January 6, 3:35 PM: Tennessee @ Kansas City
The NFL wild card weekend kicks off this Saturday with a matchup the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs. Tennessee makes their first playoff appearance in nine seasons whereas Kansas City is back in the playoffs for the fourth time in their last five seasons. The teams are also trending in different directions, Kansas City has won their last four games and Tennessee has lost three of their last four.
Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota makes his playoff debut and his dual threat skills will cause troubles for the Kansas City defense but the absence of DeMarco Murray in this game will hurt Tennessee. Kansas City is healthy and will have all of their key players available. Between the league leading rusher Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and the always explosive Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City offense will be tough to stop. Andy Reid did decide to sit some of his key players last week vs Denver, but given the team’s playoff experience I don’t expect this decision to affect the team. Add on the fact that the game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the toughest places to get a road win, I expect Kansas City to win.
Prediction: Kansas City 24 Tennessee 13
January 6, 7:15 PM: Atlanta @ Los Angeles
Saturday’s second matchup will showcase Atlanta, the defending NFC Champions vs this year’s biggest surprise in Los Angeles. In the Rams first year back in Los Angeles, the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. You all saw what happened to Atlanta last year, allowing the most unlikely of comebacks on footballs biggest stage has me eager to see how they will respond to being back in the playoffs.
Sean McVay appears to be working miracles in LA. The youngest head coach in the league has taken last year’s worst offense and made them the highest scoring offense this year. With second year quarterback Jared Goff running the offense and workhorse running back Todd Gurley behind him, this offense has been at times unstoppable. The Los Angeles defense has been good for years, now combined with a high powered offense, this team will be a tough out.
Matt Ryan is having a down year after last year’s MVP campaign, but with Julio Jones as his top target and the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, this offense still has the ability to match Los Angeles offensively. Atlanta’s defense has been strong this year too, allowing less than 20 points a game. Atlanta is known as a dome team that struggles on the road, but they have posted a 5-3 record on the road this season, and Los Angeles, surprisingly is only 4-4 at home. I think this game will be very close, coming down to Matty Ice connecting late with Julio Jones to set up a win.
Prediction: Atlanta 24 Los Angeles 21
January 7, 12:05 PM: Buffalo @ Jacksonville
The first matchup on Sunday will display two teams that haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It had been 10 years for Jacksonville and 17 years for Buffalo, breaking the longest playoff appearance drought in the NFL.
Buffalo’s defense has been average this year, allowing 22 points a game. Their strength on offense has been to run the ball. Led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy, Buffalo’s rushing attack is one of six teams this year to combine for over 2000 yards. LeSean McCoy is nursing an ankle and is not 100%, but Buffalo’s rushing attack is going to have to be running on all cylinders this Sunday because Jacksonville will show up with one of this year’s top defenses. Jacksonville was the only defense this year to allow less than 3000 passing yards. Jacksonville’s offense isn’t outstanding, Blake Bortles has been up and down all year but rookie running back Leonard Fournette has proven to be a force. Jacksonville does not put up big numbers on offense often, relying on their defense to keep opponents at bay.
It took some late game heroics from Andy Dalton and the Bengals to defeat Baltimore and launch Buffalo out of their playoff drought. Jacksonville has been the surprise AFC team this year, taking the big step people having been waiting for. Unfortunately for Bills Mafia, I don’t see much for them to cheer about, I expect Jacksonville’s defense to handle business again.
Prediction: Jacksonville 20 Buffalo 10
January 7, 3:40 PM: Carolina @ New Orleans
The last game of wild card weekend features familiar foes. Two NFC South teams that know each other as well as anyone. New Orleans swept the season series, winning 34-13 in Carolina and 31-21 at home. Both teams will bring in players and coaches with playoff experience. This will be the best game of the weekend.
New Orleans still has Drew Brees as their quarterback and they’re still dominant at home (7-1 this year), but this team is different than previous New Orleans teams. Between Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara they have been able to run the ball better than ever in Brees’ time in New Orleans, combine that with Brees’ ability to distribute the ball through the air makes this an offense to fear. The defense is no joke either, one of three teams with 20 or more interceptions they are a top 10 defense in terms of points allowed and takeaways.
Carolina is who they are, a smash mouth team that will run the ball and play tough defense. Led on offense by Cam Newton, Carolina runs the option as well as anyone in the NFL. If Newton avoids the key interception which he is sometimes prone to, their offense has the fire power to keep up with New Orleans. The Luke Kuechly led defense is one of the best in the league again. One of three teams to record 50 or more sacks this year they will be getting after Drew Brees, combined with a top 5 run defense Carolina has the ability slow down the explosive Saints offense. This will be a good one, two familiar foes, no tricks, and a game that will likely come down to the end.
Prediction: New Orleans 28 Carolina 27