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Who will be number one? NFL wild card round

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7th January, 2021
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The playoff spots and top 18 draft spots are signed, sealed and delivered.

So how are things shaping up for the wild card round of the playoffs?

Here’s the race to the top.

AFC

2. Buffalo Bills (13-3) versus 7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Bills Stadium, Buffalo
Sunday 10 January
Kick off 5:05am (AEST)
The Bills are really, really hot right now and Indy have just come right at the right time to get in to the playoffs. It’ll be a match-up of strength versus strength, with Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and one the NFL’s elite offences going head-first into one of the best defensive units in the league. The Colts will look to lean on rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who has piled up 560 rushing yards in the last month and will be key to try and keep the defence fresh against the raging Bills.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) versus 6. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Monday 11 January
Kick off 12:15pm (AEST)
Fresh from a close-fought victory by the Browns, these sides will line up quite differently this week. Pittsburgh will get starters Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward and NFL sack leader TJ Watt back in action. Cleveland have been battling a COVID shutdown of their practice facility this week, which will also rule out coach Kevin Stefanski of the game. Yes, even coaches can be ruled out by COVID. Cleveland are already fighting against history, so this will make it an even bigger mountain to climb.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field during a training camp.

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

4. Tennessee Titans (11-5) versus 5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Nissan Stadium, Nashville
Monday 11 January
Kick off 5:05am (AEST)
The Titans hold recent form in this duel, having won in Week 11 and also stomping all over the Ravens’ title aspirations last year by beating them 28-12. Both games were in Baltimore and even though Tennessee hosts this game, it’s the Ravens who are backed by many to continue their recent sizzling form, having won five straight, with four games scoring 34 or more points. The big question will be whether the Titans can blunt the Ravens’ rush attack, as their pass rush is non-existent.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1) – bye

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NFC

2. New Orleans Saints (12-4) versus 7. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Monday 11 January
Kick off 8:40am (AEST)
When the Saints go marching into the Superdome to take on the Bears, they could be doing so with a near-healthy squad to choose from. Running back Alvin Kamara is lucky enough to have his COVID stand-down period finish the day before their wild card game. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is also being monitored, though who knows with the season he’s had. The Bears meanwhile are sweating on the health of linebacker Roquan Smith, but will play without the weight of any pressure or expectation. The Saints will be the ones faced with the now-or-never type scenario, due to Drew Brees nearing possible retirement.

3. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) versus 6. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
Lumen Field, Seattle
Sunday 10 January
Kick off 8:40am (AEST)
Having split their two previous encounters this season, it will be a battle of defence versus defence. The Rams’ defence has been consistent all season long, while Seattle’s came to life down the stretch of the regular season and will pose a big problem to LA’s offence, regardless of whether Jared Goff returns at quarterback. Goff made a limited return to practice yesterday, as did the Hawks’ safety Jamal Adams.

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Jared Goff

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

4. Washington (7-9) versus 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Sunday 10 January
Kick off 12:15am (AEST)
Could this be the end of the 2020 ride for Washington? In a way it would be good to finally cut ties with the NFC East for the year. In another, how cool would it be to see the Ron Rivera-led team of scrappers tip up one of the more fancied sides? Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans has still not been able to practice this week, while on Washington’s side, running back Antonio Gibson and receiver Terry McLaurin are getting back on track. They will be needed to try and provide enough offence to challenge Tom Brady and the Bucs.

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – bye

Here’s the race to the bottom.

Clinched NFL draft picks 1-12
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
2. New York Jets (2-14)
3. Miami Dolphins (10-6) via Houston Texans (4-12)
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
7. Detroit Lions (5-11)
8. Carolina Panthers (5-11)
9. Denver Broncos (5-11)
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
11. New York Giants (6-10)
12. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)