It’s Wild Card Weekend in the NFL and several quarterbacks will be playing in their first playoff game of their careers, including Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Blake Bortles, and Tyrod Taylor. The other QBs, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Drew Brees and Cam Newton will be starting yet another playoff game. A lot of people say that players with more playoff experience have a better chance of having success than those who have little to no experience in these type of games. However, those with little to no playoff experience will only be more motivated and a lot of these teams have matchups that will work in their favor and against them. There is no doubt that these games will be exciting and much more intense than regular season games, so with this said, let’s get into these matchups!
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs; 4:35pm
1. Marcus Mariota Vs Chiefs Pass Defense
The old saying is that in the playoffs, players start with a clean slate, and while this is true to a certain extent, Mariota must play at his best to wipe away his regular season woes. He certainly has a chance to do that against a Chiefs defense that ranks 29th in passing yards per game allowed (247.0) and ranks 24th in total sacks (31.0). The key for Mairota in this game is to maintain extended drives to keep the Chiefs dangerous offense off the field. As the quarterback goes, so does the team and that is especially true for Mariota and the Titans.
2. Alex Smith Vs Titans Pass Defense
Alex Smith and this offense has been playing like they did in their first 6 games of the season. In the last 3 games (excluding last week as he sat out), the offense scored 26, 30, and 29 points (28.3 points per game) and threw for a total of 803 yards (267.6 passing yards per game) in those contests, all of which were wins. He’ll be facing a Titans defense that ranks 25th in passing yards per game allowed (239.3) but ranks 5th in total sacks on the season (43.0). If Smith gets the ball out quickly, the Chiefs offense will expose the Titans.
3. Kareem Hunt Vs Wesley Woodyard and LB Core
Kareem Hunt ended off the season on a high note and reportedly convinced Andy Reid to allow him to become the league’s leading rusher (1,327) and he did that on a 35 yard TD run on his only carry of the day. He isn’t only a runner as he can catch the ball out of the backfield as well, making him a dual-threat. The former Broncos player, Wesley Woodyard, and the rest of the linebacking group need to beware of Hunt have faired well against the run this year as they rank 4th in rushing yards per game allowed (88.8). Hunt will be a priority for the Titans and they’ll need to shut him down to force the offense into becoming one-dimensional.
4. Derrick Henry Vs Chiefs Run Defense
Derrick Henry will be taking most of the carries on Saturday as his teammate, DeMarco Murray, will be on the sidelines dealing with a knee injury. Against the Jaguars last week, Henry only ran for 51 yards on 28 carries (1.8 yards per carry) but could have a better performance against a Chiefs defense that ranks 25th in rush yards per game allowed (118.1). Mariota will lean more on the Henry to start off the game and to set up the play-action game. If the struggles with the run game continue, the game could get out of the Titans hands very quickly.
Bold Prediction: Derrick Henry runs for 125 yards and 2 TDs.
Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams; 8:15pm
1. Julio Jones Vs Trumaine Johnson
Trumaine Johnson’s will have a tough matchup against Julio Jones on Saturday as Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the league. Jones finished 2nd in the league in receiving yards with 1,444 receiving yards so he is no pushover. Johnson will need to be careful when squaring Up against him since he has a rare blend of height, speed, and strength. If Johnson can keep Julio in check, Matt Ryan will need to find other receivers who aren’t his primary read which could lead to sacks for the Rams defense.
2. Todd Gurley Vs Deion Jones and LB Core
Todd Gurley played at an MVP-like level this season under Sean McVay and ended the season with 1305 rushing yards (2nd and rested in the last game) and racked up 788 receiving yards (2nd on the team). He will have a tough task ahead of him running against Deion Jones and the Falcons defense as they rank 9th in rushing yards per game allowed (104.1). Deion Jones will most likely be the one matched up against Todd Gurley, especially in the passing game and this will be very fun to watch. If Gurley is shut down, the Falcons will have a massive chance of winning this game.
3. Jared Goff Vs Falcons Pass Defense
Goff had a heck of a bounce back season under Sean McVay and will now be playing in the first playoff game of his career. Goff has a tough task ahead of him against a Falcons defense that ranks 12th in passing yards per game (214.3) while they are tied for 13th in sacks (39.0). Goff will need to play like he did in the regular season where he limited turnovers by getting the ball out quick. Obviously, Goff has Todd Gurley at his disposal which should open up the play-action game on Saturday.
4. Falcons Run Game Vs Alec Ogletree and LB Core
The Falcons run game will need to get back on track this week as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ended up running for only 46 yards on 22 carries combined. This defense is led by Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree and this defense ranks 28th in rushing yards per game allowed (122.4). This has been their biggest weakness throughout the whole season and Alec Ogletree and if they don’t figure it out, the Rams defense will wear out quickly.
5. Matt Ryan Vs Rams Pass Defense
Matt Ryan is coming off a great performance where he threw for 317 yards and a TD against a stingy Panthers defense. He’ll be facing yet another stingy defense as the Rams rank 13th in passing yards per game allowed (217.2) and rank 4th in total sacks (48.0). Also, since Alex Mack was limited in practice on Tuesday because of a calf injury, he may not be at 100% when going up against Aaron Donald, which could lead to big problems for the passing and running game. We’ll see how well Ryan performs in this game on Saturday.
Bold Prediction: Both teams running backs combine for 400 scrimmage yards and 4 TDs.
Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars; 1:00pm
1. Bills Run Game Vs Jaguars Run Defense
The one player that runs the show in the run game is LeSean MCoy (4th in rushing with 1138), and the Bills may be without him after he suffered a sprained ankle last week against the Dolphins. He is listed as questionable and if he doesn’t play, Mike Tolbert will be splitting carries with Marcus Murphy on Sunday. The Jaguars defense ranks 21st in rush yards per game allowed (116.3) and is the only vulnerability on the defense. If Shady does play, he may not be at 100% and the Jags understand that stopping the run game is a priority if they want to win this game.
2. Tyrod Taylor Vs Sacksonville
Tyrod Taylor must be very excited to be in the playoffs, but is probably dreading the possibility of not having LeSean McCoy at his disposal because of injury and because he’ll be facing one of the best defense in the league in Sacksonville. He faces a mighty challenge against a Jags defense that ranks 1st in passing yards per game allowed (169.9), 2nd in points per game allowed (16.8), and 2nd in total sacks (55.0). This is a very tough defense to throw against so Tyrod will have a tough day ahead of him. He and the Bills will have a chance, however, if he doesn’t turn the ball over and manage to find a way to wear the defense out.
3. Leonard Fournette Vs Bills Run Defense
Leonard Fournette is looking to gash the Bills defense on Sunday as he only ran for 69 yards on 19 carries (3.6 yards per carry) against the Titans. This week, Bortles will rely on Fournette to do most of the work against a Bills 29th in rushing yards per game allowed (124.6). Since the Bills traded Marcel Dareus to the Jaguars early on in the season, the Jaguars defense has improved while the Bills have struggled to stop the run.
4. Blake Bortles Vs Bills Pass Defense
Bortles must also be very excited to be in the playoffs but will need to shake off his up-and-down performances in his last two games as he threw 5 interceptions in those two games combined (ultimately losing those games). He’ll be facing a defense that ranks 20th in passing yards per game allowed (230.5) and ranks 29th in total sacks (27.0). Bortles should play well against this defense and luckily he won’t have to win them the game as Leonard Fournette and the defense will be relied on more than him. Bortles will only have to do his part in getting a win against Buffalo on Sunday.
Bold Prediction: Sacksonville racks up 6 sacks, forces 3 turnovers, and scores a TD.
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints; 4:40pm
1. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram Vs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis
Kamara and Ingram became the 1st running back duo to rack up 1,500 scrimmage yards a piece. Though the run game has cooled off as they have only racked up less than 200 yards in the last two games of the regular season. These two will be facing a Panthers defense that ranks 3rd in rushing yards per game allowed (88.1). This run game needs to do its part in trying to wear out the defense. However, Kuechly and Davis will have a tough time defending this duo in the passing game since they are both fast players. We’ll see how this matchup unfolds on Sunday.
2. Panthers Run Game Vs Saints Run Defense
The Panthers run game has been underwhelming all season long and only managed to rack up 75 yards and 59 of this yards came from Cam Newton. The lack of a run game also forced Cam Newton into throwing 3 interceptions and completing less than 50% of his passes. The run game faces a Saints defense that ranks 16th in rushing yards per game allowed (111.7). If the run game doesn’t helpm then Cam Newton will struggle all game long.
3. Devin Funchess Vs Marshon Lattimore
Devin Funchess will have a tough task ahead of him when he goes up against Marshon Lattimore, who had a very good rookie season as he led the Saints in interceptions with 5. He has been shutting down opposing recievers all season long and do not expect that to change against Funchess. He led the team in receiving yards with 840. Either way, this should be a great matchup and if Lattimore shuts Cam Newton’s favorite receiver down, Cam will need to find other options and in this game.
4. Drew Brees Vs Panthers Pass Defense
Drew Brees will need to bounce back after suffering a loss against the Buccaneers last week. Though the loss wasn’t his fault, he could have extended drives longer because the Bucs offense was playing very well in that game. Now he’ll be facing a Panthers defense that ranks 18th in passing yards per game allowed (229.1) 11th in points allowed (20.4) and 3rd in total sacks. Brees can not afford to hold onto the ball long because the Panthers know how to get after the quarterback. Also, in the first two games, Brees has thrown for 489 passing yards, 4 TDs and no interceptions so the Panthers defense will look to make him uncomfortable early and often.
5. Cam Newton Vs Saints Pass Defense
Cam Newton needs to prevent throwing interceptions if he wants any shot at beating the Saints this weekend as he threw 3 of them last week in an ugly loss to the Falcons. He faces a Saints defense that ranks 15th in passing yards per game allowed (224.8), 10th in points per game allowed (20.4), and was tied for 7th in total sacks this season (42.0). In two games against the Saints, Cam has thrown for 350 yards, 1 TD, and 3 interceptions. He must change this he wants to continue playing in the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run.
Bold Prediction: Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram rack 200 scrimmage yards and 3 TDs.