The 2020-21 NFL Playoffs are here and players, like Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, will be chasing history as the Super Wildcard Round begins this weekend
(Philadelphia, Pa) — A wide-open 2020 NFL Season will continue this weekend with the start of the playoffs. There are now 14 teams scratching to survive on the long road to Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida and there are obstacles everywhere in the toughest single-elimination tournament around. Steelers former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Tomlin said of the challenge, “Playoff football is single elimination football, I think that says it all.”
It doesn’t matter how any of the teams got into the playoffs – are you listening NFC No. 4 seeded Washington Football Team (7-9), who needed a Philadelphia Eagles “Tanking” in Week 17 to push them into the dance — as all that matters is that the remaining teams are in the mix for the biggest prize in pro football. Speaking of rebounding, with Washington’s 20-14 win over the Eagles in Week 17 to win the NFC East and make the 2020-21 NFL playoffs. This marked the NFL-record 17th season that a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division. It has been one wacky and parity-filled NFL season, especially with the world being turned upside down due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic — only 14 teams with winning records — with many exciting storylines and I am sure the excitement will continue in the 2020 “Super Season” NFL Playoffs. Former 6-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady said of the challenge of the NFL playoffs, “Look, we’re playing the best teams in the NFL now, there’s very little margin for error. We’ve got to go out there and play, every lesson we’ve learned over the course of the season we’ve got to put it to good use.’’
I know the NFL is excited and fans and advertisers are drooling for the 2020 NFL Postseason as this year’s regular season was a record-breaker television wise. According to The Nielsen Company, 20.1 million viewers watched Saints running back Alvin Kamara (6 rushing TDs) help lead his team to a Christmas Day (Dec. 25th) win. That viewership number was up 19% from the league’s previous Christmas Day game between the Steelers and Texans in 2017.
Back on the field…truly every team has a chance in the postseason as 10 of the 12 teams have double-digit wins in 2020 – except for the aforementioned Washington Football team (7-9) and Chicago Bears (8-8). And for the 30th consecutive season, four or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before — this season there are seven: Steelers, Bears, Browns (first time since 2002), Colts, LA Rams, Buccaneers (first time since 2007), and Washington. Yes, the 2019 Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) and NFC North Champion Green Bay Packers (13-3) have both returned to the playoffs and gained No. 1 Seeds including byes in the Wildcard round plus home field advantage in their respective conferences throughout the playoffs. But even they have their warts – Allowing some big plays defensively, key injuries, and teams armed with winning blue prints – See Las Vegas Raiders beating the Chiefs by a score of 40-32 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5 and the Vikings beating the Packers in Green Bay 28-22 in Week 8 (both consistently ran the ball, were physical, harassed the opposing quarterback, and caused turnovers). If I have said it once, I have said it 1,000 times…there are no longer dynasty type teams in the parity-laden NFL anymore, especially in the postseason.
The postseason kicks off Saturday on the heels of the highest-scoring regular season in NFL history. There were more points (12,692) and touchdowns (1,473) than any of the league’s previous 100 years. All told, 179 of 256 games – 70 percent – were within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter – most since 184 games in 2016. Also no lead was safe, as winning teams combined to erase deficits of 10-or-more points in 43 of the league’s 256 regular games, tying a single-season NFL record. So anything is possible and hope abounds in all twelve playoff cities. If the 2020 NFL Regular Season has taught us anything, it showed that “On Any Given Sunday” any team can step-up their level of play to beat any other team in the parity-filled National Football League.
Though the 2020 playoff field has six teams that won at least 12 games – Chiefs (14-2), Packers (13-3), Bills (13-3), Saints (12-4), Steelers (12-4), and Seahawks (12-4). Remember the lowly New York Jets (finished 2-14) thoroughly beating the playoff-bound LA Rams 23-20 in a Week 15 game where the score didn’t indicate the level of dominance by the 17-point underdog road team. And the Pittsburgh Steelers getting caught “looking past” the home underdog Cincinnati (finished 4-11-1), who were without star rookie QB Joe Burrow, also in Week 15, only to be scorched defensively in a dominating 27-17 loss. Nothing is pre-determined in the world’s best sports league as shown by teams attaining the No. 1 seed in each conference having only met in the Super Bowl six times since 1993. For the most part, this year’s super wildcard round features twelve evenly matched teams, where no one really has any idea which team will advance. Usually a good indicator of a potential winner in most playoff games is the “home” team, but the current lines indicate that the road teams have a chance as several hosts are not definitive favorites (Baltimore -3.5, Seattle -3.5, Pittsburgh -6, Buffalo -6.5). Also the Washington Football team is a heavy 8-point home underdog to Tampa Bay. I guess everyone still has images of the road warrior 2010 Green Bay Packers going 4-0 on the road including Super Bowl XLV in taking home the Lombardi Trophy in unexpected fashion – the 2007 NY Giants also were 4-0 on the road in the playoffs.
My advice to everyone watching this weekend’s super wildcard action is to pay very close attention to teams that have byes as the last 8 Super Bowl champions (See 2019 Chiefs, 2018 Patriots, 2017 Eagles, 2016 Patriots, 2015 Broncos, 2014 Patriots, 2013 Seahawks, 2012 Ravens) had the Wildcard round off. I usually like to look at the hottest teams going into playoff games as favorites, but it seems almost every team in the playoffs is entering the dance on a high note – Ravens (6), Packers (6), Bills (6), Seahawks (4), Bucs (4), Saints (2), Titans (2), Colts (1), Washington (1), Browns (1), and LA Rams (1). Conversely only the Bears (backed in), Steelers, and Chiefs (“rested” players) are entering the postseason after losing in Week 17.
The word “rematch” fits perfectly when talking about some of this season’s Super Wildcard round match-ups as 4 out of 6 games are rematches from the regular season (CHI-NO and BAL-TEN) including some rubber match 3rd meetings (CLE-PIT and LAR-SEA). Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may cause some “familiarity” and a psychological edge in game planning along with dissecting tendencies. But playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the key factors as to which teams move on to the Divisional round on long treacherous road to Super Bowl LV.
Former Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the playoffs, “It’s a new season. You start from square one. The teams that are in are now 0-0.”
So let the games that matter begin!
Lloyd’s Leftovers for Super Wildcard Weekend include:
AFC Field is Stacked — For just the second time since the 1970 league merger, every playoff team in one conference has at least 11 regular-season wins. It also happened in 1980, in the AFC, when the NFL expanded its playoff field with an additional Wild Card qualifier in each conference. One of those 1980 AFC teams, the 11-5 Oakland Raiders, went on to become the first Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl.
Road Teams are “Dangerous” – Road teams have won six of the last eight NFL Wild Card games over the past two seasons. Since the 2017 playoffs, road teams are 8-4. And, in seven of the past eight seasons, at least one road team has won a Wild Card game.
Losing Record… No Problem — Since divisional play began, 438 teams have earned division championships. The Washington Football Team (7-9) is the third team in league history to win its division with a record below .500. However, each of those two previous teams – the 2010 Seattle Seahawks and the 2014 Carolina Panthers – were victorious in their first-round playoff games.
Wildcard Round Playoff Schedule
Saturday, January 9
Indianapolis at Buffalo, 1:05 PM ET, CBS, CBS All Access
LV’s Pick: Bills 24, Colts 10
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle, 4:40 PM ET, FOX, FOX Deportes
LV’s Pick: Seahawks 27, L.A Rams 16
Tampa Bay at Washington, 8:15 PM ET, NBC, Universo
LV’s Pick: Bucs 20, Washington 14
Sunday, January 10
Baltimore at Tennessee, 1:05 PM ET, ESPN/ABC,
LV’s Pick: Ravens 30, Titans 27
Chicago at New Orleans, 4:40 PM ET, CBS, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime Video,
LV’s Pick: Saints 24, Bears 13
Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 8:15 PM ET, NBC, Telemundo, Peacock
LV’s Pick: Steelers 23, Browns 20