One of the few good things that have come from 2020 was the expanded NFL playoffs. With the addition of one more wild card in each conference and rewarding just the top seed with the first-round bye, the NFL made the regular season more competitive and has a loaded Wild Card Weekend ahead with six games instead of the usual four.
Over in the NFC, this weekend will have two games where one of the teams doesn’t have a winning record. The second-seeded New Orleans Saints will host the 8-8 Chicago Bears, and the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will head to the nation’s capital to face the 7-9 Washington Football Team. The other matchup in the NFC is the most intriguing one, between the third-seeded Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams. The first game of the NFC slate kicks off at 4:40 p.m. on Saturday, in Seattle. This will mark the third time this season that these teams will meet, with both teams splitting the regular-season games.
Offensive guru Sean McVay leads the Rams, but they have slumped as of late behind struggling quarterback Jared Goff. Turnovers have been an issue for Goff, but after injuring his thumb in week 16 and having surgery, his game status is uncertain. If Goff doesn’t play, John Wolford would likely fill in again, as he did in week 17. He played well enough to win, completing over 57 percent of his passes for 231 yards and six carries for 56 yards while tossing just one interception. McVay has said multiple times that Goff will start if he can, but he trusts Wolford to do the job if he has to.
The Seahawks have had moments this season where they appear unstoppable and moments where they barely look like an NFL team. Quarterback Russell Wilson looked like the league MVP to start the season, but his numbers fell off, and the Seahawks’ offense is limping into the playoffs.
Outside of a 40-point game against the lowly Jets, Seattle has scored 12, 20, 20, and 26 in its last five games. The running game has slowly faded, and Wilson doesn’t have the time to work in the passing game’s pocket. This game seems to be a perfect storm for the Rams. They may not have Goff, but the Seahawks defense may be missing Jamal Adams, and the Rams defense has the ability to bully the Seattle offense. The Rams offense should be more comfortable next week with Goff of Wolford, and Seattle doesn’t seem to have answers for the problems Los Angeles creates.
The nightcap on Saturday will be between the Buccaneers and Washington. The Football team has been good enough down the stretch with Alex Smith at quarterback to win the NFC East. They now will take on Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. Washington’s strength has been the defense, which boasts one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. They have a solid linebacking core, but they might be vulnerable in the secondary against Tampa Bay’s weapons.
On offense, Washington has weapons in the passing game with Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, and Cam Sims and running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. With strong play from Smith, this offense has the potential to be dangerous.
While outside of Washington’s front seven has potential, the Buccaneers are filled with talent and stars. On offense, Brady is joined by Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Leonard Fournette, and both Mike Evans and Ronald Jones when they are healthy. Brady has never had a supporting cast this talented, and they have started flexing their muscles the last few weeks with back-to-back 40-point performances. On defense, Tampa Bay has proven to be vulnerable, but they have talented pass rushers and linebackers that could give Smith and Washington problems. The Washington Football Team has been on a good run the last few weeks, but they don’t have the firepower to keep up with this explosive Buccaneers team.
The final NFC game of the weekend could be the worst. The Bears will head to the Big Easy to play the Saints in the Superdome, a building they don’t often lose in.
With mediocre quarterback play from Mitch Trubisky, the Bears have struggled to be consistent. They had a six-game losing streak midseason, but they exploded for 30 points or more in four straight games, winning three of those games. Chicago followed that up with an embarrassing loss to the Packers in the season finale. Now the Bears will need to muster up some offense to match their dangerous defense.
The Saints boast the best roster in football with elite weapons on offense and defense. They have the ability to shut down the passing game with Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore, along with other great players in the front seven such as Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Kwon Alexander, and Demario Davis.
On offense, they have the best running back in the league in Alvin Kamara, along with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. On top of that, they have Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and Taysom Hill.
The Bears’ defense is talented, and if the offense plays well, they have a chance to win. It just seems like too big of a mismatch between the Chicago offense and New Orleans defense. The Saints have the potential to make this game ugly.