Wildcard Weekend: Saturday treble
Michael Norbury brings you his selections for a triple-header of Saturday action.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills
Playoff football is finally upon us and the Saturday slate opens with an intriguing match up between the 11-5 Colts and the 13-3 Bills.
Josh Allen’s blow-up at this stage last season against the Houston Texans feels like a distant memory and he has silenced his many doubters with some borderline MVP level performances in this campaign. He’ll have to carry that level over to the big stage here against a solid Indianapolis defense. The Colts have stood firm against the run this season and rank 2nd in rushing yards per game conceded (90.5). It’s hard to make a case for the Bills worrying them on the ground, Devin Singletary has struggled to build on his promising 2019 season and his lieutenant in the backfield Zack Moss is unlikely to give this Colts unit many sleepless nights. The Bills though are a pass first offense and the addition of Stefon Diggs to the receiving corps has proved a revelation. Diggs is officially listed as questionable but he looks likely to feature here. The same can not be said though for his underrated receiving partner Cole Beasley, his injury looks more serious and even if he makes the field on Saturday, he is unlikely to be 100%. This is a bigger concern than many would have you believe, especially in a game where the aerial route is likely to prove so crucial.
Philip Rivers has divided opinion during his first season in Indianapolis and although he clearly isn’t of the level of his opposite number in this one, he remains a reliable presence under center. He is unlikely to take this one by the scruff of the neck and throw the Colts to victory but he has the tools to keep the ball moving. The Colts receiving corps is functional but lacks a star receiver in the Stefon Diggs mould. T.Y. Hilton isn’t the player he once was and second-round rookie Michael Pittman Jr. still looks a work in progress, they face a Bills secondary which has looked better with each week and will fancy their chances of keeping Indianapolis quiet through the air. The key then lies with rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who after a slow start to the season has really found his feet in recent weeks culminating in a monster 253-yard performance against a hapless Jacksonville defence in week 17. He forms an interesting dual threat in the backfield with Nyheim Hines and Buffalo’s run defense has creaked at times this season, this battle on the ground will have a massive say on the outcome.
The oddsmakers make Buffalo favourites here and rightly so, but the Colts are an all-round good football team and should have enough to make this a genuine contest. The line of 6.5 looks too big, take Indianapolis to keep this one close and play the +6.5.
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
An all NFC West clash takes place in Seattle as the 10-6 Rams and the 12-4 Seahawks face off for the third time in 2020, the series sits at 1-1 after both teams made use of homefield advantage in the regular season.
The Rams quite simply lack talent on offense, they have functioned off the back of a solid running game which is born out of good coaching rather than any real star talent at the running back position. Their receiving corps is okay but again lacks a genuine gamebreaker and to top off the deficiencies in these positions they have issues at quarterback. Jared Goff’s limitations have been exposed and it remains to be seen whether he starts in this game, his deputy John Wolford probably has no real business starting in a playoff game. They face a Seahawks defense which appears to have gotten its act together after a historically bad start to the season and safety Jamal Adams looks set to shake off a shoulder injury and play in this one. It could be a long day for the Rams offense.
Offensive woes aside the Rams are blessed with arguably the best defense in the NFL, there isn’t much more to be said about Aaron Donald, he does special things week in week in a front seven which is backed up by a solid secondary headed by Jalen Ramsey, who is firmly in the argument for the league’s best cornerback. They come up against a Seahawks offense that made a scintillating start to the season inspired by MVP like performances from quarterback Russell Wilson before a relatively underwhelming final few weeks. The Rams were the first team to find a way of stalling Seattle’s offense, inspired by Ramsey’s shutdown of the then seemingly unstoppable DK Metcalf. Stopping Metcalf is only half the job as they possess another 1000-yard receiver in Tyler Lockett and running back Chris Carson has the ability to get the Seahawks moving on the ground. Russell Wilson has a history of turning it on in the playoffs and this feels like the kind of game where he can be the difference maker.
It won’t be easy for Seattle against this stubborn Rams defense but I expect their quality to shine through and they can wear down a Los Angeles outfit that will struggle to move the ball down the field on offense. Play the -3.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team
A 7-9 team hosting a home game in the playoffs is something that shouldn’t really happen but it’s the situation we’re facing after Washington stumbled to the top of the NFC East.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith’s comeback from a horrific leg injury has been remarkable and he is the only legitimate candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Despite the heart-warming element to his comeback it’s impossible to escape the fact that he is limited and the weapons around him are largely uninspiring. Terry McLaurin is a high-class receiver but there is little else to get excited about in the receiving corps, Antonio Gibson has enjoyed a productive season at running back but faces an uphill task against the best run defense in the NFL (80.6 yards per game). Simply put, this is a bad offense facing a very good defense.
Tampa Bay’s rushing offense has struggled to get going in 2020 but they pose a serious threat through the air. Tom Brady controls things under center and is surrounded by an all-star receiving corps containing Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Only the Chiefs have racked up more passing yards this season and when this unit clicks they can take apart any secondary. They do though face a legitimately good Washington defense built around a fearsome front seven led by Defensive Rookie of the Year contender Chase Young and 2019 first-rounder Montez Sweat. Washington’s only hope lies with this unit winning its battle against an impressive Tampa Bay offensive line and making life uncomfortable for Brady.
You have to go back to week 10 to find the last time Washington conceded over 20 points, they do not get rolled over and it’s unlikely Tampa Bay will put up a barrage of points. This Washington offense won’t be spending much time in the endzone. The total points line looks too high at 44.5, play the under.
Colts: +6.5 10/11, Seahawks: -3 20/23, Under: 44.5 Buccaneers v Washington 10/11. Treble pays 5.81/1 (all Bet365).
nfl betting analyst
MICHAEL’S INTEREST IN THE NFL BECAME AN OBSESSION ONCE HIS ATTENDANCE AT SUNDAY DINNER WAS NO LONGER MANDATORY. HE FOLLOWS THE RAVENS AND HAS A SOFT SPOT FOR THE DOLPHINS. YOU CAN FIND HIM ON TWITTER @NORBURYMIKE