Shapiro's Saturday NFL Wild Card picks
After an unforgettable regular season, it is time for the NFL playoffs.
For the first time in league history, the best seven teams — not six — qualified in each conference. This is a negative for the No. 2 seeds, since they have to win an extra game to get to the Super Bowl, but for pigskin fanatics like myself, this means an extra do-or-die contest on both Saturday and Sunday of the Wild Card Round.
I cannot wait.
Let's break down the Saturday matchups.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills
Sat, January 9 2021, 6:05 PM
No team played better down the stretch than Buffalo.
Led by quarterback Josh Allen, who has arguably improved more in a year than any quarterback in NFL history, the Bills enter the postseason on a six-game win streak.
Much of the third-year signal caller’s success can be attributed to a tremendous job by general manager Brandon Beane to surround Allen with weapons on the outside. Combine that with elite play calling from offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and you have an offense that finished second in the league in points scored. With John Brown back in the lineup, could the Bills offense be unstoppable?
In a loaded AFC, Sean McDermott’s squad will host a formidable opponent to kick off the Wild Card Round.
The Colts are well coached and have a well-run organization, but they lack a superstar quarterback. Philip Rivers has been solid when he has had a clean pocket, but his lack of mobility and inconsistency under pressure is problematic.
Indianapolis will likely try to run the ball frequently from start to finish, behind an offensive line that will be missing left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The Colts should have success against a Bills defense that yielded 4.6 yards per carry in the regular season, but Rivers will need to make some key throws in the cold weather if the Colts want to spring the upset.
I am not confident that the 39-year-old will come through.
The Colts zone defense may give Allen more resistance than he has encountered in recent weeks, but the Buffalo offense should still drop 30.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks
Sat, January 9 2021, 9:40 PM
Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay has owned Pete Carroll over the last few seasons, but less than two weeks ago, it was the much-improved Seattle defense that paved the way to a NFC West-clinching, 20-9 victory.
Quarterback Jared Goff was behind center in the Rams' Week 16 loss, but he missed Week 17 and could be out of the lineup Saturday, too. Regardless of whether it is Goff or John Wolford at quarterback Saturday, look for McVay to run the ball early and often, behind an offensive line that should get Andrew Whitworth back, after he missed several weeks with an MCL injury. This should shorten the game and allow Los Angeles to lean on the league’s best defense.
With two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and star defensive back Jalen Ramsey leading the way, it would be wishful thinking to expect Seattle to find the end zone regularly. The same can be said for the Rams offense, which has struggled to make big plays through the air this year. Another low-scoring tussle appears likely.
This one should come down to the wire, so I'll lean toward the underdog, but I prefer a play on the total.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Football Team
Sun, January 10 2021, 1:15 AM
Washington Football Team
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs head into the playoffs on a roll, especially on offense, where they have posted 31 points or more in three straight games, including a pair of “40 burgers” to end the regular season.
It took most of the 2020 season to get there, but it appears quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians are mostly on the same page. Tampa could be peaking at the right time, but it also has encountered some of the league’s worst pass defenses since its bye week.
This has allowed the Tampa offensive line to give Brady all day to throw to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown. That is unlikely to be the case Saturday night, when the Buccaneers will head to the nation’s capital.
Regardless of whether it has been Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, or Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, it has not been pretty on offense for the Washington Football Team, but its defensive front has been awesome.
Led by a number of first-round picks, including Chase Young, Washington’s front seven has kept games close under first-year head coach Ron Rivera. Washington is unlikely to have regular success on offense Saturday night, but it has the recipe to frustrate Brady — constant pressure, especially up the middle.
In the history of the NFL playoffs, there have only been two home underdogs of seven points or more. Both have won outright.
I doubt Washington will outscore Tampa in the third game of the day, but it should keep it close.