Last Week: 8-8 Season Record: 144-81
So first I want to address the story everybody seems to be talking about with the whole “there’s drama in the Patriots organization” story that ESPN published at 1am yesterday. That’s about as exaggerated a piece as I’ve heard in my life. People are really digging for things to knock the Patriots down a peg at this point. While I do think that Brady is terrified of his career’s mortality and Alex Guerrero may have a bit more real estate in Brady’s head than some may care to admit (some of the stuff in the TB12 Method is a bit ridiculous), the idea that there’s some kind of power struggle between him, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft is just ludicrous. It ends with a line that suggests that Belichick won’t return after this season to coach somewhere else. For a guy who has written as many hit pieces about the Patriots as author Seth Wickersham has (and there have been a few), this seems to be a pretty uninformed statement. Every single source he had in that paper was anonymous, which harms your story’s credibility. Believe it or not, if you request to remain anonymous or want to say something off the record, there is nothing that holds the journalist back from using that stuff. That’s all fair game to use and a reporter can say “no” to anonymity. There are no legal grounds for any of that so the fact that not a single source was named puts things into question for me. But it’s not like anything was that damaging, either. It suggested that Brady was basically a 40 year-old child, saying that he never won “Patriot of the Week” from the coaching staff during the 2017 season, which is about as preposterous a gripe as I’ve ever heard in my life about Brady. The guy has 4 Super Bowl MVP’s and 2 regular season MVP’s, you think he gives 2 shits about “Patriot of the Week?” Get the fuck out of here. Now that that’s done, I’m going to get to my first set of Wild Card Round picks then I’m going to have a Wachusett Bella Czech Pils in support of the Patriots. That’s not a plug, I promise. If it were, I’d be using it a lot more frequently. But just look at this can:
I feel a strange urge to cut off half of each sleeve on my sweatshirts, scowl at everyone I come across and give one word answers to every question. That’s a very odd buzz. Enough rambling, Wild Card picks time.
Tennessee Titans (9-7) vs Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
I was pretty disappointed to see the Titans make the playoffs. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more undeserving 9-7 team in league history. Offensively they were 23rd in total yards and 19th in points scored (they scored fewer than the Texans for Christ’s sake). Defensively, they were 13th in total yards and 17th in points allowed. Their turnover differential was -4 on the season. So how the Hell is this team 9-7 and not 6-10 like they statistically probably should be? Marcus Mariota regressed in a big way in 2017, as he threw for just 3232 yards with only 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This is the same guy that had a touchdown-turnover ratio of 42-4 in his final year at Oregon. I have a strange suspicion that if the Titans get blown out of the water in this game, then the front office may make some changes to the coaching staff because Mariota is too skilled a player to be putting up a garbage stat line like that. Nevertheless, the Titans are in the playoffs for seemingly doing the bare minimum to get by. That’s going to hurt them when they face the Chiefs. Nobody started the season better than the Chiefs did. Their first two games they beat up both the Patriots and Eagles, the two 1-seeds in the NFL playoffs, en route to starting out 5-0. But that’s when the roof seemingly caved in on them. They became predictable offensively and teams were able to snuff them out. They lost 6 of their next 7 games before Andy Reid relinquished playcalling duties. They won their last 4 to close out the season. They seem to be back on the right track, looking more like the early season world-beaters vs the pathetic midseason team each day. Kansas City’s main strength is that they don’t turn the ball over, as they only did so 11 times this season for a turnover margin of +15, second best in the NFL after the Baltimore Ravens at +17. If the Titans are going to have any chance of beating the Chiefs given the talent on each roster, they’re going to need to get takeaways and that’s just not going to happen. I’ve got the Chiefs winning pretty easily and will take on the Patriots if the Jaguars beat the Bills or the Steelers if the Bills beat the Jaguars.
Projected Score: Chiefs 38 Titans 14
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
The last time the Falcons were in LA, they steamrolled the Rams in what proved to be Jeff Fisher’s final game as Rams head coach. This year will be COMPLETELY different circumstances, as the Rams have been amongst the best teams in the league this year. They did a complete 180 offensively, as in 2016 they were the worst scoring offense in the league but the best in 2017. Defensively, the Rams were pretty good in their first year with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, though I felt they were capable of much better. They were +7 in turnover margin, which really helped because they ranked just 19th in total yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. There are some fantastic players on the Rams defense, particularly Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Alec Ogletree who can really take over games if you let them. Jared Goff’s development was HUGE for their success and it didn’t hurt that Todd Gurley had an MVP-caliber season (as you may have read, I picked Gurley for MVP in my awards blog). The Falcons barely made it into the playoffs after barely losing Super Bowl LI after at one point holding a 28-3 lead over the Patriots. Defensively, Atlanta continued to make strides in the right direction, as they were 9th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed. Not bad for a team that didn’t crack the top 20 last year. However they did struggle to get turnovers, as they ranked 27th in that category, falling behind the likes of the Colts and 49ers of all teams. Offensively they took a step backward, however that’s to be expected when you’re coming off a season where you scored the most points in the league and lose your offensive coordinator to a head coaching position elsewhere (Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers). They were still very good offensively, though, as they finished 8th in total yards but 15th in points. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they were -2 in turnover margin, which will hurt your total output. But Todd Gurley did lead the NFL in fumbles and we saw with Deion Jones in Super Bowl LI that he’s more than capable of ripping that ball out to create turnovers. I think if the Falcons’ defense is able to step up and create turnovers, then they will win this game. If not, then the Rams are going to have their way with them. This is probably the hardest game to pick in Wild Card weekend, though I guess I kind of deserve it considering how easy a pick I think Chiefs-Titans is going to be. I think I’m going to give the edge to the Rams just because I think they’ve got more guys having breakout seasons than the Falcons do and will face the Vikings in the divisional round.
Projected Score: Rams 27 Falcons 24
Those are my thoughts on the Patriots “bombshell” and the first two games of the Wild Card round. Tune in tomorrow when I do Sunday’s set of games. You can leave a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.