NFL Game Picks: Wild Card Round
After seventeen weeks of football, the playoffs are finally here. Twelve teams will have a chance at winning the Super Bowl. Four of them are on bye this week (Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, Vikings), but there are still four games for fans to enjoy this Wild Card Weekend.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s games:
#5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ #4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Wild Card Weekend kicks off on Saturday afternoon with a matchup between two teams who reached the playoffs in rather bizarre ways. The AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs started the season strong with five wins, went on to lose six out of the next seven, then finished the year with a four-game win streak. They’ll be hosting the Tennessee Titans, who limped into the playoffs after dropping three of their last four games. But, in the end, doesn’t matter how they got into the playoffs. It matters that they got there.
So, who has the edge? On paper, it’s a no-brainer. In terms of offense, the Chiefs beat the Titans in total yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards per game. This may not be surprising, as Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt and company had quite a few fantastic outings in 2017, while Marcus Mariota often struggled this year under coach Mike Mularkey’s offensive schemes. Kansas City also scores more points per game and converts on third down more often than Tennessee. On defense, the Chiefs allow more yards per game than the Titans, yet they still allow fewer points per game. Being at home also helps the Chiefs’ odds of moving on.
Of course, the NFL is never this easy. Any time can win on any given Sunday (or Saturday in this case). But, based on how trustworthy these teams looked near the end of the regular season, the Chiefs should be favored to win and move on to either Pittsburgh or Foxboro next weekend.
The pick: Kansas City 29, Tennessee 19.
#6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ #3 Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
It’s odd seeing someone other than Seattle representing the NFC West in the postseason this year, but that’s just the way things played out in 2017. These Rams deserve all the credit they can get. This team has been revitalized, thanks in large part to a whole new coaching staff of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, and head coach of the year candidate Sean McVay. Thanks to their work, as well as stellar performances from the likes of Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and one of the league’s best defenses, Los Angeles has had a triumphant season, and it looks like sustained success is a possibility for the future.
The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons snuck in as a Wild Card thanks to a handful of close late-game victories, but don’t discredit this team. After all, they’re not all that different from last year’s Super Bowl squad. Matt Ryan may not have put up another MVP performance, but he still played as one of the game’s elite signal callers. Julio Jones finished the season second in receiving yards. There’s still a lot to love on this team.
Of course, before either of these teams think about the future, they’ll have to focus on Saturday night’s game. This one could really go either way. Dan Quinn and the Falcons have more experience in the playoffs, but Sean McVay and the Rams do have home-field advantage. Regardless of the result, this should be one fine football game.
The pick: Los Angeles 31, Atlanta 28.
#6 Buffalo Bills (9-7) @ #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Both of these teams have plenty of reason to be rejoicing. Thanks to a Week 17 win and some help from Cincinnati, the Bills reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Jacksonville clinched a playoff berth long before that; the first in ten years. It’s also the first time ever that the Jaguars have won the AFC South since its inception in 2002.
For one of these teams, the celebrating will end after Sunday afternoon’s game is complete. But which one will be moving on and which one will be going home? Let’s look at the matchup. Jacksonville’s offense has been shaky from time to time, yet they are still ahead of the Bills in both yards per game and points per game. The defense, meanwhile, has been absolutely punishing, allowing a mere 16.8 points per game and racking up 55 sacks and 21 interceptions in the process. The Bills have not been nearly as dominant. To make things worse for Buffalo, star running back LeSean McCoy may not be healthy in time for the game.
All things considered, Buffalo is at a clear disadvantage, having to play a ferocious Jaguars squad in Jacksonville. It’s not a done deal though, as stated before: any team can win at any moment. But right now, it’s looking like a victory for the home team.
The pick: Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 17.
#5 Carolina Panthers (11-5) @ #4 New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Wild Card Weekend concludes with Round 3 between these two teams. Earlier in the season, New Orleans defeated Carolina twice: at home and on the road. Now, the Saints get the Panthers at home again. Will the result be the same?
In terms of statistics, these teams are pretty evenly matched. The Saints’ offense posts more yards per game, but the defense also allows more yards than Carolina’s does. New Orleans put up more points per game too, but the Panthers are better on third down. Overall, these are two very similar teams. Both have a veteran quarterback and established head coach, both have young, rising defenses with a handful of stars, and both have young playmakers on offense (namely Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey).
There’s no doubt that the NFC South was one of the better divisions in football this year. After all, three of its four teams posted ten-win seasons and reached the playoffs. Whoever wins this game has a serious shot at making a run in the playoffs. But the question remains: will the Saints complete the season sweep? Or will Carolina find a way to win on the road? We’ll find out on Sunday evening.
The pick: New Orleans 34, Carolina 29.
DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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