Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures after running back Alvin Kamara (41) scored his sixth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday NFL wild-card playoff picks, predictions and props

The final three games on NFL wild-card weekend present unprecedented betting options for the opening round of the postseason.

Field Level Media identified a few numbers of note entering the tournament with a breakdown of Sunday’s tripleheader:

Sunday, January 10
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5)
1:05 p.m. ET
Line: Ravens -3
Over/Under: 54.5

Preview: The Ravens are rolling with five wins in a row, fully rebounded from a 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans in November. Tennessee handled Baltimore easily last January, ending Baltimore’s bid for a Super Bowl run behind league MVP Lamar Jackson.

The Titans aren’t perfect, but home underdogs? What might contribute to oddsmakers’ thinking is the short circuiting of Tennessee’s defense the past two weeks.

While Derrick Henry rolled to 250 rushing yards last week, Tennessee was scorched for 38 points by the Texans one week after the Packers slapped 40 on the Titans.

Enter the Ravens, who have scored 34 points or more in four of the past five games.

Prediction: Titans 29, Ravens 27

Player prop: Ravens TE Mark Andrews anytime TD, -140

Andrews is the dependable red-zone target for Jackson and had 7-96-1 against the Titans in the Nov. 22 game.

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)
4:40 p.m. ET
Line: Saints -9.5
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Chicago stumbled into the playoffs, reaching the wild-card round after a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Bears pushed the Saints to overtime in a home game last month and have a defense capable of putting a scare in the Saints.

The Saints are hopeful they’ll be at full strength with RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-19) and WR Michael Thomas (ankle) likely to be available Sunday.

As the No. 2 seed, New Orleans is the clear favorite. But the Saints have also thrown out enough clunkers (vs. Eagles, Raiders) to indicate this won’t be a Sunday stroll.

Prediction: Saints 30, Bears 23

Player prop: Saints QB Drew Brees over 280.5 passing yards

Sean Payton doesn’t get enough credit for his commitment to the ground game. Playoff losses, including the wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings last January, leave his scripts open to question. Brees knows this Bears’ defense well, including completing 75 percent of his passes with two touchdowns in the Nov. 1 overtime win.

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Steelers -6
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Two massive losses for the Browns, head coach Kevin Stefanski and guard Joel Bitonio, hit before midweek due to COVID-19. They’ll be felt early and often.

Bitonio has one of the best pass-blocking win rates in the NFL this season, and that’s massive facing the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Stefanski won’t be in the building Sunday night, and the impact on continuity of the offense and QB Baker Mayfield is profound.

Are the Steelers flawless? Nowhere near. They are rested, and relatively healthy, and at home in a matchup Ben Roethlisberger has won repeatedly.

Prediction: Steelers 29, Browns 20

Player prop: Nick Chubb over 70.5 rushing yards

Sidelined by a knee injury for the first meeting, Chubb averaged 7.7 yards per carry against the Steelers last week and hasn’t topped 20 carries since Nov. 22. Chubb is likely to get the ball early and often.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) holds on to the ball while being tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24)  during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Saints in ‘wait and see’ mode with WR Michael Thomas

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is set to test his injured ankle in practice on Wednesday, opening the possibility he will play in Sunday’s NFC wildcard game against the Chicago Bears.

Head coach Sean Payton plans a cautious approach with Thomas, with the expectation he will be limited to side work with trainers for at least the first two practices this week.

Thomas was placed on injured reserve to allow his high ankle sprain to heal. The ankle has been problematic since midseason for Thomas, a 2019 All-Pro who had 149 receptions a year ago.

Thomas had 40 receptions in 2020.

“Currently he’s still on reserve-injured. I know he’s been working at it. But we’ll get a better feel this week how he’s progressing,” Payton said Wednesday.

The Saints are 9.5-point favorites over the visiting Bears in a rematch of their Nov. 2 overtime game at Soldier Field. The Saints won that game, 26-23, but blew a 10-point lead.

Thomas did not play in that game and last took the field Dec. 13.

His long reception this season was just 24 yards. Last season, he had at least a 24-yard gain in 12 games, including the wildcard loss to the Vikings.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saints’ Kamara placed on reserve/COVID-19 list

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has tested positive for coronavirus and has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team annnounced on Friday.

Kamara will be out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers and his postseason eligibility — at least for the wild-card round — is now in question.

The star running back, who was coming off a six-touchdown performance on Christmas Day against the Minnesota Vikings, had mixed results on tests Friday afternoon, but a later test confirmed he is positive for COVID-19, ESPN reported.

The Saints have clinched the NFC South title and will likely host a playoff game next weekend if it doesn’t ascend to the conference’s top seed.

New Orleans (11-4) can only clinch the No. 1 seed — and the first-round bye that comes with it — with a win against Carolina (5-10) plus a loss by Green Bay (12-3) to Chicago (8-7) and a win by Seattle (11-4) against San Francisco (6-9).

It is yet to be determined whether Kamara would be cleared to play in a wild-card game next weekend, so the Saints will have plenty of incentive and rooting interest Sunday as it hopes to sneak into the No. 1 spot in the NFC.

Latavius Murray should handle the bulk of the backfield work with Kamara sidelined.

Kamara has 187 carries for a career-high 932 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, tied for first in the NFL. He leads all running backs in receiving with a career-best and team-leading 83 receptions for 756 yards with five touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Dec 28, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) runs the ball against the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bills to host playoff game with limited fans in stands

The Buffalo Bills will be allowed to have nearly 7,000 fans in the stands when they host their first playoff game in 24 years, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

They will be the first spectators at a professional sporting event in New York state since the coronavirus brought sports to a halt in mid-March. Bills Stadium in Orchard Park seats about 72,000.

To be admitted into the stadium, each of the 6.772 ticket holders must have a recent negative COVID-19 test conducted through the NFL’s testing partner, Bioreference Laboratories. The $63 cost of the test will be folded into the price of the ticket.

“Every fan must test negative before game, wear a mask & social distance. There will be post-game contact tracing,” Cuomo tweeted.

“To Bills fans — be smart.”

Fans will not be allowed to tailgate at Bills Stadium. Cuomo previously said that any fan who fails to comply with the mask rule will be ejected from the stadium.

The Bills (12-3) will host a game either Jan. 9 or 10 in the AFC wild-card round of the playoffs. Their opponent will not be determined until the conclusion of play in Week 17 this weekend.

To this point, the Bills and the metro New York teams — the Knicks, Nets, Mets and Yankees — have played without fans, as have major college teams such as Syracuse. The U.S. Open golf and tennis tournaments also were held this year sans spectators.

Only Army football was allowed to play before a limited number of fans because the campus in West Point, N.Y., is on federal land and not subject to the state ban.

In Buffalo, the bulk of the tickets will be made available to Bills season ticket holders who opted into purchasing tickets earlier this year, and they will be notified of their chance to buy them, based on seniority.

These undoubtedly will be a hot ticket.

The Bills last played a home playoff game on Dec. 28, 1996 — a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville. The tough Jaguars’ defense held the Bills — led by future Hall of Fame members Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas — to 308 total yards. Kelly was 21 of 39 passing for 239 yards that day, and Thomas ran for 50 yards.

The Bills have qualified for the playoffs four times since then, all losses.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; A general view of the  Buffalo Bills helmet before game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Cuomo: NY considering limited fans for Bills’ playoff game

New York state officials are evaluating a proposal by the Buffalo Bills that would allow 6,700 fans at their home playoff game next month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The Bills, winners of the AFC East title, will host their first home playoff game since 1995. Bills Stadium has been without fans all season.

Cuomo said a proposal that would require rapid testing for COVID-19, combined with the ability for postgame contact tracing, is being studied. He said it could serve as a model for how large-scale events could be held in the future.

“We would like to do it,” Cuomo said during his COVID-19 briefing from the state capital of Albany. “Nothing is final.”

Fans also would be required to wear masks and be subject to ejection from the stadium if they didn’t.

The Bills haven’t offered details about their proposal, including how the small number of fans would be chosen. The stadium seats approximately 73,000, so 6,700 fans would fill about 9.2 percent of capacity.

“We are continuing to work with the Governor’s Office regarding the details of a plan to possibly host a limited amount of spectators at our home playoff game. Nothing has been finalized at this point,” team spokesman Derek Boyko told The Buffalo News in an email.

Cuomo has made no secret of his desire to attend the game.

“I would like to be at that game — a playoff game — as much as anyone,” he said Sunday. “This has been a long time coming for Buffalo, and there are no fans like Buffalo Bills fans.”

And the fervor of Bills’ fans has state officials worried about the potential spread of COVID-19 through home watch parties and such.

Thousands of fans showed up the meet the team at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport early Sunday morning, hours after the Bills clinched the division title when they beat the Broncos in Denver.

“That’s how disease spreads,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner.

After Cuomo spoke on Wednesday, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said his administration is out of the loop on the potential of hosting fans. He told The Buffalo News that the county doesn’t have the resources for the required COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for an event of this size.

The Bills (11-3) currently are the second seed in the AFC. If the season ended today, they would host the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round of the playoffs. A win in that game would give them a second home contest in the AFC divisional round.

–Field Level Media

Jan 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA;  A view of the Wild Card logo before the AFC Wild Card NFL Playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Owners approve plan for potential 16-team playoffs

NFL owners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to allow two more teams into an already expanded playoff field in the event the 2020 regular-season schedule is not completed in 18 weeks, NFL Network reported.

The contingency plan has the potential to put 16 teams into a jam-packed race to the Super Bowl.

In a March vote among owners, the playoff field was expanded to 14 teams for this season, meaning that 43.8 percent of the teams would make it to the postseason. Now, a 16-team playoff — allowing half the teams to make it in the field — would happen if the COVID-19 pandemic further wreaks havoc on the schedule.

While the NFL normally has each team complete a 16-game schedule in 17 weeks, an 18th week will be added as a buffer for any games that were postponed amid the pandemic. If any games with playoff implications still remain after 18 weeks, the 16-team playoff plan would go into effect.

An original plan for a 16-team playoff would have seeded the teams by their record in the conference from best to worst. But a change Tuesday will make the division winners the top four seeds while categorizing the remainder of the field as wild cards.

That decision has a major impact on the NFC East, whose winner would get a top-four seed in the 16-team playoff plan, even though they could finish under .500. At issue was a scenario where eight NFC teams had a better record than the NFC East winner.

Also on Tuesday, NFL owners approved a proposal that would give teams extra compensatory third-round draft picks if they develop minorities that go on to become a head coach or a general manager for another team.

–Field Level Media

Jan 18, 2020; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron holds up the National Championship trophy during the LSU championship trophy presentation at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

CFP Selection Committee plans to be ready for playoffs

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee plans to be ready should a postseason be in the cards.

The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 are in alignment with the Southeastern Conference with plans to play this fall, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 are opting for the spring.

“We don’t know right now what the season will bring, but as a committee, we are ready to use the protocol and the expertise of the 13 people who have been charged with selecting the teams,” said Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who is beginning his first year as committee chair.

“The committee’s task is to rank the teams based on what happens on the field. This week gave us a great chance to catch up with the familiar faces and welcome our three new members to the process. If the board and management committee say we are having a CFP, we will be ready.”

The final selection committee rankings of the 2020 season is slated to be released on Dec. 20. The committee will also announce the matchups for the semifinals at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, as well as the other New Year’s Six bowl pairings.

The College Football Playoff on Thursday announced recusals for 10 of its 13 selection committee members. However, four of them have asterisks by their names because their affiliated schools aren’t playing in the fall.

The recusal policy remains the same as it has the past six years.

“A recused member is permitted to answer only factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused but shall not be present during any deliberations regarding that team’s selection or seeding,” the policy states.

–Field Level Media

Is Playoff Experience an Indicator of Future Success?

Every postseason, young teams are counted out from contention because they don’t have “playoff experience,” but does that really matter?

To answer that question we first, we compared Super Bowl wins and playoff appearances. There are 9 teams that have made the playoffs at least 8 times since 2002. All but one of the teams won at least one Super Bowl. The only team missing was the Falcons and we all know how that turned out. 

Secondly, we compared Super Bowl Wins and Playoff Win Percentage. All of the teams that have won the Super Bowl since 2002 have won 50% or more of their postseason games, regardless of the number of playoff appearances they’ve had.

While it may not be the perfect indicator, Playoff Experience is certainly a strong metric for predicting the Super Bowl winner.

The graphic below compares the number of Playoff Appearances and Postseason Win percentage for each team, also indicating whether or not they’ve won a Super Bowl since 2002. Hover over the graph to split into 4 quadrants, revealing the number of teams, and the percent of Super Bowl winners.

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Teams That Can't Buy Success – A Look at the NFL's Longest Droughts

Days before Super Bowl III, Joe Namath famously guaranteed his New York Jets would defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. His guarantee came true, and New York fans rejoiced. 49 years later, the Jets faithful have had little to celebrate, apart from their postseason win over the Patriots in January of 2011. It’s been a tough go of it, but maybe things will turn around for them soon.

The last time the Browns won their division, it was called the AFC Central, and the year was 1989. Since then, they’ve had only 3 winning seasons.

For most fans, it’s bad news to hear the term Drought and their favorite team in the same conversation. We’ve compiled data on each team, and how long it’s been since their last:

  • Divisional Title
  • Playoff Appearance
  • Playoff Win
  • Super Bowl Appearance
  • Super Bowl Win

Use the drop down menu to change categories.

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Wild Card Appearances (2002-2018)

Since the NFL was restructured in 2002, there are four teams that have not played in the postseason as a wild card. The Patriots, Bears, Texans and Buccaneers have either won their division or missed the playoffs completely.

In the same time frame, the Patriots have made 14 postseason appearances. Combined, the Bears, Bucs and Texans have made 10 appearances. 

Amount of wild card appearances is a good metric for the continued strength of a division as a whole. The graphic below displays each division and the number of wild card appearances since 2002. The AFC North comes out on top, boasting five consecutive seasons from 2008-2012 in which they sent at least two teams to the postseason. The AFC East and NFC West each finished with only six appearances.

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