The NFL playoffs are finally here! The Wild Card round always has some dud games and some exciting games. Which games will stink and which might go down to the wire? Let’s take a look:
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN, ABC)
The Titans (9-7) have been an enigma this year, looking great at times and not so great at other times. They rely on their running attack but it hasn’t been as effective as previous years. Marcus Mariota has been battling injuries all year but he did run effectively in last week’s win over the Jaguars. If Mariota can run effectively, the Titans offense can run on the Chiefs, who are 23rd against the run.
The Chiefs (10-6) had a roller coaster of a season, starting 5-0 then losing 6 of their next 7, then winning 4 in a row. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt had a similar trajectory, averaging over 100 yards to start the season, then struggling mid-season and surging the last 4 games. But the Titans are 4th against the run, so Alex Smith will have to win this with his arm.
Arrowhead is supposed to be a huge home field advantage for the Chiefs, but the Titans have won their past 2 there, so I smell an upset.
Prediction: Titans 24, Chiefs 22
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Talk about a contrast in experience – the Falcons (10-6) have a lot of playoff experience and the Rams (11-5) have almost none. So does experience matter? We’re about to find out because on paper the Rams should win this easily.
The Rams went form laughingstock last year to one of the best teams this year. Biggest difference – coach Sean McVay. The Rams feature quarterback Jared Goff, who finished 6th in passer rating and Todd Gurley, who almost won the rushing title. The Rams led the NFL in scoring with 29.9 points per game. The Falcons were 19th against the run so look for the Rams to run a lot.
What happened to the Falcons? They were one of the highest scoring teams last year and this year they finished 15th in scoring. Biggest difference – losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Rams defense is 30th against the run so Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could have big games.
The Falcons’ experience might help them but it won’t be enough to overcome playing the Rams in Los Angeles and the Rams’ potent offense.
Prediction: Rams 34, Falcons 22
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
How much fun was it seeing the city of Buffalo go crazy after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999? Thanks Ravens! Now for the bad news – LeSean McCoy is hurt with a bad ankle. He’s expected to play through it but you have to believe he won’t be as effective.
Buffalo’s running attack is their best hope of winning this game as Jacksonville is 21st against the run and 1st against the pass (they don’t call them Sacksonville for nothing).
The Jaguars have had their own playoff drought with their last appearance being in 2007. The Jaguars finished 1st in rushing but rookie Leonard Fournette did not finish the season strong, only having 1 game with over 100 yards rushing since Week 10. So that leaves the game to Blake Bortles. The Jaguars rely on getting the lead and doing enough to stay ahead. If they are behind and have to rely on Bortles, that might not be good.
Bortles did not finish the season strong, getting 5 interceptions in the last 2 games.
Conventional wisdom says that the Bills should have no chance in this game but I have the crazy feeling that the Bills will win, call it a hunch.
Prediction: Bills 19, Jaguars 16
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
The Saints beat the Panthers twice this season. So obviously they’ll win this one, right? The conventional wisdom is that it’s hard to beat a team 3 times in one season. But history shows teams that swept the season series are 13-7 in the playoff rematch.
Can anyone stop the Saints? In addition to Drew Brees, who broke the record for completion percentage, they have rookie Alvin Kamara, who had over 1500 all purpose yards. The Saints defense is also greatly improved from last year.
This could end up being a shootout but with the game being in New Orleans, I give the Saints the edge.
Prediction: Saints 36, Panthers 27