What to Watch for in Sunday’s N.F.L. Wild-Card Games

Sunday brings one other day chock-full of N.F.L. playoff soccer, with three video games kicking off roughly 14 hours after the final of Saturday’s trio of postseason contests ended. Distinct, pitched rivalries heighten the stakes of two of the matchups — Baltimore at Tennessee at 1:05 p.m. Japanese, and Cleveland at Pittsburgh at 8:15 p.m. — however the center recreation, which has Chicago visiting New Orleans at 4:40 p.m., is seen as an obvious mismatch because it contains the erratic Bears, considered one of solely two groups with out successful data which have barged into the playoffs.

Close to the midpoint of the 2018 season, Lamar Jackson was named Baltimore’s beginning quarterback and took the N.F.L. by storm, operating the soccer (79.4 speeding yards per recreation in seven begins, six of which have been victories) in addition to he threw it (he averaged 159 passing yards per recreation throughout that stretch). Considered as a staff that no person within the postseason needed to play, the Ravens have been as an alternative upset at residence by the Los Angeles Chargers of their opening playoff recreation, through which Jackson regarded out of kinds and ruined two crucial drives with an interception and a fumble.

Final season, Jackson was the league’s most precious participant, and the Ravens have been the highest playoff seed within the A.F.C. However Baltimore was routed at home by the Titans as Jackson once more struggled with two interceptions and a misplaced fumble.

This season, the Ravens (11-5), a fifth seed, have regarded unbeatable of their final 5 video games, after they averaged 37.2 factors per recreation. Jackson has regained his common regular-season kind. However one other playoff loss, particularly in opposition to a Tennessee (11-5) protection that ranked among the many N.F.L.’s worst in opposition to the run and the go, will amplify the highlight on Jackson’s winless playoff document.

Within the Titans’ playoff victory over the Ravens final season, operating again Derrick Henry rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries. Will probably be fascinating to see if Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh and his proud, bodily protection have provide you with a solution for stopping Henry — as they have to. When the groups met in late November this season, Henry was saved underneath 100 speeding yards because the fourth quarter led to a tie, however he took over in time beyond regulation, successful the sport with a bulldozing 29-yard landing sprint via many of the Ravens protection.

The bad mojo haunting the Saints within the final three postseasons has been well-documented. If Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears (8-8) have been ready so as to add to the franchise’s sense of playoff doom, it could be an indication that one thing actually odd was afoot in New Orleans. The Bears backed into the playoffs because the N.F.C.’s seventh and final seed on a tiebreaker when matched in opposition to the equally inconsistent Arizona Cardinals (8-8). The Saints, winners of 11 of their final 13 video games, are the second seed, trailing solely the Inexperienced Bay Packers.

The Bears have of late surprisingly rallied behind Trubisky, who was benched at midseason after which returned in the midst of Chicago’s six-game dropping streak. Nonetheless, Trubisky completed the season with a 67 % completion charge, the perfect of his uneven profession. In his final 5 video games, three of which Chicago received, Trubisky threw seven touchdowns and simply three interceptions. However the Bears are battling their very own playoff woes. They’ve performed solely three postseason video games because the 2006 season and have received only one. Their final playoff recreation, a loss to Philadelphia, was memorable for Cody Parkey’s missed 43-yard field goal attempt within the waning seconds that hit an upright and a crossbar — a double-doink — earlier than ricocheting again onto the enjoying discipline.

New Orleans (12-4) has endured accidents to quarterback Drew Brees and the All-Professional large receiver Michael Thomas, who missed a lot of the common season however returned to apply this week. But the Saints are as soon as once more able to make a strong Tremendous Bowl run due to a different rushing attack that’s averaging 141.6 yards per recreation. Brees is more likely to retire after the postseason, which might add just a little angst and strain to the Saints’ journey, but when they’ll keep away from freakish last-gasp landing passes and controversial no-calls from the officers, the Bears would appear to be overmatched prey for one of many league’s elite groups.

You’re not imagining issues: Cleveland did beat Pittsburgh, 24-22, final week. However the Steelers had little to play for in that matchup, and plenty of of their starters have been injured or benched, together with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

That received’t be the case this weekend, when the third-seeded Steelers determine to be a extra formidable foe Sunday in opposition to the sixth-seeded Browns (11-5). Cleveland will possible give attention to limiting Roethlisberger, 38, who might be enjoying in his twenty second N.F.L. postseason recreation, however his first in three seasons. The longer term Corridor of Famer misplaced his final two playoff begins, and definitely the Steelers (12-4), who started the season 11-0, need to be questioning how for much longer he might be in uniform to attempt to win a document seventh Tremendous Bowl championship.

The Browns weren’t too wholesome, both, within the final go-round. With out six gamers and three assistant coaches due to optimistic coronavirus assessments and the league’s tracing protocols, Cleveland nonetheless managed to finish its streak of 17 seasons with out a postseason recreation. The outbreak has continued this week, as head coach Kevin Stefanski, along with two more members of his staff and two players, recently tested positive for the coronavirus and won’t be on the sidelines. (The particular groups coach Mike Priefer would be the appearing head coach.)

The Browns protection has been suspect for many of the season, giving up a mean of 26.2 factors a recreation — in comparison with simply 19.5 factors per recreation for the Pittsburgh protection — and their activity obtained extra arduous when defensive finish Olivier Vernon ruptured his Achilles’ tendon final weekend.

Cleveland will want a powerful efficiency from operating again Nick Chubb, whose 1,067 speeding yards ranked seventh within the league and has been pivotal to the success of the play-action passing of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who took a big step ahead this season with 26 landing passes and solely eight interceptions, a profession low.

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