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NFL Wild Card Weekend 2020: Bracket Predictions for Postseason's Opening Round

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 30, 2019

El quarterback Drew Brees, de los Saints de Nueva Orleáns, lanza un pase en el duelo con los Panthers de Carolina, el domingo 29 de diciembre de 2019, en Charlotte, Carolina del Norte. (AP Foto/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco/Associated Press

The 2019 NFL season is over. The playoff field is set, too, after the San Francisco 49ers survived their Week 17 road visit to the Seattle Seahawks.

No more sorting through tiebreaker scenarios or the million different outcomes that could result from a single win or loss.

The road to a Super Bowl title is cemented. The 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have the top seeds in their respective conferences with the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs right behind them. The other eight playoff participants know who they'll be facing in the upcoming Wild Card Weekend.

So, after laying out the schedule for Saturday and Sunday, we'll look at each matchup and predict how they'll play out.

                 

Wild Card Weekend 2020 Schedule

Saturday, Jan. 4

Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans, 4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS

                 

Sunday, Jan. 5

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints, 1:05 p.m. ET on FOX

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC

                   

Wild Card Weekend Predictions

Bills at Texans

This isn't quite unstoppable force meets immovable object, but it's in the same ballpark. Houston's offense sometimes struggles with consistency, but it has the weaponry to erupt at any time. Deshaun Watson is a household name and still probably not talked about enough. In 15 games, he tallied a career-high 33 touchdowns.

Buffalo's defense is about as good as it gets. Only the Patriots surrendered fewer than the 16.2 points the Bills allowed on a weekly basis. Buffalo was one of only four defenses to hold opponents below 200 passing yards per week, and it landed 10th in rushing at 103.1 yards per contest.

If these strengths cancel each other out, this becomes about which weakness can be best hidden. The Bills offense has a tendency to sputter. The Texans defense can hemorrhage points, and it doesn't take an elite attack to do it. If Drew Lock can muster up three touchdown passes in his first road start in Houston, then Josh Allen should be able to engineer just enough scoring for the Bills to win away from home.

Prediction: Bills 23, Texans 20

                        

Titans at Patriots

New England has history and a wealth of playoff experience on its side. Tennessee has more momentum and maybe the team-of-destiny vibe that a hot streak can win. This matchup should be fun—much more entertaining than preseason expectations could've ever imagined a Tom Brady-Ryan Tannehill playoff collision could be.

The Patriots should've bypassed this round, but they couldn't handle the lowly Miami Dolphins—at home, no less—on Sunday and therefore let the second seed slip away. Brady can't find a rhythm, the wide receiver core is limited, the running backs are unpredictable, and their defense (which was dominant early in the season) couldn't contain Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. The NFL's model of consistency is now unpredictable week-to-week.

The Titans are in a groove, and their midseason move from Marcus Mariota to Tannehill proved a season-saver. Tannehill threw 22 touchdown passes in 12 games and only six interceptions. Derrick Henry captured the rushing title with a 32-carry, 211-yard, three-score performance in Week 17. Rookie A.J. Brown cleared 1,000 receiving yards in the final contest, too.

Tennessee is playing better football, and it arguably has more offensive firepower. Brady and Bill Belichick look as vulnerable as ever, but our crystal ball says Tannehill and Mike Vrabel isn't the combination to bring down the New England dynasty.

Prediction: Patriots 26, Titans 20

                    

Vikings at Saints

The Vikings look the part of a feisty first-round opponent. Their rushing attack is elite and explosive. If for any reason Dalvin Cook can't get going (if he's healthy, he usually can), then his backup Alexander Mattison can handle it. Stefon Diggs and Thielen comprise one of the league's best pass-catching combos, and the tight end tandem of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. provided eight touchdowns.

But the Saints seem in a different weight class. Drew Brees is an all-time great who enters the playoffs boiling-hot (15 touchdowns, zero interceptions his last four games). Michael Thomas is the best receiver in football. Alvin Kamara kills defenses with his legs and his hands. Jared Cook is a touchdown machine. This is one of the stingiest rush defenses in football.

Minnesota has the talent to make this close, but how can you pick Kirk Cousins over a scalding-hot Brees? We can't do it.

Prediction: Saints 38, Vikings 24

                 

Seahawks at Eagles

This matchup might spark the latest round of eliminate-division discussions. When the 11-win Seahawks have to travel to face the nine-win Eagles, something seems off with the seeding process.

Of course, if the scoring differential is your evaluation tool of choice, that says the seeds are correct. Philly had the better point differential (plus-31 to plus-7), and while some of that comes back to playing in a more favorable division, the Eagles did defeat both the Packers and Bills.

Philly is also the hotter team. Despite being injured to the point this offense features few recognizable faces beyond Carson Wentz, the Eagles have picked up four had-to-have-them victories in a row. Seattle, meanwhile, has lost three out of four, including a head-scratching 14-point home loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16.

But the Seahawks have Russell Wilson, and that usually matters this time of year. When their defense clicks, it can be one of the more disruptive units in the league. On paper, this feels like a coin-flip, but Wilson gives his group enough of a bump to earn our trust.

Prediction: Seahawks 27, Eagles 24