NFL Wild Card Saturday Predictions

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And just like that the NFL Playoffs are upon us.  Time to put up or shut up.

The NFL’s 98th regular season will be remembered for many things, most didn’t take place on the field of play. The passion I held for the game since I was seven years-old wavered for reasons I never imagined. Angrily, I walked away knowing I could never look at the NFL the same again, but still knowing that I’m a writer and this is what I love to do. To be truthful I let the 2017 NFL season question my love of something much greater. I won’t let that happen again.

Here are my Saturday NFL Wild Card Predictions.

Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) 4:35 PM ESPN

The Kansas City Chiefs closed out their Helter-Skelter season winners of their last four contests. Andy Reid’s bunch burst out the gates to a 5-0 start before losing six of seven games. In Kansas City’s last four victories, they were +9 in turnover differential. The Chiefs offense is fueled by the NFL’s leading rusher in Kareem Hunt and its highest rated passer in quarterback Alex Smith. Toss in tight end Travis Kelce and electric receiver Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs are the first team since the 1981 San Diego Chargers to boast a 4,000 yd. passer a 1,000 yd. rusher, tight end and wide receiver. That Chargers squad ended up in the AFC Championship Game.

The Tennessee Titans rebounded from a 1-4 start to close out the season 4-6, squeaking into the postseason. The Titans are a run first team whose primary receiving target is tight end Delanie Walker. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has struggled dramatically after a breakout season in 2016. Mariota, who passed for 26 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions in 15 games last season managed only 13 touchdowns and a career-high 15 picks in 15 games. The offensive bright spot has been the emergence of second-year running back Derrick Henry. Henry platooned with veteran DeMarco Murray for most of the season before taking over the starting role after Murray went down with a knee injury.

Breakdown

The Chiefs hold all the cards in what should be a dominant performance. Tennessee simply doesn’t have enough weapons on either side of the ball to disrupt the Kansas City’s momentum. The Titans need a yeoman effort from Henry, Mariota, Walker and deep threat Rishard Matthews. The Chiefs are vulnerable to the run, surrendering 119 yards per contest. The Titans defense which gave up the league’s fewest rushing scores needs to keep the explosive Kareem Hunt in check while sniffing out the potential for gadget plays.

Player to watch: Kevin Byard, FS Tennessee

Prediction: Chiefs 27 – Titans 17

Props to the 2017 AP All-Pro Squad

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at Los Angeles Rams (11-5) 8:15 PM NBC

No team has waited for the NFL postseason more than the Atlanta Falcons, coughing up an insurmountable lead against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI will have that effect on you. If not for a strong finish down the stretch the Falcons would be on the outside looking in, instead they are one of three teams from the NFC South playing in the Wild Card round this weekend. The Falcons are at their healthiest which could be a problem for the Los Angeles Rams. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman might find some headway against the NFL’s 28th ranked run defense. Despite not having a multi-touchdown game since Week 10, quarterback Matt Ryan has two more than capable targets in receivers Julio Jones and Mohammaed Sanu. A huge concern lies with the Falcons defense.

We knew one day the Los Angeles Rams would eventually turn the corner. After being a thorn in the side of the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks while still in St. Louis this team was due for their comeuppances.

We just didn’t think it would be this soon.

The Rams are the most dangerous team in the playoffs not named the Minnesota Vikings and the most entertaining. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff heard the jokes from last season and turned it into a 3,804 yard, 28 touchdown, 7 interception rebuttal that has his former critics casting Pro Bowl votes. The main piston in this Rams machine is running back Todd Gurley who also doubles as the team’s leading receiver. Gurley’s 2,093 yards from scrimmage with 19 touchdowns (1,308 rushing and 788 receiving) have placed him in the thick of the MVP race. Not to be overlooked are the talented receiving corp of Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.

The last Rams last playoff game in Los Angeles was 20 days before 31-year old head coach Sean McVay was born.

Breakdown

For all that’s been mentioned about the offensive firepower of both teams, it will be the defense that tilts the scales. The Rams front seven led by Aaron Donald is as disruptive as they come. The Falcons will need to rely on an array of screens and quick timing plays to Coleman and Freeman get the ball out of Ryan’s hands before disaster strikes. On the flip side, the Falcons sack starved defense is the seventh worst in these playoffs. The defense must be thinking turnovers to stay in this game.

Player to watch: Aaron Donald

Prediction: Rams 34 – Falcons 23

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