Wondering why your team has a chance to win its NFL Wild Card Game this weekend? You’ve come to the right place.
Instead of the usual long breakdown of each matchup, I’ll provide you with one or two things that your team needs to do to win, or things that your favorite team must stop for victory.
The Titans will need to limit the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs offensive attack, which is second in yards per play and sixth in points.
The Chiefs enter the postseason riding high, while the Titans have struggled lately, playing ugly down the stretch and doing just enough to win.
Tennessee’s defense is mostly average (besides rush defense), so it will need to force Alex Smith and Co. into turnovers. Entering Week 17, the Kansas City offense was first all time for least amount of offensive turnovers in a season with nine. They ended up committing two turnovers in the win over Denver to drop them to third on the all-time list.
Luckily for the Titans, they have second-year safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league with eight interceptions. The Titans will need a monster game from Byard to keep the Chiefs from scoring points.
Who’d have ever thought I’d write this line — the Chiefs need Smith to continue to be the best deep-ball thrower in the NFL.
Per Pro Football Focus, Smith leads the NFL in deep-ball (20-plus yards) passer rating and accuracy. He’s got two weapons in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce who excel in hauling in these kind of passes.
The Titans allow only 88.8 rushing yards per game, and while the Chiefs are 6-0 when Kareem Hunt rushes for 100 yards or more, they will need to generate explosive plays in the air to open up the run game. It won’t be easy. The Titans have allowed only seven completions on passes over 20 yards this season.
The Falcons have to beat the Rams in the red zone.
If you’re looking for an upset this weekend, look no further than the Falcons.
They’re going to Los Angeles to face a Rams team that hasn’t been in this situation before. The Rams sat their starters last week, and the Falcons played theirs in a de facto playoff game. I’m indifferent to resting starters in Week 17. That’s up to the coach. He knows what his team needs to win, and it’s up to him to make that call.
The Falcons are uber talented, but at times this season, haven’t played that way. The key for the Falcons on Saturday night is finishing in the red zone. The Falcons are 15th in points per game, but third in yards per play, 13th in rushing, eighth in passing, and first on third downs. They should have way, way more points. The Falcons are currently 23rd in red-zone percentage. They need to find creative ways to isolate Julio Jones and create holes in the run game when things condense in the red zone.
I’ve highlighted the Rams offensive ability in an X’s and O’s video. You should check it out.
But the key for the Rams on Saturday night is Aaron Donald. Robert Mays of the Ringer details just how dominating Donald has been this season. He was Stephen White’s Hoss of the Week for the devastating performance he gave against Seattle a few weeks ago. Donald can single-handedly ruin the game for the Falcons.
The Bills MUST run to even have a chance.
The Buffalo Bills are a great story. The videos coming out of their locker room from Sunday after the Bengals beat the Ravens were outstanding. You could tell how much it meant to them. Bills Mafia is equally excited, as they should be, for this playoff run. They were out at the airport in zero degree temps to welcome the team back to Buffalo. This story is what people love about sports.
However, their fairy tale season might come to an abrupt halt on Sunday in Jacksonville. The Bills aren’t that good. That’s not being harsh; it’s just what it is.
They can run the football, though. The key for the Bills on Sunday is their offensive line. With LeSean McCoy (who accounts for 31 percent of the offense) limited by an ankle injury, it will be even more important for the Bills offensive line to open up holes for Mike Tolbert or even designed runs for Tyrod Taylor. The Jaguars have the best pass rush (check out my video about that unit) and pass defense in the league, but teams can run on them. This is the Bills’ only option for success on Sunday.
It’s cliché, but the Jaguars’ playoff hopes are in the hands of Blake Bortles. Will they get good Blake Bortles? Or will it be the game manager Bortles, the one who hits a few deep shots, doesn’t turn it over and relies on the run game and defense to win? Or will it be the bad Blake Bortles, the version we have seen the last two weeks? It’s that simple for the Jaguars.
Can Cam stop Cam?
The final game of the weekend could be the best. It’s the third matchup between these NFC South divisional opponents. The Saints beat the Panthers both times, 34-13 and 31-21. They’ve had the Panthers’ number all season.
Lots has been discussed regarding the Saints offense, including my video on the dynamic duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the backfield. The offense will always be a key for the Saints.
Unlike in previous seasons, the Saints defense has been able to match the offensive production. The unit is lead up front by Cam Jordan. He’s still nationally underrated, which is criminal. Jordan has 13 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, and 17 tackles for a loss. He’s a monster who’s been particularly hard to block for the Panthers this season. If Cam can continue to harass Cam, that will help slow down the Panthers offense.
I’ve said this all season. The Panthers come and go as Cam Newton plays. In 11 wins, Cam has an 18-5 TD to INT ratio and a 95 passer rating. In five losses, that ratio is 4:11 and his passer rating falls to 53.6.
Carolina needs good Cam to show up to keep up with the Saints offense. Additionally, the Panthers need Cam to be his special self on third down, where he’s in the bottom three for qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage and passer rating. The Panthers would be wise to get Newton going early in the run game. He’s still exceptional in there and that usually boosts his confidence, as well as the entire offense.
All right folks, that’s it. I’m looking forward to the slate of games this weekend!