NFL WILD CARD PREVIEWS
One of the NFL’s best defenses will square off with one of the league’s better quarterbacks when Buffalo travels to Houston in one of the AFC’s two wild card games. The Bills finished third in total defense and second in scoring defense allowing just 16.2 points per game.
Buffalo almost knocked New England from its perch atop the AFC East finishing the regular season 10-6. QB Josh Allen came into his own in his second year throwing for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Bills do not score a lot, but they usually don’t need to because of their suffocating defense.
The defense is led by third year cornerback Tre’Davious White, the Bills’ only Pro Bowl pick. White led the team with six interceptions. He will go up against Houston’s Deshaun Watson who threw for 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns. Watson got Week 17 off and will be looking to light up the Bills and advance Houston past the wild card round. Houston lost in last year’s wild card round.
Both teams will look to run the football. The Bills are eighth (128.4 ypg) and the Texans ninth (125.4 ypg) in the league in rushing. While Houston has a 1,000-yard rusher in Carlos Hyde (1,070), the Bills had three players – Devin Singletary (775), Frank Gore (599), Allen (510) – who rushed for at least 500 yards.
Ball control and fewer mistakes, i.e. turnovers, will be the difference in this game. Give the advantage to the more playoff-experienced team…
HOUSTON 20, BUFFALO 17
The Patriots (12-4) blew a shot at a first-round bye when they lost to the Dolphins at home on Sunday. Now, New England is forced to have to win three games just to get back and defend their Super Bowl title of a year ago.
First up is the one matchup the Patriots most likely did not want. Tennessee (9-7) squeaked into the playoffs with a Week 17 win over Houston. The Titans are basically New England Lite, starting with general manager Jon Robinson, who learned everything he knows from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel played in 17 playoff games for Belichick and that includes three Super Bowl rings.
Former Patriot RB Dion Lewis is on the active roster and defensive coordinator Dean Pees is another former New England coach. There is a ton of knowledge about what the Patriots do in preparing for playoff games on the Titans sidelines. That could be an advantage for Tennessee.
The Titans will certainly need all the help they can get as the Patriots have been to the last eight AFC championship games and have won the last three. For Tennessee, it starts with NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry and continues through QB Ryan Tannehill, who took over the starting job from Marcus Mariota around midseason.
New England’s strength though is its defense. The Patriots led the NFL in total defense allowing just 275.9 yards per game and scoring defense (14.1 ppg). New England had five players with at least five sacks on the season, led by LB Jamie Collins Sr. with 7.0. The Patriots will have to slow down Henry and pressure Tannehill to advance. The last time New England lost a home playoff game was in the 2012 season’s AFC title game. The Patriots lost 28-13 to Baltimore. Tennessee isn’t Baltimore… NEW ENGLAND 24, TENNESSEE 20
The 2017 version of this game gave us the “Minneapolis Miracle,” that long Case Keenum pass to Stefon Diggs that turned into a touchdown on the final snap of the Vikings-Saints divisional round playoff game that year. Minnesota won that day when no one thought they would. Ironically, or not ironically, the same situation applies in 2019. No one expects the Vikings to win, especially in New Orleans.
The Vikings will get RB Dalvin Cook back, which is good since the Minnesota offense runs through him. As good as QB Kirk Cousins has been, Cook is the key. Cousins had nine games with a passer rating of 111 or higher. He ended the regular season with 3,603 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
The problem was that in some games Cousins – Green Bay in particular – Cousins was awful. His lowest-production outings coincided with Vikings losses. If Cousins doesn’t play well, Minnesota is going home.
The Saints, on the other hand, have one of the all-time greats at quarterback. Drew Brees returned after an early season injury and was simply magnificent. He threw for 2.979 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games. His wide receiver Michael Thomas set a new NFL record with 149 receptions.
Minnesota plays solid defense, but the Saints defense is underrated. New Orleans finished fourth in the NFL in rush defense holding opponents to 91.3 yards per game. If the Vikings can’t run, they can’t win… NEW ORLEANS 33, MINNESOTA 23
In the final game on the final day of the 2019 season, Seattle came about an inch or two short of defeating NFC West champion San Francisco. As a result of the loss, the Seahawks must travel to Philadelphia instead of having a first-round bye and home-field advantage during the playoffs.
That’s okay, because the Seahawks have a strong history of success against the Eagles. The two teams played on Nov. 24 in Philadelphia and Seattle defeated the Eagles 17-9. Running back Rashaad Penny ran for a career-high 129 yards and one touchdown and the Seahawks defense forced five Eagles turnovers.
The last five times the Seahawks and Eagles have met, Seattle has been victorious in all five. The problem this time around is that Seattle does not have Penny. Head coach Pete Carroll doesn’t have starter Chris Carson either. In fact, the Seahawks had to sign previously retired Marshawn Lynch to the roster to help out. Rookie Travis Homer ran 10 times for 62 yards against the 49ers. That should be enough to help Seattle get by Philadelphia, or will it?
Remember, the Eagles finished the regular season third in the NFL in run defense. Philadelphia allowed opponents just 90.1 yards a game on the ground. For both teams, it will come down to which quarterback plays better. Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz threw for 4,039 yards and 27 touchdowns. Seattle’s Russell Wilson ended the season with 4,110 yards and 31 touchdowns. Give the advantage to experience… SEATTLE 22, PHILADELPHIA 19
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2018 NFL Wild Card Predictions
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Saturday, Jan. 5th
Betting odds: Colts -1.5 and O/U 48.5
It’s Colt-Texans Round 3 on Saturday when Indianapolis heads to Houston to face their AFC South Division rival for the third time this season. The home team did not win either game this season. The Colts won on Dec. 9 at NRG Stadium, 24-21, as they rolled up 436 yards against the Texans defense. Houston won in Indianapolis earlier in the season. That game was also decided by three points.
Historically, the Colts have owned the Texans, but Houston is 5-2 at home this season. Indianapolis is 9-1 since starting the 2018 season 1-5. They are just the third team in the history of the NFL to start 1-5 and make the postseason. Both teams are playing solid defense. The return of a healthy Lamar Miller (973 yards rushing) will give Houston a boost. In a toss-up, take the home team in a close one… Houston 24, Indianapolis 23.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Saturday, Jan. 5th
Betting odds: Cowboys -1.5 and O/U 43
On Saturday night Dallas will host Seattle in a game of two teams that couldn’t be more alike. Both went 4-1 down the stretch to earn a playoff berth after sitting out the postseason in 2017. Both teams had to go to the wire to win in Week 17 and both team’s revival was due to solid defense and a recommitment to running the football.
Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott (1,434 yards) led the NFL in rushing and Seattle RB Chris Carson (1,151) was fifth. The Seahawks lead the league in rushing averaging 160 yards per game on the ground. The Cowboys will need WR Amari Cooper (53 receptions, 725 yards, 6 TDs) to come up with some big plays. He has been pretty quiet since his 10-reception, 217-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Philadelphia in early December.
Seattle has won the last three against the Cowboys, including two games in Dallas. The two teams have played in one playoff game – the 2007 NFC Wild Card game. Seattle won 21-20 at home. Call it an upset… Seattle 21, Dallas 20.
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Sunday, Jan. 6th
Betting odds: Ravens - 3.5 and O/U 41.5
Just two weeks ago, the Ravens went to Los Angeles and destroyed the Chargers holding a very good offense to just 198 yards and 10 points. Can they do it again? Yes. Baltimore went 6-1 over its last seven games and has one of the NFL’s best defenses. The Ravens are first in total defense and second in scoring defense (17.2 points per game).
Baltimore has also been rejuvenated on offense by rookie QB Lamar Jackson, who has 695 yards rushing (2nd on the team). The Ravens are second in the NFL in rushing averaging over 152 yards per game. The combination of defense and running game is a good recipe for playoff success.
The Chargers (12-4) present a problem though. L.A. lost games to Denver and AFC West Division champ Kansas City earlier in the season. They avenged them both later in the year. That is why the Chargers will pull a huge upset in Baltimore on Sunday… LA Chargers 26, Baltimore 23.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Sunday, Jan. 6th
Betting odds: Bears - 6 and O/U 41
It was fate. The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to have a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. Philly beat Washington in Week 17 and then watched Chicago beat Minnesota to guarantee their trip to the postseason. Now, the Eagles will face those same Bears on Sunday.
The Bears have likely the best defense in the NFL. They rank in the top-5 in most defensive statistical categories. Defensive end Khalil Mack is a game-changer. Chicago will face an Eagles offense that is one-dimensional, for the most part.
Nick Foles, last year’s Super Bowl MVP, took over for Carson Wentz again and led the Eagles to huge wins over the Rams and Houston, both division champions, in order to secure a playoff berth. Philadelphia’s defense is not what it was a year ago and the running game is virtually non-existent. The Eagles Lombardi Trophy defense ends quickly… Chicago 27, Philadelphia 21.
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2017 NFL Wild Card Predictions
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Exactly 10 years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the AFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. They promptly marched on to their sixth Super Bowl win that season and it all started with a Wild Card round win over… Cincinnati. The two divisional rivals square off again and the Bengals will have to do it again without starting QB Andy Dalton. When the two teams met just four weeks ago, Dalton fractured a thumb and then gave way to backup A.J. McCarron. McCarron threw two interceptions, one was returned for a touchdown, and the Bengals lost 33-20.
This time around, the Steelers may have to play without their leading rusher DeAngelo Williams. If so, it would be a repeat of last year when Pittsburgh had to play without Le’Veon Bell in the Wild Card round and lost to Baltimore. Still, Pittsburgh will have QB Ben Roethlisberger and arguably the NFL’s best WR in Antonio Brown. The Bengals defense, which is second in the league in scoring defense (17.4 points per game), will have to keep Cincinnati in the game long enough for guys like RB Jeremy Hill, WR A.J. Green, and TE Tyler Eifert (team-leading 13 TD receptions) to make plays… Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 20.
Kansas City @ Houston
The Chiefs do it with a recipe that usually defines success in the NFL. They have found a way to run the ball by committee. Charcandrick West (634 yards) leads the team and Spencer Ware added 403. The key to the Chiefs offense is 11-year veteran QB Alex Smith. He had easily his best year in the league with 3,486 yards passing and another 498 on the ground (Chiefs second-best). He threw for 20 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Kansas City has a solid running game, an adequate passing attack, and they don’t turn the ball over.
The hottest team in the NFL is Kansas City. The Chiefs started the season 1-5. Their star running back Jamaal Charles was out for the season, but somehow head coach Andy Reid and company managed to win 10 games in a row and almost capture the AFC West Division on the last day of the regular season.
Houston, on the other hand, enters the playoffs having had four different players start at quarterback throughout the season. Make no mistake about it, the Texans strength is defense where two-time league defensive MVP J.J. Watt wreaks havoc on opposing offenses. Watt led the NFL again in sacks with 17.5 this season. The Texans defense will keep Houston in the game, but the offense may not have the firepower to gain a victory… Kansas City 17, Houston 10.
Seattle @ Minnesota
A little over three weeks ago, Seattle annihilated Minnesota 38-7 in the regular season. Now, the two teams meet again and the stakes are much higher. The Vikings defense, one of the NFL’s better units, played without DT Linval Joseph, OLB/DE Anthony Barr, and S Harrison Smith. Those three will return this time around and they must be prepared for a Seattle offense that continues to improve.
The Seahawks started the season a dismal 2-4 but rallied to win 8 of their last 10 games, including a decisive 36-6 win over Arizona in the season finale. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns in the win and the league-leading (17.3 points per game) Seattle defense held the Cardinals to a single touchdown. In Seattle’s last seven games, the defense gave up more than 13 points just twice. Once in a 23-17 loss to St. Louis and to Pittsburgh in a 39-30 victory.
If Seattle is able to contain the Minnesota running game and Adrian Peterson, it will be up to QB Teddy Bridgewater to make plays in the passing game. It was the Vikings defense that helped them win the NFC North with a win over Green Bay in the NFL’s final regular season game. Captain Munnerlyn returned a Packers fumble 55 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter that proved to be the difference in a 20-13 win. Another effort like that will go a long way in assuring success for Minnesota… Minnesota 24, Seattle 20.
Green Bay @ Washington
It’s not all that bad for Green Bay. In losing on the final week of the season, the Packers yielded the NFC North Division title to Minnesota. In return, they get a trip to NFC East winner Washington (9-7). The Redskins won their final four games of the regular season to earn the division and trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Washington QB Kirk Cousins (4,166 yards, 29 TDs in the regular season) has emerged as one of the league’s better young quarterbacks. While the Redskins do not run the ball all that well, Cousins makes up for it with a passing attack that helped Washington average just under 33 points per game over the final four games. Head coach Jay Gruden’s passing game might be just enough to give the Packers ailing defense fits.
The Packers have had an interesting season from the outset. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson tore an ACL in the preseason and missed the entire year. Offensively, Green Bay had its worst season since Aaron Rodgers took over at quarterback for Brett Favre in 2008. The running game is suspect and head coach Mike McCarthy’s taking over of the play-calling has provided some inconsistency. Against the better teams in the league, the Packers did not fare very well. Five of the team’s six losses were to playoff teams. While they may be able to get past Washington, advancing any further in the NFC playoffs would be very difficult for the Packers… Green Bay 27, Washington 23.
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