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Armchair Quarterback: Virus looms over NFL playoffs

Steve Brownlee

I thought I’d delve into all the possibilities for the NFL playoffs with the field expanding from 12 to 14 teams.

Then this coronavirus thing with the Cleveland Browns again reared its ugly head.

I’m not too concerned one way or the other whether the Browns or their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, win their game on Sunday night — except I’d like to correctly pick the actual winner of the game in this space.

I don’t think either is going to go a long way — heck, even a short way beyond this game — in the AFC. That’s because that survivor will in all likelihood have to go to either No. 1 seed Kansas City or No. 2 Buffalo for the second round, not a rosy scenario.

No, the game is most important in seeing what the NFL does — or gets forced into doing — if continuing coronavirus cases force this game either to be delayed or canceled.

Would they push it into the middle of next week, probably forcing a second-round game to be pushed off its original schedule, too?

Or would they blame the Browns for poor virus protocol and call it a forfeit?

Maybe they’d delay the entire playoffs by a week while trying to get this game in.

That would be enough of a mess by itself. With no — or few? — fans to worry about having to change hotel reservations and plane reservations, the league could probably change game dates on the fly.

The big problem I see is that there’s no guarantee this wouldn’t be the only outbreak. It certainly happened multiple times during the regular season, though it seemed to be more contained during the last couple months of the regular season.

What if a couple delays push the Super Bowl back to the last day of February? In this weird era, that wouldn’t be the weirdest sports thing we’ve seen.

But it sure shakes my confidence about whether they can pull off these playoffs if things get out of hand again.

Let’s looks at what we have for wild-card weekend, remembering that No. 1 seeds Green Bay and Kansas City have a bye.

Listed in chronological order, I put down whether a game is AFC or NFC, seeds, records, times and TV network(s):

SATURDAY

AFC No. 7 Indianapolis (11-5) at No. 2 Buffalo (13-3), 1 p.m., CBS — When the Colts defeated the Packers a few weeks back, they looked like world beaters, a challenge to the “old” status quo of the Chiefs and the new in Buffalo. Now, not so much with quarterback Philip Rivers starting to look every day of his 38 years.

While QB Josh Allen makes the Bills look like a slightly-less-turbocharged version of KC, they can hang their hats on their defense, too. The Colts do, too, but Allen seems like a tiger you can’t tame by grabbing its tail. Despite Buffalo having not won a playoff game since 1995, I’ll take the Bills, 33-24.

NFC No. 6 Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at No. 3 Seattle (12-4), 4:30 p.m., Fox — One of a pair of division matchups in the wild card round, this looks like a video-game battle where one team — the Rams with QB Jared Goff — can’t use his thumb against the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who can.

If Seattle’s defense was still a sieve like it was earlier in the season, I’d give L.A. a chance. But with that part of the team patched up, I gotta go with the Seahawks, 27-17.

NFC No. 5 Tampa Bay (11-5) at No. 4 Washington (7-9), 8:15 p.m., NBC — The biggest mismatch of the first round was earned by the Bucs for not winning their division, instead being the best runner-up in the same conference that has an amateur division residing within its borders.

The latter was won by the wonderful Washington Whatchamacallits, also a wondrous candy bar introduced by Hershey in the 1970s.

In this matchup, I expect the home team’s offense to melt like a candy bar in the hot summer sun, while Tampa’s Tom Brady will keep some of those Whatchamallcallits on ice to hand out to his offensive linemen for keeping him upright. Buccaneers, 30-16.

SUNDAY

AFC No. 5 Baltimore (11-5) at No. 4 Tennessee (11-5), 1 p.m., ESPN and ABC — This is where the Titans made their fortunes last season, pulling off some upsets to get to the conference championship game. But they did that based on their defense, which this year is one of the worst in a lot of categories.

But Tennessee has the best turnover margin in the league, plus-11, though that seems hard to count on game in and game out. With Baltimore a true defensive stalwart, I have to go with the Ravens, 28-20.

NFC No. 7 Chicago (8-8) at No. 2 New Orleans (12-4), 4:30 p.m., CBS and Nickelodeon — I kid you not, this is the Green Slime game of the weekend, now that Nickelodeon has joined the coverage of this game with a “special slime-filled presentation,” according to nfl.com.

In case the earlier playoff game gets out of hand in the second half, you can also tune in to “The SpongeBob SportsPants Countdown Special” at 4 p.m. Heck, just watch SpongeBob all day, he’s on without interruption on that channel from 8:30 a.m. on.

All right, enough of that. Chicago had a Mickey Mouse offense for much of the season, which is what the Saints’ “O” often looked like when QB Drew Brees was out and Taysom Hill was in.

But the Bears’ playoff run was helped by playing the likes of Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville. None of ‘dem are in ‘dis game. Saints, 27-15.

AFC No. 6 Cleveland (11-5) at No. 3 Pittsburgh (12-4), 8:15 p.m., NBC and Telemundo — Telemundo just changes the language of the announcers. Otherwise, I just hope they have a decent game to broadcast that includes real players on each side.

Without knowing who will be available for Cleveland, I just have to go with the Steelers, 23-16.

Last week — 9-7, 56 percent. Season — 160-95-1, 63 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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