TENNESSEE @ KANSAS CITY
Huge game for both teams. Titans making the playoffs in Mariota’s 3rd season, despite as a team, having a worse year statistically compared to 2016. Aided by the league’s most inept division, the Titans finished with the same record as last year (9-7) while both the Colts and Texans finished 4-12.
The Chiefs don’t want to have a season that started out 5-0 ending with yet another early playoff exit. And let’s all hope somebody helps Andy Reid manage the ****ing clock, once and for all!
- No DeMarco Murray means lots of Derrick Henry. Look for the Titans to try establishing the run early, with the Chiefs being near the bottom of the league in rush defense (118.1 yds/g – 25th). An effective Titans running game opens up play-action, which is key to Mariota’s effectiveness.
- Alex Smith has nothing more to prove in the regular season – He surprisingly led all QBs in big plays in 2017. His post-season passer rating, while a respectable 91.6 in four career starts with KC, has not translated into wins. He is 1-3 as the Chief’s signal caller. Smith has more offensive weapons at his disposal than Mariota and has the help of a raucous home crowd. Facing an uncertain future, it would serve him well to author a solid performance. If he falters, it’s sure to be an eventful off-season for the free-agent QB. But then again, Mike Glennon got paid, so Smith shouldn’t have any issues unless he goes full Nathan Peterman in this one.
- Neither team has what I’d call a dominant defense. Both are capable of dominating in certain facets, but each has their downfall. The Chiefs struggle against the run as I alluded to earlier (not great against the pass either!) – the Titans yield fewer than 90 yds/g on the ground but will have their hands full with rushing leader Kareem Hunt. Averaging ~ 20 touches per game in the regular-season (17 rushes & ~3 receptions), shutting Hunt down is priority #1. Look for the Chiefs to mess around with Tennessee’s linebackers all game, opening up the middle of the field for TE Travis Kelce and singling up Tyreek Hill on the outside.
KEY MATCHUP – Kevin Byard (10 takeaways) vs. Travis Kelce (83 rec, 1,083 yds, 8 TDs)
Prediction: Chiefs by 7
ATLANTA @ LOS ANGELES (RAMS)
Boy, would I love to be a Rams beat reporter.
A win…credit youthful exuberance but a loss would reveal a team lacking experience…
At least playoff football is back in Los Angeles. Rams fans, rejoice!
- Since being bottled up by the Vikings, Todd Gurley has been the most dynamic player in football. With 19 touchdowns in 2017, Gurley’s re-emergence has been the main catalyst behind the Rams’ offensive transformation, both running and passing. If Dan Quinn can bottle him up, the Falcons chances increase substantially. Easier said than done when you take a peak at Gurley’s usage and tendencies.
- The Falcons have been hot and cold on offense all season long, and the Rams’ front seven is as lethal as they come. Led by Aaron Donald, who I believe to be the best defensive player in football, Wade Phillps’ defense racked up 48 sacks in the regular season (4th). Offensively for Atlanta, it comes down to running the ball to set up the pass. The Rams run defense ranked fifth worst this season. However, if the Rams build an early lead, this one could turn into a route. Falcons can’t become one-dimensional on offense.
- The Rams were the highest scoring first quarter team in 2017 (7.4), and the Falcons gave up the second-fewest first-quarter points (2.8). Something’s gotta give.
KEY MATCHUP – Sam Ficken vs. Himself
Prediction: Rams by 3!!!!
BUFFALO @ JACKSONVILLE
It’s OVER…the longest playoff drought ended, thanks to the heroics of…Andy Dalton?!?! The Buffalo Bills are in the ****ing playoffs!! And now a date with the Jacksonville Jaguars awaits.
*Take yourself back to the off-season Bills fans* – If I told you the drought would end this season, and your first playoff game, in almost two decades, would be against the Jacksonville Jaguars…100% would’ve signed up for that. A Bills-Jags playoff game sounds like an E-Sports Madden match-up.
- While either team always has a chance to win in a head-to-head contest, the Bills’ chances of winning without LeSean McCoy are darn near zilch. McCoy trailed only Le’Veon Bell in carries (321 to 287). If he’s unable to go, the Bills will struggle to score, something I hear is a requirement if one hopes to win.
- A now pass-happy league, this game will be sort of a throwback, with the Jags and Bills being 1 and 2 respectively in Team Rushing Play %. Both teams run the ball just a shade under 50% of the time – Jags 48.89% / Bills 48.22%. Expect both teams to be cautious early, limiting how often they put the ball in the hands of their quarterbacks.
- Tyrod Taylor will need to look to escape the pocket to avoid a Jags pass rush that racked up 55 sacks (2nd). Whether he scrambles and passes, or looks to take off running, the Bills polarizing QB needs to keep one of the league’s top defensive units on their heels if his team is to pull off an upset. Add in the need for him to hit on some deep shots early (31.6% completion rate on balls traveling 20+ yards), as well as being able to complete passes when pressured (38% on dropbacks with <4 seconds to throw).
KEY MATCHUP – O-Lines vs. D-Lines
Prediction: A lot of this Saturday night in Buffalo
Bills by 3
CAROLINA @ NEW ORLEANS
I have a sneaky feeling the Saints run away with this one. The Panthers, for all their successes, are an emotionally fragile team and the Saints have all the firepower required to bury them early. Call me crazy, but I see this game being the least competitive of the four.
- In both 2017 contests, the Saints put up in excess of 30 points on the Panthers defense. The Saints have transformed all over the field, starting with their new found weapon Alvin Kamara. The former Volunteer, in 201 touches (120 rushes & 81 receptions), racked up 1554 total yards, and 13 touchdowns. He also returns kicks (11 returns, one TD, 31.5 yards per). He’s New Orleans’ Todd Gurley, and if you can’t stop him, you stand no chance. Few have succeeded in slowing him down.
- Drew Brees had an odd year. In this instance, odd is not meant to suggest ‘down’ or ‘bad’. Actually the exact opposite. More known for racking up yards and attempts, his numbers in both were down significantly this season. His 72% completion rate was a career high, and his 8 interceptions were the fewest as a Saint.
- Defensively, New Orleans has come a long way since having a laughably bad defensive unit, year after year. Often the case, a lot will be determined on third down, the Saints defense holding opposing offenses to a 41.04% conversion rate (27th) while the Panthers offense converts ~41% of the time. What unit will step up?
KEY MATCHUP – Saints LBs/Secondary vs. Greg Olsen in the middle of the field
Prediction – Saints by 14
Enjoy the football everybody
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