By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I don’t know how they did it, but the NFL finished a regular season during a pandemic. And they finished on time.
There was some pigheadedness along the way. Some questionable decisions were made. And the end goal was always to fulfill television promises and never to satisfy some greater good about “delivering people a product that makes them happy during an uncertain time in history.”
But nevertheless! The NFL did it. It was not perfect, but how could it have been? Nothing’s really gone right for anybody over the past year, so the fact that the season is over and playoff football kicks off this weekend would have been a jaw-dropping scenario to imagine last June.
And lucky for us, we get two extra games this weekend. I may personally have an issue with only one team getting a first-round bye (the unbalanced schedule affords for too much variance in difficulty of posting, say, a 13-3 record compared to a 12-4 record), but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching every minute this weekend. I suppose that is how the league gets us, and it’s how the league will get us to watch an unnecessary 17th game next year. We watch, they make more money, and the world keeps spinning.
Hey that’s kind of a depressing note. Whoops. Let’s pick playoff games.
Each pick will conclude with a GIF. Why? Because the world needs GIFs right now. That’s why.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
BUFFALO (-6.5) over Indianapolis
I don’t know if you noticed, but we live in an era where Americans can agree on absolutely nothing. It’s sad.
Yet if there’s a bit of a heartening aspect to our polarizing lives these days, at least we can all universally agree on this: It’s a simply great thing that Bills fans will be allowed to attend this game.
I do not know how the Bills determined which fans will be allowed to attend this weekend's playoff game, but I can only hope and pray that this man is given a ticket. pic.twitter.com/vwDlHiwqPi
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 8, 2021
Sure, some 70,000 nutjobs screaming to the point of passing out would be preferable to the 6,000-person limit placed on this game. Of course. But we’re living in a never-ending pandemic, and we all must get what we get and not get upset. And so let’s just hope that for the first playoff game in Buffalo since DECEMBER 1996 (!!!!!), the 6,000 fans are carefully chosen based on the psychosis levels of their Bills fandom and nothing else. (I say that with love and respect. Truthfully.) There should be a test. And one of the questions should be “Have you ever been thrown through a table and/or thrown a fellow tailgater through a table?” If the answer is no, then sadly, no ticket for you.
Let’s also maybe hope the game goes better for the Bills than that last home playoff game went, when Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to rip the hearts out of Buffalo in a 30-27 Jacksonville victory. The ’90s were kind of a tough time for Bills fans and heartache.
This year’s Bills team should be able to avoid such a fate. They’ve gotten a favorable matchup in the Colts, who have a bad pass defense and unfortunately catch Josh Allen during The Season Of Josh Allen.
I did, admittedly, have some questions about Buffalo’s ability to remain on a roll. Even for great teams, late-season win streaks can be difficult to maintain over the final six weeks of the season. But then Buffalo went out and scored fifty-six freaking points against a Dolphins team that needed a win to remain alive in the playoff hunt. And my questions were washed away.
Saturday, 4:40 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Rams (+3.5) over SEATTLE
Picking the team that lost in Seattle a few weeks ago and lost to the Jets a week before that? Picking the team that may have to start John Wolford at quarterback?!
You know it, people. Your fearless pick-maker didn’t get the title of “The Bad Boy of NFL Picks” without reason. (Note: he also didn’t get that nickname, period. But that’s neither here nor there!)
The 12-4 Seahawks are good, and they’ve improved their defense 10 times over since the first half of the year. They might win this one going away. That’s possible.
–Jared Goff smashes his thumb in the middle of the Rams’ loss to the Seahawks in Week 16. And having either Goff with a healthy throwing hand or Wolford (aka Young Mike Vick, as many people are calling him) should help the Rams provide a bit more of a threat.
–Divisional opponent playoff games mean it’s obviously the third meeting of the year. And no matter what happened in previous matchups, you’re free to say whatever you want and people kind of nod their heads. “They already lost to ’em twice, they have no chance!” Yup. “It’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season.” For sure! Or in this case, “Divisional game, matchup number three? Gonna be a close one. Take the points!”
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Washington (+8) over TAMPA BAY
Call me crazy if that makes you feel better, but yes, I am serious.
Am I extremely confident? Well, that’s another story.
But this line is a bit much. That’s all.
Here’s a fact: The Washington Football Team ranks second in total defense and second in points allowed. WFT also ranks second in passing yards allowed, fourth in sack rate, fifth in interception rate, sixth in third-down defense, fourth in red zone defense, second in goal-to-go defense, and third in opponents’ passer rating. That’s all … extremely good.
Now, we must acknowledge that WFT benefited from playing against some awful NFC East teams. Their work against Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton and … Nate Sudfeld doesn’t really help them when they have to face Tom Brady, the greatest postseason performer in sports history. I fully accept that.
But let’s not forget Bruce Arians. Sure, he should win this one. No doubt. But he’s also 1-2 in the playoffs in his career. One and two. He lost his lone playoff game in 2014 against … Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers. The following season, he led the Cardinals to a playoff win over the Packers (the Rodgers Hail Mary/Silly Larry Fitz Play game), before losing the next week … to Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers. That was a blowout, too, with Rivera’s team winning 49-15.
I’m not calling for the full-on upset here, and that’s entirely because of one headline I saw this week: “Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera mulls rotating QBs in wild-card playoff game.” That is … not encouraging. Not at all.
I just think for anyone who penciled in a blowout loss for whichever bad NFC East team made the playoffs ought to consider the possibility that Washington competes in this one. (The Bucs did have a tough time on the road against a bad Giants team not too long ago, you know.)
*replace “miracles” with “near-miracles” here. The writer is not bold enough to call for the upset.
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Baltimore (-3.5) over TENNESSEE
Two of the bigger disappointments in the AFC this season, it would be easy to pick against both teams. Unfortunately they are playing each other, which theoretically means somebody has to win. Phooey.
They both went 4-4 against playoff teams. Tennessee won the head-to-head matchup in overtime. Perhaps it’s wrong to be underwhelmed by a pair of 11-5 teams, but neither team really built on real Super Bowl momentum that was established last year. I don’t like either of them.
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Chicago
The Bears stink.
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET
PITTSBURGH (-6) over Cleveland
Poor Cleveland. That’s all. Poor Cleveland. First playoff berth since 2002 — two-thousand-and-two! — and they get thwacked with COVID. That’s not nice.
So even though the Steelers are impressively unimpressive, and even though Cleveland is a more fun choice, I think we sadly have to say that while the people of Cleveland will get to take in a playoff game for the first time in 18 years, they’ll sadly see their team finish a season without a postseason win for the 26th straight year.
That is sad.
Last week: 9-6-1
Regular season: 126-126-4