NFL Playoffs Preview
For those of you Ravens fans who said on Sunday that Buffalo would not make it to the Playoffs because of their drought or that you were confident Baltimore would win at home... PIT OF MISERY! DILLY DILLY! And if you are in Western New York reading this your team has officially snapped the longest active postseason and your initial reaction to this might be a mixture of stunned and what the hell just happened? Well let the analyst do the talking.
You see Buffalo had a long shot at the Playoffs and a couple of things needed to happen in order for them to clinch the #6 seed. First they had to win against Miami. Done. Plus, they needed losses by either the Titans or Ravens. Sort of done. And if you are in Jacksonville you'll love hearing this. The Jaguars needed to win against Tennessee in order to knock them out of possible Postseason play against them again next weekend. But Marcus Mariota said screw that, because we're coming to your house next week to play you again. And so, the Titans won at home against #Sacksonville 15-10 and clinched their first playoff berth in 9 years. So you might be wondering, what does this have to do with the Bills? Key word that I said earlier was "either".
4th and 15. M&T Bank Stadium. Ravens fans screaming for one more stop by their defense in keeping their season alive! So what does Andy Dalton do? CRASH BALTIMORE'S PARTY!!! He threw the game-winning touchdown and did his best 2012 AFC Divisional impression with about 45 seconds to go. Ravens don't get the first down on 4th down and short which means... Party like it's 1999 Buffalo! Your team's in the Postseason!
So with all that said, this year's Playoffs will be crazy with two-thirds of this year's Postseason teams being new ones that did not make it last year. Which brings the notion that any one of these 12 teams can win the Super Bowl. So how about we do some Playoff Previews and some early picks. And if you paid attention through this half of the blog, the Bills are going to Jacksonville next Sunday to face the Jaguars.
Bills @ Jaguars:
Winner of this game will either face the Steelers with a Jaguars win and New England with a Bills win. But on to the matchup. Now first I would like to make a sincere apology to Sean McDermott in him not believing in Nate Peterman. Now if I was McDermott now, I would start Tyrod Taylor on Sunday. Speaking of Tyrod, the Jacksonville defense must attack the running game of Lesean McCoy and keep this quarterback pressured inside the pocket. Did I also mention that Buffalo carted off McCoy in Sunday's win against Miami? Now pending that McCoy isn't fully cleared by the Playoffs, my prediction is that Buffalo will use either former Carolina Panther Mike Tolbert or Patrick DiMarco. So for the prediction. I think Tyrod will keep it close, but he'll come up just short in the final drive against the Jaguars' all-star secondary, and the Buffalo defense won't stop Blake Bortles from doing well.
Jaguars 24 Bills 17
Titans @ Chiefs
In this one, you've got two duel quarterbacks, two elite receiving corps, and two punishing defenses. So who do I got? Well let's take a look. Despite not throwing a touchdown pass, Marcus Mariota has done extraordinary against a talented Jacksonville squad. On the Chiefs side, there's nothing more promising than winning all four of your final games given the symphonic crowd at Arrowhead Stadium against opposing quarterbacks, Alex Smith's scrambling abilities, and pressure by the Kansas City defensive line in Dontari Poe, and Justin Houston. But here comes my one downside of this matchup.
Mariota and the Titans' last meeting against the chiefs back in Week 15 of last year resulted in a 19-17 victory possible by a game-winning 53 yard field goal by Ryan Succop. My point? Mariota can lead his team to wins by creating clutch drives in the defining moments of the game. This can be evident in both Sunday's win against the Jaguars and in a Week 12 win in Indianapolis where the Titans won 20-16 on a 1 yard touchdown run.
The lesson learned? Never count out a clutch quarterback when you need him most given his arm talent, leg talent, and great accuracy and peripheral vision. Kansas City can at times be too confident when holding a lead that is 7 points or less. Just watch their 38-31 loss against the Jets. Think about it. A one point lead held by the Chiefs and an unlikely quarterback in Josh McCown who they thought would be easy to defend against drove the Jets down the field and set up the go-ahead touchdown. Point being, is that I don't think the Kansas City defense can stop a Tennessee offense would has just beaten another AFC Playoff team not once, but twice; and maybe a third time had Buffalo not gotten in. Kansas City fans, look away.
Titans 23 Chiefs 20
Falcons @ Rams
Two high powered offenses? Yes! Two world class defenses, Not quite. Expect the first of the NFC Playoff matchups to be high scoring given Jared Goff's second year stats and Todd Gurley's MVP performance this season. As for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, hey still have their weapons from the Super Bowl in Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Vic Beasley, and Austin Hooper but they haven't been quite as efficient as they were back in 2016. While Atlanta's defense is still quite young, it won't be near the performance Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald will have against Matt Ryan. The prediction is simple while the next one is rather complex, but again, given this Rams offense's numbers this season with Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Cooper Kupp, it will be too much for this youthful Falcons defense.
Rams 34 Falcons 24
Panthers @ Saints
What better way to finish off Wild Card Weekend than with a rubber match featuring the Panthers and Saints. In the previous two meetings, New Orleans swept the season series against Carolina where both games' final scores' margins were within 10 points or more. The key here in this matchup is for the Saints' rushing attack in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to destroy the Carolina defense and Luke Kuechly. There will still be some passing attacks with Drew Brees, but expect for the final Wild Card matchup to be mostly taken over by the ground game in the Saints running back duo and Christian McCaffrey.
Now both the Saints and Panthers defense are up and coming despite the presence and leadership of veteran Luke Kuechly. The Saint defense must stop Cam Newton's unstoppable scrambling and pocket presence. Another defense that had trouble with this is the Minnesota defense as they gave up a 61 yard run. If the New Orleans defense minimizes Newton in the pocket he'll have less opportunities to find open holes created by lead blockers to give him scrambling room.
My prediction will be solely based on the rushing attack and the pass defenses. Expect to see both Saints running backs to both have multiple rushing touchdowns while Christian McCaffrey will only have one and be accompanied by a two touchdown game, but this will be New Orleans' game to take.
Panthers 21 Saints 28
In conclusion, surprises? Yes. But what will be the excitement of the 2017 NFL Playoffs is the defining clutch moments that will be laid in NFL lore. And don't be surprised that if a team has an insurmountable lead, the other team may make a comeback. And that could be the difference between elimination or a trip to the Winter Ball.
12 Teams, but only two can make it to Minnesota.