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NFL Wild Card Round Analysis + Picks

 

Let’s preview the games the games we will see on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL.  I will give three keys to each team winning, and elaborate on them.  Without further ado, let’s get started.

TEN @ KC: Three Keys to a Titans Upset

1.) Stop Kareem Hunt.  Fortunately for Tennessee, they have the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the league, as their defense gives up a very stingy 3.6 yards per carry.  Unfortunately for the Titans, Hunt appears to be out of his mid-season slump, as he rushed for over 100 yards in games against the Raiders and Chargers.  Kansas City is 6-0 in games where Hunt gets 100+ yards, and 4-6 when he doesn’t.  Stopping Hunt is the biggest key to their victory.

2.) Marcus Mariota has to be a leader.  Mariota led his team to a win with his legs against Jacksonville, as he truly was a team leader that helped his team get the W.  Mariota has got a lot of criticism this year for having more interceptions than touchdowns, but he is often times a great leader when it counts.  Stats aren’t always what matters, and Mariota has still played decently in 2017.

3.) Win ugly.  Let’s face it, the Titans along with the Bills are the two least inspiring teams in the playoffs this year.  Tennessee has been in some ugly games this year, barely scraping by the Browns and Colts.  They might get into a field goal battle with Kansas City, or simply need to make less mistakes than the Chiefs to win.

Three Keys to a Chiefs Victory

1.) Kareem Hunt has to have a good game.  To me, Kareem Hunt is the biggest factor in this game.  Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are great weapons for Alex Smith, but relying too much on Smith is not a good thing.  That’s why the Chiefs have Kareem Hunt, and that’s why they’re 6-0 when he gets 100+ yards.  That likely becomes 7-0 if he gets triple digits against Tennessee.

2.) Stop the Titans rushing attack.  The Titans are well known for their “exotic smash mouth” offense.  DeMarco Murray is out of this game, which means Derrick Henry will get a great opportunity.  Tennessee has a solid rushing attack, and their QB gets involved as well.  The Chiefs have the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league, so they’ll really have to game plan against the Tennessee rushing attack.

3.) Home field advantage.  The Chiefs are renowned for their great home crowd, but they haven’t won a playoff game at Arrowhead since 1993.  That needs to change, and the loud crowd noise has to force Mariota into some bad throws and allow the Chiefs to claim victory.

My Prediction: Chiefs win 27-16
Photo courtesy: Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports

The Titans smash mouth offense is no match for the Chiefs on the road.  While Kansas City is known for blowing playoff games, I don’t think they’ll blow this one.

LAR @ ATL: Three Keys to a Falcons Upset

1.) Touchdowns, not field goals.  Ending drives with 7 points instead of 3 is a huge factor when it comes to the Falcons winning this game.  They’re #8 in the NFL in yards per game, but only #15 in points per game at 22.1.  That’s more than a full touchdown less than the Rams 29.9 points per game, which leads the NFL.  I hate to sound like John Madden, but the Falcons need to score more points than the Rams in order to win.  It’s as simple as that.

2.) Limit mistakes and penalties.  In the Christmas Eve game against New Orleans, Atlanta committed so many penalties in a row they had a 1st and 40 at one point.  They can’t have stupid things like this kill their drives.  Matt Ryan has had a pretty good year in terms of limiting his interceptions, but he puts up the occasional stinker.  He has to avoid that at all costs in this game, as the Rams offense will likely capitalize off of any turnovers he makes.

3.) Stop MVP candidate Todd Gurley.  Gurley rested up in the last game of the season, but boy has he been a monster all year.  He’s just as much of a threat in the rushing game as he is in the receiving game, and the Falcons must put together quite a game plan to stop him.  Atlanta’s rush defense is pretty solid, in fact it’s 9th in the league.  But they must really show up in order to beat the Rams.

Three Keys to a Rams Victory

1.) Get Todd Gurley rolling.  The Rams, like the Chiefs, have a perfect record of 6-0 when their bell cow runningback gets 100+ rushing yards.  They’re 5-5 when he doesn’t get those yards.  But when Gurley gets going, the Rams light up the scoreboard, and they win football games.  It’s as simple as that.

2.) Special teams has to shine.  Pharoh Cooper has been great for the Rams as a return man this season, earning him Pro Bowl and PFF All Pro honors.  Johnny Hekker has made his 3rd consecutive pro bowl as a punter, and pinning the Falcons inside the 20 could be key to stalling their offense.  However, the Rams lost reliable kicker Greg Zuerlein.  New kicker Sam Ficken will have a lot of pressure heading into the playoffs, as coach Sean McVay admits there’s “uncertainty” with him kicking from long distances.  If the game comes down to a Ficken field goal, he has to be clutch and make it.  Still, the Rams special teams unit has truly been special under coordinator John Fassel.

3.) Force turnovers to set the offense up.  The Rams offense is obviously one of the NFL’s best, so forcing turnovers to set them up is crucial for a Rams victory.  Los Angeles has forced 28 turnovers this year, which is 5th best in the NFL.  Some turnovers would certainly help them beat Atlanta.

My Prediction: Falcons win 30-26
Image result for atlanta falcons celebrationPhoto Credit: David Goldman/AP

I trust the Falcons offense to perform well in this game as long as they don’t make critical mistakes.  At the same time, I don’t trust the Rams new kicker and their lack of playoff experience, and I think the Falcons win a close one on the road.

BUF @ JAC: Three Keys to a Bills Upset

1.) The defense plays well, and Blake Bortles puts up a stinker.  The Jaguars didn’t rest their starters last week.  It was a relatively meaningless game for them in terms of playoff position, but boy did Blake Bortles not perform well.  He threw for 0 TDs, 2 INTs and a 33.7 passer rating.  The Bills have put up impressive defensive performances against the Chiefs, Colts, and the Dolphins (twice).  Buffalo is 7th in the league in turnover differential, and winning the turnover battle against Blake Bortles is essential if they want to pull of this upset.

2.) Tyrod Taylor steps up his game.  Taylor seems like the archetypal game manager QB, he doesn’t pass for a lot of yards, but also avoids the costly interceptions (he had 4 INTs all year, Nathan Peterman had 5 in one half!).  Still, Taylor will have to make a lot of plays on the ground, as he is one of the NFL’s most mobile QBs.  He could be a major part of the running game, as Shady McCoy probably won’t be completely healthy.

3.) The aforementioned McCoy plays through the pain, and plays well.  LeSean McCoy is the focal point of the Bills offense, and losing him really would seem to tilt the game in favor of Jacksonville.  However, McCoy has said the injury “isn’t as bad as he thought”.  http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000902812/article/lesean-mccoy-ankle-injury-wasnt-as-bad-as-i-thought

Three Keys to a Jaguars Victory

1.) Their defense dominates as usual.  The Jaguars only allow 16.8 points per game.  Buffalo only scores 18.9 points per game.  Do the math here folks, the Bills having a great offensive performance ain’t likely.

2.) Leonard Fournette has a solid game.  He doesn’t need to get 100+ yards, as the defense will likely be the big factor if Jacksonville wins.  However, the Bills have the league’s 29th ranked rushing defense, which means Fournette should take advantage of this.

3.) Blake Bortles doesn’t turn the ball over.  The Jags are 2-6 when Blake Bortles throws 1 or more interceptions.  They’re 8-0 when he doesn’t throw an interception.  Point is, as long as Bortles avoids the costly turnovers, the Jaguars should easily get the win.

My Prediction: Jaguars win 23-7
Photo Credit: Tim Ireland/AP

This game should be an easy one to pick.  The Bills playing without Shady will hinder their offense, while the Jags should get enough done on offense to advance to the divisional round.

CAR @ NO: Three Keys to a Panthers Upset

1.) Good Cam Newton shows up.  Newton has had two games this season with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.  He’s also had three games this season with 3 interceptions.  He ended this season with the latter, in an ugly loss against Atlanta.  The Panthers need good Cam to show up, and they’re playing against a young Saints defense that has little playoff experience.  They have to take advantage of that.

2.) Limit the Saints dominant rushing attack.  The good news for the Panthers?  They have the third ranked rushing defense.  The bad news?  They’re going up against the dominant duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.  The Panthers defense must not only stop the Saints rushing attack, but they must be opportunistic and create turnovers.

3.) Win a shoot out.  This has to do a lot with the first key that I mentioned, but Cam’s weapons must also show up.  Greg Olsen wasn’t in either of the games that Carolina played against New Orleans, so he can truly be a difference maker.  Christian McCaffrey has got to make plays out of the backfield.  The Panthers have to make more big plays than the Saints to win this game.

Three Keys to a Saints Victory

1.) The veteran leadership of Drew Brees.  While a good portion of the Panthers roster has experience from their Super Bowl 50 run, Brees has made a Super Bowl run himself (and won it).  Brees didn’t have one of his crazy 5,000 yard seasons in 2017 because the Saints relied more on the running game.  This is good news for New Orleans, as relying so much on Brees was a reason they were 7-9 the previous 3 seasons.  However, this is playoffs time, and Brees will need to make big plays.

2.) Ingram-Kamara duo continues its domination.  The Saints didn’t play well against the Bucs last week, but it’s playoff time now, and so the Saints running back tandem has to go back to its dominant ways.  As previously mentioned, the Panthers have quite a good rush defense.  So perhaps the Saints will incorporate a lot of passes to Ingram and Kamara in their game plan.  Ingram is averaging 7.2 yards per catch this season, and Kamara is averaging a ridiculous 10.2 yards per catch.

3.) Young defense plays well.  The Saints have proven to have a great corner duo this season in rookie Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, a guy who went undrafted last year.  Both guys are young though, and going up against a QB in Cam Newton who has that aforementioned playoff experience.  Will playoff experience matter?  The way this Saints defense plays will determine that.

My Prediction: Saints win 31-27
Drew BreesPhoto Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Saints will have a clean sweep of their division rival this year, and they will head onto Minnesota to face the Vikings.  I trust the Saints to get things done in the Superdome, as that is quite the home field advantage.

Well, those are my predictions for what should be an entertaining weekend of football.

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