Road to Tampa Still Goes Through The Pandemic
Listening to Colts head coach Frank Reich talk poignantly about missing the emotional and physical kinship that football provides, was a reminder as we bring the curtain down on the 2020 NFL regular season how disruptive COVID-19 has been. On the surface, the league has performed heroics to get to this stage. For all the pragmatism in Reich’s words when he spoke to the Peter King Podcast, you couldn’t look past the regret, and perhaps the dollop of loneliness surrounding the season for players and coaches alike.
With the playoff line-up decided yesterday, our attention turns to how teams will approach the ascent towards the Super Bowl in Tampa. Surely, four weeks in a hotel with just your team is a viable option to keep your players and loved ones safe. It also gives teams a competitive advantage, a point acknowledged by former NFL scout and commentator Bucky Brooks during the week. We’ve got this far but the stakes couldn’t be higher. All it takes is a moment of complacency for a franchise quarterback or star edge rusher to be placed on the COVID-19 injury list.
I’ll dive straight into how the playoffs are shaping up after the final day of the regular season. The Playoff Picture With the pressure on in the AFC, the Miami Dolphins were slaughtered by Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills and blew their chance at the post-season. The Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts took care of business to advance to the playoffs. The Colts benefited from the Dolphins humiliation against the Bills. Here’s how the 2020 NFL wild-card playoff weekend is shaping up:
Saturday, Jan. 9
AFC No. 7 seed Indianapolis Colts at AFC No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills, 1:05 p.m. ET
NFC No. 6 seed Los Angeles Rams at NFC No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks, 4:40 p.m. ET
NFC No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NFC No. 4 seed Washington, 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 10
AFC No. 5 seed Baltimore Ravens at AFC No. 4 seed Tennessee Titans, 1:05 p.m. ET
NFC No. 7 seed Chicago Bears at NFC No. 2 seed New Orleans Saints, 4:40 p.m. ET
AFC No. 6 seed Cleveland Browns at AFC No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:15 p.m. ET *The Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC have first round byes.
Week 17 Highlights MVP (of the Season): Who else, only Alex Smith? He came back from the dead, and almost lost his leg. He recovered from 17 surgeries to play football again. Last night, he took his Washington Football Team to the NFC East division title and a playoff berth. Quote of the Week: “I want to be spitting on you when I’m talking. I miss those moments. There’s a closeness, not just emotional but physical component to it as well.” Frank Reich, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, talks about missing the connection with his players and staff during the pandemic. It is testament to the culture and accountability he and general manager Chris Ballard have built in Indy, that they’ve operated so well remotely. Stat of the Week: The NFL’s longest playoff drought is over. The Cleveland Browns are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Bradywatch: The Atlanta Falcons pass rush got very little pressure on Tom Brady, as the Bucs eased to victory and into the playoffs. Star receiver Mike Evans left the field with a leg injury in what will be a major concern for Tampa Bay. Their season relies on having Evans on the field next Saturday. NFC West: The L.A. Rams saw off the Arizona Cardinals. Next weekend, they’ll face their division opponents the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. January football
Playoffs are about timing your run. The Kansas City Chiefs on paper look like the best team in the league and the Buffalo Bills seem the best match in terms of form to knock them out in the AFC. Frank Reich’s Colts managed to squeeze in. They’ll take on the red hot Bills in Buffalo, with 6,772 Bills fans able to attend the game once they pass the local New York COVID-19 protocols.
The Baltimore Ravens are lethal and are in a great position as a wildcard team to make a deep playoff run. Last year they came in as heavy AFC favorites and were mugged by the Tennessee Titans - a team they meet again next Sunday. With the Ravens running game shredding teams, and a Titans defense regularly giving up 35+ points to opponents, I think Baltimore will have too much for Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, even if it gets into a shootout. Henry surpassed 2,000 rushing yards for the season yesterday and is a man who evokes nightmares in Baltimore after his performance last time the sides met in the playoffs.
Over in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers get home field advantage and a first round bye. The Seahawks defense is playing well, and providing Russell Wilson and the offense finds its groove, Seattle won’t fear going to Lambeau Field in the late January snow.
Get ready for the best football weekend of the year. One of the AFC teams to come out of next weekend has the best chance of any team in the league to stop the Chiefs - such is the battle hardened nature of the AFC. Who will it be?