NFL Wild Card Saturday Preview
After a season that began with doubt and murkiness regarding whether it would be completed, the postseason is finally here. There will be a new format to the NFL playoffs this year as an additional Wild Card team was added to each conference, bringing the total to 14 total teams who will be competing for the Lombardi Trophy this season. The first set of Wild Card games will be on Saturday, January 9th, and present some very interesting matchups.
Colts at Bills
Indianapolis at Buffalo (-6.5) | Over/Under: 51.5
To open the Saturday slate, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Indianapolis Colts. Buffalo is favored by just under a touchdown at 6.5 points in this contest which is their lowest spread since Week 15. The Bills have been solid bets at the casino all this season, especially in recent weeks. They have covered the spread in five of their last six games (Miami was favored in Week 17) and should do so easily again on Saturday. While the Colts are a formidable foe and a worthy playoff opponent, the Bills are just too strong to confidently wager against this week. Bet Buffalo and the Over this week.
Josh Allen had an MVP level outing in 2020 while Philip Rivers did his best to keep the Colts afloat throughout the season. At 39, Rivers is among the five oldest quarterbacks to start a game this season and some of that age and wear began to show in 2020. But, it is admirable that despite not having a phenomenal statistical season, Rivers was able to guide his team to double-digit victories, something he has only done five times in his career. Rivers will have a lot to contend with on Saturday, including a toe injury that has bothered him since Week 11. He is questionable at this point but if he is inactive, Jacoby Brissett will be the next man up and is solid in his own right but will be a definite downgrade. Allen will look to continue his hot streak and win his first playoff game and should have little issues on Saturday. The Colts have allowed over 300 passing yards and two passing touchdowns on average in their last four games and will have to play their best game to stop the Buffalo stampede.
Despite the beginning of his rocky rookie campaign, Jonathan Taylor had one of the strongest finishes to a premier season in NFL history. In fact, Taylor had the most rushing yards in the last four weeks of any rookie running back since Corey Dillon in 1997.
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This late-season push moved Taylor into a top-six finish (in PPR scoring formats) and sets him up as an interesting fantasy piece going forward. He will be a key factor to the Colts’ gameplan on Saturday but Taylor has been limited so far this week in practice so it is questionable if he will play or not at this point. If he is unable to go, Nyheim Hines will have to be relied on heavily for Indianapolis to make an upset this week.
Both Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley have missed time this week in practice due to oblique and knee injures, which would be severely detrimental to the Bills’ potent offense. Diggs, who led the NFL in targets, receptions, and receiving yards this season, would be dearly missed on Saturday if he is out this week. If he can go, however, Diggs, as well as Beasley and Davis, will have a fantastic matchup against a Colts secondary that has allowed an average of 200 yards and two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in their last three games. Indianapolis will look to match Buffalo’s passing production with their own group of wide receivers, especially in T.Y. Hilton who also had a fantasy resurrection late in the season. For Weeks 12-17, Hilton ranked as the WR11 (in PPR scoring formats) towering over his pre-Week 11 production. Hilton will look to lead his young teammates Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman Jr. on Saturday against a Bills secondary that has only allowed one top 15 weekly performance since Week 12 (Brandon Aiyuk in Week 13).
If their wide receivers are not able to get the job done, Indianapolis may want to look to their tight end trio (Mo Alie-Cox, Trey Burton, and Jack Doyle) for an advantage. The Bills have allowed at least a top 13 weekly finish to an opposing tight end in four of their last six games. While the Colts’ tight end usage in their offense has been inconsistent throughout this season when they have a good matchup they can be a sneaky play. Look for Doyle or Burton to have a surprisingly solid performance this Saturday.
For the first time in over 24 years, Buffalo will be hosting a playoff game. While it is unfortunate that only 6700 members of the rowdy Bills Mafia will be in the stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions, their fan base is surely excited to see this contest in any way they can. This excitement will likely pour over to those on the field, as both of these young teams (both the Colts and Bills have an average age of 26 years old on their rosters) will look to make their mark on this postseason. Buffalo is coming into this game on a six-game winning streak and will look to maintain that on Saturday. Look for the Bills to grab the lead early and maintain it, something that has been a key factor in their 2020 success as they are 12-1 this season when leading at halftime. Expect that trend to continue Saturday as Buffalo wins 38-21.
Rams at Seahawks
Los Angeles at Seattle (-3.5) | Over/Under: 42.5
For the third time this season, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC West Wild Card showdown. This game will take place in Seattle, where the Seahawks will be a 3.5 point home favorite. The Seahawks were able to cover their Week 16 matchup and will have a prime opportunity to do so again on Saturday. The Seahawks have been very good at home this season and will use whatever kind of home-field advantage they can get to put them over the top. This combined with their performances during their current four-game winning streak give me the confidence to bet Seattle plus the points and take the Over this week.
Russell Wilson once again had a Pro Bowl season in 2020, marking his fourth straight year receiving the honor. He was also a fantasy force, finishing as the QB6 (depending on scoring format), thanks in part to an impressive beginning stretch where he threw for 1285 yards and 16 touchdowns in Weeks 1-4. Wilson was not able to maintain this incredible pace, however, as he fell back to earth and ranked as the QB11 for Weeks 9-17. Seattle was still able to maintain their winning ways despite the slip from Wilson so it will be interesting to see how he will perform on Saturday; especially since two of his worst games came against the Rams in Weeks 10 and 15.
Across the field, Los Angeles will be hoping just for a healthy performance from their quarterback as Jared Goff continues to deal with a right thumb injury. He was limited in practice all week, making him questionable for Saturday’s matchup. If he is unable to go, the Rams will once again turn to AAF alum John Wolford, who started last week and secured a win versus Arizona. While he is a large downgrade from Goff, Wolford may be a better option than an injured Goff at this point, but we shall see what happens on Saturday.
Though there have been multiple running backs at times taking the lead in Los Angeles, it seems Cam Akers has finally cemented his slot on the Ram’s offense. Akers finished the season with 65 rushing attempts and 268 yards in his last three games and will look to keep that streak going on Saturday. He will likely have a heavy workload with the quarterback questions going into Sunday but nevertheless, Akers should be expected to have a solid game in his postseason debut.
Both teams have a pair of elite wide receivers who will be relied upon plenty on Saturday. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett (who finished as the WR7 and WR8 in PPR scoring respectively) were both two of the streakiest players in all of fantasy football, providing those who rostered them to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Two games on the low side for this pair was against the Rams, the best defense against fantasy wide receivers this season. Metcalf and Lockett will need to be at their best if the Seahawks want to advance on Saturday.
Los Angeles’ duo in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods were not quite as good as their Seattle counterparts but they finished firmly in the WR2 zone in most formats. They, along with Josh Reynolds, will very important to the Rams’ winning efforts. If Goff is under center, they will be relied on to run crisp routes and give him and his injured thumb as much space as possible to keep the offense moving. If it is Wolford starting, that pressure increases tenfold, as this group will need to be at their best to give the young, inexperienced quarterback as much help as he can get. No matter who the Rams are able to start, look for Kupp, Woods, and Reynolds to be used early and often on Saturday.
Neither team has gotten consistent usage from their tight ends this season and likely won’t be a factor in Saturday’s contest. The one with the highest upside is Tyler Higbee, but he is a shaky bet at best. While he has the potential to put together a 28.4 point performance (in PPR scoring), he also has the ability to not match that production for his next five games combined. Higbee is a lottery ticket type of tight end but has too low of a floor to be trusted on a weekly basis at this point.
The Seahawks are a team that have gone through multiple transformations throughout the 2020 season. In the first half, they were a pass-heavy team that had to outscore their opponents due to their hemorrhaging defense. In the second half, however, the script flipped and Seattle moved to their gameplan of old, run the ball and play great defense. No matter which version of the Seahawks we see on Saturday, they will have a tough contest against Los Angeles, but it is not something they can’t handle. Having Wilson on their side will put them over the edge and look for him to lead Seattle to victory by a margin of 27-17
Buccaneers at Football Team
Tampa Bay (-8.5) at Washington | Over/Under: 45
To round out Wild Card Saturday, Washington will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will be the only home underdog of the day. Washington will become the third team in NFL history to host a playoff game with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seahawks and the 2014 Panthers. Both of their predecessors won their games, Carolina was able to even able to cover the spread. The Buccaneers will look to break that trend on Saturday but will need to win by over 8.5 points to beat the spread. While 8.5 points may seem like a high line, given the way Tampa Bay and Washington have played in recent weeks, it becomes clear. These are two strong defensive teams (leading to the 45 over/under line), but the Buccaneers’ clear offensive advantage will have me taking them with the points along with the Over on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay will have a clear advantage under center in this game. Given the fact that Tom Brady has had his best season since 2015 and has started 5x as many playoff games than both healthy Washington quarterbacks have played in their entire careers, the Football Team will have a tough task ahead of them. Washington’s best shot at keeping up with the Buccaneers is getting a healthy performance from Alex Smith, but he has been limited in practice most of this week. If he is unable to contribute on the level he has shown at times this season, Washington will be in for a long day offensively.
The combination of Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic will be key for Washington to keep up with Tampa Bay. Gibson shined in his rookie campaign, finishing as the RB13 (in PPR scoring formats) despite a late toe injury that may still affect him for Saturday’s matchup. McKissic has been a complete difference maker for Washington’s offense. He is first in the league at targets at the running back position and is in second in receptions and receiving yards behind only Alvin Kamara. While it would be a stretch to compare those players in terms of talent, there is no arguing how vital McKissic has been in 2020 and will need to be on Saturday night.
Ronald Jones II was able to maintain a lead role in the Tampa Bay backfield throughout most of the 2020 season and finished as a top 20 fantasy running back (in PPR scoring formats). Jones had some of the biggest performances of the season (such as in Weeks 6 and 10) but was also a major bust in over games (such as Weeks 9 and 11) but he will need to channel in on one of those boom performances to have an impact on Saturday night. He will have a tough task though, as Washington has only allowed one top 25 weekly finish in their last four games (Carlos Hyde in Week 15 who had a 50-yard touchdown run).
Given the state of Washington’s passing attack going into this game, the only wide receiver I would trust is Terry McLaurin, but he is questionable for Saturday’s game with an ankle injury. He has shown an ability to make solid lemonade with mediocre lemons under center, which is great for his long-term appeal but his injury plus a stout Buccaneers defense makes me shy away from all Washington wide receivers this week.
Injuries cost Chris Godwin a chance to realistically match his amazing 2019 campaign where he finished as the WR2 (in PPR scoring formats) but he was solid in the last half of this season. From Weeks 9-17, Godwin was ranked as the WR17 (in PPR scoring formats) and even finished his last three games with at least one touchdown. He, along with Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, will look to overcome what has been one of the best secondaries in the NFL in Washington. The Football Team allowed an average of 145 total receiving yards to opposing wide receiver groups in 2020 and will need to maintain that production to keep Washington in this game.
One of 2020’s biggest surprises was the emergence of Logan Thomas. After floating around the league going from quarterback to tight end, Thomas found a home in Washington and was able to turn that role into great fantasy production. He finished as the TE4 on the season (in PPR scoring formats) and will also be a key target on Saturday night. Tampa has allowed a touchdown to a tight end in three of their last four games so there seems to be some sort of weakness to exploit in this matchup. There will be a definite cap depending on who starts at quarterback but Thomas has enough upside for me to feel confident in on Saturday night.
Washington may seem like a team that fell backward into a playoff spot after being the last man standing in one of the worst divisions in history, but they are a formidable squad. They have an elite defense highlighted by youngsters Chase Young and Kendall Fuller that will need to do more than their fair share to keep up with the Buccaneers on Saturday. If they can make Brady uncomfortable and keep him under pressure all night; they will have a solid chance at making the upset, but I just don’t see that happening. Tampa Bay is too strong of an opponent for the young, injured home team and will win 34-14 on Saturday night.
Brandon Sysak is an staff writer for Gridiron Experts. I have been covering different aspects of the NFL, fantasy football and the NFL Draft since 2017. I am originally from Midland, MI but now reside in the Cincinnati, OH area. I began my career with Gridiron Experts covering the 2017 College Football National Championship.