NFL Wild Card Playoff preview
With the 2017 regular season officially finished, the playoff picture is set, and it looks a lot different than it has in recent years. This year's field features eight new teams that did not make the playoffs last year; four of them having ended what seemed like never ending droughts.
For the Buffalo Bills, its been 17 long years since they last played meaningful January football. But the drought is over, ending the longest streak of missing the playoffs in the four major North American professional leagues. The Rams bounced back from an embarrassing first season in LA, ending their 13-year drought. The Jacksonville Jaguars also ended a decade of mediocrity, and the Tennessee Titans are back, ending their 9-year skid. Lets take a look at the match-ups.
No. 5 Titans (9-7) at No. 4 Chiefs (10-6) Saturday, 4:35 p.m. Eastern, ESPN/ABC
The Kansas City Chiefs started off as the league’s hottest team with a 5-0 start but hit a mid season slump, going just 5-6 record the rest of the way. But it seems they have found their stride again winning 4 straight to end the season. They boast the NFL's leader rusher in rookie Kareem Hunt who ran for 1327 yards and will look to carry the team on his back throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs have one of the best offensive attacks in the league and with the energy of Arrowhead stadium behind them, expect them to put up some points.
Tennessee safety Kevin Byard has been exceptional all season with 87 tackles and a league leading 8 interceptions. Look for Byard to try and put a stop to the Chiefs potent offense. The Titans could likely be without Demarco Murray, who missed last week’s game with an MCL tear.
No. 6 Falcons (10-6) at No. 3 Rams (11-5) Saturday, 8:15 p.m. Eastern, NBC
The last time these two teams faced off, the Falcons destroyed the Rams on the road 42-14…but that was last season. The Rams will host their first playoff game at the Coliseum and will look to overpower the Falcons with their explosive offensive attack.
Two of the league’s premiere offensive weapons will face off in Todd Gurley and Julio Jones. Gurley has been in MVP form, leading the NFC with 2093 total yards from scrimmage and scoring a league high 19 touchdowns. Jones has been nothing short of spectacular this season finishing second only to Antonio Brown with 1444 yards receiving, but he has struggled to find the end zone this season only scoring 3 touchdowns.
The Rams are the league’s highest scoring team averaging 29.9 ppg and will look to give this Falcons defense fits. Both teams are top 10 teams in yards-per-game so expect an exciting game with some explosive plays. A Falcons win sends them to Philly to play the Eagles, while a Rams win will set them up for a divisional round game in Minnesota.
No. 6 Bills (9-7) at No. 3 Jaguars (10-6) Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern, CBS
“The Drought is Over Bowl.” Neither of these teams have sniffed a playoff game in at least a decade, and the Jaguars have not hosted a playoff game since 1999. The Bills looked to have turned in their season at the start of week 11 after they benched Tyrod Taylor, but a horrible 5-interception game by Nathan Peterman forced Taylor back into the lineup and redeemed their playoff hopes. Look for Jaguars to ride rookie running back Leonard Fournette as they will most likely need to keep the ball on the ground against a Bills team that has only given up 13 touchdown passes all season, tied for first in the NFL.
Preston Brown is the leading tackler in the NFL with 144 total and will look to anchor this Bills team to a win. The Jaguars are ranked second in total defense (286.1 ypg) and second in points allowed per game (16.8 ppg.) The Jaguars defense is stingy and could pose a huge threat for the Bills. Look for this to be a low scoring affair. A Jags win locks up a rematch with Pittsburgh, while a Bills victory sends them to New England to face the Patriots…so they might want to enjoy a victory while they can.
No. 5 Panthers (11-5) at No. 4 Saints (11-5) Sunday, 4:40 p.m. Eastern, Fox
The New Orleans Saints dominated the Panthers in both match-ups this season, and there is no reason to think the third game between these NFC South foes will look any different. The Panthers travel to New Orleans to face one of the most potent offensive attacks in football. The Saints boast weapons all over the field in rookie Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas, and Tedd Ginn. And of course, Drew Brees, who has thrown for 4334 yards to go with 23 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions.
The Saints offense is scary and the Panthers know all to well how dangerous they can be. New Orleans outscored Carolina 65-34 in their two regular season contests. The Panthers were hot down the stretch as they won 7 of their last 9 games but dropped their last game to Atlanta. Cam Newton has been superman for his squad this year accounting for 4056 yards of his team’s 5179 yards offensively. Newton led his team in rushing with 754 yards - the most by a QB this year - but the Panthers will need their role players to step up if they plan to make this game competitive.