The NFL Wild Card weekend is bigger and better than it’s ever been before with an expanded playoff field leading to six opening weekend games instead of the previous four and a slate with a number of compelling matchups between high-powered teams.
Here’s a look at each game this weekend.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills – Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Odds: Buffalo -6.5
The Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills open Wild Card round action this weekend with a heavyweight matchup between two of the hottest teams in the NFL.
The Colts narrowly finished in second place in the AFC South, finishing with the same 11-5 record as the first-place Tennessee Titans, though the Titans held the tiebreaker. Indianapolis enters the playoffs after winning six of its final eight games and boasts a top-10 scoring offense and a top-10 scoring defense in the NFL.
Buffalo, meanwhile, is the single hottest team in the NFL, entering the playoffs winning nine of their final 10 regular season games – and covering the spread in the final eight games of the season. The Bills’ success comes behind one of the most dominant offenses in the league as Buffalo averages 31.3 points per game, which is good for second in the NFL behind only the Green Bay Packers.
Both of these teams are worthy contenders and have played well down the stretch, but Buffalo can score at a pace that the Colts simply cannot match and should run away with this game.
Pick: Buffalo -6.5
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks – Saturday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Line: Seattle -3.5
The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks meet on Saturday afternoon in what looks to be one of the most contentious games in the Wild Card round of the playoffs with two divisional rivals meeting, each with 10 or more wins.
The Rams do not enter Saturday’s game with a ton of momentum, losing two of their last three regular season games, including one to the Seahawks, but their strong and steady defense always gives them a chance in any game. Los Angeles has the top scoring defense in the entire NFL, allowing opponents an average of just 18.5 points per game.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have looked like one of the most dominant teams in the league for much of the season, and especially down the stretch, winning the last four games of the regular season to make a final playoff push. Though Seattle’s strength has been its offense this season, ranking No. 8 in the NFL with 28.7 points per game, the defense has been strong as well, particularly late in the season as the Seahawks have surrendered fewer than 20 points in five of their final six games, including two single-digit performances.
Both of these teams fought hard to make the playoffs and have a chance to make a deep run, but the Seahawks are the better and more well-rounded team with more momentum. They’ll get the win and the cover on Saturday afternoon.
Pick: Seattle -3.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team – Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Tampa Bay -8.5
In what’s projected to be one of the most lopsided matchups in the Wild Card round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to face the Washington Football Team on Sunday night.
The Buccaneers enter this game as one of the hottest teams in the entire league, winning their final four games of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. Tampa Bay’s strength has been its offense this season, ranking No. 3 in the NFL with 30.8 points per game, and it’s been at its best lately, scoring 47 and 44 points in its final two games of the NFL season.
Washington is the only team to make the playoffs this season with a losing record after winning the NFC East with a paltry 7-9 record. Despite the poor record, Washington actually has been quite strong defensively this season, ranking No. 4 in the NFL in scoring defense with just 20.6 points allowed per game.
This will be a strength on strength matchup with the high-powered Buccaneers offense facing off with a stingy Washington defense. Tampa Bay has a lot of firepower on offense, but Washington’s defense is sneaky good. Even if Washington isn’t able to get the win, that defense will keep this game close enough to get them to cover.
Pick: Washington +8.5
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans – Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Line: Ravens -3
The Baltimore Ravens travel to face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon in what will likely be one of the more hard-fought, highly-contested games of the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Even though they didn’t win their division, the Ravens are one of the most complete teams in the entire NFL, ranking No. 7 in the league in scoring offense with 29.2 points per game, and No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense, surrendering just 18.9 points per game. Baltimore has also been playing its best football down the stretch, winning its last five games of the regular season and scoring more than 30 points in four of those games.
The Titans won the AFC South primarily due to their prolific offense which ranks No. 4 in the NFL in scoring offense, averaging 30.7 points per game. That offense has been on full display late in the season as Tennessee has score more than 40 points in half of its final six games of the regular season.
Though both teams have their strengths, the Ravens are the more complete team with more momentum entering the playoffs and should get the win and the cover in this matchup, despite being the road team.
Pick: Baltimore -3
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints – Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Line: New Orleans -10
The New Orleans Saints play host to the Chicago Bears in what is projected to be the most lopsided matchup of the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
New Orleans enters this game as arguably the most complete and well-balanced team in the NFL. The Saints are the only team in the league to rank in the top-five in both scoring defense and scoring offense, averaging 30.1 points per game and surrendering an average of just 21.1 points per game.
Chicago, meanwhile, backed into the playoffs after a lopsided loss to the Green Bay Packers last week and is not particularly strong on either side of the ball. The Bears have been inconsistent on offense behind quarterback Mitch Trubisky, ranking in the bottom half of the league, and has just a slightly above-average defense.
The Saints are a heavy favorite in this game for a reason. They’re the more complete team and should dominate this game from start to finish.
Pick: Saints -10
Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Pittsburgh -6
In one of the most intriguing matchups of the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Cleveland Browns return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and face the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland is an average team on both offense and defense, but the Browns have fought hard for an 11-5 record in what is arguably the strongest division in the NFL this season. Though not particularly strong on either side of the ball, Cleveland has proven it can hang with anybody in the league, going 3-0 this season against non-divisional playoff teams.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has been one of the more dominant teams in the NFL all season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers rank No. 3 in the league, allowing just 19.5 points per game, and have an above-average offense, averaging 26 points per game. However, Pittsburgh has not looked particularly strong down the stretch, limping into the playoffs with losses in four of its last five games.
This game will be a hard-fought battle between two divisional rivals but despite the record and season numbers, the Browns are playing like the better team entering the playoffs and should have the momentum on Sunday night. It might not be enough to get Cleveland the win, but it will at least get the cover.
Pick: Cleveland +6