The 2018 NFL Wildcard Weekend is here! On Saturday, January 6, the Tennessee Titans head to Kansas City has a huge underdog. Kansas City will try and parlay a win over the Titans into a Divisional Playoff Round appearance. Later on Saturday, the NFC defending champion Atlanta Falcons travel to La-La Land to battle the L.A. Rams. Could Atlanta keep the good times rolling after dominating the rival Carolina Panthers in Week 17?
The two Wildcard Round games on Sunday, Jan. 7, are Buffalo at Jacksonville and Carolina at New Orleans. The Saints will attempt to beat the Carolina Panthers for the third time this season. Check out a preview of Panthers at Saints as well as every other 2018 NFL Wildcard Weekend game!
2018 Wildcard Weekend Preview
Below, I make picks against the spread for each Wildcard Weekend battle.
Saturday, Jan. 6
Tennessee Titans +9 at Kansas City Chiefs -9
When: 4:35 pm ET
Analysis: Tennessee went 1 and 4 straight up in their last 5 regular season games. The Titans had to beat Jacksonville in Week 17 to stamp their ticket to the post-season. That’s exactly what Tennessee did. The 15 to 10 victory was legitimate.
Tennessee held the Jaguars to 83 rushing yards from 24 carries. Jacksonville had no success on the ground versus a stout Tennessee defense. The Titans defense didn’t give up on stopping Jacksonville’s passing attack to stop the Jaguars’ rushing attack. In addition to holding Jacksonville to only 83 rushing yards, the Titans picked off Jags’ QB Blake Bortles twice. They held Bortles to a 15 of 34 afternoon. Blake threw for only 146 total net yards.
Could Tennessee’s defense dominate the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense on Saturday? That’s not likely. KC is a much different team than the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chiefs boast a rushing attack that averages 118.9 yards per game. That ranks 9th in the NFL. KC’s passing attack averages 256.5 net yards per game. That ranks 7th in the NFL.
KC scores close to 26 points per. That ranks 6th in the NFL. Defensively, the Chiefs allow 21.2 points per game. That’s the average, though. Kansas City’s defense played much better in the final month of the regular season. The only team to score 15 points or more against KC’s D were the Denver Broncos in Week 17. Because they had already sewn up the NFC West Division title, Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid rested his starters on both offense and defense.
One thing to note is that KC is 1 and 8 against the spread in their last 9 playoff games. I still think they dominate the Titans on Saturday.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -9
Atlanta Falcons +6.5 at L.A. Rams -6.5
When: 8:15 pm ET
Analysis: The Atlanta Falcons head to Los Angeles to battle the Rams in Saturday’s prime time game. In 2016, the Rams won 4 out of 16. It’s remarkable that L.A. went from a 4 and 16 mark to an 11 and 5 record. The Rams beat both the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West Division. L.A. will try and continue one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history on Jan. 6 by beating the defending NFC Champion Falcons.
If the Rams are to beat the Falcons, they must get their rushing attack going. Although Rams’ second-year QB Jared Goff is pretty good, he alone won’t take down a Dan Quinn coached defense. Most NFL analysts are look to the Rams’ 42 to 7 beat down of the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 17 as a sign that this L.A. team is ready to beat Atlanta. I look at that game as a sign that the Falcons could upset the Rams on Saturday.
The Seahawks couldn’t stop the Rams rushing attack. Goff wasn’t stellar versus Seattle’s secondary even though both corner Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor missed the game. Goff completed 14 of 21. He threw for 120 yards, and tossed 2 TD passes. He also tossed a pick. L.A. rushed for 244 yards in the win.
Some might argue that the reason the Rams stuck with the rushing attack is because it was working. I say that it doesn’t matter. There’s no guarantee that the Rams’ rushing attack works versus Atlanta’s defense. There’s no guarantee that Goff can pick up the slack if, or when, the Rams’ rushing attack fails.
Atlanta’s D was fantastic towards the end of the regular season. In Week 17, it held the Carolina Panthers, a decent rushing team in their own right, to 87 yards from 24 carries. The Falcons picked off Cam Newton 3 times. Cam only completed 14 of 34 passes.
If that Falcons’ defense shows up on Jan. 6, it could be a long night for the Rams’ offense. On the flip side, the Falcons could have a lot of success rushing the football on the Rams’ defense. L.A. allows 122.4 rushing yards per game on average. That ranks 28th in the NFL.
Things have set up nicely for an Atlanta Falcons win on the money line. Taking the points is a no-brainer.
Pick: Atlanta Falcons +6.5
Sunday, Jan. 7
Buffalo Bills +9 at Jacksonville Jaguars -9
When: 1:05 pm ET
Analysis: All season long, I’ve been a big believer in the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars boast the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL based on yards allowed per game. Opponents average 286.1 total yards per game against the Jaguars’ D. Teams only average 169.9 passing yards against Jacksonville’s defense. That ranks 1st in the NFL. The 16.8 points per game scored against the Jaguars per game ranks 2nd in the NFL.
Jacksonville’s defense is good enough for us to expect the Jags to move on from the Wildcard Round, right? I don’t think so. Although the Jaguars defense is the best in the NFL based on most stats, where the Jaguars fail on D, the Buffalo Bills excel on offense.
Buffalo averages 126.1 rushing yards per game. That ranks 6th in the NFL. Bills’ running back LeSean McCoy is one of the best in the NFL. McCoy rushed for 1,138 yards and 6 rushing TDs. He also caught 59 passes for 448 yards. LeSean caught 2 TD passes.
McCoy is the best running back the Jaguars have faced since Oct. 15 when Todd Gurley II and the L.A. Rams beat the Jaguars 27 to 17. Let’s not forget that on Dec. 24, the San Francisco 49’ers hung 44 onto the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense.
Buffalo won’t need 44 points to upset the Jaguars straight up on Sunday. I think McCoy dominates. I like the Bills to move on to the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
Pick: Buffalo Bills +9
Carolina Panthers +6.5 at New Orleans Saints -6.5
When: 4:40 pm ET
Analysis: The old adage is that it’s tough to beat a team 3 times in the same NFL Season. In this case, so far, the Saints are expected to easily handle the Panthers for the third time this season. 57% believe the New Orleans Saints cover the 6.5 point spread against the Panthers on Jan. 7.
On Sep. 24, the Saints beat the Panthers 24 to 13 as a 5-point road dog. On Dec. 3, the Saints beat the Panthers 31 to 21 as a -5.5 home favorite. The biggest takeaway from both games is that the Carolina Panthers’ defense can’t stop New Orleans’ rushing attack. In September, the Saints rushed for 149 yards from 27 carries. In December, the Saints rushed for 148 yards from 28 carries.
Every important trend says that New Orleans beats the Panthers both straight up and against the spread this Sunday. New Orleans is a fantastic 23 and 4 against the spread in their last 27 home games versus a team with a winning road record. The Saints are also 13 and 4 against the spread in their last 17 versus an NFC South opponent.
The Carolina Panthers are 3 and 9 against the spread in their last 12 versus an NFC South opponent. Carolina is also 1 and 4 against the spread in the last 5 meetings in New Orleans. The Panthers are 0 and 6 against the spread in the last 6 meetings overall.
New Orleans should easily cover versus the Carolina Panthers on Jan. 7.
Pick: New Orleans Saints -6.5