NFL Game Previews: Wild-Card Round

NFL Game Previews: Wild-Card Round

This article is part of our NFL Game Previews series.

Baltimore at Tennessee (+3.5), o/u 54.5 – Sunday, 1:05 p.m. EST

Baltimore fans can be forgiven for having a bad feeling about this one. Last time these two teams met, Derrick Henry found the end zone in overtime in Week 11. Before that, Henry trampled over the Ravens for 195 yards in the divisional round almost exactly one year ago during another Titans victory. Baltimore played excellent football down the stretch, winning five consecutive games by an average score of 37-18, but only one was against a team with a winning record. Lamar Jackson put up solid numbers during that winning streak, thanks in part to better play from his offensive line, but he's still far from the MVP conversation this season. As for Tennessee, it's still basically the same team that made it all the way to the AFC championship game last season. Henry's having his usual late-season surge against weary defenses that want nothing to do with trying to tackle him by the second half, piling up 710 rushing yards and five TDs in the last four games. The Titans' pass rush is non-existent and their secondary is terrible, but with Ryan Tannehill pulling the string on play-action and Henry steamrolling everything in his path when he does get the ball, they've scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven games, with the lone miss coming in the snow at Lambeau. That OT win over Baltimore was the start of that stretch, and if they

Baltimore at Tennessee (+3.5), o/u 54.5 – Sunday, 1:05 p.m. EST

Baltimore fans can be forgiven for having a bad feeling about this one. Last time these two teams met, Derrick Henry found the end zone in overtime in Week 11. Before that, Henry trampled over the Ravens for 195 yards in the divisional round almost exactly one year ago during another Titans victory. Baltimore played excellent football down the stretch, winning five consecutive games by an average score of 37-18, but only one was against a team with a winning record. Lamar Jackson put up solid numbers during that winning streak, thanks in part to better play from his offensive line, but he's still far from the MVP conversation this season. As for Tennessee, it's still basically the same team that made it all the way to the AFC championship game last season. Henry's having his usual late-season surge against weary defenses that want nothing to do with trying to tackle him by the second half, piling up 710 rushing yards and five TDs in the last four games. The Titans' pass rush is non-existent and their secondary is terrible, but with Ryan Tannehill pulling the string on play-action and Henry steamrolling everything in his path when he does get the ball, they've scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven games, with the lone miss coming in the snow at Lambeau. That OT win over Baltimore was the start of that stretch, and if they can't find a way to slow down the beast in the Titans' backfield, it's probably going to happen again. For what it's worth, both teams went 4-4 this season against other playoff squads.

The Skinny

BAL injuries: WR Willie Snead (questionable, ankle), RT D.J. Fluker (questionable, knee), OLB Yannick Ngakoue (questionable, thigh), CB Marlon Humphrey (questionable, shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (questionable, shoulder)

TEN injuries: WR A.J. Brown (questionable, knee), LG Rodger Saffold (questionable, ankle), RT Dennis Kelly (questionable, knee), CB Adoree' Jackson (questionable, knee)

BAL DFS targets: Lamar Jackson $7,800 DK / $9,300 FD (TEN 30th in passing DVOA, 29th in passing yards per game allowed), Mark Andrews $5,200 DK / $7,000 FD (TEN 32nd in DVOA vs. TE)

TEN DFS targets: Jonnu Smith $3,200 DK / $5,200 FD (BAL 22nd in DVOA vs. TE)

BAL DFS fades: Ravens DST $3,300 DK / $4,200 FD (TEN fourth in INT% allowed, second in giveaways)

TEN DFS fades: A.J. Brown $7,100 DK / $8,400 FD (BAL third in DVOA vs. WR1), Cameron Batson $3,000 DK / $4,500 FD (BAL fifth in DVOA vs. WR3)

Key stat: TEN is second in red-zone conversions at 75.0 percent; BAL is 18th in red-zone defense at 62.2 percent

Weather forecast: cloudy, temperature in the high 30s, less than 10 mph wind, zero percent chance of rain

The Scoop: J.K. Dobbins leads the BAL backfield with 80 yards and a TD, while Gus Edwards gains 60 yards and a score. Jackson throws for 220 yards and a touchdowns to Andrews while running in a TD of his own. Henry thunders for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Tannehill throws for 270 yards and TDs to Smith and Corey Davis. Titans, 31-28

Chicago (+10) at New Orleans, o/u 47.0 – Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST

Depending on your view of the whole Jalen Hurts-Nate Sudfeld thing, the Bears are the only team to back into the playoffs, losing to the Packers in Week 17 but still finishing ahead of the Cards for the final wild-card spot. Chicago went 1-6 against playoff teams, with the lone win featuring a one-point margin against the Bucs, but their loss to the Saints in Week 8 didn't go too badly as they took New Orleans to overtime. That game was at Soldier Field, but it also featured Nick Foles under center, so it's hard to draw too many conclusions. The Bears' offense did show more life with Mitchell Trubisky at the helm, averaging 28.5 points a game the last six weeks, but the team only went 3-3 during that stretch because the defense was allowing 26.8 points a game. The Saints didn't face a lot of tough tests during the regular season, going 3-2 against other playoff teams, and while both losses came at home, they also came against the No. 1 seeds in each conference. It's not yet clear whether Alvin Kamara or Michael Thomas will be able to suit up, but the former at least seems to think he'll be cleared through the COVID-19 protocols in time. The Saints have been weirdly inconsistent at times and may have peaked too soon, as their nine-game winning streak ended Week 13, but they won consecutive games to close out the regular season and should be able to handle the Bears again, even if they're still a bit short-handed.

The Skinny

CHI injuries: WR Darnell Mooney (questionable, ankle), LB Roquan Smith (questionable, elbow), CB Jaylon Johnson (questionable, shoulder)

NO injuries: QB Taysom Hill (questionable, concussion), RB Kamara (questionable, COVID), WR Thomas (IR, ankle), RG Nick Easton (questionable, concussion), DE Trey Hendrickson (questionable, neck)

CHI DFS targets: none

NO DFS targets: Marquez Callaway $3,100 DK / $4,900 FD (CHI 32nd in DVOA vs. WR3), Saints DST $3,800 DK / $4,600 FD (fourth in INT%, t-third in takeaways)

CHI DFS fades: Mitchell Trubisky $5,300 DK / $6,900 FD (NO third in passing DVOA, fifth in passing yards per game allowed), David Montgomery $6,900 DK / $8,400 FD (NO second in rushing DVOA, fourth in rushing yards per game allowed, fourth in YPC allowed, t-second in rushing TDs allowed), Cole Kmet $3,000 DK / $5,300 FD (NO second in DVOA vs. TE)

NO DFS fades: Alvin Kamara $8,500 DK / $9,000 FD (CHI fourth in rushing DVOA, t-second in rushing TDs allowed, second in passing DVOA vs. RB), Michael Thomas (CHI second in DVOA vs. WR1)

Key stat: CHI is 31st in third-down conversions at 34.6 percent; NO is ninth in third-down defense at 38.2 percent

Weather forecast: dome

The Scoop: Montgomery compiles 80 scrimmage yards. Trubisky throws for 260 yards and two touchdowns, finding Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. Kamara pops for 120 combined yards and a TD. Drew Brees throws for 270 yards and touchdowns to Callaway and Jared Cook, and Demario Davis returns a Jimmy Graham fumble to the house. Saints, 31-17

Cleveland (+6) at Pittsburgh, o/u 47.5 – Sunday, 8:15 p.m. EST

Well, at least they made it. The Browns squeaked into the playoffs with a win against the Steelers' backups in Week 17, ending the franchise's 17-season playoff drought. Their reward is a matchup against that same Steelers squad, only now it's in Pittsburgh (where they lost 38-7 in Week 6) and they're not resting any stars. Oh yeah, and they've had another COVID-19 outbreak that will leave them without a head coach or star left guard and prevented them from practicing basically all week. The Browns did go 4-3 against playoff teams, though, and they certainly have the weapons to pull off an upset as Baker Mayfield (11:1 TD:INT, 7.8 YPA over his last six games) tore it up down the stretch and their running game can be an equalizer against anyone. The Steelers are a long way from the team that went undefeated through 12 weeks, losing four of their last five, but they still went 5-2 overall against other playoff squads. Sitting Week 17 denied Ben Roethlisberger a shot at another 4,000-yard campaign, but he probably needed the break – his 6.3 YPA is by far the lowest of his career in a full season, and the last time he even came close was a 7.0 YPA in 2008. Their defense was also looking gassed too, and hadn't held anyone below 23 points since Week 12. Was the week off enough rest for Pittsburgh's key players to bounce back? Probably, considering the situation Cleveland is in, but this will still seem like a very vulnerable No. 3 seed heading into the divisional round.

The Skinny

CLE injuries: WR KhaDarel Hodge (out, COVID), WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (questionable, concussion), LG Joel Bitonio (out, COVID), C JC Tretter (questionable, knee), RG Wyatt Teller (questionable, ankle), RT Jack Conklin (questionable, knee), DE Olivier Vernon (IR, Achilles), CB Denzel Ward (questionable, COVID), CB Kevin Johnson (out, COVID)

PIT injuries: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (questionable, knee), TE Eric Ebron (questionable, COVID), CB Joe Haden (questionable, COVID)

CLE DFS targets: Jarvis Landry $5,800 DK / $6,600 FD (PIT 27th in DVOA vs. WR1)

PIT DFS targets: Steelers DST $3,600 DK / $4,800 FD (first in sack rate, second in INT%, second in takeaways)

CLE DFS fades: Baker Mayfield $5,400 DK / $6,700 FD (PIT first in passing DVOA, third in passing yards per game allowed), Marvin Hall $3,000 DK / $4,600 FD (PIT second in DVOA vs. WR3), Austin Hooper $3,900 DK / $5,400 FD (PIT first in DVOA vs. TE)

PIT DFS fades: none

Key stat: PIT is 14th in third-down conversions at 42.2 percent; CLE is 23rd in third-down defense at 43.9 percent

Head-to-head record, last five-plus years: 7-2-1 PIT, average score 24-18 PIT, average margin of victory nine points. The home team is 6-0-1 in the last seven meetings

Weather forecast: clear, temperature in the low 30s, less than 10 mph wind, zero percent chance of snow

The Scoop: Nick Chubb leads the CLE backfield with 70 yards, while Kareem Hunt manages 50 scrimmage yards. Mayfield throws for under 200 yards and gets picked off twice but does hit Landry for a TD. James Conner leads the PIT backfield with 60 yards. Roethlisberger throws for 260 yards and two touchdowns, finding Ebron and Chase Claypool. Steelers, 23-13

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Buffalo, o/u 51.0 – Saturday, 1:05 p.m. EST

The postseason opens up with a game between teams that piled up a combined 24 wins this year, which might be a record for the wild-card round. The Colts went 3-4 against other playoff teams but 2-1 on the road, and nearly went 3-0 but for that comeback by the Steelers a couple weeks ago. That's also their only loss since the beginning of December, largely thanks to Jonathan Taylor. Over his last five games, he's erupted for a Derrick Henry-esque 651 rushing yards and 6.7 YPC with seven TDs, chipping in a 10-72-1 line through the air as well. Against the team with arguably the worst run defense in action this weekend (Cleveland is slightly worse than Buffalo by DVOA, but the Bills have coughed up more actual production) that could be an exploitable edge, but, more important, a big performance from the rookie could help keep Josh Allen off the field. It's kind of wild that we're talking about him in terms normally reserved for Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, but that's the kind of MVP-caliber campaign Allen has had. He generated 45 TDs and nearly 5,000 yards of offense between his arm and his legs, and carried the Bills to six consecutive wins following their Week 11 bye, with the last three victories being absolute routs. He also got Stefon Diggs a receiving title in the process. They aren't quite as battle-tested as the Colts, going 3-2 against playoff squads, but the team hasn't lost a game in Buffalo since mid-October, and that was against the defending champs. Given their current form, there's little reason to think they won't get a chance to return the favor in Kansas City in a couple weeks.

The Skinny

IND injuries: DT DeForest Buckner (questionable, ankle), CB Rock-Ya Sin (out, concussion)

BUF injuries: WR Stefon Diggs (questionable, oblique), WR Cole Beasley (questionable, knee)

IND DFS targets: Jonathan Taylor $7,900 DK / $8,800 FD (BUF 26th in YPC allowed, 27th in rushing TDs allowed)

BUF DFS targets: Isaiah McKenzie $3,300 DK / $4,900 FD (IND 17th in DVOA vs. WR3)

IND DFS fades: Zach Pascal $3,700 DK / $5,300 FD (BUF third in DVOA vs. WR2), Michael Pittman $3,500 DK / $5,100 FD (BUF fourth in DVOA vs. WR3)

BUF DFS fades: Zack Moss $4,600 DK / $5,500 FD (IND second in rushing yards per game allowed, second in YPC allowed)

Key stat: BUF is first in third-down conversions at 49.7 percent; IND is 19th in third-down defense at 42.4 percent

Weather forecast: overcast, temperature in the high 20s, less than 10 mph wind, 0-10 percent chance of snow

The Scoop: Taylor shines with 120 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers throws for 230 yards and a TD to T.Y. Hilton, but also tosses a pick-six to Micah Hyde. Moss leads the BUF backfield with 60 yards, while Devin Singletary adds 40 combined yards. Allen throws for 260 yards and touchdowns to Diggs and McKenzie while running in a score of his own. Bills, 28-17

L.A. Rams (+3.5) at Seattle, o/u 42.5 – Saturday, 4:40 p.m. EST

We get two "third time's the charm" games between divisional opponents this weekend, but this one seems like it will be the more competitive of the two, and not just because the regular-season meetings between Seattle and L.A. were a split with a combined score of 36-32. The Rams don't exactly come into this one with a lot of momentum, going 3-3 over their last six with losses to the Jets in Week 15 and in Seattle in Week 16, but their defense came through to clinch a wild-card spot in their finale when Jared Goff was sidelined after thumb surgery. It's not yet certain Goff will be back for this one, and it's hard to imagine the team winning two straight with John Wolford under center, but Goff has been able to practice in some capacity this week and is saying all the right things. Even so, the Rams' offense is a long way from the scary unit it was a couple years ago. The team has scored 30 or more points in a game only once since Week 5, averaging just 22.4 points a game in the second half. Maybe that's enough for Aaron Donald and company to get the job done, and they did go 4-2 overall against playoff teams this season (Seattle was 2-2), but it certainly doesn't make things easy. The Seahawks recovered from their midseason swoon to win their last four games and six of their last seven, but surprisingly it was their defense and not Russell Wilson and the offense that led the charge, giving up only 15.0 points a game during that seven-game stretch. The quality of opposition does need to be taken into account (they faced three NFC East teams plus the Jets, and Goff injured his thumb in their meeting), but players like Jamal Adams, deadline acquisition Carlos Dunlap and first-round pick Jordyn Brooks all made the presence felt at various times. If the Seahawks can merge the defense's second-half performance with Wilson's first half (28:8 TD:INT and 8.6 YPA, versus a 12:5 TD:INT and 6.4 YPA over the final eight games), they'd be the favorites to represent the NFC in another Super Bowl, but as is they simply might not have enough firepower to steal a win in New Orleans or Green Bay.

The Skinny

LAR injuries: QB Goff (questionable, thumb), LG David Edwards (questionable, ankle), LB Micah Kiser (questionable, knee)

SEA injuries: CB Shaquill Griffin (questionable, hamstring)

LAR DFS targets: Josh Reynolds $3,600 DK / $4,800 FD (SEA 25th in DVOA vs. WR3)

SEA DFS targets: none

LAR DFS fades: Cam Akers $5,100 DK / $6,100 FD (SEA seventh in rushing DVOA, fifth in rushing yards per game allowed, fifth in YPC allowed)

SEA DFS fades: Russell Wilson $6,700 DK / $7,400 FD (LAR fourth in passing DVOA, first in passing yards per game allowed, first in YPA allowed, first in TD% allowed), Chris Carson $5,900 DK / $7,000 FD (LAR third in rushing DVOA, third in rushing yards per game allowed, third in YPC allowed), DK Metcalf $6,700 DK / $6,900 FD (LAR first in DVOA vs. WR2)

Key stat: SEA is fourth in red-zone conversions at 73.2 percent; LAR are 12th in red-zone defense at 58.7 percent

Head-to-head record, last five years: 6-4 LAR, average score 22-19 LAR, average margin of victory 11 points. The home team has won the last five meetings

Weather forecast: cloudy, temperature in the mid-40s, less than 10 mph wind. 0-10 percent chance of rain

The Scoop: Akers leads the LAR backfield with 70 yards and a score. Goff does play and throws for 200 yards and a TD to Robert Woods. Carson manages 60 yards and a touchdown. Wilson throws for 250 yards and TDs to Tyler Lockett and Jacob Hollister. Seahawks 27-20

Tampa Bay at Washington (+8.5), o/u 45.0
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST

Tom Brady really does lead a charmed life. In his first stint with Tampa, not only does he lead his team to double-digit wins for the 12th consecutive year and assemble his best statistical season since 2011, he also draws the one sub-.500 team left in the first round. The 43-year-old was also on an absurd pace the last three weeks, averaging 379 passing yards a game with a 10:1 TD:INT, 69.9 percent completion rate and ridiculous 10.1 YPA. Granted, those numbers came against two of the worst pass defenses in the league (the Falcons twice, and the Lions), but they're still pretty. The Bucs have not coincidentally won four straight heading into the postseason, but their inconsistent defense could make them a paper tiger — they were 1-5 against other playoff teams, though that one win did come against a Packers team they'd face next round if there are no upsets. Washington was similarly inept against teams headed to the postseason this year, going 1-4, and they probably owe Doug Pederson a playoff share given what happened in Week 17. Still, the Football Team made it, and their defense at least has been playoff-caliber — Washington hasn't allowed the opposition to score more than 20 points since Week 10, a stretch during which it went 5-2. The twin recoveries of Alex Smith and Ron Rivera give the team more than enough narrative juice to sell an emotional underdog run in January, and it does have an elite pass-rush unit to match Tampa Bay's elite set of wideouts. Despite having the highest spread of any Saturday game, this game doesn't necessarily set up well for a blowout.

The Skinny

TB injuries: WR Mike Evans (questionable, knee), LB Devin White (out, COVID), CB Carlton Davis (questionable, groin)

WAS injuries: QB Alex Smith (questionable, calf), RB Antonio Gibson (questionable, toe), WR Terry McLaurin (questionable, ankle)

TB DFS targets: Chris Godwin $7,000 DK / $7,800 FD (WAS 24th in DVOA vs. WR1)

WAS DFS targets: Washington DST $2,400 DK / $3,700 FD (fourth in sack rate, fifth in INT%)

TB DFS fades: Tom Brady $6,900 DK / $8,000 FD (WAS second in passing DVOA, second in passing yards per game allowed, second in YPA allowed), Antonio Brown $6,100 DK / $6,500 FD (WAS second in DVOA vs. WR2), Scotty Miller $3,400 DK / $4,700 FD (WAS third in DVOA vs. WR3)

WAS DFS fades: Antonio Gibson $5,700 DK / $6,200 FD (TB first in rushing DVOA, first in rushing yards per game allowed, first in YPC allowed), Steven Sims $3,000 DK / $4,600 FD (TB first in DVOA vs. WR3)

Key stat: WAS is t-23rd in third-down conversions at 39.1 percent; TB is 14th in third-down defense at 40.0 percent

Weather forecast: clear, temperature in the mid-30s, less than 10 mph wind, zero percent chance of snow

The Scoop: Ronald Jones gains 80 combined yards. Brady throws for 240 yards and two TDs, hitting Godwin and Rob Gronkowski. Gibson manages 50 yards. Smith throws for 220 yards and two touchdowns, finding Logan Thomas and McLaurin. Buccaneers, 20-17


 Last week's record: 15-1, 11-4-1 ATS, 8-8 o/u
2020 regular-season record: 164-91-1, 129-119-8 ATS, 117-133-6 o/u
2019 regular-season record: 157-98-1, 123-125-8 ATS, 127-122-7 o/u
Lifetime record: 957-573-6, 722-756-58 ATS, 610-644-26 o/u (o/u not tracked in 2015)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Siegrist
Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.
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