Pete Prisco's Wild Card Picks: Falcons top Rams on road; Chiefs edge Titans
Matt Ryan finds a way on the road, while Jaguars and Saints win at home
On the surface, the NFL's wild-card round doesn't truly excite.
That's especially true in the AFC, which features two teams in Buffalo and Jacksonville that haven't been to the playoffs in a long time and two teams in Kansas City and Tennessee that have major issues.
But if this season has taught us anything, it should be to be ready for one of those four teams to get hot and make a run.
It's hard to see now, but history says it will happen.
The NFC playoffs are wide open, and the two wild-card games are both intriguing. That's because there are three NFC South teams that have quarterbacks who have taken their teams to the Super Bowl. The Rams are the only NFC team playing this week with a quarterback who hasn't been to the big game.
The winners this week in the NFC have a real shot to make it to the Super Bowl. The teams waiting are beatable, especially top-seeded Philadelphia.
So get ready for a Wild Card Weekend that I predict will be better than expected.
Tennessee at Kansas City
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN, ABC)
The Titans didn't exactly power into the playoffs, but they beat the Jaguars on Sunday to get into the party. They struggled on offense for much of the second half of the season, but they get an opponent in the Chiefs that has struggled against the run, ranking 23rd in rushing yards per attempt and 29 in passing yards per play. Look for the Titans to pound the football at the middle of that Chiefs defense and have some success doing so.
The Chiefs came alive on offense late in the season after a lull that led to coach Andy Reid giving play-caller duties to coordinator Matt Nagy. They got back to running the ball with Kareem Hunt, which helped Alex Smith come out of little bit of a slump. The Tennessee defense is fourth against the run, which will put this on Smith's right arm to win.
I think Smith will do enough in the passing game to pull out a close game, but it won't be easy. The Titans have won their past two at Arrowhead, including last December when they ran for 148 yards. I think they will run it here, but in the end the Chiefs will advance.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Titans 21
Atlanta at Los Angeles Rams
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
This will be the first playoff game for a lot of Rams players, including quarterback Jared Goff, and also coach Sean McVay. The Falcons will bring a playoff-tested group that went to the Super Bowl last season, which gives them an edge.
The Rams, though, have been potent on offense, leading the NFL in scoring. The Falcons were eighth in scoring defense. That unit was 19th in yards per rush against, which could mean a heavy dose of Todd Gurley by the Rams.
The Rams defense also had trouble with the run for much of the season and finished ranked 30th in rushing yards against at 4.7 per carry. That could mean a heavy dose of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
But in the end, it will be Matt Ryan who will win this game with a late drive for the winning field goal.
Pick: Falcons 30, Rams 27
Buffalo at Jacksonville
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Bills haven't been in the playoffs since 1999 and the Jaguars haven't been involved since 2007. This is the Drought Bowl.
It's also a game that features Jaguars coach Doug Marrone against the team he quit on in 2014. But there are just six Bills left on the roster from that team, so it won't be an issue.
What will be an issue is the Jacksonville defense. It finished ranked second in the league in total defense and second in sacks. It is a defense that is vulnerable to the run, but LeSean McCoy is banged up. He hurt his ankle against Miami, so his status bears watching and he's likely a game-time decision.
That will put a lot of pressure on Tyrod Taylor to win in the passing game, but that won't be easy against the Jaguars corners.
The Jacksonville offense finished first in rushing, but ninth in yards per attempt. That run game wasn't as good late in the season, which is a concern. But Buffalo is 29th against the run. That will mean a big day for Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville defense will close it out. The Jaguars advance.
Pick: Jaguars 20, Bills 7
Carolina at New Orleans
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
The Saints beat the Panthers twice this season, including winning 31-21 at the Superdome on Dec. 3. In that game, Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara accounted for 248 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and through the air. Expect more of that this week.
The Panthers totaled just 279 yards as the Saints defense got the best of Cam Newton and the offense that day.
But both defenses have had issues the past few weeks against the pass, which could mean a shootout. If that's the case, I will go with Drew Brees in that scenario. Newton looked bad last week throwing the football, and I think that will carry over.
The Saints will get back on track on defense after a bad showing in Tampa last week to advance to the next round.
Pick: Saints 30, Panthers 23
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