NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Staff Picks
256 games and four months later, the NFL postseason field is set, with two extra teams making the cut in the league's first year with a 14-team format. Looking back at our preseason staff predictions, things held up fairly nicely. Five of the eight division winners were correct, and 10 of the 14 teams in the field overall.
For the postseason, we asked 18 of our staff members for their picks for this weekend's slate, and will continue to do so each round of the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Buffalo Bills (13-3) ... Saturday, 1:05 PM, CBS
For the first time since 2008, and only the third time since 2000, a team other than the Patriots has won the AFC East. The Bills will host a playoff game for the first time in over two decades, and their 13 wins are the most since the 1991 season. For many fans, including our entire staff, this will be a first for us. Buffalo is the real deal, flaunting the league's second-best offense and a defense that ranks in the top half. On the other side, Frank Reich and the Colts are in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, narrowly missing out on a division title. Their 11 wins are the most since 2014, and it is only the second time in that span in which they have cracked double-digit win totals. Indianapolis has a solid balance on both sides of the ball, ranking in the top ten in multiple categories.
Unanimous Pick: Buffalo (18 votes)
Bills: Matt, Zach, Noah, Justin H., Nick, Dylan, Jill, Nate, Sophia, Joe, Pat, Ross, Ryan, Erin, Vin, Caroline, David G., Kevin
Los Angeles Rams (10-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (12-4) ... Saturday, 4:40 PM, FOX
Pete Carroll's Seahawks have appeared in the postseason in eight of the last 11 seasons, but surprisingly this is their first division title since 2017. Seattle started the season with a blistering five-game winning streak, but cooled off over the next month-plus. The Seahawks quietly finished winning six of their last seven games, including a 20-9 win over the Rams in Week 16. Los Angeles, like Seattle, benefitted from a strong start, and scored some quality wins after their bye to clinch Sean McVay's third playoff appearance in four seasons. The question for the Rams will be the health of Jared Goff, who missed their Week 17 game.
Majority Pick: Seattle (15 votes)
Seahawks: Matt, Zach, Noah, Justin H., Nick, Dylan, Nate, Sophia, Joe, Pat, Ryan, Erin, Vin, David G., Kevin
Rams: Jill, Ross, Caroline
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) @ Washington Football Team (7-9) ... Saturday, 8:15 PM, NBC
Tom Brady kept his postseason streak alive, just with a different team. Brady's first season in Tampa Bay should be considered a successful one, as he guided the team to its highest single-season win total since 2005, and their first playoff appearance since 2007. They seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, winning all four games after their Week 13 bye while scoring 26 points or more in each (40-plus twice). For the Washington Football Team, this game provides them with a huge opportunity to get their younger players playoff experience. While they were the best in what was the worst division in football, they will not back down easily, as their defense will look to keep things close. Quarterback play has been the issue throughout the season for Washington, and will be a major factor on if this game is close.
Majority Pick: Tampa Bay (17 votes)
Buccaneers: Matt, Zach, Noah, Justin H., Nick, Dylan, Jill, Nate, Sophia, Joe, Pat, Ross, Ryan, Vin, Caroline, David G., Kevin
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) @ Tennessee Titans (11-5) ... Sunday, 1:05 PM, ABC/ESPN
A rematch of last season's Divisional Round, the Ravens and Titans feature most likely the most contested game of the slate. The chances of making the playoffs looked bleak for Baltimore in early December, sitting at 6-5 after losing four of five games. Like Tampa Bay, they are peaking at the right time, riding a five-game winning streak in which they scored less than 30 points only once. On the other hand, Tennessee will be looking to match their success in last year's postseason, this time as a division winner (for the first time since 2008). Mike Vrabel's squad has been pretty steady throughout the season, getting really solid play out of Ryan Tannehill. Derrick Henry is once again dominating the second half of the season, eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards in the process. With the success that both teams have running the ball, this game might move quickly.
Majority Pick: Baltimore (12 votes)
Ravens: Matt, Zach, Noah, Justin H., Nick, Jill, Sophia, Ross, Ryan, Vin, Caroline, Kevin
Titans: Dylan, Nate, Joe, Pat, Erin, David G.
Chicago Bears (8-8) @ New Orleans Saints (12-4) ... Sunday, 4:40 PM, CBS
Perhaps no team benefitted more from the expanded format than the Bears, who had the least amount of wins out of any wild card team, and the only one with less than 10 wins. After starting 5-1, Chicago lost six-straight games and then won three in a row, only to fall in Week 17. Due to Arizona's loss, they still made it in. New Orleans, no matter who was under center, found ways to win throughout the season, and now have Drew Brees back for what could be his final postseason run. While they missed out on the number one seed, they can benefit from having multiple home games, a place where they won six games.
Majority Pick: New Orleans (17 votes)
Saints: Matt, Zach, Noah, Justin, Nick, Dylan, Jill, Nate, Sophia, Joe, Pat, Ross, Ryan, Erin, Vin, David G., Kevin
Cleveland Browns (11-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) ... Sunday, 8:15 PM, NBC
For the first time since 2002, the Cleveland Browns are a playoff team, snapping the longest and most infamous streak in the league. Just a few years removed from an 0-16 season, Cleveland compiled a double-digit win total for the first time since 2007. Needing a win over these same Steelers in Week 17 to qualify, they were able to hold off their division rival in what turned out to be a close finish. It certainly seems like this franchise can't catch a break, however, as they are dealing with massive COVID-19 issues, and will be without their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, and what seems to be multiple players. Pittsburgh began the season with 11 consecutive victories, garnering a lot of praise as the AFC's best team, only to falter down the stretch with four losses in five games. Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season since taking over in 2007, and will be looking get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.
Majority Pick: Pittsburgh (13 votes)
Steelers: Matt, Zach, Justin, Nick, Jill, Nate, Sophia, Joe, Pat, Ross, Ryan, Erin, Kevin
Browns: Noah, Dylan, Vin, Caroline, David G.
(Cover Photo: Nic Antaya/Getty Images, graphic designed by Ryan Waldis)