NFL Postseason Article


Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

The Baltimore Ravens seek revenge against the Tennessee Titans after their 2019 playoff defeat.

Ezekial Stettler, The Delphi Staff

The 2020-2021 NFL regular season has come to a close.

The Jacksonville Jaguars hold the first overall pick in the NFL draft. The New England Patriots will be undefeated in 2021? The New York Giants missed the playoffs due to the Eagles losing a game. But, what about the teams whose seasons haven’t ended?

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Buffalo Bills (13-3):

The first wild card game takes place on Saturday in upstate New York at 1:05 EST, where the Indianapolis Colts look to upset the new AFC East champion Buffalo Bills. The Colts’ defense falls around the middle of the pack in terms of passing defense, but in regards to run defense, they’re one of the best in the league. Young stars on offense, combining with a few aging pieces, make the Colts’ drives entertaining to watch. Jonathan Taylor has solved the rushing needs that the team struggled to overcome early in the season; T.Y. Hilton is as quick and elusive as ever; and Phillip Rivers is finally in the position to win the Super Bowl Ring we all know he deserves.

But can they get past the Buffalo Bills? The Bills offense had all of their pieces click at just the right time. Josh Allen cleaned up his passing, throwing himself into the MVP conversation; Stefon Diggs was the best trade of the offseason and is the first Buffalo receiver to ever lead the league in receiving yards; on the inside, slot receiver Cole Beasley has finally been able to shine and prove his ability after being signed as a free agent; the running backs have become a strong, 1-2 punch, with Devin Singletary serving as the downhill running back they drafted him to be and Zack Moss turning into a bruising, hard contact, goal line/4th and short back. If their defense can keep up their improved performance, the Buffalo Bills have a real shot at advancing to the divisional round.

What needs to happen to give each of these teams their best chances at winning? For the Colts, they need to stop Buffalo on short yardage situations, get them off the field quickly, and they CANNOT give up big plays. The Colts have a solid offense, but they cannot harness the explosiveness required to win a shootout with one of the league’s top offenses.

The Bills need to pull ahead early and keep pushing. A margin of 14 points is something that the Indianapolis Colts can overcome if need be. Buffalo needs to get the lead and keep the pressure on. Make Phillip Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket; the surefire HOFer is not good when trailing and his decision making goes down the drain. Buffalo must exploit that weakness and ride it to victory.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills 35 – Indianapolis Colts 20

LA Rams (10-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (12-4):

3 hours and 35 minutes after the Bills/Colts kickoff, viewers of the world get a divisional game that is sure to entertain. The Rams beat the Seahawks during the middle of the season, when Russel Wilson started to struggle after a truly impressive start to the season. The Seahawks were able to defeat the Rams by double digits in week 16, however, and with LA’s starting QB and former first overall pick, Jared Goff, questionable for the game, odds are pointing towards Seattle. But can LA still topple their division leader? Anything is possible, and with an LA team who has caused issues for Seattle during both games this season, this game will most likely come down to a 4th quarter drive by either team.

Two DPOTY candidates play on LA’s starting lineup, with Jalen Ramsey being one of, if not the, best CBs statistically and Aaron Donald as dominant as ever. If Jalen Ramsey can contain young “superstar” DK Metcalf and give Aaron Donald more time to get to Russel Wilson, it could prove to be a tough game for Wilson. LA might also have a backup in at QB with John Wolford, but based on how he performed last week, and the sheer ability of the wide receivers and tight-ends, that may not matter as much as some may think.

The Seahawks running backs have performed well this season, but they must pick up the inevitable slack that will manifest itself in the form of poor receiver play against one of the league’s best secondaries. If they’re not capable of doing so, which I don’t believe they are, the receivers MUST get open quickly, and get open often. They need to take the heat off of Russel Wilson and pick apart the Rams defense who run mostly man coverage. The Seattle defense, whose numbers were historically low at the beginning of the season, is not back to their “Legion of Boom” status, but have steadily improved over the past several weeks. That’s not going to be enough, and they need to step up and hold the Rams away from midfield as often as possible.

To the Rams: Don’t make the little mistakes that Pete Carrol and Russel Wilson can exploit.

To the Seahawks: Let Wilson “cook.”

Prediction: LA Rams 27 – Seahawks 24


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) @ Washington Football Team (7-9):

Saturday night’s game, at 8:05 EST,  is a must win for Tampa Bay. Did I say Tampa Bay? I meant Tom Brady. He who continues to best father time must prove that there is still some juice left in the tank, and where else to do it but where the GOAT has always shined brightest: the playoffs. Though he is 4-4 in away playoff games with nine touchdowns and ten interceptions, this year is different, or haven’t you heard?

A whole new team (minus Rob Gronkowski), a whole new conference, and a completely different opponent than ever before who many believe to be undermatched. The Washington Football Team is back in the playoffs, only by a hair, but is that hair so weak that they can’t stand on it? Their defense is arguably one of the best in the NFL, with young star Chase Young looking to get after Tom Brady. “Tom Brady! Tom Brady! I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom!” The rookie pro bowler yelled after they clinched the NFC East title. Buccaneers head coach, Bruce Arians, responded by saying “You’d better watch what you wish for.”

It is going to be an intense game, with Alex Smith, the shoe-in Comeback Player of the Year leading a less than red hot, but just as hungry, football team. Terry McLaurin is their best wide receiver, and is a yards-after-catch machine. He’s quick, elusive, and smart, and his great hands are going to give the Tampa Bay defense fits.

Their rookie running back, Antonio Gibson, has shined bright, gaining 4.7 yards averaged on every carry and scoring eleven touchdowns on the year. Next to Chase Young is Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen, who are all starters regardless of what team they’ll play on. An incredible front seven is backed up by a great combination of secondary players in Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby.

Another great defense can be found on the Buccaneers and is arguably just as good. The best rushing defense in the league belongs to Tampa Bay, and it’s no wonder when you look at their lineup. Will Ghoston, Ndamukong Suh, Levonte David, and Shaquille Barret will fill the front seven, and they will, no doubt, put pressure on Alex Smith,. However, can they keep Washington from moving the ball completely? It will be a test for sure, but that’s not the most exciting matchup.

That title goes to the Tampa Bay offense versus the Washington defense. Tom Brady is great, as you may have heard, and tight-ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate are pretty good, too. The receivers for the team are incredible, and that’s evident by the fact that Antonio Brown is a second string receiver. Starters Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are phenomenal players, though Evans might not be playing due to a non-contact knee injury which occured on a touchdown drop last week. Their running backs are great as well, with Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy sitting patiently behind Ronald Jones II.

How do the Buccaneers win? Tom Brady needs to be what he was in his previous three Super Bowl appearances and carry the team with his right arm.

How does the Washington Football Team win? Don’t let Tom Brady play like Tom Brady; force the Buccaneers to run the ball and don’t make any glaring mistakes that they can exploit.

Prediction: Washington Football Team 24 – Buccaneers 13


Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Tennessee Titans (11-5):

The Ravens travel to Tennessee at 1:05 EST on Sunday afternoon to take on the AFC South champion Titans. The Ravens have turned into a pass first offense, something foreign to them before Lamar Jackson stepped up his passing game and turned into the quarterback who can lead them rushing and passing. Hollywood Brown has turned into the speedster they need on the outside, with Mark Andrews filling in the tight-end spot as a good blocker and a better pass-catcher. J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram are great in the backfield as well, with a great offense line to pave their way.

The Tennessee Titans backfield is even better, though, featuring the one and only Derrick Henry, the 2020-2021 leading rusher by a few hundred yards and a physical specimen like no other. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, and he’s the face of the Titans offense right now. Though, that could be in contention in the coming weeks and years as AJ Brown is starting to make a name for himself and Ryan Tannehil is among the NFL’s elite passers.

The Raven’s defense boasts one of the strongest secondaries in the league, headed by Marlon Humphrey. The defensive line was run over by Derrick Henry last year, so the front office for Baltimore traded for Calais Campbell, signed Derek Wolfe, and drafted Patrick Queen. Will they be enough to stuff the greatest running back in the league? Perhaps, but it is their key to victory. When Derrick Henry rushes for over 100 yards, the team is 16-2 (over the last two seasons including postseason). When he does not, the team is 6-10.

The Titan’s defense has just as difficult a task, for they have to contain an incredibly explosive Baltimore Ravens team. Kevin Byard and Malcom Butler are two notable secondary players, with Byard lining up as a free safety and Butler lining up across from receivers in a cornerback role. Malcolm Butler’s most notable career moment came in the waning seconds of the Patriots vs Seahawks Super Bowl when he sealed the game with an interception. He earned a big contract in Tennessee due to his performance, and he is now their number one corner who will be aligned against Baltimore’s Brown mostly.

Can Baltimore win on the road? Yes, if they limit their mistakes, run the ball well, pass the ball fluently, and keep Derrick Henry contained.

How does Tennessee secure a victory? Get Derrick Henry going early, and make Lamar Jackson uncomfortable.

Prediction: Tennessee Titans 33 over Baltimore Ravens 17


Chicago Bears (8-8) @ New Orleans Saints (12-4):

Sunday at 4:40 EST, the Chicago Bears will travel south to New Orleans in order to attempt to upset the heavily favored Saints. Chicago got out to a hot start earlier in the season, beginning 6-0, but then lost six straight to fall to 6-6. They’ve leveled out from there, and Mitch Trubisky is now back in at QB in place of Nick Foles.

Allen Robinson is hands down one of the best wide receivers in the league and is their most reliant skill position player. Darrell Mooney and Anthony Miller are good players as well, with Cordarelle Patterson being their WR who doesn’t usually play WR, but rather returns kicks, and is great at doing so. David Montgomery is a young running back showing promise as well, with bits of inconsistencies making his play unstable.

The Saints offense is good, as per usual, with Drew Brees at the helm. Michael Thomas has been somewhat of a let down this season, with QBs Dak Prescott and Cam Newton catching more touchdown passes than the reigning OPOTY. Running back Alvin Kamara is expected to play Sunday, despite being injured. Tight-end Jared Cook and WR Emmanuel Sanders are relatively new players brought to New Orleans who are also contributing.

The defenses are the shining lights for these teams, with stars like Kalil Mack and Roquan Smith for Chicago and Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore for the Saints. The Chicago Bears’ defensive front bears some of the best in the league, and the linebackers behind them are solid as well. With Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson securing their hinds, it’ll be difficult to move against them, hypothetically. Though, while these standout players are great, there are gaps in positions that do show.

The Saints have a strong front seven as well, with the aforementioned Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport lining up in front of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Demario Davis. To their left, right and backs, the Saints secondary is not the greatest but can do enough to stop the Bears’ offense if they play well.

How do the Saints win? Keep moving the ball against the Bear’s defense, wear them out, and don’t let Mitch Trubisky play at his 2018-2019 Pro Bowl form.

How do the Bears win? Force interceptions, get to Drew Brees, and move the ball well on offense.

Prediction: New Orleans Saints 21 over Chicago Bears 17


Cleveland Browns (11-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4):

Kevin Stefanski, the Cleveland Browns head coach, tested positive for Covid-19. The Browns’ locker room has been plagued by the virus for the past few weeks, most notably in week 16 when they played the Jets with their top four receivers out with the illness.

The Steelers started as the best team in the NFL, sprinting off to an 11-0 start. Then they lost a game and fell to 11-1. Then fell to 11-2. Then 11-3. They won a game and improved to 12-3 but eventually finished 12-4. A week ago, the two teams played against one another and the Browns came out on top. This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to prove that they are not the 2019-2020 New England Patriots, who were the final undefeated team in the league, but collapsed and lost in the Wild Card round.

Baker Mayfield has been improving greatly over the year, proving to be the franchise quarterback that he needs to be. This is great for Cleveland who has not had any luck drafting quarterbacks in the past (Johnny Manziel, for example). Their receivers are great as well, and though they do not have Odell Beckham Jr., his LSU teammate Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins are primed and ready to go. The best running back duo in the league could belong to Cleveland as well, with the redeemed Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb bulldozing their way through opposing defenses.

The Steelers offense, headed by “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, is doing well this season, but wide receiver Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster has been in the eyes of controversy due to his dancing on opposing team’s logos then failing to meet the standards he has set by doing so. Diontae Johnson is a strong wide receiver as well, and with James Washington and rookie star Chase Claypool behind them, the room is deep. Running backs James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. have done what they’ve been asked to. Nothing more.

The Cleveland defense is nothing that will raise eyebrows, except for Myles Garret who was on pace to not only secure DPOTY last year but also shatter Michael Strahan’s single season sack record before being suspended for fighting with Steelers backup QB Mason Rudolph. Pittsburgh, however, has quite the prominent defense, headed by 2020 NFL sack leader T.J. Watt and QB nightmare Casey Heyward. Behind the men on the line and in the linebacker position sit Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds, daring the QB to throw the ball. An interesting one for sure.

Cleveland’s keys to victory: Pull ahead early, make Roethlisberger throw downfield, and don’t allow yards after the catch.

Pittsburgh’s keys to victory: Throw the ball short and quick, run the ball to the left and away from Myles Garrett, and pick apart the Brown’s weak secondary.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 28 – Cleveland Browns 27