By: Jesse A. Cook (Executive Managing Sports Editor)
Wild Card weekend is upon us and we get a look at which teams will win and be rewarded with getting to go to the home stadium of one of the top two teams in their conference.
A.F.C. 5. BUFFALO BILLS (10-6) AT 4. HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6):
Buffalo has the better defense. They allow far fewer yards and points per game. Both teams have had their spots essentially wrapped up for a few weeks, so we cannot take the last few to mean much other than that they have backups ready to play at some point if necessary. Let’s travel back to Week 14 when the Texans lost 38-24 to the Denver Broncos allowed Drew Lock to pass for three touchdowns and 309 yards on just 27 attempts.
While, on Thanksgiving Day, the Bills allowed Dak Prescott to pass for two touchdowns and 355 yards, they beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-15 and it took Prescott 49 passing attempts to make it to that number.
Deshaun Watson has played better than Josh Allen this season, but you know the phrase: defense wins championships.
Buffalo takes it on the road 17-13.
A.F.C. 6. TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7) AT 3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-4):
It’s no secret that Ryan Tannehill is turned into Ryan T-on-a-roll. Let’s face it, when you combine a hot quarterback partnered with the league leader in rushing yards and pit them against a team that has fallen by leaps and bounds since their great start, the team with momentum usually takes the cake. New England’s receivers have not been up to snuff. Julian Edelman has been the only reliable target, but defenses have not had to play close coverage on Phillip Dorsett and Mohammed Sanu; this means that they can put double coverage on Edelman. Also the Pats’ defense has faltered and the loud home crowd can only do so much.
In Weeks 15, the Titans held the offensively proficient Texans to a tight game, losing only 24-21 and picking off Deshaun Watson twice. In Week 16, granted they allowed Drew Brees to toss for three touchdowns himself, Tannehill matched him. 38-28 the final in that one. In Week 17, the Titans demolished the Texans in Houston 35-14. They started their backup quarterback, A.J. McCarron, but that does not discount Tannehill’s impressive performance, passing for two touchdowns. Derrick Henry rushed for an unbelievable 211 yards with three touchdowns.
New England lost at home to the Miami Dolphins. Enough said.
Titans should silence the Foxboro crowd on Saturday night, winning 27-23.
N.F.C. 5. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5) AT 4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-7):
No surprise here, the Seahawks are infinitely better. Philadelphia should not even be in the playoffs based on the way they have played. They are just lucky to be in the N.F.C. East. While Russell Wilson’s play has not been the M.V.P.-caliber stuff we saw early on, Carson Wentz is still worse compared to him. While they had comparable passing yards numbers with both quarterbacks over 4,000 yards, Wilson completed 66.1% of his passes and Wentz completed 63.8% of his passes. Wilson threw five interceptions all year and Wentz threw seven. Wilson threw for 31 touchdowns this season and Wentz threw for 27. The Eagles’ offensive line has been better as Wentz has only been sacked 37 times compared to Wilson’s being sacked 48 times, but the edge still goes to Wilson.
The Seahawks’ defense were more vulnerable to the rush than the Eagles’ defense was, but they were essentially neck and neck in points allowed and passing yards allowed.
Both teams have had mellow opponents for a while, but it’s the N.F.C. West against the N.F.C. East. This is a competitive struggle for first that went down to the wire against a joke that didn’t have a good punch line.
Seahawks take the road dub easily at 38-10.
N.F.C. 6. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6) AT 3. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3):
For the second year in a row, it’s the Saints’ revenge tour. Don’t worry, the referees are going to wait until the Super Bowl to blow it for them this year. Sure Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have played well in a competitive division, but with Dalvin Cook operating at half capacity, their chances are dulled. On the other hand, Drew Brees to Michael Thomas is a magic connection and the receiver’s Instagram handle has rung true because he has proven that defenses just @cantguardmike and Brees will play to that. Thomas led the league in receiving this year and he’ll continue his reign into the playoffs for sure.
The defenses are near equals and both teams have faced their fair share of difficulties. This game comes down to which offense has more targets playing their best and the Saints just have more power in their lineup.
It’ll be a thriller and an offensive showdown, resulting in a 41-35 Saints victory.
In any case, the winners of these games will have a tough enough time in the next round anyhow as the A.F.C. Wild Card winners are rewarded with playing in Kansas City against the two-seed Chiefs or in Baltimore against the top-seed Ravens and the N.F.C. Wild Card winners get to go to Green Bay to face the two-seed Packers or to San Francisco to face the top-seed 49ers.