Which NFL division-winning team is most at risk of upset in wild-card round of playoffs?
For the second year, the NFL's expanded wild-card weekend means six matchups to kick off the playoffs - and six teams seeing their season end just one week after making the postseason field.
While securing the division is a goal for every team entering the season, hosting a playoff game is no guarantee for advancement. Last year, for instance, four of the six winners in the wild-card round were the visiting teams.
With that in mind, we asked USA TODAY Sports' NFL writers, editors and staffers:
Which NFL division winner is most in danger of bowing out early in an upset?
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The Bengals. Impressive that Zac Taylor, Joe Burrow, JaMarr Chase and Co. ruled the AFC North and have some serious offensive explosiveness. But consistency is not their calling card. This young, upstart team must prove it can be trusted as intensity rises in the playoffs. And the Raiders, with Derek Carr playing the best football of his career, should make them so wary.
The Buffalo Bills. Few things should haunt an NFL playoff team more than a Bill Belichick postseason game plan. The most brilliant mind in football possesses an endless supply of tactical edges. Amid single-digit temperatures Saturday night in Buffalo, I expect Belichick to devise a game plan powerful enough to thwart an explosive Bills offense and the league’s stingy defense. Will we see another six-man rush, akin to the Super Bowl LIII formation that still stalks Sean McVay’s nightmares? A three-pass-attempt day for New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones, as Belichick dialed up when the Patriots won 14-10 in Buffalo six weeks ago? Stay tuned. And Bills: beware.
The Rams and it’s because quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of the more volatile quarterbacks in the playoffs. Stafford could throw for 400 yards or he could toss four picks. He is both vital and can’t fully be trusted. The good news for the Rams is no one can stop Cooper Kupp. Well, except for Stafford.
I feel like Dallas could be in trouble. I know the Cowboys are playing at home, and I know they're coming off of a 51-point outing - and two weeks prior to that, they put up 56. But you have to take those performances (against COVID-riddled Philadelphia and Washington) with a grain of salt. There are far too many inconsistencies that still plague this Dallas team, especially on offense. Outside of an overtime win over New England and the two against Philly, the Cowboys haven't beaten any playoff teams. They lost to Tampa, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Arizona. They also had an embarrassing home loss to Denver, which didn't even make the playoffs. San Francisco is a very good, tough and experienced team led by a creative coaching staff. They're coming off of a high-stakes, comeback victory over the Rams and look to carry that momentum into the postseason. I'm not so sure that the Cowboys are ready for this. They SHOULD win. But …
The Buffalo Bills have ample reason for confidence heading into their rubber match with the AFC East-rival New England Patriots. After all, it took some rare weather for New England to pull off a win in the first meeting despite Mac Jones throwing only three passes, and Buffalo put together an authoritative victory in the rematch. Still, facing Bill Belichick in the playoffs should always inspire some fear. The volatile Josh Allen doesn't have a reliable run game to fall back on, and an expected temperature in the single digits could make things even more difficult for Buffalo's passing attack. The Patriots gashed the Bills for a combined 371 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground in the regular-season meetings, and Buffalo might not have many easy answers this time around unless it can build a lead and consistently force New England into third-and-long scenarios.
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