The 2017 NFL Postseason is finally upon us. This weekend teams will take their first crucial step on their journey to Super Bowl LII. These past seventeen weeks have earned these teams the right to play in January, while the rest clean out their lockers early. In this year’s playoffs there are a few familiar faces but mostly new contenders. The Patriots, Steelers, Falcons, and Chiefs are the only four teams making it back to the postseason after appearing last year. On the flip-side, the Rams, Bills, Jaguars, and Saints are all teams that had losing records last season and are now in the playoffs. This will surely be a dramatic postseason this year, starting with these eight teams that will face off in the Wild Card round this weekend:
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
The Titans had a quiet season but clinched the fifth seed in the waning moments of Week 17. At 9-7, they snuck into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Their path to the postseason was almost squashed towards the end of the season as they dropped three of their last four games. However, a Week 17 win against their division rival Jaguars was all they needed to secure a spot to play in January.
The Titans are one of the few teams in the league that base their offensive solely on running the ball. Their running back committee of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry carried the offense throughout the season as Marcus Mariota had a rather mundane year. With DeMarco Murray suffering a Grade 3 MCL tear in Week 16, Henry became a workhorse for the Titans against the Jaguars yesterday. Murray’s status seems bleak to make a return for the Wild Card, so coach Mike Mularkey will need to reconfigure his offensive scheme.
At the beginning of the season the Chiefs seemed to be the most dominant team in the league. They trounced the Patriots in Foxborough on opening night in September and went on to have a blaring 5-0 start. However they learned quickly that a NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. From Weeks 6 to 13 the Chiefs only won a single game. They were able to hold on afterwards by winning out their final four games to secure a 10-6 record and a AFC West title. Their only trouble in the division came from the Chargers, who finished the season looming one game behind.
The Chiefs are without a doubt the fastest team in the league. Their offense consists of the speedy Tyreek Hill, rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, and widely overlooked quarterback Alex Smith. On the opposite end of the field they have talent with Marcus Peters, Reggie Ragland, Justin Houston, and the list goes on and on.
In the playoffs which Chiefs team will we see? The team that stomped New England or the one that had a meltdown in the fourth quarter to set up an ugly loss against the Jets? Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ coaching staff control their team’s future in January. The Titans might be the underdog in this game coming into Arrowhead, but if they can silence the crowd early they have a chance to pull an upset. Their run defense can stop Kareem Hunt at the line of scrimmage, but they do not have an answer for Kansas City’s air attack.
Prediction: 24-16 Chiefs
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
The Falcons secured the sixth seed in the NFC through their win-and-in scenario in Week 17. They had an inconsistent season to say the least. The highlight of their season came in Week 2 when they were able to stomp the Packers in the Georgia Dome’s inaugural game. However two weeks later they began to slide, losing three consecutive games in their trip through the AFC East. The Falcons were lost in their prime-time Super Bowl rematch against the Patriots.
At 10-6, they are certainly not the team that went for its first Super Bowl trophy almost a year ago. That doesn’t mean that they can’t play like the team that they were. Matt Ryan will have some slack to pick up with his offense to get things done. Their defense, ranked 23rd in the regular season, will be the focal point in order to succeed in the playoffs.
The Rams have had the one of the most dramatic transitions from last season to today. Their metamorphosis from a 4-12 joke last season to 11-5 NFC West champion now can be accredited to their new coach Sean McVay. The team’s identity lies within their striking offense that consists of MVP candidate Todd Gurley and legitimate franchise quarterback Jared Goff. Wade Phillips has also helped the team’s defense become top five in the league. The team aims to get their first playoff win since 2004.
This match-up will in no way be a blowout on either end. The Falcons might be held to harsh comparisons with their Super Bowl-aspiring selves from last year, but they still know how to get a win. Their offense might not be as electrifying as it was with Kyle Shanahan as their coordinator, but they still have the three-headed dragon of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones. This game will come down to which defense will let up first, and ranking-wise all signs point to Atlanta’s. Expect this game to be a shootout.
Prediction: 31-21 Rams
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
The New Year’s celebration started earlier than most for the Bills. A late touchdown from Andy Dalton and the Bengals was enough to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. The Bills ended the longest playoff drought in American sports, not making the playoffs since 1999. They will also aim to win a playoff game for the first time since 1995.
Nobody was bigger Bengals fans yesterday than Bills players (via stephenhauschka4/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/oJZZhybhj7
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 1, 2018
After a 9-7 season, the Bills deserved a playoff spot. Coach Sean McDermott reshaped the team into playoff contenders after his failed experiment with starting Nathan Peterman. The team’s success comes from LeSean McCoy, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 17. Being without him will hurt, but the Bills’ synergy can hold the team together.
The Jaguars are another team that have had a mammoth reshaping to make them a playoff squad. On a side note, not to brag or anything but I called it back in August that they’d clinch. Without Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, the offense was able to run on the shoulders of rookie Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars’ defense has been the staple of the team, dubbing their city as Sacksonville. They are one of the most dangerous defenses to face this season. Blake Bortles, though inconsistent, was able to put together an admirable finishing push to the season to achieve the AFC South title and the third seed. The last time the team finished with a 10 win season was in 2007, coincidentally the last time they appeared in the playoffs.
Though the Bills slipped into the playoffs this game certainly won’t be easy for the Jags. Both teams have strong defenses and rather weak offenses. The key to this game is how Leonard Fournette performs for the Jaguars. The Bills’ rushing defense had a nightmare game against the Saints, but since then has improved. If Blake Bortles is forced to go to the air then the Jaguars’ chances to win almost deplete. If there is going to be an upset in the Wild Card round, it’d be here.
Prediction: 17-15 Bills
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
The Panthers had a solid bounce-back season from last year’s nightmare. Finishing 11-5, they very well have the power to make a run. This is another case of a two-faced team, however. The Panthers came up big when they needed to, and a prime example of this is bullying the Packers at home. However, there were games this season where they looked lost. If Cam Newton is rolling, then the defense follows in suit. Christian McCaffrey has helped Cam’s game open up this season, whereas compared to last season he had no chance to be mobile. A good mobile quarterback must be accompanied by a viable running back to keep the defense guessing. That’s something that the Panthers lacked last season.
The Saints’ season started out ugly early on. Their offense was erratic and while having the parts to succeed simply couldn’t. Moving Adrian Peterson was the Saints’ defining move this season. Quickly afterwards the running back committee shortened to focus on Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. From there the duo hasn’t stopped shining, and in turn opened up Drew Brees’s passing game. The Saints have one of the best offenses in the league, and were able to build a solid defense after trading Brandin Cooks for assets to do so. The Saints also finished 11-5, but clinched the division after the Panthers fell to the Falcons in Week 17.
This game will be perfect to watch for anyone who loves offense. The defining factor is that the Panthers lost to the Saints twice already this season. In both of those games the Saints scored more than thirty points. The Panthers need to stay at that scoring pace or their defense will have to play like they did against Aaron Rodgers a few weeks ago.
Prediction: 41-28 Saints