KC Joyner's Wild Card NFL pick'em selections
KC Joyner, one of the most accurate pick'em experts in the business over the past six years, details his winners for all of the Wild Card matchups.
My Week 17 picks went 12-4, bringing my 2020 season mark to 172-83, or a 67.5 percent win rate that is tied for 12th highest among the more than 100 analysts tracked by Pickwatch.com.
Here are my Wild Card playoff picks. Each section details which team is predicted to win and provides a quick summary of why that selection was made. The picks also contain a confidence value for each selection, based on a 1-10 scale with “10” being the most confident and “1” being the least confident.
Now on to the picks!
Saturday, January 9
Indianapolis at Buffalo
KC’s pick: Buffalo
Confidence level: 5
The Bills head into Wild Card weekend as maybe the hottest team in the NFL. Buffalo has won six straight games since their Week 11 bye and has outscored the opposition by a 229-110 margin in that span. The Bills have racked up 1,463 offensive yards over the past three games while holding three of their last four foes to 255 or fewer offensive yards. Indianapolis isn’t on quite that strong of a streak, but the Colts have won four of their last five and scored 24+ points in eight straight games.
As is usual for Indianapolis, this game will likely come down to turnovers. The Colts are 2-4 when they have tallied two or more giveaways on offense versus a 9-1 mark when they have one or fewer giveaways. Buffalo has racked up two or more takeaways on defense in five of the past eight games and nine total times this year, so they have the capacity to win that statistical battle. Add that to the Bills 5-1 mark in track meets (games where both teams score 24+ points) and the Colts 3-2 showing in that type of contest and this one lands in Buffalo’s column.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle
KC’s pick: Seattle
Confidence level: 5
Seattle’s 2020 campaign is a tale of three seasons. The Seahawks started the year with an approach of trying to win track meets, as they gave up 135 points and a ridiculously bad 2,356 offensive yards in the first five games of the year but won every matchup due to scoring 169 points in that span. Seattle then had 3+ turnovers in three of the next four games and started losing the track meets, so they went back to Pete Carroll’s tried and true formula of power rushing plus counterpunch vertical passing. That approach has worked like a champ, as the Seahawks have won six of the last seven despite some scoring issues because they posted 110+ rushing yards in five of those matchups (thus slowing the game down and protecting their defense) and tallied a total of only four giveaways in those contests.
The Rams have been much more consistent with their approach of combining a powerhouse defense with a three-headed rushing attack but posting fewer than 230 net passing yards in four of the past six games has offset those strengths and led to losses in three of the past six. Add that to the Rams quarterback question mark and it leads to a lot more paths to victory for Seattle than Los Angeles, so the Seahawks are the selection here.
Tampa Bay at Washington
KC’s pick: Tampa Bay
Confidence level: 7
Tom Brady has been so dominant for such a long period of time that it seems he isn’t getting enough credit for his incredible 2020 season. Brady is 43 years old, left the playcalling genius of Bill Belichick, had to learn a new offense and new teammates, and dealt with plenty of injuries to those teammates and multiple instances of public criticism from his new coach, yet he still posted 4,633 passing yards and a 40-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
That aerial success has led the Buccaneers offense to be a consistent scoring machine, as Tampa Bay posted 23+ points in all but two contests this year. Brady and the Bucs also seemed to have solved a giveaway issue, as they have posted only one of those in the four games following the perfectly timed Week 13 bye for Tampa Bay’s aging roster.
Washington deserves a ton of credit for having won five of their past seven and they can thank Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio’s strong defensive schemes for this success. The Football Team has allowed 20 or fewer points in seven straight games and a total of 111 points in that span. Washington’s defense also excels at taking the ball away, as they have notched 14 takeaways in the past seven contests. The problem for the Football Team is they haven’t scored more than 23 points since Week 12 and have nine giveaways over the past four weeks.
When all things are equal, great defense is usually the pick over great offense, especially if that great defense is hosting the game, but in this case Washington’s scoring woes and the injuries to Alex Smith and Antonio Gibson make them ill-suited to keep up in many potential game incarnations, so Tampa Bay is the preferred option here.
Sunday, January 10
Baltimore at Tennessee
KC’s pick: Tennessee
Confidence level: 2
This could end up as the highest scoring game of Wild Card weekend. Baltimore is on a five-game win streak where they have tallied 27 or more points in each contest and posted a total of 186 points in that span. The Ravens are doing this with an incredible display of rushing power, having racked up 230+ rushing yards in four of those games. Their 404 rushing yards against Cincinnati in Week 17 set a club record and is the fourth highest single-game rushing yardage total in the league since 1950. Baltimore has posted 3,000+ rushing yards in two straight seasons, which is a league record, and Lamar Jackson is the first quarterback to ever post 1,000+ rushing yards in two seasons.
The Titans aren’t quite up to that level, but Tennessee has scored 30+ points in six of the past seven games and tallied 150+ rushing yards in seven of the past eight games. Following his 250 rushing yards against Houston in Week 17, Derrick Henry became only the seventh player to win the NFL rushing title in back-to-back seasons. Henry is also the first player in league history to tally five games with 200+ rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
This combination should make this a rare slugfest track meet, but with Baltimore having a 2-2 mark in track meets versus Tennessee’s 7-2 record and the game being in Nashville, the Titans are the pick here by a small margin.
Chicago at New Orleans
KC’s pick: New Orleans
Confidence level: 7
The Saints were on a nine-game winning streak prior to back-to-back losses in Weeks 14 and 15, but they closed the 2020 campaign out with the Christmas Day 52-33 destruction over Minnesota where Alvin Kamara scored six rushing touchdowns then followed that up with a 33-7 obliteration of Carolina that could easily have been even worse had New Orleans not taken its foot off of the proverbial gas pedal in the fourth quarter. The Saints are battling injuries to Kamara as well as Michael Thomas right now, but this club is the best in the league at getting quality production out of every facet of its roster.
It seems that Mitchell Trubisky was highly motivated by losing his starting quarterback job to Nick Foles for a while, as the Bears offense showed incredible improvement once Trubisky returned to the starting lineup. Coming into the Week 17 matchup against Green Bay, Chicago had posted 30+ points and 380+ offensive yards in four straight contests. The Bears rushing attack also took a huge forward step following the club’s Week 11 bye, as Chicago is now on a six-game streak of 100+ ground yards.
The big issue in this contest is the subpar state of the Bears defense, as Chicago has allowed 27+ points in four of the past six games in large part due to a combination of injuries and subpar play. That just isn’t a good place to be when facing a Sean Payton and Drew Brees-directed offense, so the Saints get this selection.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
KC’s pick: Pittsburgh
Confidence level: 6
Both of these clubs stumbled in the late stages of the season, with Cleveland losing two of its last four games and Pittsburgh losing four of its last five contests. The Browns problems are mostly related to offense, as Cleveland scored 20 or fewer points in two of their last three games and only scored 24 points against a Pittsburgh defense that was resting many of its starters in Week 17. The Steelers offensive woes have been well chronicled, as Pittsburgh has tallied 100+ rushing yards only one time since Week 6, but the Steelers rush defense should also take a lot of blame after giving up 471 ground yards in the last three games.
When that last trend is combined with Cleveland’s superb run blocking it would usually be enough to lean this game in the Browns direction, but Cleveland hasn’t practiced this week and will be missing at least eight starters and their head coach due to a variety of reasons. That is just too much to overcome against a Steelers club that has rested starters and home field advantage so this one lands in Pittsburgh’s column.