With Saturday's Super Wild Card triple-header living up to its name, we're ready for another dose of high-stakes football. Sunday brings firsts (Cleveland is in!), lasts (is Trubisky done in Chicago? Is this Brees' final run?) and rematches one week, one year, and nearly two decades in the making.
Here's what you need to know heading into Sunday's action:
BALTIMORE RAVENS AT TENNESSEE TITANS
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
What Vegas is saying: Titans +3 | O/U 54.5
Ravens: DE Yannick Ngakoue (Questionable, thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (Questionable, ribs/shoulder), WR Willie Snead IV (Questionable, ankle), C Patrick Mekari (Questionable, back), RT D.J. Fluker (Questionable, knee), CB Marlon Humphrey (Questionable, shoulder)
Titans: Tennessee's injury report has not included any designations for gameday.
How they got here:
Ravens: A five-game win streak to close out the season and clinch in Week 17 made up for a sloppy November that had the Ravens’ playoff hopes in doubt.
Titans: NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry didn’t let a few mid-season stumbles stop him from running all the way to the top of the AFC South (they also had a little help from their friends in Buffalo).
What to watch for
Facing a familiar foe, Lamar Jackson’s looking to rewrite his playoff story
Since Lamar Jackson took the starting quarterback reins, Baltimore has been nearly unstoppable in the regular season to the tune of 30-7. Back-to-play playoff losses, however, are starting to write a story that Jackson is eager to change.
While his playoff record (0-2) and stats (5.5 sacks taken, three giveaways and just 14.5 points per game on average in those two games) aren’t exactly inspiring, it’s still a remarkably small sample size. As far as narratives go, there’s no better team to get your first post-season win against than Tennessee – the very team that ousted them in a surprise upset last January.
Run game takes centre stage
For the second straight season, Derrick Henry is king of the run game in the NFL. He led the league in just about every rushing category this season: carries (378), yards (2027), touchdowns (17), and runs of 20- and 40-plus yards. His 195 rushing yards against Baltimore in last January’s upset is the reason the Ravens tried to bulk up last off-season.
And yet, for the second straight season, it’s not Tennessee atop the team rushing ranks but Baltimore.
Jackson, the NFL’s top rushing quarterback by a mile, ranks ahead of most teams’ RB1 in yards on the ground and makes Baltimore a constant threat on the ground. Lovers of smash-mouth football are in for a treat.
CHICAGO BEARS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
What Vegas is saying: Saints -10 | O/U 47.5
Bears: ILB Roquan Smith (Out, elbow), WR Darnell Mooney (Out, ankle), CB Jaylon Johnson (Questionable, shoulder), LB Josh Woods (Questionable, toe and glute), CB Buster Skrine (Out, concussion)
Saints: DE Trey Hendrickson (Out, neck), G Nick Easton (Out, concussion).
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 9, 2021
How they got here:
Bears: Benefitting from a wide-open NFC, the Bears clinched in Week 17 thanks to an Arizona Cardinals loss – a lucky break, as Chicago went on to lose against the Packers.
Saints: The first team to punch its ticket to the playoffs back in Week 13, New Orleans might’ve also stayed in contention for the NFC’s No. 1 seed had they not lost a sloppy game to the Eagles one week later.
What to watch for
Pressure’s on for Trubisky, in more ways than one
Mitch Trubisky is no stranger to playing under pressure – the kind that comes with fighting for your job against a backdrop of fans ready to run you out of town. But he’ll face a different kind of pressure in New Orleans this weekend, where he’ll be the target of an elite defence with 45 combined sacks and a league-leading 18 interceptions on the season. Only, that defence will be missing a key piece as Trey Hendrickson, whose 13.5 sacks rank him second league-wide this year, is out with a neck injury. If Trubisky can perform under the pressure coming at him from the Saints, he might just – dare we say it? – do enough to keep his job.
Brees’ last chance?
The playoffs have not been kind to the Saints of late. A perennial top contender, Drew Brees & Co. have endured heartbreak after heartbreak on the big stage – the Minnesota Miracle, a blown call against the Rams – and after each one we all wonder aloud whether that was Brees’ last best shot at reaching a second Super Bowl. With his arm strength a shadow of what it once was, the fate of this team rests of the stars around him being healthy: running back Alvin Kamara, whose positive COVID test last week put him in doubt but is expected to be cleared to play, and wide receiver Michael Thomas, who spent the past three weeks on IR healing a high-ankle injury.
CLEVELAND BROWNS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET
What Vegas is saying: Steelers -6 | O/U 47.5
Browns: T Jack Conklin (Questionable, knee and illness), DE Myles Garrett (Questionable, shoulder), WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (Questionable, concussion), DT Sheldon Richardson (Questionable, neck), CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (Questionable, calf), G Wyatt Teller (Questionable, ankle), CB Terrance Mitchell (Questionable, not injury related), CB Denzel Ward (Questionable, COVID-19/reserve), LG Joel Bitonio (Out, COVID-19), head coach Kevin Stefanksi (Out, COVID-19), DE Olivier Vernon (Out, Achilles)
How they got here:
Browns: Well, it all started 18 years ago… But seriously: A nail-biter against Pittsburgh in Week 17 saw them right the ship for Cleveland’s first playoff berth since 2002.
Steelers: A Dolphins loss ensured them a post-season berth before they even hit the field in Week 14, and the division title was theirs with a Week 16 win over Indianapolis.
What to watch for
Rest could be Steelers defence’s best weapon
The Steelers had the luxury of creating their own bye week to close out the season, resting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive stars T.J. Watt, league leader in sacks (15) and quarterback hits (41), and the always-dangerous Cam Heyward. Pittsburgh knows how to put on the pressure, leading the NFL in totals sacks (56) and interceptions (18) and holding opponents to a league-low 56.7 completion percentage. The big question will be whether Big Ben’s rested arm can make the kind of big plays this offence needs. With an uninspiring run game – Pittsburgh’s 1,351 total rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry this season ranks them last in the league in both categories – it’ll be up to him to claim victory through the air.
Browns will be Browns attitude no longer applies
Earlier this week, Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster kindly provided the Browns with some bulletin board material:
But, here’s the thing: When you’ve had as many losing seasons and faced as many obstacles as the Brown, that bulletin board is already pretty full.
The obstacles are in full force this year – that they must face the kings of the AFC North, hated rival and the league’s hardest-hitting defence – is a harsh way to wade into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. That they must do so without the head coach who guided them there and with only a single in-person practice after COVID-19 ravaged its roster and closed its facilities feels like a cruel blow. But their strengths – a young team, a mobile QB, a run game that ranks third in the league – are too. Win or lose, let's be clear: these aren’t the same old Browns.