AFC young guns versus NFC in the AFC old dudes
Super wild card weekend is in the books and the NFL has been narrowed down to its own version of the elite eight. While hours of football on back to back days was glorious, the best of the best remain with storylines galore. If your favorite team is still standing, enjoy your week as a nervous wreck (or as a bandwagon fan trying to convince others of your made-up lifetime fandom). If your favorite team has long since been eliminated, sit back, enjoy the show and start building up false hope for next season.
Ravens at Bills
Lamar Jackson’s speed remains one of the great equalizers in the NFL. Is the Ravens’ defense what it was a year ago? Nope. Are things in the passing game coming as easily as they once were? Nope. Are Josh Allen and the Bills the NFL’s hottest team? Yep. However, with Jackson, anything is possible.
If the Ravens are able to find success on the ground much like the Colts did, while eliminating some of Indianapolis’ self-inflicted mistakes, a Baltimore win is more than possible. The Colts were able to cross the 50 on Buffalo’s defense on every single one of their possessions but managed to score just 24 points.
This could be one of those classic ‘whichever QB has the ball last’ type shootouts that get replayed on the NFL network once or twice a year.
Browns at Chiefs
Browns fans do not read past this paragraph. Your team just won their biggest game since the team returned in dominant fashion against a division rival that has had your number for two decades. Enjoy the win all the way up until kickoff. You have earned it.
Now back to the game on Sunday. Kansas City may have had the most under the radar 14-2 season of all time. It seems silly, but it’s almost like the Chiefs have become too dominant. It’s as if the defending Super Bowl champs coasted their way to the best record in the NFL. The reality is the Chiefs still have the best quarterback/head coach duo in the NFL, the league’s best deep threat in Tyreek Hill and the best pass catching tight end of the season in Travis Kelce.
Cleveland’s best hope to pull off the mega-upset is to put the game on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. While the availability of Denzel Ward and Joel Bitonio is worth watching, it matters not if the Browns are not able to keep the ball out of the hands of Patrick Mahomes. Asking Baker Mayfield to go blow for blow with the reigning Super Bowl MVP would be both unfair, and a death wish.
Shortening the game, as Cleveland has done all year, is their only hope. Even then, it still might not be enough as Mahomes and company have scored whenever they needed to in just about every game over their last two seasons.
Rams at Packers
Strength versus strength. Can Aaron Donald and the Rams’ lights out defense keep likely NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packer’s offense at bay? How about a resounding maybe? The matchup to watch here is Jalen Ramsey squaring off against Davante Adams. Adams has dog walked defensive back all season long, while Ramsey has proven to be one of the game’s few lockdown corners.
The problem is even if the Rams are able to keep the Packers in check, their outlook on offense is less than optimal. A nine and a half-fingered Jared Goff with a banged-up receiving corps feels like scoring 17 points should be seen as a success. Forcing turnovers and giving their offense short fields will be key to a Rams upset.
Buccaneers at Saints
Will this be the last time we see Drew Brees take an NFL field? It’s no secret Brees is retiring after this season is up. Add in the fact that New Orleans has the least amount of cap space in the NFL, and the Saints run with the NFC’s best may be coming to a close altogether.
For the first time since Brees arrived in New Orleans, the Saints’ defense is the team’s strong point. The 41-year old Brees does not have the arm strength to keep defenses honest anymore. The Saints’ offense has been reverted to screens and quick hitters before the first down marker.
On the flip side, 43-year old Tom Brady has officially put Father Time’s undefeated record on notice. While his lack of mobility could giveaway to a big game from Cam Jordan, Brady’s arm strength and accuracy is astonishing considering most veteran quarterbacks are ineffective past age 37 let alone 43.
Despite the Saints winning both regular season matchups in convincing fashion, the Bucs have looked like the far better team for the last six weeks. Bucs/Saints part III promises to be a much more competitive affair.