How to Watch the N.F.L.’s Saturday Tripleheader
Our N.F.L. playoffs calculator has an up-to-date look at the latest playoff picture.
You know the college football season is winding down when N.F.L. games pop up on a Saturday. For years, the N.F.L. and the N.C.A.A. have had stayed out of each other’s way, with Saturdays devoted to college football and Sundays for N.F.L. games.
But with only bowl games left on the college calendar, the N.F.L. will host three matchups on Saturday that will help clarify its playoff picture. All three games will be carried on NFL Network as well as by local broadcast networks in the teams’ home markets.
The Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1), whose postseason aspirations have all but vanished, will visit Minneapolis to take on the Vikings (10-3), whose recent performance raises questions about whether they can last through more than one weekend of the playoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens (9-4) will travel to Cleveland to play the Browns (5-8), an A.F.C. North division rival trying to salvage a lost season.
In the prime-time finale, the Miami Dolphins (8-5), who have lost their past two, take on the Buffalo Bills (10-3) in a game that will affect A.F.C. seeding.
All six teams are technically still in the playoff hunt, though the odds that the Colts or the Browns will make the postseason are in the single digits, according to The Times’s playoff simulator).
All times are Eastern.
Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., NFL Network
The Vikings have built a four-game lead in the N.F.C. North the hard way: Seven of their 10 wins were by one score or closer. But the team has lost two of the past four games in embarrassing fashion — a 40-3 trouncing by the Cowboys at home in Week 11 and a 34-23 loss to the Lions last week — raising questions about whether Minnesota can advance in the playoffs.
With Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook at skill positions, it’s never clear why the Vikings’ offense goes dark for long portions of games. Through Week 14, the defense had given up the most yards from scrimmage in the league, regularly letting opponents back into games.
Still, the Vikings can clinch the N.F.C. North with a win over the Colts, who are a mess. The team benched and then reinstated quarterback Matt Ryan, and the team’s owner, Jim Irsay, fired Coach Frank Reich and replaced him with a former Colts center, Jeff Saturday, whose only prior coaching experience was with a high school team. The shake-up has resulted in only one win under Saturday.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 4:30 p.m., NFL Network
The Ravens could be without their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson (who sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee), and his backup, Tyler Huntley, who left last week’s game with a concussion. Jackson is such an integral part of the team — he is also the leading rusher — that the Ravens will now have to lean on their defense if he isn’t available. Luckily, that defense — ranked eighth in the league — is allowing just 13.4 points per game, according to ESPN, since it added middle linebacker Roquan Smith in Week 9.
The Browns might be the right matchup for the Ravens this week. Cleveland has given up the fifth most points this year, and its games can go sideways 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, has been underwhelming in his first two games back. And while running back Nick Chubb has 1,153 yards rushing, Kareem Hunt has been subpar, and receiver Amari Cooper (874 yards, seven touchdowns) has been solid but not great.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m., NFL Network
This prime-time game is the most compelling of the day’s matchups. After a couple of messy losses to the Jets and the Vikings, the Bills have righted their ship and are again tied with Kansas City for the best record in the A.F.C. Buffalo would qualify for the playoffs by beating Miami and would keep itself in the running for a first-round bye.
The Dolphins are second in the division and hold the second wild-card spot, but their high-powered offense, led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, has cooled recently, losing their past two games after winning their previous five.