After a regular season that for better or worse featured a little bit of everything, the NFL postseason is finally here. Unlike the other major sports, this is the only one with a “win or go home” playoff format so every game can be very compelling. In past years however, we’ve seen that doesn’t always mean the better team wins. Due to the nature of a seven game series in basketball, baring injuries or bad matchups the more talented team is likely going to win a seven game series. In football, all it takes is getting hot at the right time or a play here and there that could be the difference between a quick playoff exit or a Super Bowl title.
Last week: 10-6, Season: 167-89
Last week against the spread: 10-6, Season: 126-130
Titans 16 Chiefs (-9.5) 26: The Titans aren’t a team generating a ton of buzz right now, but they have some of the old playoff cliches working in their favor. They’ll likely try and establish the run game with Derrick Henry who will once again see increased volume with DeMarco Murray already ruled out. The Chiefs defense has been gashed of late, and Henry should see 20 plus touches as long as the Titans are keeping it close.
Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense has been better at home this year and going into Arrowhead is no easy task for your first career playoff game. Despite that, the Titans do have some favorable matchups when they look to throw. Eric Decker and Delanie Walker have both proven they can do damage lined up in the slot, and the Chiefs slot corner Steven Nelson has had his share of struggles this season. Look for Mariota to target Decker and Walker early and often.
With Dick LeBeau, the Titans have a defensive coordinator with decades of postseason experience. While the Chiefs will look to continue having Kareem Hunt involved, it may not come through the ground. Since week 12 Titan opponents have averaged less than 3.5 yards a carry. Backs have been able to produce against the Titans in the passing game, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Hunt was more involved there than usual.
This has the makings of a nice matchup for Alex Smith as quarterbacks have fared well against the Titans defense this season. The likes of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill provide a difficult challenge for a young but talented secondary. While the Titans have prevented big pass plays this year, stopping Hill vertically is easier said than done and Kelce might be the best tight end in the league at the moment. The ability of the Titans to get pressure on Smith will be the determining factor in this one as the Titan offense isn’t built to win shootouts.
Falcons 20 Rams (-6.5) 24: The defending NFC champion going up against this year’s feel good story has the makings to be a lot of fun. We all know about the offensive talent the Falcons have, but for whatever reason that hasn’t translated to points. Matt Ryan is still playing at a high level, but has a tough matchup against a tough Rams defense. Not surprisingly, Julio Jones should be called upon often in this one. Jones should be seeing a lot of Trumaine Johnson who is a bigger corner, but it’s a matchup Jones still should have the upper hand in.
The Rams have been vulnerable to wideouts who line up on the inside, so Mohamed Sanu is a player who could have a big impact if the Falcons decide to target that matchup. Against the run, the Rams have also had some struggles so it will be interesting to see how often Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are used even if it’s to keep the Ram offense off the field.
Some bad news for the Falcons is that Todd Gurley comes into this one with fresh legs. While the Falcons the past few months have been stout in run defense, opposing backs have racked up almost 800 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions against them. We’ve seen how dangerous Gurley can be in the passing game, and it’s certain he will be involved there again.
Gurley’s producing will also open things up for Jared Goff in his first playoff start. Don’t be surprised if Goff looks for Cooper Kupp early and often. Kupp will be running the majority of his routes against Brian Poole in the slot who per Pro Football Focus is allowing 1.49 yards per coverage snap. Kupp and Robert Woods are the likely bets to lead the Rams in receiving this game. This game has the makings of a potential shootout, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this one came down to the very end.
Bills 14 Jaguars (-9.5) 24: You wan’t a playoff atmosphere? Then you’ll want to watch what’s going on in Jacksonville this weekend as two teams with playoff droughts of a decade plus entering the game face off. The biggest question for the Bills will certainly be the status of LeSean McCoy. Dealing with an ankle injury, if McCoy is unable to play like himself it would hurt the Bills’ chances against a team who can be beat via the run.
The other question for the Bills is if any of their receivers will be able to create separation against the Jaguar secondary. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a quarterback who will throw a ton of balls into heavy traffic, so it will be interesting how much he looks for a player like Kelvin Benjamin who is at his best in jump ball situations.
For the Jaguars, it basically all comes down to Blake Bortles. We all know the defense is phenomenal and Leonard Fournette will get plenty of touches. But the ceiling for the team this year will be determined by Bortles’ mistakes or lack thereof. If Bortles is able to reestablish the rhythm he had in weeks 13-15, this game could get ugly quickly.
Panthers 21 Saints (-6.5) 26: Sweeping a team as talented the Panthers is a tough task, but now the Saints are needing to beat them a third time. The good news is unlike previous seasons, the Saints aren’t only reliant on Drew Brees and can get it done with the run game and the defensive side of the ball.
For the Panthers, it will be crucial to see which Cam Newton shows up for this one. He has thrown for less than 200 yards in seven of his last nine games, and his yards per pass attempt decreased for a third straight season. Fortunately, Christian McCaffrey has a nice matchup in this one as the Saints have allowed over 700 yards and five touchdowns through the air to opposing backs.
Except for their two games against the Saints, the Panthers were strong against the run so it will be interesting to see what run defense shows up. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are almost matchup proof at this point and should see their usual workloads. For whatever reason after their bye, the Panther pass defense has taken a turn for the worst allowing over 300 yards passing a game. The Saints ideally won’t have Brees throwing 50 times, but this could bode well in the event the Saints are in a two minute situation needing to score.