The March to Minneapolis begins this weekend as the NFL Football Wild Card Weekend kicks into gear. I would recap my full 2017 Season Predictions, but I don’t want to bore with excuses as to why I would’ve been right if X, Y, Z happened.
Instead, let’s try to get you ready for the playoffs (yes, Jim Mora, playoffs) with the Wild Card Weekend. Four games this weekend loaded with surprise teams. Betting lines close Saturday morning so read up and start the new year off right!
Saturday’s AFC Wild Card Game (Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs)
How to Watch: 4:35 pm EST Kickoff on January 6th on ESPN
Preview: This is a weird matchup to think of considering how things panned out during the season. I picked the Titans to win the AFC South, and the Chiefs rolled to a 5-0 start including dominating the Patriots on Opening Night. However, Kansas City limped through the middle of the year before winning their last four games. Meanwhile, Tennessee got blown out against multiple playoff teams despite handling the Jaguars at the start of the year. KC has a talented offense with playmakers at every position while the Titans defense is what gives them an edge.
Pick: Here is what I will tell you, and you’re going to see a theme in these picks, quality run games will win this weekend. The two-headed monster of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray is great in Nashville, but Kareem Hunt will be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Yes, his production dipped in the middle of the season but he had three quality games at the end, and he’s impressive as hell. Chiefs are a nine-point favorite at home, and I’ll take them to cover.
Saturday’s NFC Wild Card Game (Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams)
How to Watch: 8:15 pm EST Kickoff on January 6th on NBC
Preview: Like I told you at the start of the year, the Super Bowl hangover is real. Atlanta suffered from it mightily in the middle of the season. After a 3-0 start, they blew two double-digit halftime leads, got throttled by New England, and then lost three games to NFC playoff teams. Meanwhile, the Rams became one of the darlings of the NFL with Sean McVay as head coach and the emergence of Jared Goff as a STUD quarterback. Both teams have explosive offenses and comparable defenses. However, the Falcons are slightly better in every category except 3rd Down Conversions Allowed.
Pick: I think an overlooked part of this game is location. Of all the teams playing this weekend, the Falcons have to go the farthest. Not to mention, Todd Gurley is a monster in the backfield for Los Angeles. It’s a long way to travel just to get beat on by the NFC’s leading rusher. Give me the Rams as they continue an amazing turnaround. However, I’ll take Atlanta to cover the 6.5 point spread.
Sunday’s AFC Wild Card Game (Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars)
How to Watch: 1:05 pm EST Kickoff on January 7th on CBS
Preview: It’s been 17 years since the Bills made the playoffs and they needed some help to do so. Which was amazing considering if Sean McDermott never started Nathan Peterman they wouldn’t have needed help. Anyway, Jacksonville has been arguably the biggest surprise of the year. That defense has helped carry a team led by Blake Bortles at quarterback to a division title while Leonard Fournette rushed for over 1,000 yards in his rookie season. Unfortunately for Buffalo, LeSean McCoy may not be available with an ankle injury while Marqise Lee will return from injury for the Jags.
Pick: If the Bills can escape upstate New York with the blizzard conditions this week (or if Jacksonville survives their “cold weather”) they won’t be able to escape the dominating ‘Sacksonville’ defense. They have allowed the fewest passing yards, picked off the second most passes and recorded the second most sacks in the NFL. Another nine-point home favorite and you should definitely take the Jags by double-digits.
Sunday’s NFC Wild Card Game (Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints)
How to Watch: 4:40 pm EST Kickoff on January 7th on FOX
Preview: What I told you would be the toughest division in the league gave us three playoff teams, with two meeting this weekend. Cam Newton figured out his surgically repaired shoulder and led the team in rushing this year. Christian McCaffrey is a dual-threat back and having Greg Olsen back may make all the difference offensively. Meanwhile, the reinvented Saints offense made them a massive shocker on the ground. The Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram duo are deadly, and Drew Brees is the only bonafide future Hall of Famer playing at quarterback this week. The Panthers defense might have the slight edge here, but Marshon Lattimore will be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, maybe even the overall Player of the Year.
Pick: As with every other game this weekend, running backs will be key. Nobody has figured out how to stop Kamara or Ingram and while I love the Panthers linebackers, they won’t either. You have to remember that New Orleans won the division by beating Carolina twice, out-gaining the Panthers on the ground in both games. Saints are a touchdown favorite at home and will win, but Carolina will keep it to a one-possession difference.