2021 Wild Card Weekend Storylines and Picks
The NFL's Wildcard Weekend is here. Some fans regard it as the season's most exciting time. Teams vie to advance in the tournament, hoping that one of them will hoist the Lombardi Trophy next month.
This Wildcard Weekend looks a little different than most others. Let's take a moment to run down a few of this weekend's storylines, and we'll also predict who should advance to the Divisional Round next week.
The Coronavirus and Injuries
The ongoing pandemic and various injuries are one of this weekend's biggest storylines. Football players always have concussions to think about, and there have been plenty of those this year, but Covid-19 has crippled more teams than virtually anything else. The Baltimore Ravens dealt with a major outbreak earlier this year, but we still see them in the playoffs as one of the AFC's wildcard teams.
The Cleveland Browns are the team that it seems the coronavirus will affect most during the playoffs.
Their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, guided them to a tournament spot for the first time in eighteen years, but he will not be on the sidelines when they face their hated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's coronavirus-positive, as are some other coaching staff members and players.
Jared Goff, the Rams' quarterback, is this weekend's biggest injury news. He had surgery to repair a thumb fracture, and he's questionable when the Rams face the Seahawks. If he can't go, the team will rely on a backup who has only taken a few NFL snaps in his career to date.
Can Lamar Jackson Reverse the Narrative?
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are another big question mark. Jackson is a prodigy. At age 24, he has already compiled a sparkling regular-season record, and he rushed for more than a thousand yards again this year.
That's his second time doing that. No QB has ever rushed for more than a thousand yards in a season more than once, not even Cam Newton or Michael Vick in his heyday.
However, Jackson and the Ravens have an 0-2 record in the playoffs when he's under center. They can change that narrative when they go on the road to face the Tennessee Titans and their star running back, Derrick Henry.
Be Careful What You Wish For
The Washington Football Team versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is another intriguing matchup. The ageless wonder, Tom Brady, led the Bucs to an 11-5 regular-season record, and he has his trusted security blanket, tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady is gunning for his seventh ring, while no other quarterback in history has more than four.
On the other side, rookie Chase Young declared that he wanted Brady when Washington celebrated after clinching the NFC East with a dismal 7-9 record. Brady didn't respond to the trash talk, because frankly, he doesn't need to. He has nothing to prove against a first-year player, but he might use the tough-guy talk as an incentive to run up the score against Washington.
Who Wins this Weekend?
This year, there are six wildcard games rather than the traditional four. It's not clear whether that will be the case going forward, but football fans definitely have a smorgasbord to enjoy over the next couple of days.
The Buffalo Bills should beat the Colts. The Bills are certainly firing on all cylinders and could end up facing the Chiefs in the AFC title game.
Rams vs. Seahawks is much tougher to predict because of the Jared Goff injury. The Seahawks should win a close one unless Aaron Donald and a bruising pass-rush can make Russel Wilson uncomfortable in the pocket and force a couple of turnovers.
The Bucs should get past Washington in a relatively low-scoring affair. The first game Sunday is Ravens-Titans, and that's another tough pick. The most likely outcome is Lamar Jackson getting his first playoff win and squeaking by the Music City squad.
Next up is Bears at the Saints. Drew Breese probably doesn't have many years left, and the Packers lurk as the NFC's number one seed. Packers-Saints could be the NFC title game matchup, and Breese and Company trouncing Chicago is the first step to making that happen.
Steelers-Browns is the weekend's last game. It's great that Cleveland made the playoffs for the first time in eighteen years, but they're due for a quick exit. Big Ben is on his last legs, but with him under center, the Steelers should get past their rivals and advance to the next round.