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Our Guide To The NFL’s Wide-Open Wild-Card Weekend

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A captivating — and sometimes-chaotic — NFL common season is within the books, and the NFL postseason is upon us … full with a few additional playoff groups this yr (hello, Bears and Colts). Looking forward to the opening weekend, we’ll assess every matchup utilizing our Elo rankings — which monitor every crew’s present type, with changes for the high quality of every beginning quarterback — and in addition determine the phases of the sport wherein every crew was finest (and worst) in line with ESPN’s anticipated factors added (EPA) this season. Here is our information to the great, the unhealthy and the must-see for every matchup within the wild-card spherical:

Tale of the tape: No. 2 Buffalo vs. No. 7 Indianapolis

1:05 p.m. ET Saturday

BuffaloCategoryIndianapolis
13-3Record11-5
sixthSchedule energy20th
1725Elo w/ high QB1597
2ndLeague rankeighth
Josh AllenStarting QBPhilip Rivers
1stQB Elo rank16th
thirdQB’s supporting forgedfifth
16thAvg. QB Elo protectionninth
Pass offenseBiggest EPA energyPass protection
Run offenseBiggest EPA weak pointRun offense
75.5%FiveThirtyEight forecast24.5%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Saturday’s greatest mismatch sees the red-hot Bills host a Colts crew that wanted assist from Buffalo — when it crushed Miami on Sunday — to make the playoffs in any respect. The Bills have received six straight and 9 of their previous 10 video games by a mean of practically two touchdowns per recreation. QB Josh Allen completed the common season ranked third (behind Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes) in ESPN’s Total QBR, and he has by no means rated larger in his profession than the previous few weeks, in line with our QB Elo metric. So whereas Indy quarterback Philip Rivers had an honest yr, he and the Colts can’t match Buffalo’s offensive firepower. But one factor the Colts do have is the superior protection — rating eighth in EPA, to Buffalo’s No. 16 — which affords them one of the best blueprint for an upset. Playing in Orchard Park, although, the Bills are heavy favorites right here, with a 76 % likelihood of transferring on to Round 2. Elo’s unfold: Buffalo -8

Tale of the tape: No. 3 Seattle vs. No. 6 L.A. Rams

4:40 p.m. ET Saturday

SeattleCategoryLos Angeles
12-4Record10-6
16thSchedule energy23rd
1615Elo w/ high QB1511
seventhLeague rank10th
Russell WilsonStarting QBJared Goff✚
13thQB Elo rank20th
eighthQB’s supporting forgedsixth
13thAvg. QB Elo protection1st
Pass offenseBiggest EPA energyRun protection
Pass protectionBiggest EPA weak pointSpecial groups
72.6%FiveThirtyEight forecast27.4%

✚ Starter is at the moment injured and will not play.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

If each of those groups have been at full energy, this could be a compelling battle of strengths versus strengths and weaknesses versus weaknesses. Seattle’s offense ranks fifth in EPA, however L.A.’s protection ranks No. 1; in the meantime, the Rams’ offense ranks 19th, however the Seahawks’ protection ranks 22nd. In splitting the season collection, we noticed every crew’s weak hyperlink elevate its efficiency en path to the win. But the largest issue right here is the health of Rams QB Jared Goff, who won’t recuperate from his current thumb surgical procedure in time to play. Although Goff is hardly a fantastic passer, Los Angeles’s win likelihood drops by 18 proportion factors if backup John Wolford is compelled to begin once more. The low-scoring recipe Wolford adopted to victory in Week 17 in all probability received’t be sustainable towards Russell Wilson and firm, which helps account for Seattle’s elevated odds. Elo’s unfold: Seattle -7

Tale of the tape: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay

8:15 p.m. ET Saturday

WashingtonCategoryTampa Bay
7-9Record11-5
31stSchedule energy12th
1477Elo score1642
19thLeague ranksixth
Alex SmithStarting QBTom Brady
28thQB Elo rankseventh
14thQB’s supporting forgedseventh
2ndAvg. QB Elo protection10th
Pass protectionBiggest EPA energyRun protection
Pass offenseBiggest EPA weak pointSpecial groups
29.1%FiveThirtyEight forecast70.9%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Although issues might have been even worse, the NFC East yielded simply the second 7-9 crew to ever win a division within the type of this Washington outfit. Their reward is a home playoff recreation, sure, however one towards a Tampa Bay crew that has been among the many hottest within the NFL over the previous month. At age 43 this season, Tom Brady posted his finest Total QBR since 2016, main the league’s fourth-best passing assault by EPA. And the Bucs’ protection was even higher, rating third in EPA total and among the many high six towards each the run and go. (Which was an enormous purpose for Tampa’s fourth-best level differential within the league this yr.) Football Team has a fantastic protection of its personal (No. Four in EPA), which could assist sluggish Brady down some, however Alex Smith and Washington’s offense ought to wrestle mightily to attain towards the Buccaneers. Our mannequin offers Tampa Bay a 71 % likelihood of transferring Brady that a lot nearer to his seventh Super Bowl ring. Elo’s unfold: Tampa Bay -6

Tale of the tape: No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Baltimore

1:05 p.m. ET Sunday

TennesseeCategoryBaltimore
11-5Record11-5
24thSchedule energy29th
1585Elo w/ high QB1664
11thLeague rankfifth
Ryan TannehillStarting QBLamar Jackson
ninthQB Elo rank4th
15thQB’s supporting forgedninth
26thAvg. QB Elo protection22nd
Run offenseBiggest EPA energyRun offense
Pass protectionBiggest EPA weak pointPass offense
42.6%FiveThirtyEight forecast57.4%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

This is definitely one of the best and most compelling matchup of wild-card weekend. Tennessee upended Baltimore’s storybook season in final yr’s playoffs, and the Titans received an OT thriller when the 2 groups met in November. So there’s lots of historical past right here. And although they play with totally different kinds, each groups strike an unusually run-heavy offensive profile, ending Nos. 1 and a pair of in speeding yards per recreation this season. On paper, the large distinction between the Titans and Ravens may merely come all the way down to protection, the place Baltimore ranks sixth in EPA and Tennessee ranks 27th this yr. Then once more, that didn’t appear to matter a lot within the earlier two duels — when the Titans’ protection dramatically outplayed that of the Ravens, +1.Four EPA per recreation to -12.1. In these contests, we noticed Tennessee each soar out to a big lead and overcome a big deficit, so the Ravens have but to fairly crack the formulation for defeating their nemesis. But our mannequin nonetheless likes them for the win on the highway Sunday, with a 57 % likelihood of lastly incomes their first playoff victory of the Lamar Jackson Era. Elo’s unfold: Baltimore -2

Tale of the tape: No. 2 New Orleans vs. No. 7 Chicago

4:40 p.m. ET Sunday

New OrleansCategoryChicago
12-4Record8-8
13thSchedule energy21st
1730Elo w/ high QB1515
1stLeague rank14th
Drew BreesStarting QBMitchell Trubisky
eighthQB Elo rank17th
1stQB’s supporting forged17th
thirdAvg. QB Elo protectioneighth
Run offenseBiggest EPA energyRun protection
Special groupsBiggest EPA weak pointPass offense
85.0%FiveThirtyEight forecast15.0%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

In the AFC, an 8-Eight document would have completed three video games out of the postseason. But within the NFC, it earned Chicago a playoff berth on a tiebreaker over the equally mediocre Arizona Cardinals. Now, the Bears should journey to New Orleans and face a Saints crew that seems as scary as anyone within the convention on paper. How can the Bears pull off the upset? Chicago’s seventh-ranked EPA protection might pose a risk to Drew Brees and the Saints offense, significantly if Swiss Army knife operating again Alvin Kamara is unavailable resulting from a optimistic COVID-19 take a look at. (Though New Orleans ran the ball high quality with out him in Week 17.) Embattled QB Mitchell Trubisky has strung collectively 4 above-average begins in his previous 5 video games, sustaining maybe his finest stretch of play since making the Pro Bowl in 2018. The Nick Foles-led Bears even hung robust with the Saints again in Week 8. But the Saints, who had the finest SRS in your entire league through the common season, in all probability have an excessive amount of expertise for an upset to be way more than a far-fetched notion right here. Elo offers New Orleans a snug 85 % likelihood of advancing to face the NFC’s second-worst remaining seed. Elo’s unfold: New Orleans -12

Tale of the tape: No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Cleveland

8:15 p.m. ET Sunday

PittsburghCategoryCleveland
12-4Record11-5
27thSchedule energy30th
1587Elo w/ high QB1550
ninthLeague rank12th
Ben RoethlisbergerStarting QBBaker Mayfield
10thQB Elo rank18th
12thQB’s supporting forged11th
fifthAvg. QB Elo protection21st
Pass protectionBiggest EPA energyPass offense
Run offenseBiggest EPA weak pointPass protection
61.9%FiveThirtyEight forecast38.1%

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Congrats are to ensure that the Browns — their struggles as soon as defied all logic, however they’re now headed to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. And a win of their postseason opener, towards the bitter rival Steelers, shouldn’t be out of attain. Though Pittsburgh impressed with a comeback over the Colts in its final actual outing — then took a much-needed week of relaxation — its late-season type bore little resemblance to the model that blew out Cleveland 38-7 in Week 6. All advised, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers completed the common season at No. 22 in offensive EPA, with Baker Mayfield and the Browns rating a lot larger (11th). That and Mayfield’s current stretch of improved play — 4 above-average Elo begins in 5 video games — provide hope that Cleveland has the firepower to outgun Pittsburgh. But the Steelers’ protection is excellent, rating second in total EPA and No. 1 particularly towards the go; any deep playoff run for them shall be powered primarily by that facet of the ball. Cleveland can’t say the identical, with solely the 26th-best protection by EPA. (And then there’s the matter of Browns coach Kevin Stefanski being unavailable for the sport after testing optimistic for COVID-19.) All of that’s sufficient for Pittsburgh to be favored right here; our mannequin offers the Steelers a 62 % likelihood of holding off the Browns at home within the rematch. Elo’s unfold: Pittsburgh -3½

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