Jeff Reinebold’s guide to NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend: How to stop Tom Brady, tackling Derrick Henry and how the Cleveland Browns can win
- The NFL’s expanded 14-team playoffs begin on Saturday in Buffalo
- The AFC No 2 seed Bills are favourites to beat the Colts
- Is there hope for the Rams and Washington against Seattle and Tampa Bay?
- On Sunday, the Ravens face nemesis Derrick Henry and the Titans
- And the Saints are overriding favourites over the Chicago Bears
- Finally, can cursed Cleveland overcome the odds to win in Pittsburgh?
It’s not just Wild Card Weekend, this is Super Wild Card Weekend. With 14 teams in the expanded playoffs, NFL fans are in for a treat with two slates of three games back-to-back, beginning with Indianapolis’ trip to Buffalo on Saturday evening.
While some look like dead certs, some are too tough to call. Breaking down where each game will be won and lost is Sky Sports’ NFL analyst Jeff Reinebold…
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS @ BUFFALO BILLS. Saturday 6.05pm
Buffalo (13-3) romped into the playoffs, winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Colts (11-5) finished second in the AFC South and are opened the week as seven-point underdogs.
REINEBOLD: Buffalo are the hottest team in football. Josh Allen has played at an extremely high level. Stefon Diggs is the NFL’s leading receiver. Cole Beasley looks like he might miss out but they’ve still got John Brown and some good tight ends.
Allen just elevates the play of everyone around him. Next to Lamar Jackson or Russell Wilson he might be the most dynamic quarterback with the ball in his hands at the perimeter.
Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL with 1,535 yards, has taken Buffalo to the next level
The mismatch for me is the Indianapolis secondary against all of those receivers. When the Colts have got into trouble, and I go back to the Pittsburgh game as an indication of it, Pittsburgh had one-on-ones outside against their corners. Those receivers roasted them.
If you put a safety over the top of Diggs, which I’m sure Matt Eberflus is going to do, then you’ve got problems with John Brown. I mean, Buffalo have weapons. They have a sneaky running attack too. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are better than most people think they are.
What can Indy do to win?
REINEBOLD: At 39, Philip Rivers throwing in that wind in Buffalo that’s not a recipe for pushing the ball downfield. They’ve got to use Jonathan Taylor a bunch and take advantage of where their advantage is – up front, between the tackles. Buffalo have shown they are a little susceptible to the run.
LA RAMS @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS, Saturday 9.40pm
The Rams (10-6) wobbled into the playoffs, losing three of their last six. Coach Sean McVay was tight-lipped over whether Jared Goff or John Wolford will start in Seattle (12-4) against their NFC West rival.
REINEBOLD: In the first game the Rams did an amazing job on Russell Wilson, taking away DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. At that point that was the balance of their offense.
The second time they played, the shoe was on the other foot. Pete Carroll and Kenny Norton played a front that they very, very rarely played. The front is called the bear and it is extremely hard to run the ball against. They played it in a lot of unique ways to match personnel.
The Rams love to use those multi-tight end sets. Then they’ll come at you and they’ll be in what you call 11 personnel with one back and three wide receivers. They were able to preserve the front against all of those personnel groups. And they just sat in the bear and said, ‘We’re going to make Jared Goff beat us’. Really, since the Patriots Super Bowl that’s been the blueprint for beating the Rams.
On his NFL debut last week, John Wolford helped the Rams see off the Arizona Cardinals
Would you go with Goff?
I’m not sure that John Wolford may not give them a little more than Goff does. You give up a little in big game experience, but the one thing he showed was that he was not afraid to put the ball under his arm and run with it. The Seahawks against Goff dared him to do it and he wouldn’t do it. He did not want to get out on the perimeter with the ball. That’s something the Wolford showed in his one start. That kid put up 231 passing and over 50 yards rushing on his NFL debut. That’s the first time ever a quarterback has done in his first game in the league. That’s pretty impressive for a guy that nobody knew anyone about…
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM, Sunday 1.15am
Washington (7-9) host Tampa (11-5) in what appears a mismatch. But all losing teams have won in the playoffs and with a fearsome defensive line featuring Chase Young – who ‘is coming’ for Tom Brady – anything can happen.
REINEBOLD: The 43-year-old quarterback against the 22-year-old defensive rookie of the year who called him out! My immediate reaction was be careful what you wish for…
For Washington to win they are going to have to pressure and hit Brady. They don’t necessarily have to sack him but they have to frustrate him and move him off the spot.
Chase Young (left) is a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year and is not short of confidence
What has always been Brady’s achilles heel? You can’t blitz him because he’s seen every blitz that’s been engineered. He knows right where to go with the ball when you pressure him. But if you can rush four and get pressure with four that allows you to play more guys in coverage, which should make him hold on to the ball longer and that’s what Washington’s strength is.
They’ve got five first round picks on the defensive line. That’s really unusual. Their linebacker corps is healthy for the first time in about three weeks. They’ve got a secondary that is playing better. They played Ronald Darby at corner, he’s back playing at a high level. Kamren Curl, the seventh round safety, he’s really a revelation. Makes plays all the time.
With Mike Evans a game-time decision, can the Bucs win without him?
The thing that makes you say Tampa is an interesting team more now is the emergence of Antonio Brown. He’s starting to get vertical touchdowns. They always had big strong, outstanding receivers like Evans and Chris Godwin, but they really needed that lightning strike guy. And that’s what Brown can give them.
Brady is throwing the ball better deep than he ever did in his last two years in New England. At the time people wondered whether it was because the only real receiver he had was Julian Edelman or was it his arm strength? We see now that he can still push the ball downfield.
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ TENNESSEE TITANS, 6.05pm Sunday
The Titans (11-5) won the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Derrick Henry annihilated the Ravens in the playoffs last year, rushing for 195 yards and throwing for a touchdown. In November, he went off for 133 yards and scored the winning touchdown in overtime. Lamar Jackson has been to the playoffs twice, his record 0-2.
REINEBOLD: Tennessee just have to hang in there early. If Tennessee can get this game to the fourth quarter where they’re within a touchdown they’re going to have a great chance. But if they get down 14 points early, it’s going to be really tough for them.
Baltimore has to get up and make it tough to feed Derrick Henry the ball. If they can do that, they can minimise his touches.
Looking at the Houston game, his ability to run the ball in the latter part of the game created some really good one-on-one match-ups for some really good receivers.
And Ryan Tannehill is about as good a deep ball thrower as you’re going to find in the league. That’s a nasty combination.
Nobody wants to play both of these teams because they are so physical. You can imagine how hard it is to tackle the King in warm weather. Imagine what it’s like in cold weather.
Derrick Henry became the eighth man to rush for over 2,000 yards in the NFL
Is this a must-win for Jackson?
Even Lamar Jackson has acknowledged that he has to change the narrative in the playoffs.
If the Ravens lose, obviously they don’t replace him but they’ve got to do something to create more balance in their offense.
CHICAGO BEARS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 9.40pm Sunday
The Saints (12-4) are into the playoffs for the fourth straight year. But with Drew Brees set for retirement at the end of the season, is this the last chance saloon for this group? Chicago (8-8) opened as 10-point underdogs.
REINEBOLD: New Orleans overcame the fact they didn’t even have a running back last week, they put Ty Montgomery in there and he rushes for over 100 yards.
They are a pretty resilient team, they are real good up front. Their defense I think never get the credit that they deserve. Just about the time you’re ready to say they’re an elite defense, they go and give up 30 points. And if they play the way they are capable of playing the Bears are going to struggle to move the ball.
How can Chicago cause an upset?
When David Montgomery has been in the line-up the Bears are much, much better. When he’s not a factor and Mitchell Trubisky has to do it himself, they’ve not been a very dynamic offense.
Mitchell Trubisky hands off to David Montgomery – a tactic the Bears must use in New Orleans
If you’re Matt Nagy you’re saying to your guys all week you’re the biggest underdog, no-one expects you to win. The Bears have a great defense, so they’ll make it tough. The key is, just like Tennessee, the Bears cannot get behind a couple of scores.
The Bears need to mix it up. They were in the game against Green Bay, but Montgomery got 11 touches. That’s really hard to understand. Really everything comes from their ability to run the ball.
CLEVELAND BROWNS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS, Monday 1.15am
The Browns (11-5) make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. Then, 18 years to the day of their last playoff game, head coach Kevin Stefanski, their longest serving player and two coaches test positive for Covid-19. Pittsburgh started strong (11-0), but ended with a whimper (1-4).
REINEBOLD: The guy I feel sorry for is Joel Bitonio. He’s been through 0-16, 1-15 seasons, all the drama, all the Cleveland-ness. And here he is getting ready to play in his first playoff game, he gets Covid.
They did the right thing by making Mike Priefer the acting head coach. The special teams coach is more involved in the flow of the game than the offensive coordinator or the defensive coordinator. If you’re an offensive coach when your guys are done on the field. You’ll look at the laptop, you’ll get your guys and you’re going to make adjustments. You’re not interested in what’s going on on the field because you’re doing your own thing. It’s the exact opposite for the defensive co-ordinator. But because the special teams play is only one play, a punt, you don’t have those periods.
Myles Garrett, who has an interesting history with Pittsburgh, must play a key role
How can Cleveland win?
It’s a really tough ask for Cleveland to go through what they’ve gone through and face a rested team. But the Steelers can’t run the ball. It’s amazing to me. You look at the offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Vilanueva and they’ve got a high draft choice with Kevin Dotson at guard. They should be able to run that ball. They have continuity on the offensive line, but if they can’t run it right away they bail on the running game and just throw it.
Here’s the other reason Cleveland have a chance… The Steelers receivers will go through games where they have five, six, seven drops. If the Steelers have one of those nights, Cleveland can hang around.
And when Cleveland’s defensive co-ordinator Joe Woods can get Myles Garrett against Villanueva, they get pressure. Vilanueva is so tall. He’s 6 ft 9. He was a receiver at Army, but he grew into being an O-lineman. When he gets power rushed he gets pushed back into Roethlisberger’s lap. I’d have Garrett against Vilanueva every chance I get and make him show me he can block Garrett.
Watch live NFL Playoff action this Saturday and Sunday on Sky Sports NFL and NFL GamePass from 6pm or catch the highlights on The NFL Show on BBC One and NFL Endzone on Channel 5.
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