NFL playoff picks, predictions for wild-card games: Steelers survive Browns scare; Ravens, Buccaneers roll
It’s an NFL wild-card weekend like none other.
The 2021 NFL playoffs feature six wild-card matchups over a two-day stretch that should produce an overload of excitement for NFL fans.
Indianapolis and Buffalo open the playoff bracket at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday. Los Angeles and Seattle will meet for the third time in the 4:40 p.m. slot, which sets up a prime-time matchup between Tampa Bay and Washington at 8:15 p.m.
Sunday’s schedule features another tripleheader. Baltimore and Tennessee meet in a rematch of last year’s AFC divisional playoff game at 1:05 p.m. Chicago faces New Orleans at 4:40 p.m. Cleveland makes its first playoff appearances since 2003 against the rival Steelers at 8:15 p.m.
Sporting News wrapped up the regular season with another solid week in our straight-up picks. We like the favorites this weekend, but we know anything can happen.
With that in mind, below are our picks and predictions for Week 17:
NFL playoff picks, predictions for 2021 wild-card games
Saturday, 1:05 p.m., CBS
The Bills covered the spread in eight straight games to close the season, part of a six-game winning streak that makes them one of the NFL’s hottest teams. The Colts have a top-10 defense and Philip Rivers is an experience playoff quarterback, but they were 1-4 against the other AFC playoff teams this season. Buffalo wins its first playoff game since 1995 with another strong performance from Josh Allen.
Pick: Bills 34, Colts 23
Saturday, 4:40 p.m., FOX
If Jared Goff (thumb) can’t go, then John Wolford will make his first career playoff start against the rival Seahawks. Seattle’s offense has been hit-or-miss with Russell Wilson the last few weeks, but the defense is allowing just 12.5 points per game through a four-game win streak. Wilson gets Seattle back in the NFC divisional round. It’s hard to pick the Rams – who have the league’s top-scoring defense (18.5) – if Goff cannot go.
Pick: Seahawks 27, Rams 16
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., NBC
Tampa Bay averaged 37 ppg. in four straight victories to close the season; a remarkable stretch under Tom Brady. Chase Young leads a Washington defense that allows just 20.6 points per game, and it could get interesting if they stop the run. Alex Smith is a feel-good story in his first playoff start since career-threatening leg injury. The line has jumped 1.5 points; a nod to the confidence in Brady and the Bucs.
Pick: Buccaneers 28, Washington 21
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
We flip-flopped on this one for obvious reasons. The Titans beat the Ravens in last year’s playoff and won a 30-24 overtime thriller this season. Baltimore found its groove on offense after the 47-42 shootout against Cleveland, and Lamar Jackson was the difference. He finally wins his first playoff start in thrilling fashion.
Pick: Ravens 36, Titans 31
Saturday, 4:40 p.m., CBS
The Bears backed into the playoffs after losing to the Packers, and Mitchell Trubisky is making his second playoff start. The Saints are optimistic Alvin Kamara will return from the COVID-19 list, and Drew Brees is coming off a three-TD performance in Week 17. New Orleans learns from last year’s wild-card loss to Minnesota and returns to the divisional playoffs.
Pick: Saints 31, Bears 21
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., NBC
The Browns beat the Steelers 26-24, and this is the first matchup between the teams since the 2003 AFC Wild Card thriller. Expect a similar game to break out. Cleveland leads at halftime behind a pair of Nick Chubb TDs. Baker Mayfield plays his best game to date at Heinz Field, much better than the last visit. The Steelers rally in the second half, however, and Ben Roethlisberger – who is 24-2-1 against the Browns – leads the way in the second half. Cleveland has a chance to tie late, but the Steelers come up with the stop this time.
Pick: Steelers 31, Browns 26
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