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Playoffs, baby!: Predicting the 2017 NFL Wild Card Round

The Pats are on a bye this week (as per usual), but The King is still ready make some picks for wild card weekend.

New York Jets v New England Patriots
Even though the Patriots have the week off, the masked vigilante Bill Belichick will still have his eye on the competition.
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Since it’s officially wild card weekend of the NFL playoffs, I spent some time doing research and reading up on this weekend’s games. After all, I’ll be making picks for every single playoff game and competing with my sports columnist idol Bill Simmons of The Ringer, hoping to go 11-0 against the spread. (Which is something we hope to do every year but have never actually been able to accomplish. This is my year!)

So anyway, while I was reading articles and browsing through Twitter, I came across a Boston Globe column by the one and only Dan Shaughnessy. As per usual, he was writing about how easy this year’s playoffs are going to be for the Patriots. It’s the same old stuff that Shaughnessy spews week after week – the rest of the NFL is nothing but a parade of tomato cans waiting to get kicked over by the big bad Pats, especially the AFC teams. Apparently I have a better chance of winning the Powerball than a non-Patriots team from the AFC has of making the Super Bowl. According to Shaughnessy, this weekend’s playoff games are lame and worthless.

For some reason, I read the column. And then I started wondering … is he right? Was the 2017 NFL season a joke because the slate of starting quarterbacks in the playoffs are guys like Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Blake Bortles among others? Is this what the NFL is reduced to? I thought about that for a minute. But then I started asking myself … why am I letting Dan Shaughnessy take a dump on my playoff excitement? That was the real question. It’s January, one of my favorite months of the year entirely because of the NFL playoffs, and I was sitting here letting Dan Shaughnessy – a guy who literally writes about nothing other than how the Patriots are so much better than every other team – ruin the mood for me. No, sir. There was no way I was letting the biggest troll in Boston sports media bring me down.

So I wised up real quick. Sure, there might only be a few superstar quarterbacks in the playoffs this year. This year’s slate of playoff teams might not be the greatest you’ve ever seen on paper. But nevertheless, it’s still the NFL playoffs, and nothing can change that.

With that being said, it’s time to make some picks for wild card weekend. We’ll see if I can take down Simmons at his own game and finish 11-0 against the spread. Wish me luck.

CHIEFS (-8.5) over Titans

Does anyone actually believe Tennessee can win the game? Anybody? I mean, sure, you should never put too much trust in Andy Reid and Alex Smith in a playoff game because they are some of the greatest choke artists ever. But in a playoff game at home, you’re absolutely going to take them over Mike Mularkey and Marcus Mariota every single time.

To be totally honest, Mariota really isn’t even that good. He’s an average quarterback at best. He’s a guy you can expect to help the Titans win 8-9 games every year. He’s not a guy you can expect to go into a road playoff game and actually play well enough to win, especially against a Kansas City defense that loves to force turnovers. To add to Tennessee’s problems, they finished out the season by losing three of four. When making picks for wild card weekend, you never want to get behind a team that crapped out in its final games of the year.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, won their final four games (albeit after a stretch where they lost six of seven, but I digress). Don’t worry, Kansas City will eventually choke in the playoffs like they always do. It just won’t be this weekend.

The King’s pick: Chiefs 32, Titans 10.

Falcons (+6.5) over RAMS

Sue me, but I think this line is a little too big. The Los Angeles Rams favored by 6.5 points over the defending NFC champions? Even though the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl last year, then hobbled their way to a 10-6 record in 2017 and barely squeezed into the playoffs as the 6-seed in the NFC doesn’t mean the young and inexperienced Rams are going to have an easy time this weekend.

There’s no doubt Sean McVay should be coach of the year for helping turn a 4-12 team last year into a Super Bowl contender overnight. There’s no doubt Todd Gurley should be in MVP conversations after busting out a league-high 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns. There’s no doubt Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, might be one of the elite quarterbacks of the future (28 touchdown and seven interceptions this year). But even while keeping all of this in mind, the Rams are incredibly young and inexperienced. This kind of stuff goes a long way in the NFL playoffs.

Now, I’m not saying the Rams will lose because of that. After all, they do have home field advantage. And while they are inexperienced, they are still a good football team. And no disrespect to savvy veteran Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and other talented players on the Atlanta roster, but the 10-6 Falcons just really aren’t that scary. I don’t think facing the reigning NFC champs in a home playoff game will rattle the Rams too much. I’m taking Los Angeles to win the game, but due to their youthful inexperience in the playoffs, I’m not picking them to cover the 6.5-point spread.

(On the plus side, this game might steal the show of wild card weekend. Don’t miss this one.)

The King’s pick: Rams 17, Falcons 14.

JAGUARS (-8.5) over Bills

What’s more amazing? The fact that the Buffalo Bills are playing in a playoff game, or the fact that the Blake Bortles Jaguars are hosting a playoff game? Shaughnessy would just ramble about how much of a joke it is that these two teams are in the playoffs, but all will be set right when the Patriots steamroll their season to an end. On the contrary, I say it’s pretty cool that these two teams, who nobody expected to actually make it here, grinded out their seasons to reach this point. And the cool part is that one of them will get to win and move on to the next round. Of course, whichever team wins is just awaiting a blowout in the divisional round (the Jags would go to Pittsburgh, the Bills would go to New England), but just the fact that these two teams made it here is impressive enough, because nobody saw it coming.

The opening sentence of the AP preview for this game was “The NFL doesn’t do the Cinderella story often, but one is coming when the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game on Sunday.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. I love stuff like this.

As for the matchup … this one was darn near impossible to pick. There are arguments both for and against the Bills.

The arguments against Buffalo:

1) The possibility of LeSean McCoy being unavailable after injuring his ankle in Miami last week, and the team’s second-leading rusher is quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

2) Buffalo is ranked 30th in sacks allowed and 29th in in total offense.

3) The Jacksonville defense ranks first in yards-per-play, pass defense and interceptions, and ranks second in total defense, sacks and scoring defense.

However, if you’re arguing in favor of the Bills, there is always the fact that they closed the season by winning four of their last six (with the only two losses coming at the hands of the Patriots), while the Jags lost their final two games. Momentum would be in Buffalo’s favor. And to top it off, it’s probably never a good idea to bet on Blake Bortles in a playoff game, even though we haven’t actually had the chance to do it yet.

When it comes right down to it, I just don’t think the Bills quite measure up, especially on the road and especially if McCoy can’t play. I have absolutely zero confidence in picking the Jags in this game, but I’m just trying to follow my gut, and my gut is telling me to take Jacksonville at home. Guess I have no choice.

The King’s pick: Jaguars 24, Bills 14.

SAINTS (-6.5) over Panthers

Here’s another game that was really hard to pick. It features two of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Cam Newton), so that doesn’t make it any easier. Additionally, both teams faltered in their last game when trying to clinch the NFC South. The Panthers needed a win over Atlanta and a Saints loss in Tampa to clinch. The Saints did lose, but Carolina failed to beat Atlanta, and because of that, they now are traveling to New Orleans for this wild card game.

But maybe on second thought, this game might not be too hard to pick after all. It seems like just about every argument is going in favor of New Orleans. First of all, the Saints have home field – always a huge factor in the playoffs. Then there are the head-to-head matchups: the Saints beat the Panthers twice this year, the first time being a 34-13 butt-whooping in Charlotte, and the second time being a convincing 31-21 win in New Orleans. The Saints seem to have their number. Carolina is ranked seventh in the NFL on defense, and allowed just 88.1 yards rushing per game. However, they gave up their most rushing yards this season to the Saints; 149 yards in the first game and 148 yards in the second game.

One more argument against the Panthers: they may have officially run out of gas on offense. In last week’s 22-10 loss to the Falcons, Newton completed just 14 of 34 passes and was intercepted three times. Those aren’t the numbers you want your star quarterback to be putting up the week before a playoff game, especially in a game in which you have a chance to clinch the division.

As per usual, I feel much more confident going with the home team.

The King’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 19.