Behold! Your NFL playoff matchups are nigh

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Illustration for article titled Behold! Your NFL playoff matchups are nigh

Graphic: Eric Barrow

We get a real treat on Wild-Card Weekend this year. With the expanded playoff structure that was introduced prior to the 2020 season, an additional Wild-Card team is in play. In the past, the top two seeds from each conference received a bye – now, only the one seed moves on, giving us six teams from each conference slated to play on Wild Card Weekend. There is no need to move from your couch this weekend. Playoff football triple-headers will be going both on Saturday and Sunday. Here’s your primer for all six games this weekend.

All times Eastern time zone

Saturday, January 9th

No. 7 Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 Buffalo Bills (CBS) 1:05 PM

The Bills have been one of, if not the, hottest teams in football lately. They haven’t lost since November 15, and are coming off a 56-point performance that ended the Dolphins’ playoff chances, have elite talent on defense, and a versatile offense helmed by Josh Allen. The strength of the Bills is their passing game, and the strength of the Colts is their defense. If the Colts defense can slow the passing attack of the Bills and put the ball in the hands of rookie stud running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts could certainly make this interesting.

No. 6 Los Angeles Rams at No. 3 Seattle Seahawks (FOX) 4:40 PM

I am an unabashed Seahawks fan, and this game is giving me heart palpitations already. The Seahawks and the Rams notoriously play hard, physical, close games. These divisional games are familiar foes. They split the series this season, with the Rams winning 23-16 in November, and the Seahawks winning 20-9 just two weeks ago. This game is going to depend on which defense shows up, and whether or not Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be healthy enough to play. This will be an old-school battle of the trenches. Whichever defense can stop the run and pressure the quarterback will likely come out on top.

No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 4 Washington Football Team (NBC) 8:15 PM

Speaking of old-school battles, the Buccaneers and Washington have two of the strongest defenses in the NFL, and Tom Brady isn’t fantastic when under pressure. If the offensive line for Brady can keep him upright, I expect that he’ll be able to dissect the Washington defense and get things done, but that is by no means a given. On multiple occasions this year, we’ve seen elite defenses thwart Brady and Co. – the Saints beat the Buccaneers handily both times this year, and held them to only three points in their last matchup. How’d they do it? They pressured Brady, forced three sacks and three interceptions. That’s the recipe. This will be a fascinating battle.

Sunday, January 10

No. 5 Baltimore Ravens at No. 4 Tennessee Titans (ESPN/ABC) 1:05 PM 

The Titans are coming off a 250-yard rushing performance from Derrick Henry that pushed him over 2,000 yards on the season, the eighth time in NFL history, while the Ravens just posted 404 total rushing yards yesterday. Both of these teams will look to do the same thing — play good defense, control the rushing game, and hit on play-action passes off those rushing attacks. The Titans ended the playoff run of the Ravens in the playoffs last year and will need a dominant performance to do it again. After the Ravens got off to a bumpy start this year, they’ve caught fire as of late. After a 6-5 start, Baltimore went on to finish 11-5 on five straight wins. The only way the Titans can stay in this game is if they can do what nobody has been able to do lately against the Ravens – stop the run.

No. 7 Chicago Bears at No. 2 New Orleans Saints (CBS) 4:40 PM

The Bears backed into the playoffs while getting dominated by the Packers, and will go against a Saints team getting healthy at the right time. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas will all be healthy and ready for this one. Quite frankly, this shouldn’t be close. The Saints should be able to run away with this one at home on the back of a future hall-of-fame quarterback and one of the best run defenses in the NFL. This would be the biggest upset of the first round if the Bears somehow pull this off.

No. 6 Cleveland Browns at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC) 8:15 PM

Much like the Rams/Seahawks, this is another battle of division rivals. Unlike the Rams and the Seahawks, however, we get the weird opportunity to see these two teams play each other in back-to-back weeks. The Steelers knew they were locked into their playoff spot and decided to rest Ben Roethlisberger, but they still kept it close. The Brows won 24-22, locking in their playoff spot. This is an offense that should spotlight their running-back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and a defense that is capable of generating a pass rush and limiting the run. With the numerous injuries at the linebacker position the Steelers are dealing with, coupled with their strong secondary, the Browns should lean on their rushing attack while prioritizing eliminating the run from the Steelers’ offense. If they can do these things, and make Ben Roethlisberger drop back and throw it 50 times like the Washington defense did, Cleveland will be in good shape to pull off the upset.

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