NFL playoff bracket 2021: Wild-card playoff matchups, schedule for AFC, NFC
The 2021 NFL playoffs begin on Jan. 9 and 10 with an expanded wild-card round featuring six total games rather than the usual four. An additional seed in each conference accounts for that change.
There are two contests between division rivals in store (Steelers vs. Browns, Seahawks vs. Rams) and one playoff rematch from last year (Titans vs. Ravens). The familiarity between those teams should intensify what is already a high-stakes weekend and add a mind-game component for coaching staffs to deal with.
Several teams are in much better positions than to which they are accustomed. The Bills are coming off their best regular season since 1991, while the Browns are in the postseason for the first time since 2002. Those fan bases are ecstatic about the performances they have seen so far this campaign, but they might be nervous about whether their squads will play at their best under pressure.
There are just two first-round byes this year, earned by the Chiefs and Packers for posting the best records in their respective conferences. They will maintain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Below is a comprehensive look at the NFL playoff picture, including wild-card playoff matchups, a TV schedule for the opening round of the postseason and a list of AFC and NFC seeds.
NFL wild-card matchups
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3) vs. 7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Bills rolled through the regular season behind the potent play of quarterback Josh Allen and offseason acquisition Stefon Diggs, embarrassing the Dolphins in Week 17 for good measure to knock their divisional foe out of playoff contention. The Colts, meanwhile, had an AFC South title ripped away when the Titans rallied late to beat the Texans. What would have been a No. 4 seed is now No. 7 and the toughest matchup on the board.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) vs. 6. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
The Steelers fell apart down the stretch, losing four of their final five games after starting 11-0. Ugly defeats to Washington and Cincinnati, as well as an unnecessarily close win over a depleted Baltimore group, make them seem vulnerable against a Browns franchise that’s finally back in the playoffs. That said, the experience of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a strong defense that didn’t allow 30 points in any game this year could make them a tough out at home. Don’t assume Pittsburgh is dead, even if many signs point to a quick exit.
4. Tennessee Titans (11-5) vs. 5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
The Titans knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year and then backed up that showing with another impressive win over Baltimore this season. They’re the favorites this time. Can Lamar Jackson, an underdog just a year after being named MVP, push aside critics with the first quality postseason performance of his career? His narrative will be greatly influenced by what happens Sunday afternoon.
2. New Orleans Saints (12-4) vs. 7. Chicago Bears (8-8)
The Bears limped into the playoffs with an underwhelming offense led by Mitchell Trubisky, who in his fourth NFL season was benched for Nick Foles before being reinstated in Week 12. As most Chicago teams over the years have required, Matt Nagy’s squad will need an elite defensive effort to advance. If Khalil Mack and Co. can lift what was a rather disappointing regular-season pass rush relative to lofty expectations, perhaps they can pressure a declining Drew Brees into enough mistakes to keep things close.
3. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) vs. 6. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
These teams split their two matchups this season, with the Seahawks winning the second one 20-9 on Dec. 27. Questions about Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s health will be front and center leading up to Round 3 between the NFC West organizations; he missed Week 17 after undergoing thumb surgery. If Goff can’t go, then it will likely be John Wolford under center against Russell Wilson.
4. Washington Football Team (7-9) vs. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
It seems as if every few years, an NFC division becomes bad enough for a .500-or-worse team to win it. This Washington group might be the worst product of the trend yet — it took a Week 17 nail-biter victory over Philadelphia to earn a playoff berth. Still, this contest will be televised in prime time largely because of the presence of Tom Brady, who is in his first year with the Buccaneers.
NFL wild-card TV schedule
There will be three NFL games per day on wild-card weekend, aired across four primary TV channels. Because there are only two first-round byes this year, just the Chiefs and Packers are off during the wild-card round.
Buccaneers at Washington is the nightcap on Saturday, and Browns at Steelers in prime time is the final game Sunday.
Below is the full TV schedule for wild-card action.
Saturday, Jan. 9
Sunday, Jan. 10
NFL playoff bracket, seeds 2021
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