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NFL Playoff Schedule 2020: Bracket Dates, Picture and Wild-Card Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 30, 2019

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The New England Patriots are facing an unusual situation for the start of their latest playoff quest. 

For the first time since 2009, Bill Belichick's side will participate in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, as they dropped to the AFC's No. 3 seed with a Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. 

The AFC East winner faces a familiar foe in the Tennessee Titans, who lost at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round two seasons ago. 

New England currently holds a nine-game home winning run in the playoffs, but it could be challenged by the No. 6 seed that has played well of late.

The New Orleans Saints have had more experience in the first round this decade, and as the NFC's No. 3 seed, they will try to win at least one playoff game for the fifth straight postseason trip against the Minnesota Vikings. 

              

NFL Playoff Schedule

All Times ET. 

Wild-Card Round

Saturday, January 4

No. 5 Buffalo at No. 4 Houston (4:35 p.m., ABC/ESPN)

No. 6 Tennessee at No. 3 New England (8:15 p.m., CBS) 

Sunday, January 5

No. 6 Minnesota at No. 3 New Orleans (1:05 p.m., Fox)

No. 5 Seattle at No. 4 Philadelphia (4:40 p.m., NBC)

NFL @NFL

The #NFLPlayoffs are set! https://t.co/JUPNOiDKSA

           

Predictions

New England 21, Tennessee 17

Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Titans could pose a threat due to the form of running back Derrick Henry. 

The NFL rushing champion racked up 211 yards and three scores on 32 carries in the regular-season finale win over the Houston Texans. 

In Tennessee's last four wins, Henry has racked up triple digits on the ground and produced 10 touchdowns. 

New England can counter that with a rushing defense that has given up six touchdowns. 

Although he has thrived lately, Henry struggled early in the season in road contests, as he failed to hit 100 yards in three of the first four trips away from Nissan Stadium. 

Despite losing to the Dolphins Sunday, the Patriors' rushing defense held firm by allowing 63 yards, but Miami's collection of backs is not in the same stratosphere as Henry. 

The Patriots' secondary is the bigger concern, but they are facing a quarterback whose production has dipped in recent weeks. 

Ryan Tannehill went from throwing for 391 yards in Week 14 to earning 198 in Week 17. 

His last trip to Gillette Stadium was unsuccessful, as he threw for 100 yards in a Miami defeat in Week 4 of 2018. 

Then there is Tom Brady, who is the most experienced quarterback in both conferences with 30 postseason victories. 

The New England signal-caller has not been consistently great this season, but he does own six 200-yard performances in eight home games. 

If Brady banks on his experience and the Patriots defense limits Henry, they should earn a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game with the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. 

                 

New Orleans 35, Minnesota 28

James Kenney/Associated Press

New Orleans could also benefit from quarterback experience in its playoff opener, as Drew Brees has a 8-7 playoff record compared to Kirk Cousins' 0-2 mark. 

Sean Payton's team should find success shutting down the Vikings' ground attack, as it allows 94.7 rushing yards per game. 

In Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport, the Saints have a pair of defensive ends that combined for 20.5 sacks that can also put Cousins under duress right away.

The Saints could also have the edge with home field at the Superdome, as they are 6-2 with their only losses to the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. 

Minnesota recorded a 4-4 road record and dropped three road contests to teams that qualified for the postseason. 

The Vikings fell in each of those games by one possession, so there is a chance they can remain close with the Saints. 

That is reinforced by two of New Orleans' last three wild-card round games being decided by fewer than seven points. 

The biggest difference could be the Saints' consistent big-play potential with wide receiver Michael Thomas, who broke the NFL's single-season reception record. 

Thomas owns seven 100-yard performances in eight home games, and in the eighth, he produced 95 receiving yards versus the Dallas Cowboys. 

Minnesota's passing defense allows 237.2 yards per game and it let up 23 scores through the air, so there should be some opportunities for Thomas to thrive and create separation on the scoreboard.

             

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.