The playoffs are finally here and the Wild Card round mixes in a bunch of new faces to the slate. Overall this year’s postseason features 8 teams who weren’t in this position a year ago which is – in my own opinion – good for the league. Granted, you want some of the big hitters playing in January, but seeing teams who were previously in the bottom of the barrel rise to make the playoffs gives every fan base hope for ‘next year’.
Let’s start with the first game of the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans heading to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs. (NOTE: All of the following is my opinion, and I don’t care if you like it. PS – sorry Titans fans) The Titans have lost 3 of their last 4 coming into the postseason and quite honestly don’t belong with their inconsistencies and failure to get Marcus Mariota rolling under the current coaching staff – hence the rumors that Mike Mularkey could still get the axe despite squeaking into the playoffs.
On the other side of the equation, the Chiefs are coming in hot. They’ve certainly had some issues throughout the season, but after starting 5-0 the Chiefs averaged 18 points per game between weeks 6 and 12. In Week 13 OC Matt Nagy took over play-calling from Andy Reid and have put up 28.6 points per game ever since and have won 4 straight to round out their season.
The Titans have a ton of potential and could conceivably oust the Chiefs Saturday, but Kansas City has actually had significant stretches of playing really good football.
Next we have the Atlanta Falcons – last year’s Super Bowl runner-ups – traveling to the Los Angeles Rams who hadn’t finished above third in their division but once since 2007 (averaging 4.6 wins per year over the past decade). This is literally the shiny new thing battling a team with a wealth of experience, but that’s not to take anything away from the Rams and what they’ve accomplished.
The Rams have been one of, if not the most exciting young teams in the league this season as rookie head coach, Sean McVay, has gotten them to the top-scoring team in the league and have risen from dead last a year ago, to sixth in the league in offensive DVOA. Wade Phillips has also improved the defense from a season ago which was smack dab in the middle of the league to matching their offense at sixth in defensive DVOA.
The Falcons, while still being a potent offense, have paled in comparison to the juggernaut that their offense was last season. Matt Ryan has seen his touchdown passes nearly cut in half, but is still fantastically accurate with a completion rate north of 65% and has his third-best yards per attempt of his career. The Falcons held the top offensive DVOA last year, but they’re still a top-10 unit and that can’t be forgotten.
Defensively, the Falcons will have their work cut out for them and nearly everything that leads to their success comes from their pass rush. Their coverage and ability to stop the run are both on the backend of average for the league, however, they have the playmakers to make life very difficult on Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.
This is my favorite game of the weekend – hands down.
If for no other reason, the Buffalo Bills traveling to the Jacksonville Jaguars holds intrigue due to the long droughts both organizations have had away from the playoffs. We’re seeing a Blake Bortles-led Jaguars who have hidden him behind their running game all season, and have seen him regress in the last two weeks of the season which isn’t good if the Jaguars ever trail in the game. Both teams can run the ball but are very ordinary at stopping the run. Similarly, both teams are quality coverage teams in the secondary (Jaguars are tops in defensive DVOA) and each has a quarterback with plenty of faults that can be exploited. This one could go either way depending on who makes mistakes early on and is forced to make something happen as a result.
To round out Wild Card weekend, the New Orleans saints will be hosting the Carolina Panthers Sunday evening. Obviously these two have met twice already this season, but the Saints have unmistakingly been the better team. While Drew Brees has been exceedingly careful with the football this season only amassing 8 interceptions – his second best mark of his career – and is lighting a fire through the air with a league-best 72% completion rate.
Cam Newton, on the other hand, is sub-60% and is posting career lows in yards per attempt, yards gained per completion, adjusted yards gained per attempt, passing yards per game among other rating scales. Simply put, aside from their running game the Panthers are a desperate offense as they again will be matched up with an insanely improved Saints defense (8th DVOA).
It has all the makings of a rivalry game with divisional ties, but if Newton isn’t on point it could become a snoozer just as easily.
Enjoy Wild Card weekend!
This week the following contributors voted on each game: Brett Mock, Matt Danely, Josh Hudgens, Stephen Reed, Chris Shepherd, Chris Blystone, Andrew Aziz, Jared Malott and Jake Arthur. Again, our group voted ‘winners’ which have been bolded, with the vote counts in parenthesis and unanimous predictions were noted by an asterisk (*).
The staff’s final regular season numbers are: Faraz Majid – 68/105 (64.8%) | Brett Mock – 158/243 (65%) | Chris Blystone – 132/211 (62.6%) | Matt Danely – 148/243 (61%) | Andrew Aziz – 146/228 (64%) | Jake Arthur – 142/215 (66%) | Jared Malott – 144/230 (62.6%) | Stephen Reed – 142/231 (61.5%) | Chris Shepherd – 139/230 (60.4%) | Josh Hudgens – 98/151 (64.9%) | Cody Felger – 9/16 (56.3%)
Saturday @ 4:35 ET
No. 5 Titans @ No. 4 Chiefs*
Saturday @ 8:15 ET
No. 6 Falcons @ No. 3 Rams (7) – Contrarians: Matt Danely, Brett Mock & Josh Hudgens
Sunday @ 1:05 ET
No. 6 Bills @ No. 3 Jaguars (7) – Contrarians: Stephen Reed, Danely
Sunday @ 4:40 ET
No. 5 Panthers @ No. 4 Saints*