By Teddy Gutkin and Eric Margolin
(5) Tennessee Titans vs. (4) Kansas City Chiefs
Kickoff Time: 4:35, Saturday January 6, ESPN
What to Expect
Teddy: Despite all the buzz around Marcus Mariota leading up to this game, the Titans’ defense will be the deciding factor in this game against a surprisingly dangerous Kansas City offense. Despite the daunting task, this Titans defensive unit, coordinated by veteran Dick LeBeau, is more than up to the challenge, trotting out a lineup that features an excellent LB tandem in Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo and NFL interceptions leader Kevin Byard. Tennessee’s offense isn’t a slouch either, with Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan leading an offensive line that blocks for one of the best running back tandems in the playoff field in the form of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray. That being said, the Chiefs boast an impressive offense that includes All-Pro TE Travis Kelce, rookie RB Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing, and Alex Smith, who passed for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career this season. The Chiefs have won 4 straight games heading into the tournament, and look like a team that nobody wants to play, especially in front of their home fans at Arrowhead Stadium. However, they also sport the worst run defense in the entire NFL, and I don’t think that they can move on when they have few weapons in the secondary to speak of with the exception of Marcus Peters. The Titans stun the Chiefs on their home field and move on to the Divisional Round.
Final Score: Titans beat Chiefs 23-16
Eric: A playoff game at Arrowhead? There shouldn't be a question who will win this game. After a mid-season slump, the Chiefs are back, finishing the season with a 10-6 record. By the end of the season Andy Reid’s team showed they were able to win close games, run the ball with Kareem Hunt, and minimize turnovers (with only 11 on the season). Tennessee on the other hand, barely got into the playoffs and is a totally different team on the road (3-5 in games away from Nashville). The Chiefs are going to cruise to an easy victory behind Kareem Hunt’s offense, Marcus Peters’ defense, and Tyreek Hill’s special teams play.
Final Score: Chiefs beat Titans 28-13
(6) Atlanta Falcons vs. (3) Los Angeles Rams
Kickoff Time: 8:15, Saturday January 6, NBC
What to Expect:
Eric: As a Saints fan, I hate the Falcons with a burning passion, but I can’t help but feel like they have a shot. Atlanta is 5-3 on the road this season, and the LA Coliseum is not the most intimidating venue. Besides that, the Rams are a young team that will make the playoffs for many years to come, but is the big stage too big for this inexperienced group? They only have 6 players with playoff experience on the entire roster, and none have been in a Super Bowl. If the Falcons from last year’s playoffs show up, this game could turn ugly very quickly. Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones have the opportunity to tear apart a young, overaggressive defense. If the Falcons can survive LA’s initial surge, this game should go to the Falcons with ease.
Final Score: Falcons beat Rams 34-24
Teddy: The Rams had an incredible season this year, winning 11 games and seeing Jared Goff and Todd Gurley transform into bonafide superstars to give the Rams their most potent offense since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf. Goff has a stable of trustworthy targets in his arsenal too, with Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and surprise rookie Cooper Kupp putting together breakout years in Sean McVay’s offensive scheme. As good as the Rams have been on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, where they sport a stout unit led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald, I can’t bring myself to pick them here. Despite squeaking into the postseason as a 6 seed, the Falcons are a sneakily dangerous squad, and the Matt Ryan-led offense looks hungry to avenge their crushing Super Bowl 51 defeat this year. I think Julio Jones, one of the most consistently excellent playoff performers in the league today, will feast against a young Rams secondary, and the Dirty Birds will roll to a win to set up a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.
Final Score: Falcons beat Rams 37-20
(6) Buffalo Bills vs. (3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Kickoff Time: 1:05, Sunday January 7, CBS
What to Expect:
Eric: Neither of these teams was supposed to be in the playoffs this year. Buffalo slipped in due to some very fortunate circumstances, and many predicted Jacksonville to finish near the bottom of their division. Yet, both are here now. The best way to explain the outcome of this game is through one of the oldest sayings in football, “Defense wins championships.” Blake Bortles may not be the best quarterback. Buffalo may have some explosive playmakers on offense. But the “Sack-sonville” defense is going to take this game over, proving to everyone that they are legit contenders this season.
Final Score: Jaguars beat Bills 21-7
Teddy: Nope, this isn’t a typo. The Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and they will look for their first playoff win of the millenium when they travel to take on the AFC South Champions...the Jacksonville Jaguars?! Yeah, this has been a weird season. Anyway, I expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, with viewers being treated to an old-fashioned defensive smackdown. The Jaguars have become one of the best defensive units in the entire NFL, with Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, and AJ Bouye putting together incredible seasons, but their offense remains a huge question mark, with quarterback Blake Bortles playing extremely inconsistent football all season long. The Bills should feast against the struggling signal-caller, using a ferocious pass rush and an upstart secondary featuring star rookie CB Tre’Davious White. Despite their excellent defense, the Bills’ offense has been one-dimensional, living and dying by RB LeSean McCoy, who suffered an ankle injury in a Week 17 victory over the Dolphins. I’m sorry, Bills fans, but I can’t see you facing the “Sack-sonville” defense without McCoy at full strength and coming away with a victory. Jacksonville heads on to Pittsburgh.
Final Score: Jaguars beat Bills 13-7
(5) Carolina Panthers vs. (4) New Orleans Saints
Kickoff Time: 4:40, Sunday January 7, FOX
What to Expect:
Teddy: This is easily the most enticing game of Wild Card Weekend. The Saints are coming off a last-second loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but still won the NFC South by virtue of a Panthers loss on the road to the Falcons. Despite recapturing his MVP form midway through the year, Cam Newton has regressed dramatically in the last two weeks, throwing 4 interceptions and failing to cross the 200-yard mark through the air. This doesn’t bode well at all against a Saints secondary that ranks among one of the best in the entire league, and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore should shut down Newton’s favorite target in Devin Funchess to help expose Carolina’s otherwise weak receiving corps. On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints saw Drew Brees set an NFL record for completion percentage. Meanwhile, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined to create a smash and dash ground attack that is reminiscent of the Panthers’ dominant 2008 backfield that featured a young Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Ultimately, the Panthers need Cam Newton to play out of his mind if they want to come out of New Orleans with a win, and I don’t think such a performance is in the cards against a resurgent Saints defensive unit.
Final Score: Saints beat Panthers 24-13
Eric: I am going to try to be as unbiased as possible when talking about the Saints, but let's face it, their odds are looking pretty good this year. Drew Brees broke the NFL record for completion percentage in a season, the thunder-and-lightning duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara has looked unstoppable all season, and the new look defense is 10th in the league in preventing scores. New Orleans is 7-1 in the Superdome this season, with their only loss coming against the Patriots in Week 2. The Saints have also beat the Panthers twice this season. Carolina has been one of the most inconsistent teams all season. They beat the Patriots and Vikings, but only score three points against the Bears. The Panthers’ offense lives and dies with Cam Newton, who has turned the ball over 22 times by himself. The Saints should easily take care of business at home and move on to the divisional round for the first time since 2013.
Final Score: Saints beat Panthers 27-17
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