Wild Card Previews Day #2
Wild Card Previews Day 2
By: David Dzienis
#5 Baltimore Ravens @ #4 Tennessee Titans
This may be the highlight game of the weekend. For the visiting Ravens you have Lamar Jackson and the number one rushing offense in the league. They have three different runners, including Jackson, who average over five yards per carry. As a team they average nearly 200 yards rushing a game. Tennessee has the rushing king however in bruising RB Derrick Henry. He ran for over 2000 yards on the season, leading the league two years in a row, as well as paving the way with 17 rushing touchdowns.
There are two main differences I’m looking for in this matchup. The first is the passing game for both squads. While Jackson was stellar last season on his run to the MVP award, he has cooled down significantly this year. Tennessee, on the other hand, has Ryan Tannehill dropping dimes to WR A.J. Brown. This mostly works due to the team’s success on play-action passes setup by Henry. The second item to address is defense. The Titans basically don’t have any. Of course, they hardly ever need one with Henry chewing up the clock. The Ravens on the other hand have been a top unit all season. The one caveat here is that they are susceptible to play-action, which is an area the Titans succeed.
Prediction: Bal 27-Ten 28
#7 Chicago Bears @ #2 New Orleans Saints
The Bears have been on fire in the last month, at least when facing teams that aren’t in the playoffs. New Orleans seems cursed in the playoffs, losing in the last seconds four times in the last decade. One of these streaks has to end. While these teams did face off earlier in the year, a match that went into overtime, both squads are at different levels headed into this matchup. For New Orleans, all eyes are watching to see if do-it-all RB Alvin Kamara will be able to return from covid in time for kickoff. The Saints are getting back last year's offensive player of the year Michael Thomas who has battled injuries all year. The New Orleans defense has been a top 10 unit all year and will need to excel to shut down the suddenly resurgent Bears.
Chicago has nothing to lose in this match. Mitchell Trubisky has been on fire since returning to the lineup, except against the Packers, and can earn 100 grand if he manages to pull off the upset. David Montgomery has finally gotten his legs under him and looked like a top 5 RB this past month. The Bears are going to need a WR or TE to step up and help all-star wideout Allen Robinson if they want to escape with a victory. The defense, a top 5 unit the first half of the year, has fallen off lately and may struggle without leading tackler Roquan Smith. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or this funny feeling in my tummy, but I’m pulling for a Chicago upset here.
Prediction: Chi 17-NO 13
#6 Cleveland Browns @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers
Welcome back to the playoffs Cleveland, the exit is to the right. The Browns ended the league’s longest playoff drought behind the top offensive line and one of the best running units. RB Nick Chubb topped a thousand yards despite only playing in 12 games and change-of-pace back Kareem Hunt was the perfect compliment to Chubb’s bruising style. That led to QB Baker Mayfield relying on play action as a solid run game usually will. The o-line allowed only 26 sacks all year although 8 of those came against Pittsburgh. Cleveland will be without their longest tenured player, G Joel Bitonio, as well as HC Kevin Stefanski due to covid. They also lost two of their top backup rotational lineman to season ending injuries.
Pittsburgh comes into the game sporting one of the league's best defenses. They extended the record to 73 straight games with a sack last week and have led the league in sacks for years running. They also aren’t fooled by play-action passes and have a knack for getting to Mayfield. The Browns got into the playoffs by beating the Steelers last week although Pittsburgh sat several starters including QB Ben Roethlisberger and defensive player of the year candidate LB T.J. Watt. The defense's main problem has been against the rush. They were middle of the pack against the run which is the Browns bread-and-butter. The Steelers offense relied almost entirely on the passing game as they ranked last on the ground. They did have five different players with 5 touchdown receptions and Big Ben is never more comfortable than when they let him run the no huddle. It was nice seeing you Browns, best of luck to you next season.
Prediction: Cle 17-Pit 34
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