The AFC Wild Card round will kick us off with the first game of the playoffs on Saturday with the Indianapolis Colts taking on the Buffalo Bills. In my NFC Wild Card preview, I mentioned that the AFC had the better games on paper and that seems more true as I write. The AFC Wild Card round hasn’t been this strong in a while and we all can’t wait until it all kicks off in just a matter of hours.
2020 AFC Wild Card Preview
Colts vs Bills (Saturday, 1:05ET on CBS)
We kick off the NFL Playoffs and the AFC Wild Card games with a bang as the 11-5 Colts take on the 13-3 Bills. The Colts ended their season winning their last four out of five games. They were in a tight race for the AFC South up until the last game before settling for the last wild card spot. The offense starts with the running game as rookie Jonathan Taylor has had a breakout year. While averaging five yards a carry, he rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also had 299 yards and a touchdown through the air. Taylor has come on strong lately, including a 253 yard and two-touchdown game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17.
The run game is a catalyst for veteran Philip Rivers to spread the ball out all around the field to T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr. Rivers hasn’t had a 300-yard game since Week 10 but he has been efficient since then.
The Colts will be in for a tough test as they face the red-hot number two seed in Buffalo. Coming off six straight wins to end the season, the Bills are a dangerous team that has everyone thinking perhaps a Super Bowl appearance. Quarterback Josh Allen has had a phenomenal season that if it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers, he’d probably win MVP. He has thrown for 4,544 yards with a touchdown to interception ratio of 37/10.
Allen also ran for 421 yards on the ground for eight touchdowns. This man has set records for a Buffalo franchise that has been dying to see great quarterback play. It helps a lot when you have a great connection with Stefon Diggs, who has caught eight touchdowns for 1,535 yards. We’ve been talking so much about the offense that we haven’t mentioned how great the defense has been as they’re second in points allowed.
The Colts also have a good defense but they’ve slowed down throughout the season. Everyone is waiting to see if this Bills team is the real deal or if they fall on their face like in years past. The Bills have a near-complete team that the Colts might struggle against on both sides of the ball. It will be an all-around fight for both teams.
Ravens vs Titans (Sunday, 1:05ET on ESPN/ABC)
This battle between a pair of 11-5 teams might be the best of the weekend in the AFC Wild Card. The Tennessee Titans depend on offense to get it done as their defense has failed them at times this year. Their last two games haven’t been the Titans’ football we’ve seen in the past. A narrow escape from the Houston Texans in Week 17 locked up the AFC South. Ryan Tannehill has had eight games this season where he’s thrown for 230 yards or less but he’s thrown for 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
The Titans don’t only have to rely on their quarterback to throw the ball as they have probably the best running back in all of football. Derrick Henry has rushed for over 100 yards in ten games this season and only has had one game under 60 yards. Henry has rushed for over 2,000 yards on the season, putting him in very elite company. He also has 17 rushing touchdowns, leading the league.
Tennessee will be going up against an improving defense and a team that ended the season on a five-game winning streak. The Baltimore Ravens have been blowing out teams down the stretch which gets us wondering if they can make a run. Lamar Jackson certainly wants to get past a roadblock and that’s getting his first playoff win in the NFL. He’s had a strong season as he also joins elite company with 1,000 yards rushing.
Jackson also added 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions. We know he isn’t the best thrower of the football but he can catch you off guard if you aren’t quick to react. The defense has helped fuel this run as they’ve held opposing teams to under 20 points in four of their final five games.
This will be a black and blue game as Henry will most likely be the deciding factor for the Titans. He goes up against the number eight rushing defense in the league. If the Ravens can find a way to take away Henry, they could be in good shape with their passing defense taking over, even with receiving options A.J. Brown and Corey Davis on the field for Tennessee. On the flip side, if the Titans take away the lanes for Jackson and force him to throw all game, it will be the Tennessee who have the advantage.
Browns vs Steelers (Sunday, 8:15ET on NBC)
Browns fans rejoice! They’ve finally made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They’ll kick off the final AFC Wild Card matchup. There’s a little bit of bad news as Baker Mayfield and company will have to play with head coach Kevin Stefanski absent from the sideline due to COVID-19. Not only is that an issue but the Browns haven’t beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in 17 seasons. The Browns hosted the Steelers in Week 17 and barely held on with some of Pittsburgh’s starters out, including Ben Roethlisberger.
The Cleveland Browns are about the middle of the pack offensively but have one of the best running back duos in the league as Nick Chubb went over 1,000 yards rushing and Kareem Hunt had 841 yards rushing. Mayfield will have to perform better than last game if they want to get past this defense.
Many contribute the Pittsburgh Steelers soft schedule to their record, which is 12-4. They got off to an 11-0 start but got “exposed” and dropped their last four out of five games to end the season. The Steelers no longer got by with their horrible running attack as they ranked last in rushing yards. James Connor hasn’t been a factor as much as they’d like him to and what’s behind him isn’t flashing either. Roethlisberger had a little bit of headway into the MVP conversation early in the season but quickly fell off. Their passing attack is middle of the pack but the browns are towards the bottom of the league defensively.
One good part about the Browns defense is that they’re ninth in rushing yards allowed, which is yet another blockade the Steelers rushing attack has to pass. If Pittsburgh wants success, they have to be able to establish a run game. A lot of their game will hinge on the defense as they’re one of the best defensive units in the league. That might be a problem for the passing attack of the Browns as not only the Steelers’ back end good but they have the sacks leader with T.J. Watt coming after Mayfield. This AFC Wild Card game will depend on the run game of both teams and that favors the Browns.
NFC Wild Card Games: