2020 Season AFC Wild Card Fantasy Football and Handicapping Preview
We’re going to take a look at each wild card game from a handicapping and fantasy (playoffs version) perspective and then project/predict the full AFC bracket to the Super Bowl. Yesterday, we looked at the NFC (see FFM home page).
Colts at Bills (-6.5)
I have believed in the Bills as the top team in football since about Week 10-11-12, and I started theorizing that possibility Weeks 2-5 (that it was KC-BAL-BUF and then everybody else). I had the Bills top 2-3 in the NFL most of the season and was betting them that way…and because the analysts (and thus the public) did not believe that claim (until the last few weeks) the Vegas lines were suppressed, and the Bills were a very profitable bet most of the season. They’ve won (and won ATS) their last 6 games by 10 or more points, while the line has been the Bills as single digit favorites each time.
I don’t think the Bills are slowing down any at home in ‘feels like’ low 20s weather, with actual fans in attendance for the first time. Six of the Colts last 7 games have been indoors. They lost outside to the Steelers Week 16, and the Bills are a similar but 5x better team than Pittsburgh. This should be another 10+ point win for Buffalo – the clear best team in football today.
The Bills defense has gotten healthy and become a top unit again – meaning all things Colts are bad for fantasy purposes. Even Jonathan Taylor…who Frank Reich will probably rotate in out with Wilkins-Hines, as he does, even in the biggest game of the season for Indy. It’s just what Reich does.
I think the Bills will run the table and get to the Super Bowl led by who else – Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. They worked for FF in the regular season, and I see no reason to stop riding them. Also, John Brown should be fully back, healed and rested here, and is a solid ‘sleeper’ (of sorts)…a ‘sleeper’ in the sense he has been away so long we kinda forget about him. He was rolling in this offense, but was plagued with all kinds of injuries, then COVID reserved as well. In his last three games played, Brown has averaged 6.0 rec., 77.7 yards, 0.33 TDs per game.
Ravens (-3.0) at Titans
The Ravens have five wins-in-a-row, so they are ‘hot’ for Vegas line-making…the fact that their big wins are against DAL-JAX-NYG-CIN is a distraction not being discussed enough in the general public. They also beat CLE in that MNF gem, in the five game win streak -- but that was a lucky (but solid) win for sure (with CLE having injury issues on defense).
Baltimore is hard to figure out…a season-ending win streak, albeit against weaker teams. Lost four of 5 games before that, but all close losses to good teams…including getting beat, again, by the Titans. I don’t know what Ravens team shows up one week to the next. To me, their team ebbs and flows with CB Jimmy Smith being healthy or not…it totally changes their pass defense when he’s out. In the end, every time the Ravens have had a ‘big game’ spot in the 2020 season – they have not shown up/lost. There is risk it happens again here (and then Baltimore has serious franchise issues going forward with their current roster).
I could make a lot of the same claims about the Titans…beating bad teams, faltering against playoff teams the 2nd-half of the year – but did beat the Ravens Week 11.
It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a row, so the Ravens have that ‘edge’…as well as ‘revenge’ for last year in the playoffs, the shocking upset at the hands of the Titans. But, potentially trumping all that is the fact that the Titans are just better overall than the Ravens, Lamar Jackson is not a dominating QB in 2020 season (and Ryan Tannehill is the better, more reliable QB), and the Ravens cannot stop the run…and the Titans bring a great run game to the contest.
I wouldn’t bet this game at all.
In the end, I’d lean Tennessee…especially if CB Jimmy Smith is out or not 100%, plus you’re getting the points.
For Fantasy, you have to assume a battle of the stars…Henry v. Lamar. You have to worry A.J. Brown will get shut down again by Baltimore. AJB being taken away might open up a curveball play like Jonnu Smith. Someone out of the blue will have a nice moment in this game, like Dez or Jonnu…but I’d just go with the obvious – big Lamar touches v. big Henry touches…and Tannehill always finds a way to FF-matter.
Browns at Steelers (-6.0)
We haven’t had THIS Browns team face THIS Steelers team. We did have the Week 6 then-undefeated Steelers crush the Nick Chubb-less but with bad-luck-charm OBJ still playing version of the Browns. Week 17 we had could-care-less Steelers versus the desperate, COVID-riddled Browns…and the Browns barely pulled it out to make the playoffs.
This week we could opine that we get the best Browns roster versus the proper Steelers roster for the 2020 season. The Steelers were better earlier in the season before they got exposed/figured out and lost their starting linebacker(s). The Browns might have Chubb-Denzel Ward-Myles Garrett all together without OBJ (which is a good/great thing) for one of the few times this season.
Denzel Ward playing or not (COVID) is HUGE in trying to project this game/outputs.
The Browns are (6-2) in their last 8 games, and the Steelers are (4-4) in their last 8 games…call it (4-3) considering they quit on Week 17. Still, the Browns have been ascending while the Steelers have been falling. Pittsburgh has been close to losing their last five games…almost their last 6 games.
Point being…this isn’t a very good Steelers team. No run game. Ben fading. Tomlin inexplicable with his offense. A solid defense. Baker is probably a better QB talent than current day Ben is right now, except Ben has all the experience in these situations…and Baker does not, but Baker has played under a microscope since college. I don’t think he’ll be rattled in this spot.
Last 6 games…
Ben 11 TD passes/5 INTs, 2 games with 285+ yards passing
Baker 11 TDs/1 INT, 4 games with 285+ yards passing
The Browns have a better run game, O-Line/blocking advantage, and a capable if not more dynamic QB. The Steelers have the fact that Ben can be magical, they have a tough defense, and hopes that Diontae Johnson can catch footballs.
I think the Browns are better overall, but the Steelers have all the experience and home field which makes it SEEM like they should win. Either way, I’ll take the points unless the COVID inactives for CLE are just too harsh (and they might be). And I’ll be rooting for the Browns…because they deserve good things and more rooting for a Steelers loss to put a blazing fire underneath ‘the problem’ in Pittsburgh – Mike Tomlin.
In the end, I am not touching this game as a handicapper...I'll just 'take the points' as a pick but if Ward and OL Joel Bitonio are out...it's devastating to the Browns' cause.
For Fantasy, I assume both teams will have to overdo/ride their main weapon…heavy Nick Chubb (maybe 25+ carries/touches) vs. all Ben throwing (because they cannot run the ball). I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben threw the ball 50-60+ times in this game depending upon the flow.
Nick Chubb is an obvious FF play. Kareem Hunt has hope. Jarvis Landry has been hot.
Big Ben could lead all QBs in passer attempts this weekend, which is good for him for Fantasy and Diontae Johnson and either JuJu/Claypool or both…but Mike Tomlin leaves JuJu on the field always and Claypool is an ace special teamer, so flip a coin on Claypool (imagine Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones playing special teams as rookies…or being benched for fear of a ‘rookie wall’?).
AFC Wild Card Top Projections at each position for FF…
QB = Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen…Big Ben in 6pts per pass TD formats IF Denzel Ward is out
RB = Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb
WR = Diontae Johnson (if Ward out), Stefon Diggs, Jarvis Landry
TE = Austin Hooper
Sleeper = Jonnu Smith
Deep Sleeper = Dez Bryant
My AFC Playoff predictions…
BUF def. IND
TEN def. BAL
PIT def. CLE
KC def. TEN or PIT or CLE
BUF def. PIT or TEN or BAL
BUF def. KC
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