After 256 games in an NFL season unlike any other, the league has reached the playoffs with just a few hiccups along the way. All games have been completed and while there have been more injuries than ever before, the season has remained competitive and retained integrity, no mean feat in current circumstances. Here, we look at which 14 teams made it to the playoffs and preview the matchups ahead.
Because of a new ruling only one team from each conference receives a first round bye, this year it was the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs who earned a rest over Wild Card Weekend. Knowing they had already clinched the first seed, Chiefs rested most of their starters in week 17, losing 38-21 to the Chargers to fall to a regular season record of 14-2 and giving them an extra week to prepare for the Divisional Round.
The Packers defeated the Bears to clinch the top seed in the NFC and will know that the route to the Super Bowl goes through Lambeau Field, always a tough visit in January. Rodgers and LaFleur will face the NFC team with the highest seed that comes out of the Wild Card Round.
The Washington Football Team, winners of the NFC East this year with a record of 7-9, will face the five seed Tampa Bay, who beat NFC South rivals Atlanta Falcons in week 17 to take their win total for the season to 11. The Bucs are entering the playoffs on a four-game win streak, racking up 148 points as their loaded offense gets hot at the right time. The Football Team will know that the key to the game is getting to Brady quickly with their impressive pass rush as the team struggles to find the answer at quarterback.
“It’s kind of like what (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin was talking about, you don’t want to have to draft that high to get guys like that,” Bucs head coach Arians said of Chase Young, who called out Brady after his team’s week 17 win. “But you’ve got to play against them. He’s a hell of a player. Making him a captain as a rookie speaks volumes.
“Both those kids from Ohio State, he and (Terry) McLaurin, are great kids. He’s a handful, but so is (Montez) Sweat, (Daron) Payne, the rest of those guys. Ryan Kerrigan, I’ve had a ton of respect for a long time. We’ll have our hands full, but it’s one of those games where you better watch what you wish for.”
That matchup will happen 8:15PM Eastern Sunday night, following the conclusion of the NFC West grudge match between Seattle and the LA Rams. The Seahawks won four straight to close the season and top the competitive NFC West, earning a home game against division rivals LA after they clinched a playoff berth with a final day victory over Arizona, without the help of quarterback Jared Goff.
“I’m confident going into this week, I’m glad the team’s rallying around me, and it’ll be fun,” Rams backup quarterback John Wolford said. “I know I can spin it, I know I can make the throws, and then mentally, it’s about making the right decisions giving us the best chance to win.”
The Rams were also without leading receiver Cooper Kupp in their week 17 victory over the Cardinals and with the star sitting on the Covid-19 reserve list, it’s looking likely that he will miss their Wild Card matchup.
“It’s really tough (if we don’t have wide receiver Cooper Kupp on Sunday), but I think what we feel good about is the ability for those guys to have prepared for their opportunity and potentially be ready to roll and get some more chances this weekend,” LA Rams coach Sean McVay said.
The first game on Saturday sees the in-form Buffalo Bills host the Indianapolis Colts, who needed a win over the now 1-15 Jaguars to secure their place in the playoffs. The Bills routed the Dolphins 56-26 despite resting quarterback Josh Allen at half time and fan expectations will be high as Buffalo go into their first home playoff game in 24 years full of confidence.
Sunday’s action kicks off with a fascinating AFC matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, a rematch of the 2019 Division Round which the Titans won. The Ravens looked out of playoff contention after their loss to the Steelers but four straight earned Lamar Jackson’s side the berth and now they must be treated as Super Bowl contenders.
The 12-4 Saints will host the 8-8 Trubisky-led Bears, who scraped into the playoffs despite a closing day defeat to NFC North rivals Green Bay. The late game on Sunday promises to be a more even matchup as AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland square off for a rematch of the week 17 game that the Browns needed to seal their playoff berth, although the Steelers were resting their starters.