The NFL playoffs are here and they are coming in hot starting Saturday afternoon with an AFC clash between the Texans and Bills. The weekend wraps up in Philadelphia between the Eagles and Seahawks. In between, we have the Patriots hosting the Titans, and the Vikings heading to the Superdome to face the Saints.
If you’re not a fan of these teams, or not putting money on the games, what should you be rooting for? What is the reason a team will win? I got you covered.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
Saturday, Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m. ET
Why should you believe in the Bills: Their secondary.
The Bills have an outstanding defense. Their EPA (expected points added) is fifth overall, but they’re really good in the back end of that defense. They are third in dropback EPA, and the passing defense is ranked fifth by Football Outsiders. Tre’Davious White is quickly becoming one of the best corners in the league, and they will need the entire unit to play well this weekend against the Texans’ passing offense.
When healthy, the Texans have multiple weapons to attack a defense. If the Buffalo secondary plays well, the defensive line can take advantage of Houston’s average to below-average offensive line. The Bills will need to win this game with their defense.
Why you should believe in the Texans: Deshaun Watson.
This one is easy. It’s clearly Watson, who’s going to have to make plays with his legs at various times to help the Texans get through this Bills defense. I do not trust Bill O’Brien, nor the run game, and I believe the Bills won’t be able to score much against the Texans. So it comes down to their quarterback playing like expected.
Watson finished the year seventh in QBR, even with some of his weapons injured for large portions of the season. Watson is a superstar and needs to bring that play to this game.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
Saturday, Jan. 4, 8:15 p.m. ET
Why should you believe in the Titans: Play-action pass.
Ryan Tannehill has outperformed his expectations when he was inserted into the starting lineup. The Titans were looking for stability and instead found lightning in a bottle. And where Tannehill has excelled the most is play-action pass.
Tannehill has attempted 82 play-action passes, a high number for a quarterback with only 10 starts. However, Tannehill is seventh in EPA on those attempts. He also ranks first with a whopping 13 yards per play-action attempt. It’s no surprise, then, to see he’s second in on-target attempts in these passing situations. Why is this important for this weekend?
Well, the Patriots are going to sell out to stop the run — Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing. Tennessee could use big plays from play-action pass, as we’ve seen with the Tannehill to rookie wide receiver A.J Brown. It won’t be easy, though. The Patriots only allow 7 percent of pass plays to be explosive.
Why you should believe in the Patriots: The mystique of Foxborough.
The Patriots are not playing good ball at the moment. Even though Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins torched the defense on Sunday, I still trust that unit. I do not trust the offense, which is 15th in weighted DVOA (adjusted for current play), because they are so inconsistent. They could still show up this weekend and if they do, the Patriots will win.
What the Patriots have going for them in this contest is the mystique of the home playoff game. The Patriots have not lost a home playoff game since the 2012 season, and I believe that record gives them a sense of superpowers at home. When things aren’t going well, they get energy from the crowd and have the confidence of knowing they’ve often won at home in tough situations.
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, Jan. 5, 1:05 p.m. ET
Why you should believe in the Vikings: Dalvin Cook.
The Vikings’ star running back will be back for the wild card game in New Orleans. Without him, the offense was an utter failure against Green Bay in Week 16. It’s worth nothing that Cook has only rushed for 100 yards in five games this season. He’s only rushed for over 4 yards a carry in six games. Cook has been beat up, but if you listen to the discussion about his role in the offense, it feels like the Vikings “need” him to function properly on offense.
That is, of course, an indictment on Kirk Cousins, but we already know he’s come up short in these games. If Cook is healthy, it will fire up the offense and in theory, the Vikings should play better.
Why you should believe in the Saints: Luck.
It’s got to turn around for the Saints at some point. The Saints are the most complete team in the NFC, in my opinion, and they got stuck with the No. 3 seed. Not only that, but the NFL scheduled their potential divisional game at Green Bay next week for the primetime slot, which means it will be the coldest temperature possible.
In 2017, the Saints had Minnesota beaten but lost on the Minneapolis Miracle. If not, do they head to Philly and beat the Eagles? Who knows, but it’s possible. Last season, the Saints were robbed with a poor non-call on a pass interference, which would have given them the NFC title. I think they would’ve scored more than the three points the Rams did against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. So it feels they’re overdue for some good luck. I’m hoping it starts with a convincing win against the Vikings.
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, Jan. 5, 4:40 p.m. ET
Why you should believe in the Seahawks: Russell Wilson.
The answer is always Wilson for the Seahawks. He covers up so many warts for the team. Seattle finished the season 18th in defensive DVOA and 20th in special teams, according to Football Outsiders. Their offense ranked fifth, and it’s basically just Wilson.
He is able to make plays with his mobility in the pocket and use his legs when things completely break down. He’s calm under pressure and will not flinch in the moment. Wilson is able to overcome the conservative nature of his head coach and offensive mentality, as well as numerous injuries to his running backs, offensive line, and wide receivers. They will need to lean on him in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Why you should believe in the Eagles: Culture.
Plain and simple, the Eagles have a winning culture. They do not complain or make excuses. Carson Wentz has played fantastic the last month with a receiving corps made up of former AAF and practice squad players. His favorite tight end, Zach Ertz, is most likely out again this weekend. The offensive line isn’t completely healthy. They also have injuries on defense. And it does not matter.
Two years ago, the Eagles won a Super Bowl with a backup QB, left tackle, and middle linebacker. They have confidence in their ability to win in any given circumstance. I’m looking forward to watching them play.
Each team has gotten to the playoffs because it earned the right to be here. They all have their strengths and some weaknesses. Hopefully this gave you a better sense of something to root for this weekend.