Somehow, the NFL converted one quarter and long after another through a treacherous 100-yard pandemic minefield. Now the pandemic playoffs begin on Saturday as 14 masked teams desperately want to stay socially away from an evil virus for the ages as they are to march to Tampa and Super Bowl LV Steel themselves for the ultimate game of ” Survivor ”.
Already the Browns, who haven’t seen the playoffs since 2002, were hit in the solar plexus when coach / caller Kevin Stefanski and left guard Joel Bitonio were placed on the COVID-19 roster and reported for their wild card showdown against the Steelers.
This is what Serby’s crystal ball sees:
ROUND WILD CARD
Indianapolis Colts (7) to Buffalo Bills (2):
The pain of blowing a 16-point lead in an overtime loss to the Texans in last year’s wildcard round led coach Sean McDermott, the streak division champions, and the 6,772 members of the Bills mafia who will be allowed to attend.
Talented Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has a quick unit that is adept at takeaways and ongoing attacks, but his 18th-ranked pass defense will have its hands full with the double-threat quarterback from MVP caliber Josh Allen. He’ll need Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner posts to make an impact.
Bill receivers Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Gabriel Davis will need to play a bigger role for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll if WR Cole Beasley (knee) is limited or sidelined. Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes were arguing as teammates with the Vikings, and they could reconnect quickly.
This is Philip Rivers’ latest desperate attempt to win that elusive first Super Bowl championship. He’ll need another 253-yard day of running from rookie running back Jonathan Taylor behind goaltender Quenton Nelson, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White covering WR TY Hilton.
Prediction: Bills 27, Colts 21. Buffalo’s first playoff victory since the 1995 season.
Angels Rams (6) at Seattle Seahawks (3):
If Jared Goff (thumb surgery) can’t go, Sean McVay will turn to John Wolford, who couldn’t even beat Sam Darnold as an undrafted free agent at 2018 training camp. Either way, WR Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp get devalued, and the Seahawks line up the fifth run defense.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s defense needs safety Jamal Adams (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jarran Reed (oblique), who recorded two sacks in a 20-9 Week 16 win. If in doubt, let Russell Wilson cook against the No.3 defense, but if he avoids pitching DK Metcalf against Jalen Ramsey again, he’ll have to hook up with Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks’ offensive line is back together for the first time since Week 14 to face Aaron Donald.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Rams 17. Russell Wilson finds a way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4) at Washington Football Team (7):
Don’t expect Bruce Arians doug-pederson Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of a close game for Blaine Gabbert. Washington rookie defensive end Chase Young wanted the Brady, now he has it. WFT coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are bragging about a defensive line that could give Brady some Super Bowl 42 flashbacks against the Giants. And their secondary liver is not chopped.
Brady will be intending to pass the ball quickly to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and old friend Rob Gronkowski. Even without rookie linebacker Devin White, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles presents a No.1 running defense that will slow RB Antonio Gibson down and force Alex Smith to operate a one-dimensional attack under duress. Smith will have to hand the ball to WR Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas. Could Rivera run Smith and Taylor Heinicke? A Heineken or three is recommended for the WFT fan.
Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Washington 17. Brady hopes Bill Belichick is watching.
Baltimore Ravens (5) to Tennessee Titans (4):
Hide the women and children. A rematch of last year’s division round thwarted by the Titans in Baltimore, when Derrick Henry fell 195 yards and they forced Lamar Jackson to catch up. Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams must resist the bully. But it could be choosing your poison, with Ryan Tannehill targeting WR AJ Brown and Corey Davis – where outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and CBs Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have to make the difference.
The emergence of rookie RB JK Dobbins gives Jackson a partner in crime. Jackson is determined to win his first playoff game in three tries. His 46 touchdowns without interception in the red zone speak for themselves, so beware of TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Placekicker Justin Tucker is a weapon.
Prediction: Ravens 30, Titans 24. A bloodbath to the end.
Chicago Bears (7) at New Orleans Saints (2):
The pass rush from Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has collapsed of late, and Drew Brees has only been sacked once (Khalil Mack) in 41 attempts in the Saints 26- win. 23 in OT in November in Chicago.
Nick Foles will not be the opposing quarterback this time around. It would be Mitch Trubisky, the only GM Ryan Pace preferred over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky and WR Allen Robinson will not have it easy against an elite secondary led by CB Marshon Lattimore and S Marcus Williams.
Chicago RB David Montgomery faces the fourth run defense. Saints WR Michael Thomas (ankle) will be back after a three week absence, and RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-19 list) is expected to be cleared. What Taysom Hill tricks could Sean Payton have up his sleeve?
Prediction: Saints 27, Bears 13. Brees (24 touchdowns, six interceptions), recovered from his 11 broken ribs and a perforated lung, begins a final round of the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns (6) to the Pittsburgh Steelers (3):
The Visitors have lost 17 in a row in Pittsburgh, not that Baker Mayfield cares. But he will care that Stefanski and Bitonio are not on the sidelines. Is Jim Brown available to call the games? Johnny Manziel, maybe? Good luck, Mike Priefer!
Myles Garrett keeps his helmet on but won’t have an Olivier Vernon (torn ACL) bookends to hunt down Ben Roethlisberger. Beware of Diontae Johnson, if he wipes the butter off his fingers, and Chase Claypool. When Mayfield isn’t trying to keep Big Ben on the sidelines with a healthy dose of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, he will likely target Steeler CB Cam Sutton, a likely replacement for Joe Haden (COVID-19 roster). TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are playmakers.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Browns 24. Big Ben and Mike Tomlin know how to win these games.
Baltimore Ravens (5) at Kansas City Chiefs (1)
The Chiefs own the No.21 race defense, which could create problems against Jackson if he can keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. But the defending champions will be rested after the bye while the Ravens could be taken out of the wild game. Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale couldn’t stop Mahomes (385 yards and four TDs) from dominating Jackson (97 yards passing, 83 yards rushing) in a 34-20 win. Chiefs in September.
Prediction: Chiefs 30, Ravens 24: Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 5-2 after weeks off in the playoffs and 18-3 in the regular season.
Tampa bay Boucaniers (4) at Green Bay Packers (1)
A rubber match between Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay RB Aaron Jones will have a hard time sledding against this group, and the loss of elite left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) could make Davante Adams less dangerous. A new rush of Packers passes, an arctic Lambeau Field and the shine of the A-Rod make the difference.
Prediction: Packers 27, Buccaneers 24. Belichick expires.
Pittsburgh Steelers (3) at Buffalo Bills (2)
I doubt Juju Smith-Schuster will dance to the Bills logo this time around. Leslie Frazier’s Buffalo defense stuffed James Conner (10-18 on ground) and intercepted Big Ben twice, one on six by the corner of the Taron Johnson slot, in a 26-15 victory at home last month. Tomlin would need Haden as Stefon Diggs (reception 10-130) dominated last time.
Prediction: Bills 26, Steelers 24. Allen makes his guys believe.
Seattle Seahawks (3) at New Orleans Saints (2):
Wilson threw for 406 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-27 home loss early last season to the Saints under Teddy Bridgewater. Adams gives the Hawks a growing Legion of Boom mindset and defense swagger. LB rookie Jordyn Brooks could hunt down Kamara. Trey Hendrickson and Cam Jordan bring the heat, but Wilson can still be Houdini.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Saints 24. The last time Brees, Thomas and Kamara played a full game together was in week 9. I see a surprise.
Buffalo Bills (2) at Kansas City Chiefs (1)
Dream quarterback match. The last one with the ball wins. There goes Tyreek Hill. This is Diggs. A blind pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. Has anyone seen John Brown?
Prediction: Bills 35, Chiefs 33. Allen has the ball last.
Seattle Seahawks (3) at Green Bay Packers (1):
Eight years after the Fail Mary. A rematch for the 28-23 Packers’ victory last year in the division round at Lambeau in which Davante Adams and Lockett were unstoppable. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon give Rodgers the balance Wilson won’t have. Adams better beware of Packers’ tight end Robert Tonyan.
Prediction: Packers 28, Seahawks 23. If it snows, Rodgers advantage. If not, Rodgers advantage.
SUPER BOWL 55
Buffalo Bills against Green Bay Packers:
Jim Kelly shares a suite with Marv Levy and on the right is Scott Norwood and his socially distant wife. Rodgers quickly throws TD passes to Allen Lazard and Marques Valdes-Scantling, and Kelly and Levy are sporting that look back. But these bills refuse to be haunted by their tortured Super Bowl history.
Allen responds with TD assists to John Brown and Dawson Knox before Rodgers finds Adams in the end zone. Allen yawns and responds with a TD bomb to Diggs. Jones catches a TD pass. Allen ties him up with a TD run. Mason Crosby throws a basket. The last one with the ball wins. And that’s Allen – with a qualifying last-second touchdown throw to Dion Dawkins. Kelly is crying with joy.
Prediction: Bills 35, Packers 31. Wings for the Bills Mafia and a prayer of a lifetime answered.