards over, 83 yards fast) in a 34-20 Chiefs win in September.
Prediction: Chiefs 30, Ravens 24: Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 5-2 after goodbye weeks in the playoffs and 18-3 in the regular season.
A rubber match between Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay RB Aaron Jones will have tough luge against this bunch and losing elite left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) could make Davante Adams less dangerous. A resurgent Packers Pass Rush, an arctic Lambeau Field and the brilliance of A-Rod make all the difference.
Doubt that Juju Smith-Schuster will dance on the Bills logo this time. Leslie Frazier’s Buffalo defense stuffed James Conner (10:18) and intercepted Big Ben twice in a 26:15 home win last month, one with a six from Taron Johnson. Tomlin would need Haden because Stefon Diggs (10-130 receiving) dominated last time.
Wilson threw for 406 yards and two TDs and rushed for 51 yards and two TDs in a 33-27 home loss early last season the Saints led by Teddy Bridgewater. Adams gives the Hawks a growing Legion of Boom mindset and bragging rights in defense. Rookie LB Jordyn Brooks could be chasing Kamara. Trey Hendrickson and Cam Jordan bring the heat, but Wilson can still be Houdini.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Saints 24. The last time Brees, Thomas and Kamara played a full game together was week 9. I see a surprise.
Dream quarterback matchup. The last one with the ball wins. There goes Tyreek Hill. There goes Diggs. A no-look Mahomes goes to Travis Kelce. Has anyone seen John Brown?
Eight years after the failure, Mary. A rematch of last year’s 28-23 Packers win in the Lambeau division round that saw Davante Adams and Lockett unstoppable. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon gives Rodgers the balance that Wilson won’t have. Adams better watch out for Packer’s close quarters, Robert Tonyan.
Jim Kelly shares a suite with Marv Levy, with Scott Norwood and his socially distant wife sitting on the right. Rodgers is quick to toss TD passes at Allen Lazard and Marques Valdes-Scantling, and Kelly and Levy sport that Here-We-Go-Again look. But those bills cannot be traced back to their tortured Super Bowl history.
Allen responds with TD passes to John Brown and Dawson Knox before Rodgers finds Adams in the end zone. Everyone yawns and Diggs responds with a TD bomb. Jones catches a TD pass. It binds everyone with a TD run. Mason Crosby scores a field goal. The last one with the ball wins. And it’s Allen – with a last-minute TD throw to Dion Dawkins. Kelly sobs with joy.
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