After an intense 17-week period, the wait is finally over. The NFL Playoffs are here, and 12 teams stand in the hunt for the Super Bowl title.
Four of those won’t be seeing the field this weekend, though. The New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched bye weeks in the AFC, while the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings did the same in the NFC. The first weekend of 2018 will host the Wild Card Round, as eight teams will try to reach the NFL Divisional Round. What should we look for in those games?
Kansas City Chiefs vs Tennessee Titans
The action will start on Saturday at 4:35 ET, when the Chiefs take on the Titans at Arrowhead. Tennessee’s smashmouth rushing attack might take a big hit in case DeMarco Murray is not available to play, but Derrick Henry has proven he can carry the offense when needed. But the Titans might have been lucky to reach the postseason, as they often looked like an average team that merely caught a berth for playing in the AFC South.
The Chiefs certainly have the edge here. They won the underwhelming AFC West, but this is a time with a fair share of problems, too. They picked things up down the stretch, but make no mistake here. Hadn’t it been for their impressive start to the season, there was a chance the Chiefs might not even reach the postseason. This is going to be a clash between two underwhelming teams, although the Chiefs seem to have an edge based on their home-field advantage.
Los Angeles Rams vs Atlanta Falcons
Two high-powered offense will collide in Los Angeles this Saturday at 8:15 ET. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff and MVP-candidate Todd Gurley will lead the Rams, while the Falcons will counter with star receiver Julio Jones, and reigning MVP Matt Ryan. This game has all the makings of a potential shootout, as both teams ranked in the Top 10 in yards per game. The Falcons were eighth with 364.8, while the Rams sit 10th with 361.5.
Atlanta has a more versatile offense since their running-back combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is arguably one of the most explosive in the league, but things just didn’t click for the franchise during the entire season. In fact, they needed a comeback-win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 to clinch their spot, while the Rams cruised their way in a tough NFC West. For what is worth, Los Angeles led the league in points per game this season, with 29.9.
Like we said, this has all the makings of being a potential shootout. And unless you’re a fan of these two teams, this game qualifies as the most interesting one during the Wild Card Round, at least on paper.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Buffalo Bills
The Bills ended the longest playoff drought in American sports in dramatic fashion during Week 17, as they defeated the Miami Dolphins but also needed a late touchdown from the Cincinnati Bengals against the Baltimore Ravens to book their place as the sixth seed in the AFC. However, they lost LeSean McCoy, and it remains to be seen whether the Pro Bowl running back will be able to play against the Jags this Sunday.
There’s no question the Bills will need to be at their best if they want to top the Jaguars on Sunday at 1:05 ET. Jacksonville led the NFL in rushing yards per game with 141.4, and also ranked fifth in total points per game with 26.1, the second-best mark in the AFC behind the Patriots. But they were also one of the best defenses in the league, ranking second in sacks, interceptions, fourth in fumbles recovered, and first in touchdowns after fumbles.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jacksonville has home-field advantage. They are clear favorites on paper, and shouldn’t have many problems to reach the AFC Divisional Round.
New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers
Is there a better way to end the NFL Wild Card Round than with a rivalry? Perhaps that is what the NFL thought when scheduling the Panthers vs Saints matchup on prime-time this Sunday at 4:40 ET. Two long-time NFC rivals will battle toe to toe for the right to appear in the NFC Divisional Round.
The Saints have been one of the best offenses in the entire NFL this season, but the Panthers are no slouch and will make things difficult for Drew Brees and company. As if that wasn’t enough, it will also be the perfect chance to see two elite quarterbacks go head-to-head, as Brees will collide with Cam Newton. And what about the running backs? Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara on New Orleans’ side, while Christian McCaffrey will lead the Panthers’ rushing attack.
Two strong offenses, competent defenses, and the rivalry. This is surely a game no NFL fan will want to miss, especially given what’s at stake for both franchises.