This weekend is ‘Wild Card Weekend’ and sees eight-teams hoping to take another step towards making Superbowl Ll in Minnesota on February 4th, as the AFC and NFC Wild Card games are played out to see who advances to the divisional games next weekend. The four-game themselves are some of the most intriguing and unpredictable matchups in recent times and the postseason themselves is an absolute lottery as well.
It is difficult to recall a more open NFL season than this year’s one, as no side has looked particularly unbeatable compared to previous years gone by, and that goes for the four Wild Card games this weekend too. Half of the teams making up this weekend’s games (Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills) none have played in the postseason for at least 11 years and in the case of the Bills it is 18 years and helps brings to an end to the unwanted record of being the only NFL franchise to not have appeared in a playoffs in the 21st century. But for the case Los Angeles it is 29 years since they last held a home playoff game – before the team moved to St Louis in 1995.
TENNESSEE TITANS v KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – @ Arrowhead Stadium
First up is the Saturday night game, as the Tennessee Titans travel to the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on the in-form Chiefs. Kansas City will look to pick up their first Playoff victory in at home, since 1993 when the Chiefs had to overcome the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime to prevail. 25-years ago also saw the AFC West team beating the then Houston Oilers 28-20, in their divisional playoff game, and to which later saw the Oilers moving to Tennessee, before adopting the Titans names in 1999.
Kansas City does hold a 2-0 record over the Titans, but that is if you included their record as the Oilers too, with the victories for the Missouri side coming back in 1962 & 1994. In match-ups since the move to Nashville back in 1996 and onwards, the Titans hold a slender 5-3 series record overall in the head to head. The Chiefs have had three parts to their season, as they firstly defeated the Superbowl champion New England Patriots in Foxboro to shock the Patriots and the experts in the process. Kansas City then followed up that win with four straight victories that moved them to a 5-0 record before the wheels then blew off. The Chiefs then lost six of their next seven games, to move to 6-6 on the season and saw them finally getting back to winning ways in week 14, as Kansas beat their bitter rivals the Oakland Raiders and finished the regular season with four wins to claim a 10-6 record and make the playoffs.
For Tennessee, they haven’t played in a Playoff game since losing to the San Diego Chargers (now LA Chargers) back in 2008 and saw their last win in the postseason coming as far back as Baltimore in 2003, before they fell to the eventual champions in New England. The Titans have a decent record in the playoffs at 5-6, though that is if you exclude their Oilers history. Their first playoff ever victory as the Titans came against Buffalo back in 2000 in what was dubbed ‘The Music City Miracle’, in which Tennessee scored on the final play of the game after a kickoff return saw Frank Wycheck throwing a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson, and he ran it back for a 75 yard touchdown to win the game.
That Tennessee side would make it all the way to the Superbowl XXXIV, having been a Wild Card side, and saw the Titans coming up a 1-yard short of winning their first ever Superbowl against ‘the Greatest side on turf’ in the St. Louis Rams. Since then, however, the Nashville outfit has struggled to make the playoffs and this year has seen them finding it hard to string more than two wins together and ended up with a 9-7 record on the season, but they’ll hope to improve on that. For a City that is famous for the ‘King’ Elvis Presley, they’ll know that come game time that ‘It’s now or never’ and will want to avoid feeling like a ‘Hound dog’ should they lose out.
PREDICTION: Kansas City
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS v BUFFALO BILLS – @ EverBank Field
The second AFC clash of the weekend pits the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field in Florida. Such has been the demand for playoff tickets at the EverBank Field this Sunday, that steps have been taken to open up another section of their stadium, as the Jaguars are playing hosts to their first postseason game since the turn of the century and also first playoff game since losing to New England back in 2008.
The Jaguars saw them picking up huge scalps in the first half of the season with impressive victories that included a 44-7 blowout win at Wembley Stadium over the Baltimore Ravens and then beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-9 to claim another scalp. Towards the back end of the season, it saw players and coaches alike on the sidelines being involved in heated arguments during losses to San Francisco and Tennessee in the final two weeks of the season and has seen their momentum take a battering from those incidents. Jags quarterback Blake Bortles has picked up twenty-one touchdowns on the year while throwing for 3,687 yards while Running Back Leonard Fournette has been key in the rushing game with ten touchdowns and over 1,342 yards.
Meanwhile, Wide Receivers in Marquise Lee and Keelan Cole have picked up six touchdowns between them and account for 1,467 yards and Tight-End Marcedes Lewis has five touchdowns on the year himself with 318 yards to boot.
With the Jags booking their playoff spot weeks ago, in the case of Buffalo, it was literally a last-minute thing and needed help from unlikely allies. It saw the final week of the regular season seeing the Bills beating their fellow conference rival in the Dolphins in Miami and then had Buffalo needed to await the outcome of the Baltimore/Cinncinati game to see if they would make the playoffs or not.
For most of the game, it seemed certain that Buffalo was heading through until the Ravens led right up until the final stages of the game and needed an Andy Dalton throw on fourth-down to find Tyler Boyd and have the Bengals causing a shock and stunning the Baltimore Ravens and spark off wild celebrations among Bills players and fans that were watching from within the confines of the stadium in Miami. Buffalo hasn’t made the end of season playoffs since 1999 and held an unwanted record of being the only side in the NFL to not have played a single postseason game in the 21st century, with their last game being the ‘Music City Miracle’ game against Tennessee.
The Bills this year has been led by Running-Back LeSean McCoy, of which the Harrisburg native has scored run in for six touchdowns and ran for 1,138 rushing yards on the season. Quarterback for the Buffalo side is Tyrod Taylor, and he has thrown for 2,799 passing yards and fourteen touchdowns on the year. However, the most bizarre incident involving Taylor came back in Week 11, when the head coach Sean McDermott made the strange decision to give Nathan Peterman the nod ahead of him against the LA Rams and saw Nathan Peterman having a nightmare game that saw him throwing five Interceptions and could have easily cost Buffalo in the long run.
Their biggest worry ahead of their game with the Jags this Sunday is an injury to LeSean McCoy after he suffered an ankle injury in the win over the Dolphins but has said in the last couple of days that he plans to suit up and will hopefully take his place out on the field. If he is missing for the Bills, then you feel that they are in a world of trouble.
PREDICTION: Buffalo Bills
Switching conferences now to the NFC and it sees the past two NFC champions taking their place in the Wild Card games in the form of the Carolina Panthers and also last year’s beaten finalists in the Superbowl in the Atlanta Falcons.
NEW ORLEAN SAINTS v CAROLINA PANTHERS – @ Mercedes Superdome
The first game sees a clash of the NFC South rivals, as Cam Newton leads his Carolina Panthers side to the Mercedes Superdome as they face the New Orleans Saints and a side that the Panthers have lost twice to already this year in the regular season. It saw the Louisiana outfit beating Carolina in their previous meetings that came in Week’s 3 and 13.
For the Superbowl winners back in 2010 in New Orleans, they started this season with two losses against the Minnesota Vikings on the road and then the current Superbowl champions in New England at home. That was before they then secured their first win of the year at Carolina in Week 3. Evergreen Quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for a total of 4,334 yards on the year and picked up twenty-three touchdowns and has a passer rating of 103.9%. The Saints have the second-best offense in the league, with only the Patriots having a better record.
For the two-time Superbowl runners-up in Carolina, they haven’t had that much of a bad season in truth, with their only losses coming against teams that have made the playoffs barring of course the hapless Chicago Bears. Wins on the road at New England and Detroit gave the Panthers a 4-1 record, before losses to the Eagles and then a disaster in Chicago against the Bears saw two 75-plus yard turnovers helping their opponents to victory. The Panthers were also only one of three teams to defeat the top-ranked Minnesota Vikings over the whole of the regular season. Carolina had many weapons at their disposal in their offense, as Wide-Receiver Devin Funchess scored eight touchdowns while Running Back’s Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey both picked up seven touchdowns each and the duo combined for 1,818 yards overall.
Cam Newton saw him completing 3,302 yards on the season and collected twenty-two touchdowns as well, as the Panthers talisman came up big when they needed him and will need to do the same come Sunday, as he faces arguably one of the top 3 quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees. It could see the game of the whole playoffs too between these two NFC South rivals.
PREDICTION: New Orleans Saints
LOS ANGELES RAMS v ATLANTA FALCONS – @ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The last game of the weekend sees the Playoffs heading to the West Coast and have the beaten runners-up from last year’s Superbowl in Atlanta, as they travel to the City to Angels to take on the surprise package of the season, in the Los Angeles Rams at the L.A Memorial Coliseum.
Atlanta will be hoping to make their way back to the Superbowl and put right what went wrong last year, following their complete and utter disintegration against the New England Patriots. The Falcons were 28-3 up midway through the third quarter and on course for victory. What followed, was the worst collapse ever by a team in a Superbowl or perhaps any final in sporting history, as the Falcons lost out 34-28 in overtime to the Patriots and see them cave in spectacularly.
The Falcons overcome the Bears, Packers and Lions to post a 3-0 start to the season, as they looked to exercise their demons from last year, but they then suffered three straight losses, including a rematch with New England, that saw them then slumping to 3-3. Atlanta finished with a 10-6 record and had the Falcons bouncing back with a Playoff berth and saw the core of players from last year in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu all stepping up for the Georgia-based side. Freeman claimed eight touchdowns and made 1,182 yards in the regular season, only Julio Jones had more yards (1,459) for the Falcon on the year. Tevin Coleman scored eight touchdowns with five on the rush and making 927 yards, while Sanu caught five touchdown passes and 713 yards this season.
Los Angeles as previously mentioned may have been the surprise package of the season of the year, as having posted a 4-12 record last year with Jeff Fisher in charge in, after he was fired it saw the Rams making a brave move for Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator in Sean McVay to be the new Head Coach of the Rams. The appointment raised a lot of eyebrows amongst the NFL, with McVay being the youngest coach in the league at 31 years old to coach any team.
When the Rams hit their Bye Week in Week 8, they were 5-2 on the season and that included a huge win at AT&T Stadium, in which they beat the Dallas Cowboys on their home turf 35-30 and also completed a shutout of the Arizona Cardinals at home and began to see people taking the Rams serious as a playoff contender. One huge difference for the Rams has been the impressive display of youngster Jared Goff at quarterback, as the former first-round draft pick by the Rams in 2016 had looked like he may not cut the mustard in the NFL last season, but roll on a year later and Goff has become one of the most exciting prospects in the league and with over 3,800 passing yards and twenty-eight touchdowns. Goff has been given new life under coach Sean McVay this year, as McVay by many has been the coach of the year and turned the fortunes of this Rams side around in such a short space of time that he has done an incredible job.
The meeting with the Falcons could come down to the quarterbacks, and Goff will be able to show how far he has come this season as he faces one of the best play-callers in Matt Ryan, as the Atlanta quarterback has struggled for form this season but not wavered at all and has helped carry his Falcons side to the postseason under some difficult times.
PREDICTION: Atlanta Falcons