It’s the craziest weekend in history, with six games on the schedule as the NFL begins its post-season march to the LV Super Bowl in week 7. February begins in Tampa.
Unfortunately, COWID-19 will remain an important factor, as it has been throughout the season. This year’s pandemic trial lasted almost as long as a good football match.
It turns out that the Cleveland Browns will be without coach Kevin Stefanski and other members of their coaching staff for the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North) after testing positive for coronavirus. Browns special teams coach Mike Priefer will replace Stefanski.
We asked our experts not only the weekly choice, but also which QB is in the line of fire this weekend, where Cam Newton will play in 2021 and what the Dolphins will do with the overall third overall choice in the 2021 NFL draft.
For the first time there are six sets of wild cards. Which team do you want to upset?
Mike Clay, fiction writer: The Titans (+3) on the Raven. Almost exactly one year ago the Titans went 9-7 in the play-off round of the division and defeated the Ravens with ease 14-2 in a victory of 28-12. Earlier this season, Tennessee went to Baltimore again and defeated the Ravens 30-24. This weekend, the Titans, second in the NFL in terms of offensive touchdowns, are a home outsider against the same Ravens. Baltimore leads the NFL in terms of point difference and peaks at the right time, but no one should be surprised if the Titans achieve a third straight victory.
Jeremy Fowler, NFL National Writer: Rowing (+4) on the Seahawks. Sure, Russell Wilson is 5-0 in the home games of the post-season, but it’s a COWID-19 season. The home advantage of the turf is marginalized. The Rams must be able to keep this game tight, just as they did during the regular season when they held Seattle up to 36 points in two games. John Wolford of Rams QB will do enough to update his LinkedIn profile with a playoff victory.
Dan Graziano, NFL National Writer: Washington (+8) on the Buccaneers. I was going to get the Browns over the Steelers, but I’m afraid Cleveland is too focused on defense. Washington is incredibly defensive and could put the kind of pressure on Tom Brady that could get him into trouble, as well as Tampa Bay offensive. Five years ago, a Carolina Panthers team (7-8-1) coached by Ron Rivera defeated an Arizona Cardinals team (11-5) coached by Bruce Arians in the first round of the playoffs. I’m just saying.
Mina Kimes, NFL Analyst: The Titans (+3) on the Raven. If the Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski and left guard Joel Bitonio were available this weekend, I would choose Cleveland, but I think their absence will be too difficult to overcome. The Titans’ defense is the worst in the playoffs, but I think their offense is brave enough to beat the Ravens, who have had easy targets lately.
Kevin Seifert, NFL National Writer: Brown (+6) on the Steelers. I’ll probably argue for a franchise that wins a playoff game for the first time in 26 years in 18 years, but I don’t know. The Steelers haven’t looked for anything decent for over a month and the Browns have been put to the test in that time.
Seth Walder, Sports analyst, Author: Brown (+6) on the Steelers. A few overlapping factors led me to lean in that direction. Pittsburgh’s passing rush is intimidating, but Cleveland is well equipped to deal with it thanks to its excellent pass blocking, plus a fairly quick game and thoughtful turnaround. The other side of the medal: Cleveland, although not a dominant defense, works with a high level of zone coverage that Ben Roethlisberger has fought especially against this season.
Field Yates, NFL Analyst: The Titans (+3) on the Raven. The Titans are one of the two underdogs at home, but it’s no surprise that the Buccaneers prefer Tom Brady and his NFC East rival. Although home advantage has levelled out this season, I’m still optimistic that Tennessee can repeat what they did a year ago, beating the Ravens back (or legs, I think) from Derrick Henry. Returning is a position where teams can find reasonable replacement options if needed… But derrick henry is irreplaceable.
Which quarterback is under the most pressure this weekend?
Clay: Mitchell Trubisky, Bear. Most quarterbacks playing this week will have no problem finding a starting court in 2021, but Trubisky is certainly an exception. The former number 2 in the general classification is a future free agent and is in the middle of a season in which he has sat on the bench for a long time, but also a season in which he has performed well (albeit against a super strong defense). His performance in New Orleans this weekend could determine how Chicago sees its future in the team.
Fowler: Josh Allen, Bills. Lamar Jackson is the obvious choice after a back-to-back playoff series, but Allen, Jackson’s partner in the 2018 draft, had a difficult time in last year’s playoff loss to Houston. Allen has followed Jackson’s campaign as MVP with his monster season, so we have to keep him to the same standard. Allen is trying to prove that he won’t crack at a crucial moment.
Graziano: Lamar Jackson, Ravens. If he plays a bad playoff game again and loses, that’s all we’ll hear from him next year. That’s not fair. He proved too much that we couldn’t let him down because of two (or three) bad matches. But that’s the way it is, and Jackson has to be there this weekend to answer the biggest question people still have about him.
Kimes: Josh Allen, Bills. I think many will point to Jackson, but expectations are higher for Allen, who also struggled in the playoffs last year after playing at the MVP level at the end. The Bills can challenge Kansas City this season, but Patrick Mahomes and the company won’t make it easy.
Seifert: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Roethlisberger and the entire Steelers offense ended the regular season strongly. His QBR was in 21st place in the NFL between Weeks 12 and 17, thanks to a sudden short passing game in which he dropped the ball on average 2.29 seconds after the shot – by far the fastest in the league during that time. That’s all the Steelers think he can do? If that is the case, and if nothing changes in the playoffs, what does that say about his future as a starter for 2021?
Walder: Lamar Jackson, Ravens. In recent weeks Jackson has reminded the competition that his potential is no less than that of anyone else, although the current rivals of Baltimore, the Jaguars, Giants and Bengals, are not exactly fierce competitors. The same goes for the Titans, whose defense allowed the fifth QBR to resist the summoning signals. Jackson has a golden opportunity to avenge the loss of last year’s playoff with a dominant performance, but he must seize it.
Yates: Lamar Jackson, Ravens. Jackson will have many playoff successes throughout his career, but not yet. As a result, his excellent performance puts him under extra pressure for only three seasons in his career. The fact that he faces an opponent who lost his Ravens team last year only makes the story even more intriguing.
Give us a bold prediction for this weekend’s games that are close to your heart.
Clay: LeDK Metcalfe, who have shown a dominant 83-1 303-10 reception line in the regular season, will start against the Rams. As good as Metcalfe was in his second season, the Rams’ defense was better. This season, it allowed the fewest receiving yards (2,075) and touchdowns (seven) and the fewest yards per touchdown (10.6) to wide receivers. By following Jalen Ramsey in most of the two games between these teams at the beginning of the season, Metcalfe registered receiving lines of 2-28-0 and 6-59-0, including a 3-28-0 line on 46 lanes against Ramsey.
Fowler: Washington will give Tampa Bay all the smoke… And maybe even win. NFC East is our favorite piñata, but Washington’s defense is a legitimate threat and has only scored more than 20 points once since week 6. Chase Young says he’s going after Tom Brady, and I believe him. If Washington can somehow stretch Tampa vertically, it puts pressure on a Bucks team that might already feel a little down because of Brady’s short championship window.
Graziano: The Ravens will defeat the Titans with double digits. Tennessee plays virtually no defense. Baltimore is out of the game for 400 yards. The Ravens feel good about their attack and should be able to overcome the Titans’ erratic defences from the start and make sure the game gets their way. There’s nothing wrong with high school in Baltimore being as healthy as it’s always been.
Kimes: Tampa Bay versus Washington is the low point of the weekend. Of course Tom Brady has parodied his opponents for the past month, but he hardly suffers from the opposing defense. When Washington’s ferocious rush for the pass puts pressure on the quarterbacks, it provides them with the lowest rush per attempt of any team in the NFL. I’m not sure they can do it, but I think the Buccaneers’ attack is in this fight.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalfe, right, may have his hands full against the Rams secondary. Joe Nicholson/USA Monday sports
Seifert: The outcome of the game (or games) is strongly influenced, if not decided, by the COVID-19 protocols. In week 17 we saw an increase in the frequency of incidents, and not only among the teams eliminated from the playoffs. We already know the Buccaneers’ linebacker, Devin White, won’t be available for Saturday’s game against Washington. Following contacts can also lead to an increase in the number of players who remain on the sidelines as a result of close and risky contacts. After a season full of last-minute changes in the team, it would be naive to think it will end with the playoffs.
Walder: Tyler Lockett scores 150 yards of touchdown and at least one score. I deviate from Clay’s predictions with Ramsey after Metcalfe. In the middle of Metcalfe’s breakthrough, Lockett was overshadowed, but I still believe he is the best receiver in the Seahawks and one of the best receivers in the league. Bold Williams is a tough competitor, but Lockett has a long history of exceeding his expected catch rate, and I think that will happen on a few deep pitches.
Yates: Derrick Henry and Lamar Jackson regroup for 350 meters. Henry is a locomotive and Jackson is a Ferrari, but despite the differences in style, they are probably the two most feared racers in the entire competition. Solving Henry’s problem is a business decision, and getting close enough to Jackson to deal with it is a difficult task; these two should blind him this weekend.
Which team should Cam Newton sign in 2021?
Clay: Saints. Assuming that Drew Brees goes further and goes into a free agency with Jameis Winston, it might make sense for New Orleans to sign Newton to compete with Tays Hill. Both are at least heavily dependent on their feet, which should make it easier to plan the match in case of a centre change.
Fowler: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. At least not as a priority at the top of the Free Agency. The Newton market spoke in its favor last year, in the form of a one-year, $1.75 million endorsement deal. He’d get a lot more if the teams considered him a top starter. But the injuries are piling up, the game is going backwards, and this is clearly visible in the passing game of the Patriots, which is only in 30th place. Perhaps Newton is waiting in the wings to fill a need if the team is injured at quarterback level or is looking for a temporary solution (the Saints might find some meaning in playing behind Taysom Hill). But the days when Newton was a common option may be over.
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Graziano: Metallurgist. This points to many things, including the fact that Pittsburgh cannot bring Ben Roethlisberger back on his current contract. If Big Ben leaves, Newton could be a cheap, high-end option that allows the Steelers to hand out big contracts to their young stars, as well as rebuild their racing game with Newton as the key element. If Ben can find a way back to Pittsburgh, he’ll be 39. He never really made the bet to stay healthy all year round, and Newton offers better insurance than the Steelers in recent years.
Kimes: Saints. I don’t think Newton’s gonna ask for much, and New Orleans, that’s as much about attracting someone as it is about competing with Taysom Hill. I could also consider Newton as a replacement in Pittsburgh, where he could run to the starting position after Roethlisberger’s retirement.
Seifert: TBA. I’m not saying this to avoid an answer. I think the best option for Newton to go into the field in 2021 is to work on what he did in 2020. Let the quarterback market wait until March/April and then sign a team that didn’t get what they needed or wanted. This could be the team the starter will suffer from this summer. But judging by his performance this season, it is unlikely that anyone will arrive early.
Walder: Metallurgist. I’m assuming the same assumptions as the aforementioned Graziano. Pittsburgh won’t be able to bring one of the best quarterbacks into the design, but they also have a strong enough defense that it makes sense to bring in a quality veteran (and it makes sense for Newton to join such a team).
Yates: Washington. There will be a meeting with Ron Rivera and Scott Turner, who brought Cam to Carolina. Although Alex Smith is still two seasons under contract in Washington, his salary is no longer guaranteed after this season. His return is one of the best stories in all sports in 2020, and a stay in Washington should not be ruled out, but it will probably be at a reduced price. Newton does not have the power to order large sums of money, but it would be a low-risk interim option for Washington as it tries to make a long-term assessment of the project.
Which position should the dolphins occupy with the tow bar? 3?
Clay: Quarterback. You don’t have to agree with me, but I’ve always thought that if you’re not sure if you have a franchise quarterback, you don’t have a franchise quarterback. From my point of view we don’t know if Tua Tagovailoa is the answer, because he didn’t look good as a rookie and messed up several times. The future of Miami looks promising after a 10-winning season in the second season of Brian Flores, so it is unlikely that this franchise will soon be back in the top 5. Unless they are convinced that Tua is a franchised quarterback, they should avoid a false return and a trip to the quarterback’s purgatory in the long run.
Fowler: Quarterback. The keyword is the address. Miami should carefully evaluate the best quarterbacks in the design and the pros and cons of not taking one and staying with Tagovailoa as the undisputed starter. Miami owes his fans and his organization a debt of gratitude, at least for that. This is the only position where a surplus is not a bad thing. Keep the suction cups at a high level if necessary. Tua can be a man, no matter what. And if the Dolphins decide he’s better than Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance, grab the offensive tackle or the receiver Miami needs around him.
Fault! The file name is not specified. The project will be an important indicator of dolphin confidence in Tua Tagovailoa. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Graziano: Wide receiver. Miami is too smart and too careful to leave Tagovailoa after nine o’clock. The Dolphins have always known he would need time, and there is good reason to believe that a suitable off-season program could help him make a big leap into his second year. So he was able to track down his teammate, DeVonta Smith.
Kimes: Defense tactics. If Ohio state quarterback Justin Fields is still available here, I would consider him, but I think Tua has shown enough in a difficult situation to try to build around him and strengthen the offensive line with Oregon’s Pena Sewell. I also think Miami should take the wide receiver sooner and maybe trade a little more and take Smith or Ja’Marr Chase from LSU.
Seifert: Defense tactics. Honestly, you should never go to a specific position at number 3 unless you’re a quarterback. You have an elite level player waiting for you to be in a position of strength. One argument could be to take one of the high-end receivers to give them more offensive explosiveness, but the likely availability of Sewell would allow them to go to a much more difficult position to fill a very good player.
Walder: Quarterback. Tagovailoa was still able to train, but the quarterback is too important for Miami to bet everything on him, especially after his 26th place with the CBI and clearly did not win the full confidence of the coaching staff. See which of the top three quarterbacks remains on the board while Tagovailoa, at least for now, remains. This way Miami can maximize its chances of finding its QB franchise.
Yates: Wide receiver. I’m sure the media will discuss the idea of the Dolphins taking a quarterback, and I’m sure the Dolphins will downplay such a possibility and lobby for Tagovailoa’s support. Broad receptors will make a major contribution to the development of this crime, and it seems that at least two of them – Chase and Smith – are worth mentioning.