Well, sports fans, it’s Wild Card Weekend in the NFL. The time of year when the protected, scheduled, designated football time of Sundays bleeds ignominiously onto an unsuspecting Saturday, and makes wives the country over seethe with internalized anger and a profound sense of abandonment.
Ahhhhhh. Uninterrupted football time. Saturday from around noon until just before midnight. Sunday the same. Six games. Multiple plot lines. Let’s rock n roll.
In the famous words of Lao Tzu, “he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know,” which is a wonderful way to jump into Wild Card Weekend, because, as much as we think we can predict the outcome of football games, even organized crime gets it wrong.
Nevertheless, let’s jump into the fray, admitting our limitations, and start with a couple of games that feel easier to predict.
7th seed Indianapolis (11-5) at 2nd seed Buffalo (13-3)
Saturday, 1:05pm EST on CBS
This feels like a pretty easy one to call. Yes, the once vaunted Bills defense hasn’t quite risen to the heights we’ve seen in the past, but they’re still competent at every level. I thought the Week 17 decimation of the surging Miami Dolphins was a statement game. This is our division, now.
On the other side, you’ll find Colts linebacker Darius Leonard commenting that no one thinks the Colts will win. In fairness, that’s only because they won’t.
I don’t know if there’s a hotter team in the league right now than the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen feels like a Kraken who just realized that he’s bigger than everyone else. Stephon Diggs is nearly unrecoverable and now that Smokey Brown is healthy and back from the Covid-truncated three week IR, the receiver corps is scary good and I haven’t even talked about Cole Beasley.
Could an upset happen? In Buffalo? In front of fans who have waited two decades to see their Billies knock off the hated Patriots? I suppose. But for that to happen you’d have to put a lot of faith in Philip Rivers, who has reigned supreme as the biggest jinx in the league since Smokin’ Jay Cutler retired. And I don’t. I put zero faith in Philip Rivers. Having Philip Rivers on your team is like inviting a murder hornet to chill with some bees. He makes everything go boom, and not in a good way.
That said, I love Colts coach Frank Reich, who is as lovely of a human being as you’ll find in the league. Will Reich’s Dumbledore be powerful enough to offset the Voldemort of the Great Golly? We’ll see. But I think not.
6th seed L.A. Rams (10-6) at 3rd seed Seattle (12-4)
Saturday, 4:40 p.m. EST on Fox
What happens when an irresistible force runs into an immovable object? Wellllll sheeeeeit, we’re about to find out.
“Between two groups of people who want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds, I see no remedy but force.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
You said a mouthful there, Ollie. In this case, one group follows the Tao of McVayism, which features these four core principles:
1. “The standard is the standard.”
2. “Situational masters.”
3. “We not me.”
4. “Be on time.”
And the other group, 5’11” in heels, weighing in at a spirit water filled 215 lbs., the Gospel According to DangeRuss, which is basically the mantra:
LET RUSS COOK.
Is that the most insufferable tweeted vid of all time? I’ll let you be the judge.
But also, yes. Yes it is.
In the storied rivalry between these two NFC West franchises, the Hawks have had the edge of late. And if Rams QB Jared Goff’s thumb still isn’t up to snuff, then this game is pretty much over before it starts. Even with Goff, you have to worry about the fact that he threw zero touchdowns and one interception in two games against the Seahawks during the regular season. Yeowch!
But what about that amazeballs Los Angeles defense? Yeah, they’re excellent, but will they be able to make enough plays and keep DangeRuss in the pocket for the whole game and not let him hit the 76 yard, broken play longball to D.K. Metcalf or Tyler Lockett? That’s probably too high a bar to hang your hopes on.
Factor in the Seattle homefield advantage where they have the cacophonous support of the rowdy 12th man, one of the league’s loudest fanbases? I mean, not this year, obvs, but somehow the Hawks still went 7-1 at home with no fans, so there’s some magic at work.
“I miss the stadium shaking literally on the field while you’re standing there,” Wilson reportedly said in a statement that approximates a passing understanding of the basic fundamentals of the English language.
If Goff can’t go, I think it’s the Hawks. If he can? It’s probably the Hawks, anyway.
5th seed Tampa Bay (11-5) at 4th seed Washington (7-9)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC
The Saturday night special features new-look Tom Brady dismantling one of the crappiest teams in the league. The AFC East is a sideshow joke this season. Between throwing games and losing quarterbacks, it’s been a rough-ass year for the Cowboys, the Giants, the Iggles and the…er…Washington Football Professionals or whatever. A team so woke they’re their own mascot.
In the famous words of Publilius Syrus : “Where there is Tom Brady there is always victory.”
Sorry, sorry. It’s actually: “Where there is unity there is always victory.”
But the first one is nearly as valid. Brady, shrugging off concerns about losing an arm-gear, has quietly thrown for 40 touchdowns this year.
Publilius Syrus also said: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” And also: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
I’m certain that when you clicked on an NFL article you were hoping to have a little mini-retrospective on the various writings of a Syrian-born slave circa 85 BCE.
Well, Brady wishes he had Moss on his team still, but the quartet of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and the cave dweller formerly known as Gronk isn’t too shabby.
Tampa Bay should win this thing coming and going, despite the surprisingly good Football Team defense under Riverboat Ron Rivera.
With the stout Bucs defense being able to pin their ears back, knowing that Alex Smith (if he starts) will likely dink and dunk down the field? It should be calm seas and lots of helm-holding for Bruce Arians’ Buccaneers.
5th seed Baltimore (11-5) at 4th seed Tennessee (11-5)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. EST on ABC/ESPN
On Sunday, things get a bit more murky.
We lead off with Tennessee vs Baltimore. The Ravens are favored, even as the away team, and most conventional wisdom thinks this is Lamar Jackson’s game to lose. But you know what they say about conventional wisdom?
“Conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. By the time it has become conventional, it has ceased to be wisdom and become cant. Its smug cousin, received opinion, is just as bad. This is not really opinion at all, but the safe adoption of whatever is modish and popular.” ― Peter Hitchens
Here’s the thing: on paper this should be the Ravens. They have a more storied franchise, a wilier coach and the reigning MVP of the league in quarterback Lamar Jackson. But in the fabled words of Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Here’s the men doing the punching:
Most brutal of all, former Heisman winner Derrick Henry. More mountain than man. He’s coming off a 2,000 yard campaign and he’s not stopping anytime soon. He plans to run over some fools this postseason.
The Ravens always play solid defense, but their run stuffers are all dinged up and Derrick Henry is going to eat them up like a bottomless bowl brunch buffet.
I remember early one season I was watching some commentary from former NFL running back Maurice Jones Drew — MJD if you’re nasty — and he was talking about getting hit as a running back. He says defenders come out of the summer flying, hitting, making plays. But as the season goes on, it gets colder, defenders have more contusions. More pain. More injuries. They don’t want to hit a guy like Derrick Henry coming through the seam at them. They start to make “business decisions,” so they don’t get hurt. I think loveable meathead and Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is counting on exactly that.
Yes the Titans D has some stinkers, but you have to have a quarterback who can take advantage of that and let me tell you, this year’s Lamar Jackson bears almost no resemblance to last year’s MVP. Just ask my fantasy team. I don’t know if he stopped eating his Wheaties or what, but if the Titans keep running, he won’t be on the field much anyway.
Titans. At home. In a statement game, knocking off the Ravens for the third straight time.
7th seed Chicago (8-8) at 2nd seed New Orleans (12-4)
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST on CBS/Nickelodeon/Amazon Prime
I don’t know why this game is becoming a racy, upset pick but I’m not seeing it. It is, however, fitting that it’s going to be the first-ever NFL game televised by Nickelodeon because the situation behind center in Chicago has seemed like a clown car for a long time.
The Bears are barely an 8-8 team. They’re not scary at all. Like, at all. To squeak into the playoffs they edged out Arizona and Minnesota, and had a much better record than Carolina and Atlanta, but I think those four teams are more dangerous than the Bears. If I was Saints coach Sean Payton, I’d be thrilled with my opening round draw.
Yes, it’s true that back in Week 8 the Saints needed overtime to beat the Bears, but I think that only helps the Saints this time around. I think this is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but in the words of the famous New Jersey philosopher Damon Lindelof, “There is no suspense in inevitability.” So, maybe this game will be everything I think it’s not. Or maybe Chicago coach Matt Nagy will reach into his inestimable bag of tricks and finally figure out that YOU CANNOT WIN WITHOUT A QUARTERBACK.
6th seed Cleveland (11-5) at 3rd seed Pittsburgh (12-4)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC
For my money, this is the game of the week, and the one that’s nearly impossible to predict. I usually like a team when I like their Head Coach/Quarterback combo. In this case I like both coaches and can’t stand either quarterback. If you had to play F, Marry, Kill with these two quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers…yeah go ahead and do that. How’d it work out for you?
Kill all of them.
DangeRuss and Tom Terrific, too. I quit this game.
(Why are there so many simple-to-hate QBs?)
This matchup sort of defies analysis because who knows which Mayfield is going to show up? The gunslinging hayseed or the choking hayseed? And why is Mayfield better without Odell Beckham Jr on the field? How is that a thing?
Both teams have great defenses. Both teams have solid offenses. Both teams have quality coaching.
The Browns are returning to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, so that’s an intangible. But the Browns are also a nightmare franchise, and every other time they made it to the playoffs, they were basically washed away by the Steelers. Add to that the fact that Cleveland hasn’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003. In the last 17(!) seasons, the Browns are 0-17 at Heinz Field and 12 of those losses have come by double digits.
Basically the Browns are this lady:
View this post on Instagram
It’s nearly a hopeless situation for Cleveland fans. Or is it? Let’s refer to the wizard of Tatooine to see what he says on the subject.
“The secret is not to give up hope. It’s very hard not to because if you’re really doing something worthwhile I think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side.” —George Lucas
Well, I can’t really argue with that.
I still say Steelers.
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