Welp the Titans made me look pretty stupid. But that’s why I don’t gamble on sports, things like that happen. Though I think Travis Kelce getting knocked out with a concussion was a huge blow for the Chiefs, as I don’t think they scored a single point after he went to the locker room. That was, to me, the biggest factor in their blowing a 21-3 lead (just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it that 28-3 does). There was a brief shining moment as it appeared Marcus Peters had stripped Derrick Henry of the football and Derrick Johnson took it to the house, only to have it overturned by replay, which was the correct call as Henry was clearly down before the ball left his possession. As for Falcons-Rams, I may have gotten that pick wrong, but I feel that if the Rams’ special teams didn’t dig them into an early hole like it did, then they probably would’ve beaten the Falcons because as the game went along, that offense looked more and more comfortable until the Falcons regained their footing. Though I could have sworn I read somewhere that Julio Jones and Marcus Mariota were both going to be scratches from their games. Maybe I misread or read fake accounts. *UPDATE* I figured out what happened with that. PFT Commenter of Barstool Sports was quote tweeting injury reports for both players from past seasons and making them out to be for these games and I fell for the trap. It happens to the best of them. So with that, let’s get to the Sunday picks. Make sure you read all the way through, because I do have an announcement to make at the end of this blog.
Buffalo Bills (9-7) vs Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
This will be the Bills first playoff appearance since 1999, which had been the longest such drought in the major four sports. It was kind of an odd season for them. They went 9-7 after starting out 5-2 and included a disastrous quarterback switch. For whatever reason, Tyrod Taylor was benched in favor of Nathan Peterman against the Chargers. Peterman promptly threw 5 first half interceptions (not all of them were his fault, but they’re still charged to him). He was benched in the second half for Taylor, who played reasonably well in what was basically the perfect moment for Taylor to establish himself as the unquestioned starter. Week 17 came along with their playoff hopes on the line and they got the job done by beating Miami. They just needed the Ravens to lose to the Bengals, since the Titans and Chargers had won their games, in order to make the playoffs. 4th and 12, Andy Dalton hits Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard TD and the Bills are going to the playoffs. It came at a price, though. In their victory over Miami, Buffalo lost star runningback LeSean McCoy due to an ankle injury, where he had to be carted off the field. Good news for Bills fans, though, McCoy said the injury wasn’t as bad as he thought and he’s hoping to suit up against Jacksonville. I’m not so sure if that’s going to help them a whole lot. McCoy is at his best when he’s able to make hard cuts and juke guys out. That’s hard to do on a bad ankle. I don’t think it’s going to go well for him in this one, especially against a Jaguars defense that’s as dominant as this one. Jacksonville has been a revelation this season. They recorded their first winning season in a decade and were the breakout team of the AFC en route to a 10-6 record despite inconsistent play from quarterback Blake Bortles. However Bortles looked pretty good to close out the season and I think it may have the higher-ups in Jacksonville rethinking their plans to move on from him. The only way I think Bortles has 100% job security is a Super Bowl victory, though. But the story of this Jaguars team has been the defense. I’ve raved about the impact signing Calais Campbell has been ad nauseam, but he really has been the difference. The Jaguars were just okay defensively prior to his arrival from Arizona with a lot of young players with potential. Campbell arrives, then suddenly they’re the #2 overall defense in the NFL behind only the Vikings. Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye (whose arrival I also think contributed heavily to the defense’s success) have been shutdown corners, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler have been absolute studs rushing the passer, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack have been holding down the second level, really no matter where you look on this Jacksonville defense, you’ve got guys that are kicking ass. It’s that fire on defense that I think is going to give the Jags the win in this game, though I think the Bills will be competitive throughout. Their defense is pretty underrated.
Projected Score: Jaguars 20 Bills 17
Carolina Panthers (11-5) vs New Orleans Saints (11-5)
In my opinion, this is the game of the Wild Card Round. This will be the third time these two teams will square off this season, each of the prior two meetings being won by the Saints, which gave them the tie-breaker for the division crown. The Panthers defense has looked similar to the one that helped lead them to an appearance in Super Bowl L, as Kawann Short continues to dominate on the interior of the defensive line, which sucks because he’s a Boilermaker. The Boilermaker on the other sideline, Drew Brees, has also been damn good for the Saints, as his connection with Michael Thomas is reminiscent of when he was hitting Marques Colston on a consistent basis. But the biggest matchup I’m going to watch for is Saints runningbacks vs the Panthers front 7. The Saints offensive line has been very good this year despite injury troubles. Rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk has been very good like I expected him to be (which unfortunately wasn’t published because this blog didn’t exist back then) and Andrus Peat has adjusted very well to a move to guard. Larry Warford has also been terrific and Max Unger has been his usual self. Their runningbacks Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have been the deadliest 1-2 punch in the game this season. To think, this group included Adrian Peterson for a few weeks before getting sent to the Cardinals. Imagine if that trio had been able to gel. Turns out it took Peterson leaving for this group to really come together. Ingram finished with 1124 yards rushing, fifth in the NFL, while Kamara had over 1500 yards of total offense. Both players’ play styles complement each other so well that defenses have a hard time keeping up. But the Panthers defensively have one of the best front 7s in football, as you’ve got guys like Short and Star Lotulelei clogging the interior, Mario Addison on the edge, and Shaq Thompson, the ageless Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly at linebacker. So if any team were to match up with well with the Saints, it would be the Panthers. However that hasn’t been the case this season, as the Saints beat the Panthers twice by scores of 34-13 in Week 3 and 31-23 in Week 13. So perhaps the Panthers are figuring things out, as that margin of defeat was cut significantly the second time around. I really want to pick the Saints for this game but I just have the weirdest gut feeling that the Panthers are going to pull this one out. I’m going with the Panthers, however my brain doesn’t feel good about it.
Projected Score: Panthers 24 Saints 20
That’s it for the blog. As promised, I have an announcement to make. I’ll be adding a new writer to my staff. When that will be I’m not sure, we’re still working out how we want to do things. But I’m very excited to get another guy producing content, as writing 1000+-word articles a day while balancing school and work can get a bit rough. Let me know what you think of my picks or my new “hire” (I say that very loosely, as I still don’t have a revenue stream to pay anyone with) and hit me up on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.