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STEVIE THE GREEK: NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview

The NFL Regular Season has come to an end, and NFL Wild Card weekend is on the horizon. Last year on Wild Card Weekend there was no place like home. Home teams went 4-0 with the closest margin of victory being a 27-14 win for the Houston Texans over the Oakland Raiders. Looking back to how Wild Card Weekend shaped up in 2015 and the exact opposite occurred. Home teams were 0-4, and while the games were closer (two games decided by two points or less), this shows that the common narrative that home teams are strong on Wild Card Weekend is not bulletproof. With this being said, let's take a look at the matchups that will be taking place this weekend.

Game One: Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Saturday, Januray 6th, 4:35 PM EST)

Score Prediction: Tennesee Titans 16, Kansas City Chiefs 28

Prior to the Tenessee Titans winning their final game at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 15-10, the team had dropped their past three games and still do not look good entering the post-season. The biggest issue for this team? The offense. The Titans who with weapons such as Marcus Mariota, Demarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and fifth overall pick Corey Davis on paper appear to be one of the best offenses in football. Murray has been hurt and he will be out this weekend, and Mariota has been atrocious in 2017 throwing for 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Tennesee had five games against teams with above .500 records in 2017 and went 3-2 against those teams, including two wins against the Jaguars. Tenessee entering this games has not gone up against many tough football teams in the NFL. While the Titans come in limping, the Kansas City Chiefs have looked as dominant as they did to start the year. Kansas City has won four straight games, and in games where their starters have played, they have won by margins of 16 points, 17 points, and 11 points. Simply put, the Chiefs are rolling heading into the playoffs, and one of the largest reasons why is the re-emergence of Kareem Hunt. Hunt who between Week Six to Week 13 had no more than 73 rushing yards in a single game has recorded yard totals of 116, 155, and 91 in the past three games in which he has recorded more than one carry. The Kansas City Chiefs are rolling on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and they go up against a Tennessee Titan's team which can not boast the same statement.

Game Two: Atlanta Falcons vs. Los Angeles Rams (Saturday January 6th, 8:15 PM EST)

Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 18, Los Angeles Rams 31

The Atlanta Falcons may be the luckiest team to make the playoffs in 2017. It seemed plenty more times than not, the Falcons were on the receiving end of some lucky breaks. Look back at Week One of the NFL season, Jordan Howard drops a pass in the end-zone, Falcons hang on to win 23-17. Week Three provided one of the most controversial calls of the NFL season when Golden Tate caught a Matthew Stafford pass and plunged his way into the end-zone, but upon further review, his knee was down short of the goal and time expired. Nonetheless, the Atlanta Falcons have found their way into a playoff spot, but the reigning NFC Champions have not faired well against playoff teams this year going 2-4. Atlanta's offense has not looked the same as it did last year as former Offensive Co-Ordinator Kyle Shanahan fled to San Francisco to assume their Head Coach position. Steve Sarkisian has yet to utilize their offensive skill players the same way Shanahan found success doing.The Los Angeles Rams, on the other hand, are 3-2 against playoff teams this year and offer one of the premier offenses in the NFL. The Rams offense, unlike the Falcons, took a step forward in 2017 with their coaching change as 32-year old Sean McVay spearheaded a drastic change. Runningback Todd Gurley was second in the NFL with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 all-purpose touchdowns. Sophmore Quarterback Jared Goff took a giant step forward in 2017 proving that the Rams made a good choice selecting him first overall. Surprisingly with all of their success on offense, the defensive side of the football is where the Rams butter their bread. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the best disrupters in the NFL. The Defensive End has forced five fumbles on his own this year and tied for 11th in the NFL with 11.0 sacks. The Los Angeles Rams have also held their opponents to 20 or fewer points in 9 games this season. While the Falcons return to the post-season as the Conference Champions, their title defense will be short lived this post-season.

Game Three: Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, January 7th, 1:00 PM EST)

Score Prediction: Buffalo Bills 17, Jacksonville Jaguars 16

The feel-good story of the week will be front on Sunday afternoon as the Buffalo Bills will be participating in their first playoff game since 1999 when they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The most pressing concern for the Bills will be the health of running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy suffered a sprained ankle last week, and while it appears as if he will be good to go, it remains to be seen in what capacity he will be able to play. Their opponents, the Jaguars, have lost their previous two games but may have the answer to beat the Buffalo Bills in Leonard Fournette. The Buffalo Bills gave up 1,796 yards to rushing backs which was good for the second most yards allowed to running backs in 2017. Sacksonville, also bodes the NFL's premier defense. The Jaguars have allowed 20 or fewer points in nine games this season, while also placing second in the NFL in turnovers with 33 this year. Where the Jaguars may become susceptible is in the passing game. If the Buffalo Bills can go ahead early and force Blake Bortles to throw the football more than the Jaguars would like, the Buffalo Bills could be in for a successful Wild Card Weekend.

Game Four: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, January 7th, 4:40 PM EST)

Score Prediction: Carolina Panthers 18, New Orleans Saints 23

This Sunday's meeting between the Panthers and the Saints will mark the third matchup between the two teams. The Saints have dominated the Panthers throughout the Regular Season defeating them by margins of 21 points, and ten points, but this weekend the cats from Carolina can keep it close. Cam Newton has been struggling as of late, but he has the ability to win a game all on his own. The Panthers have a 4-4 record against teams which qualified for the playoffs, which includes wins over the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings. The Carolina defense led by Luke Kuechly will have to show up on Sunday against New Orleans, as they have allowed over 30 points in both contests against the Saints, while only doing this three times all season. The New Orleans Saints have the NFL's best rushing attack thanks to the emergence of Alvin Kamara. Kamara who has been nominated for Rookie of The Year and is the NFL's most dynamic player given his ability to score on any possession, including special teams. Couple his performance with the excellence of Mark Ingram as pro-bowl caliber player and the Saints offense sounds phenomenal and I haven't even begun to talk about future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, or their phenomenal defense. While the Saints look poised to make a deep playoff run, expect their NFC South divisional rivals to give them their toughest test this weekend.

 

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