Happy Wildcard Weekend, sports fans!
Despite no Philly football this weekend, I’m still here to peer into my crystal ball and predict the future with shockingly, mystically, impossibly average accuracy.
Though I am the regular-season champion among BGN writers for straight-up picks this season, so maybe this go-round will be more successful than predictions of the past. (Never mind that the BGN Community beat everyone in straight-up picks; that’s not important.)
Let’s get it kickin’. (All point spread from Top Bet.)
Fun fact for you, kiddos: if your coach is on the hot seat, relative to his team’s performance in a playoff game...you never should have made it to the playoffs in the first place.
The #Titans are in the playoffs, but coach Mike Mularkey’s job is not safe. Sources say a loss could end his tenure, as the team prepares for a run at #Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. Big game today with multiple ramifications.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 6, 2018
It’s widely recognized that Mularkey runs a prehistoric offense that fails to capitalize, not only on young QB Marcus Mariota’s athleticism and accuracy on the run, but on his two big RBs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and the stretch abilities of his TE Delanie Walker. It was Walker who said, last week, re: Marcus Mariota’s play, “Sometimes you gotta overcome coaching.”
In short, I think the team—and fans—want Mularkey gone, so they should likely root against the Titans today? Weird stuff.
Either way, Andy Reid’s path to bungling the eventual championship game just got a whole lot easier. I like the Chiefs, 23 - 13.
Saturday (1/6), 8:15 EST, NBC — Atlanta (+5.5) v. Los Angeles
This is the best game of the week, in my opinion—and I’m sure in the opinions of many others as well. A lot has been made of Sean McVay, whiz kid coach for the LA Rams—but coaching in a playoff game is a different beast entirely, and I think Atlanta has a nice match-up coming against Los Angeles.
Atlanta has won six of their last eight contests—the two losses coming at home to Minnesota (#2 seed) and on the road in New Orleans (#3 seed). It’s worth noting that, during that stretch, they also beat New Orleans at home, Seattle on the road (which ended up being huge for playoff seeding), and fended off Carolina (#6 seed) in Week 17 to ensure their playoff berth.
Atlanta’s been playing some good, tough football. And I know I picked LA in the BGN Wild Card picks...but I’m here to make an eleventh-hour switch.
Remember, we’re only 1 year removed from what should-a been, could-a been, would-a been a Super Bowl-winning season for the Atlanta Falcons. They have a defense that can really fly, which will help suffocate the spacing on which McVay’s offense is predicated, and they benefit from a marked advantage in playoff experience.
The Rams’ greatest hope rests in the Wade Phillips-led defense—but that squad has incurred some injuries and weakened against the pass as of late. I expect a shoot-out, and in a shoot-out, give me the QB I trust more in late-game situations. That’s Matty Ice. Falcons, 34-31.
*Ben Solak, Bleeding Green Nation, and all affiliates are not responsible for any predictions if Aaron Donald says “Screw this” and goes Super Saiyan
Sunday (1/7), 1:05 EST, CBS — Buffalo v. Jacksonville (-8.5)
God bless you, were you fortunate enough to be with a Bills fan during the afternoon slate on New Year’s Eve. A holiday predicated on renewal can only become all the more magical when a 17-year playoff drought is snapped.
I was not so fortunate—I was with a good buddy, who was proudly wearing the white Joe Flacco jersey without which he never wakes up on Sunday morning.
I want to believe in Buffalo—so, so, oh so badly. And I’ll tell you this—put them up against any of the other 4 AFC playoff teams—aye, even the Pats and Steelers—and I think Buffalo would put up a four-quarter fight for the ages.
I just can’t see it against Jacksonville.
Obviously, the limited health—even if he does play—of RB LeSean McCoy plays a big factor, no matter the opponent. But as Jacksonville is the toughest team in the AFC on which to throw the football, McCoy’s gimpiness and potential absence look all the more glaring. I, for one, do not want rookie Zay Jones and the meniscus-less Kelvin Benjamin trying to separate against A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey.
This also comes down to narrative. No storyline could stand to Buffalo’s triumphant return after an apparent exodus of talent and bungled QB situation—but Jacksonville’s comes pretty close. A defense that perennially underachieved finally looks ravenous; a revamped commitment to running the football protects QB Blake Bortles; also, swagger out the wazoo.
I want Buffalo to win—I just think Jacksonville is the worst possible opponent. Jags, 27-10.
Sunday (1/7) 4:40 EST, FOX — Carolina (+7) v. New Orleans
Though I called Rams/Falcons the game of the weekend, I think Carolina and New Orleans is still a sneaky good match-up. I know Carolina is sorely lacking in weapons at WR, and that their defense can be a little, shall we say, touch-and-go. To me, it boils down to this:
It’s very hard to beat a team three times in one season (New Orleans has already beaten Carolina twice).
Firstly: these two teams know each other—they’re divisional rivals, and that familiarity always makes games closer than they should be. Despite all of their injuries, Carolina will have WR Devin Funchess and G Trai Turner for the match-up, which are two big boosts for a struggling offense.
The battle to watch, however, comes on the other side of the ball for me: having 8 full quarters of game tape on New Orleans’ offense against their defense, I expect DC Steve Wilks and HC Ron Rivera to come out on Sunday with enough adjustments to really make this New Orleans offense work. Unlike the Saints of yore, this team wants to get an early lead, then step on your throats in the running game—Carolina has invested enough in the defensive front-seven that they simply must turn in a better performance in the box (297 rush yards allowed across 2 games v. New Orleans).
Win on the ground; put the ball in Drew Brees’ hands; make this an aerial battle. Again, I’m taking the QB I trust more in that situation—Brees—but I think this’ll still be tight.
Atlanta v. Philadelphia
Kansas City v. New England
Jacksonville v. Pittsburgh
New Orleans v. Minnesota