How to watch Saturday’s matches
Our NFL playoff calculator has an up-to-date look at the latest playoff picture.
You know the college football season is winding down when NFL games appear on a Saturday. For years, the NFL and NCAA have stayed on the sidelines, with Saturdays devoted to college football and Sundays to NFL games.
But with only bowl games remaining on the college schedule, the NFL will host three matchups on Saturday that will help clear up its playoff picture. All three games will be broadcast on NFL Network as well as local broadcast networks in the teams’ national markets.
The Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1), whose playoff aspirations have all but vanished, will travel to Minneapolis to face the Vikings (10-3), whose recent performances raise questions as to whether they may last more than one playoff weekend.
The Baltimore Ravens (9-4) travel to Cleveland to face the Browns (5-8), an AFC North Division rival trying to salvage a lost season.
In the primetime final, the Miami Dolphins (8-5), who have lost their last two games, will face the Buffalo Bills (10-3) in a game that will affect the AFC standings.
All six teams are technically still in the hunt for the playoffs, although the odds of the Colts or Browns making the playoffs are in the single digits, according to The Times playoff simulator).
All times are Eastern.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., NFL Network
The Vikings have built a four-game lead in the NFC North the hard way: Seven of their 10 wins have come by a score or closer. But the team has lost two of the last four games in embarrassing fashion – a 40-3 loss to the Cowboys at home in Week 11 and a 34-23 loss to the Lions last week – raising questions about whether Minnesota can advance to the playoffs.
With Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook in the skill positions, you never know why the Vikings offense darkens for long stretches of games. In Week 14, the defense had given up the most scrimmage yards in the league, routinely leaving opponents back in games.
Still, the Vikings can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Colts, who are a mess. The team benched and then reinstated quarterback Matt Ryan, and team owner Jim Irsay fired coach Frank Reich and replaced him with former Colts center Jeff Saturday, whose the only previous coaching experience was with a high school team. The reshuffle resulted in just one victory under Saturday.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 4:30 p.m., NFL Network
The Ravens could be without star quarterback Lamar Jackson (who sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee) and replacement Tyler Huntley, who left last week’s game with a concussion . Jackson is such an integral part of the team — he’s also the top rusher — that the Ravens will now have to rely on their defense if he’s unavailable. Thankfully, that defense — ranked eighth in the league — is allowing just 13.4 points per game, according to ESPN, since adding center linebacker Roquan Smith in Week 9.
The Browns could be the right match for the Ravens this week. Cleveland has given up the fifth-most points this year, and its games can go awry in a hurry. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was suspended for the first 11 games of the season after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct during massage appointments, was disappointing during his two first matches. And while running back Nick Chubb has 1,153 rushing yards, Kareem Hunt has been below par and receiver Amari Cooper (874 yards, seven TDs) has been solid but not great.
Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m., NFL Network
This primetime game is the most compelling matchup of the day. After a few messy losses to the Jets and Vikings, the Bills righted their ship and are tied with Kansas City again for the best AFC record. Buffalo would qualify for the playoffs by beating Miami and stay in contention. for a bye in the first round.
The Dolphins are second in the division and hold the second wildcard spot, but their powerhouse offense, led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, has cooled off recently, losing their last two games after won their previous five. .
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