With just two teams that made the playoffs last year participating in this year’s Wild Card Weekend, the first round of the NFL playoffs should provide some interesting games.
Saturday, January 6th at 4:35 PM: #5 Tennessee Titans at #4 Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)
The Titans enter the playoffs for the first time since 2008 while the Kansas City Chiefs enter the playoffs as AFC West champions in back to back years. The Chiefs started out the season on fire before slowing down significantly in the second half. Alex Smith looked like an MVP candidate to start the year and rookie Kareem Hunt had a phenomenal season. The Chiefs certainly have the weapons and experience to make a deep playoff run. Coach Andy Reid is no stranger to the playoffs, and Travis Kelce is a playmaker on the offensive end. When you add a good defense with a great pass rush, the Chiefs can be a formidable team to beat. Meanwhile, Tennessee has not looked a like a playoff team all year. They have some weapons on the ground with Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, but Marcus Mariota has been very inconsistent and committed too many turnovers this year. The Titans may keep it close initially with a solid defense, but I think Chiefs win this one 27-17.
Saturday, January 6th at 8:15 PM: #6 Atlanta Falcons vs. #3 Los Angeles Rams (-6)
The Falcons have looked very disappointing this year after their Super Bowl run a year ago. The offense has struggled without Kyle Shanahan, and Matt Ryan has not looked like last year’s MVP. That being said, Atlanta still has most of the talent from last year’s team and the experience of last year’s Super Bowl run on their side. The same cannot be said for the Los Angeles Rams, who are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 under first year coach Sean McVay. The Rams defense has been dominant behind Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald, and the offense has made one of the most impressive single season turnarounds led by second year quarterback Jared Goff and MVP candidate Todd Gurley. With an over/under of 48.5 points, the sportsbooks in Las Vegas certainly expect this to be a high scoring game. Despite the experience of Atlanta and the youth of LA, I just think the Rams have more talent and are playing better on both sides of the ball this season. I think the coaching matchup favors Los Angeles as well. The Rams win 37-31.
Sunday, January 7th at 1:05 PM: #6 Buffalo Bills vs. #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.5)
Nobody would have believed that Bills vs. Jaguars was even remotely a possible playoff matchup at the beginning of the season. However, a weak AFC and two teams that exceeded expectations has landed us here in the Wild Card round. The Jaguars will play their first playoff game since 2007 after winning the AFC South behind a resurgent defense, a rookie running back, and bounce back season from quarterback Blake Bortles. Meanwhile, the Bills ended the longest NFL playoff drought at 17 years by grabbing the sixth playoff spot in the AFC on the final weekend. The strength of the Bills is also their defense, with the offense being led by Pro Bowl running back Lesean McCoy and two dimensional QB Tyrod Taylor. In more ways than one, I think the Jaguars are just a better version of the Bills. Their defense is better than the Bills defense. Leonard Fournette is having a better season than LeSean McCoy, and Blake Bortles is better than Tyrod Taylor. I think this will be a low scoring defensive battle, with Jacksonville winning 16-13.
Sunday, January 7th at 4:40 PM: #5 Carolina Panthers at #4 New Orleans Saints (-6)
The Panthers will look to get revenge against the NFC South champion Saints when the only intra-divisional matchup of the weekend kicks off Sunday afternoon. Carolina lost by double digits to New Orleans in both previous matchups this year. Drew Brees has been having another solid year at quarterback and wide receiver Michael Thomas has filled the role of the missing Brandin Cooks very nicely. However, the emergence of rookie running back Alvin Kamara and a much improved defense are the key reasons for the Saints return to the playoffs. On the end, Cam Newton is back in the playoffs for the first time since losing Super Bowl L. Carolina traded receiver Kelvin Benjamin but drafted rookie Christian McCaffery to help the offense this year. The defense has been solid as usual but Cam Newton will have to have a big game to keep up with the Saints attack. Although it is very difficult to defeat the same team three times in a season, I think New Orleans is just the better team. Saints win 33-24.
Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments down below.