NFL Wild Card Preview: Home Teams to Thrive in Playoff Openers7 min read
In the 2016 wildcard round, road teams went a perfect 4-0 to advance in the NFL’s end of season knockout tournament. In 2017, home teams flipped the narrative to themselves stay perfect. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but 2018 looks to me like another big weekend for the home favourites as the playoffs get underway.
As always, we’ve broken down the weekend’s biggest games and dive into the best action as the final twelve teams begin the race to the Super Bowl.
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
Sat 6th Jan: 9.35pm Sky Sports Action
With they way the Titans have played through December, I am slightly surprised to see them sneak their way into the playoffs. Quarterback Marcus Mariota failed to ever get going and posted career low numbers through the regular season (13TD, 15INT). Their running game has also been inconsistent, leading to an 18th ranked total offense; partnered with a plucky, but beatable defence.
The playoffs are all about form, and though there was a point the Titans were once contenders, I don’t give the them much hope in this one. Kanas City have found the spark they started the season with and rookie running back Kareem Hunt – once again the centrepiece – should have a big day.
I may regret this pick as the Titans have a sneaky habit of performing well at Arrowhead Stadium, but I think they get run over by the Chiefs and coach’s jobs fall next week.
Kansas City Chiefs -8 point handicap
Kansas City Chiefs D/ST anytime touchdown scorer
Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams
Sun 7th Jan: 1.15am Sky Sports Action
The defending NFC champion Falcons also snuck their way into the playoffs last minute, and return to defend their crown. But make no mistake – this game is all about the Rams.
Todd Gurley image – http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/898584166
The Rams have completed the most dramatic turnaround in recent history, going from one of the league’s worst offences to one of it’s best. Running back Todd Gurley is a potential MVP, and head coach Sean McVay has his second-year quarterback throwing to wide open receivers.
Atlanta’s top 10 overall defence can typically keep Matt Ryan and company in the game. However, as with the Chiefs, I expect the Rams to be too good in this one and seal a comfortable win.
Total points under 48.5
Los Angeles Rams to win both halves
Robert Woods anytime touchdown scorer
Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Sun 7th Jan: 6.05pm Sky Sports Action
For me, this is the hardest game to pick of the weekend and the most likely we are to see an upset.
Buffalo needed all the help they could get from the Cincinnati Bengals to earn their playoff ticket, and star running back LeSean McCoy picked up an ankle injury last Sunday. But with their opponents on the back of two straight losses (including an ugly game for quarterback Blake Bortles last week) everything is up for grabs.
This game will all depend on if the Jaguars can put some points on the board early. They can beat any team in the league when playing with an early lead thanks to their dominant pass defence, but have played some stinkers against bad opponents when behind on the scoreboard.
Neither of these team’s have much playoff experience, but the Jaguars at least have people in the building (notably Tom Coughlin) who know how to win in January. I’ll take them to win, and if they get going early could run away with it.
Jacksonville Jaguars highest scoring wildcard team (4 games)
Total points over 39
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
Sun 7th Jan: 9.40pm Sky Sports Action
— NFL (@NFL) January 5, 2018
Having lost twice to the Saints in the regular season, the Panthers get another shot at their division rivals to wrap up wildcard weekend.
Through those two losses, Carolina allowed a whopping 65 points, and will need their number 11 ranked defence to step up to the mark against the relentless duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to have any chance in this one.
In my opinion though, that simply isn’t going to happen. The Saints score more than 30 points per game at home, and have proven time after time this season too much for teams to handle. They have been able to win close games against top opponents and can be expected to take care of business for a third time against the Panthers.
New Orleans Saints -6.5 point handicap
New Orleans Saints total points over 27
Accumulator and Prop Bets:
Chiefs, Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints all to win
Jared Goff (LA) most wildcard weekend passing yards
Michael Thomas (NO) most wildcard weekend receiving yards
Kareem Hunt (KC) most wildcard weekend rushing yards (10/3)