It’s playoff push time. Just five weeks remain in the 2020 NFL regular season, and the playoff picture is beginning to get a little more clear. Some division races, like the AFC North, AFC West, and NFC South, are virtually over, but others, like the dreadful NFC East, are just beginning.
We also will get to see the seven team playoff format for the first time, creating even more drama as to who qualifies for the precious seven spots. This week’s slate of games has some interesting matchups, including a few with serious playoff implications.
Before Week Thirteen kicks off, here’s a preview and prediction of what’s to come this week.
Games of The Week
Cleveland Browns (8-3) at Tennessee Titans (8-3) 1:00 ET
In terms of playoff implications, this is one of the biggest games of the weekend. Cleveland and Tennessee come into this game with identical 8-3 records. At the moment, the Titans hold the three seed in the AFC playoff picture as the leaders of the AFC South. Cleveland sits in the five spot, a game up on two teams below them in the sixth spot. Both teams come into this matchup riding high. Tennessee has recorded two impressive victories in a row, coming over the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts. On the other hand, Cleveland comes in as winners of three straight, granted over much lesser opponents.
The matchup that likely will decide this game is will Cleveland be able to slow down Tennessee’s impressive run game? Through 11 games, the Titans have recorded the third-most rushing yards in football, and PFF has them graded as the best rushing offense in the entire NFL. Their star running back, Derrick Henry, has been on a tear, rushing for over 100 yards in four of their last five games, including going over 130 in their last two.
Derrick Henry earned 114 ru yds & 3 TDs on outside the numbers atts in the first HALF of their week 12 matchup with the #colts, the most such ru yds in a half this season... here’s how the @titans slid into 1st place in the South: #nfl @nflnetwork @NextGenStats pic.twitter.com/yEbXYLyuaR— cynthia frelund (@cfrelund) November 30, 2020
Cleveland has put up 22 and 27 points in their last two games, but they’re not a team that is built to win shootouts. Baker Mayfield has clear limitations and running the ball well with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is their way to victory. If the Browns’ defense, which struggled against the run last Sunday in Jacksonville, can’t slow down Henry, their offense will not be able to keep up.
Prediction: Titans 27 Browns 17
Los Angeles Rams (7-4) at Arizona Cardinals (6-5) 4:05 ET
The NFC West is looking like the best overall division in football. At the current moment, three teams would qualify for the postseason, two of those being the Rams and Cardinals. Los Angeles and Arizona meet for the first time this season on Sunday, in a game that could go a long way in deciding a division winner.
So far this season, these teams have built themselves on complete opposites. Los Angeles has been carried by their defense that has allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in the league. PFF ranks the Rams as the fourth-best overall defense and pass rush in football. Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd have combined for 17.0 total sacks, and Jalen Ramsey is back to his All-Pro self leading the secondary.
@RamsNFL @AaronDonald97 did every thing he could to disrupt the @49ers offense and to make the game changing plays to help win. Fun to watch; hard to block. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/nKY2rLHNCY— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 30, 2020
On Arizona’s side, they’ve relied heavily upon their talented offense. Coming into this weekend, Arizona is number two in total offense, and have scored over 30 points in five of their last seven games. Quarterback Kyler Murray has been electric, throwing 19 touchdown passes and rushing for 650 yards and newly acquired wideout DeAndre Hopkins has made his case to be recognized as the best receiver in football. Hopkins is the fourth-highest graded receiver in football, according to PFF, and is second in the NFL in receiving yards.
Despite a great start, Arizona’s offense has not been very effective the past two weeks. Just how much they will be able to flip the script will likely determine this matchup. I believe Arizona has a decent bounce-back effort, but the Rams’ defense wins out in the end.
Prediction: Rams 24 Cardinals 21
Buffalo Bills (8-3) at San Francisco 49ers (5-6) 12/7 8:00 ET
Should we call them the Arizona 49ers? In case you missed the news, following a mandate by their home county, the 49ers will play their next two games at State Farm Stadium in Arizona. This is just yet another road block the defending NFC Champions will face this season, but a win against Los Angeles last Sunday kept their hopes of returning to the playoffs alive.
Despite dealing with numerous injuries, the 49ers were able to defeat the Rams for a second time, which could prove big if the teams are in a tiebreaker. Sitting at 5-6, San Francisco is just one game back of the seventh and final wild card spot.
Buffalo, on the other hand, got back to their winning ways last Sunday defeating the Chargers 27-17. The Bills sit at 8-3, leaders in the AFC East, looking to pad their lead in the division. Buffalo’s offense has been on fire in their last three games, scoring 101 points total. Josh Allen has continued his excellent season, throwing 22 touchdown passes and for over 3,000 yards, and they are one dropped Hail Mary away from being 9-2.
The Bills can afford to lose this game, San Francisco cannot. If the 49ers are going to make the playoffs, they cannot afford to lose their seventh game of the season this early. If San Francisco does win, they have some winnable games down the stretch, and could back their way into the postseason.
Prediction: 49ers 26 Bills 24
Five Picks to Click
1. QB Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
2. RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
3. The Miami Dolphins Defense
4. The New Orleans Saints Offense
5. The San Francisco 49ers