Predictions for all four games in the NFL wild-card round.
Not often do we reach the wild-card round with no Green Bay Packers football to look forward to.
They’ve ensured this week has been entertaining with a number of big moves, though, including the departure of Dom Capers and the new role for Ted Thompson.
But even in a Packers-less playoffs, the show must go on. Here’s my picks for the wild-card round.
Tennessee at Kansas City
Tennessee’s run defense will need to live up to its ranking this week. Kansas City will look to run the ball with Kareem Hunt early and often, but the Chiefs have a number of ways they can exploit this Titans defense.
Perhaps more concerning for the road team is the play of Marcus Mariota this year. The third-year passer has thrown just 13 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. Unless he can quickly turn that around, I don’t see the Titans finding much success at Arrowhead.
Tennessee has lost three of its last four games, not a good sign entering a road playoff game. Kansas City is red-hot, winning four straight.
The Chiefs are heading for a potential showdown with the Patriots next week.
Pick: Kansas City
Atlanta at LA Rams
I think this game will come down to which team can run the ball and stop the run the best. Matt Ryan has struggled to replicate last year’s MVP form, and the Falcons will need to produce on the ground to win.
And that’s one area Atlanta could find success. Los Angeles has allowed 122.4 yards per game on the ground. The Falcons have been tougher against the run, but that might not mean much up against Todd Gurley. Gurley has 456 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns in his past two games.
Gurley, like many of the Rams’ starters, are well rested after sitting out of their Week 17 loss to San Francisco.
The same can’t be said of Atlanta. The Falcons had to battle hard to secure a wild-card berth last week, and the injury report is a little concerning on Wednesday. Julio Jones (ankle/ribs), Devonta Freeman (knee) and Alex Mack (calf) are all dealing with injuries.
Atlanta, NFC Champions a year ago, has the playoff experience. But the Rams are the better team.
Pick: LA Rams
Buffalo at Jacksonville
Buffalo’s first trip to the playoffs this side of the millennium will be short lived. Potentially without star running back LeSean McCoy, the Bills run into a Jaguars defense that ticks just about every box.
They can rush the passer; only the Steelers (56) tallied more sacks than the Jaguars (55) in the regular season. The unit also allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL, the league’s fewest passing yards and recorded the second-most interceptions.
I don’t trust this Bills offense to find any joy against an elite Jacksonville defense. Buffalo’s struggles to stop the run could also become a real problem against the league’s top-ranked rushing offense.
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Carolina at New Orleans
Cam Newton in two games against the New Orleans defense this season: 34/53 for 350 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Drew Brees in two games against the Carolina defense this year: 47/63 for 489 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
While the Saints swept the Panthers in the regular season, it’s never easy to beat the same team three times in a season. Carolina has also proven that it can beat anybody, home or away, on its day.
The Panthers have been up-and-down throughout the year, recording impressive victories over the Patriots and Vikings, but also losing to the Bears and barely escaping games that looked favorable on paper.
It’s playoff football, and I expect Newton to be at his best. That said, New Orleans is arguably the most balanced team in all of football, and inside the Superdome I expect them to bounce back from last week’s disappointment at Tampa Bay to win a close one.
Pick: New Orleans
Last week: 9-7