Source: NBC Sports Boston
The NFL season is finally over and now we're gearing up for some REAL football. Four matchups that surprisingly feature both the Patriots and the Saints playing in the wildcard round. So here's a preview of this weekend's first round of the NFL playoffs.
Buffalo Bills vs Houston Texans
It should be noted that Houston lost some key players down the stretch but were still able to keep their composure and win games. However, despite Deshaun Watson looking like an early season MVP candidate, Houston just doesn’t have the offensive weapons to scare opposing teams. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the league, but really he’s the only player that the Bills need to worry about on the offensive side of the ball. With the Texans barely there running game, Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde, are going to have to step up.
JJ Watt was lost to injury earlier this season, but now it appears he will be activated for their playoff game. It's a big boost, but how much of a factor will Watt be coming back from an injury of that magnitude so quickly? The defence has suffered with the absence of Watt though, averaging 24 points a game against, he will bring a boost whether morally or on the field. Also, one can’t overlook the Texans inability to stop the pass, ranking in the bottom 5, the secondary will have their hands full with Josh Allen.
The Bills surprised many getting a wildcard spot. It's the second time in the three seasons that the Bills clinched a playoff spot, but let’s be honest, they played a weak schedule. The Bills might not have a great offense but Josh Allen has made the best of what he has, they’re next to last in both passing yards and total yards and Josh Allen hasn't reached 300 passing yards this season. The Bills do have John Brown, who’s been having a breakout year grabbing his first 1000 yard season, and Cole Beasley has been a capable receiver this season in Buffalo as well. Still the Bills don't score much.
What makes Buffalo strong is their defence. Plain and simple. Their defence has been rock solid giving up 16points per game, which ranks second in the league. Not once has Buffalo allowed 30 points this season and have only allowed just two QBs to throw for over 300 yards. Also, having Tre'Davious White (who’s tied for the league lead in picks) matchup against Hopkins is about as good of an option as any to lineup against the All-Pro wideout. Simply put, the Bills defence puts them in a position to win this game.
It's a tough call but the Bills defence overpowers the Texans offence. Houston's weapons won't be a factor and if they can immobilize Watson's ability to run the ball and blitz him Houston will be in trouble. This won’t be a high scoring, I have it 20-14 Bills.
New England Patriots vs Tennessee Titans
The Patriots at one point looked to be a lock for yet another bye week like they have been the past decade, however, they find themselves play in the Wild Card round for the first time since 2009. The Patriots aren't your typical New England team, Brady has shown his age this season but one could say he isn’t getting much help. Aside from Edelman, much of the offence has been a disappointment. The lack of consistency with the Pats running game has hindered them tremendously, and the passing attack can't seem to get on the same page.
The opposite can be said for their defence, which has been the best in the league. They have given up a league best 14 points per game and have been absolute monsters in the takeaway game They have only allowed 4 100 yard rushing game. Also, Stephon Gilmore has been a man possessed this year, locking down anyone that stands across from him. They say defence wins championships and the Pats are going to need theirs to carry them once again.
The Tennessee Titans resurrected their season thanks to Ryan Tannehill. Despite not starting till week 6, Tannehill has had as many Touchdowns has Philip Rivers, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff. That’s wild. The Titans offence has looked scary with Tannehill under centre and with running back Derrick Henry going on a tear this past month, they are peaking at the right time.
The Titans defence hasn't been anything special but they haven’t been terrible. They have given 20 points on average and only allowed 30 or more points just three times this season. Their defence is middle of the pack in interceptions and sacks, but despite that the Titans have been one of the hotter teams this in the past month.
The Patriots have won 4 of the last 5 meetings against the Titans, though the Titans have looked like a much more competitive team recently. The Pats defence should get the better of Tannehill and Tom Brady has the resume to will his team to victory. 24-14 Patriots.
Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have been one of the best teams in the NFC this season and even maintained that status without Drew Brees for two months. However, the last two seasons they have bounced from the playoffs from unlucky circumstances and still feeling the pain from the "Minneapolis Miracle".
The Saints offence though are coming into this game red hot. New Orleans has had 12 games with 30 points or more and Drew Brees has been lights out (he hasn't thrown an interception in the last 5 games, throwing 16 touchdowns during that span) to say the least. Also, Michael Thomas has had a season to remember, breaking the record for most receptions in a single season.
Defensively the Saints are led by Cameron Jordan who had a career year in sacks. The Saints have allowed the fewest rushing first downs, while not allowing a 100-yard rusher all season. The Saints passing defence has had some issues at times, and with the Vikings passing attack, the Saints secondary will be on notice.
The Vikings come in snagging the last wildcard spot in the NFC. They have rebounded from a disappointing 2018 campaign, and Kirk Cousins has redeemed himself for the most part this season. The Vikings have two top notch receivers in Diggs and Thielen, and their second-year running back Dalvin Cook has been sensational despite fighting off injuries late in the season. He'll be the key to the Vikings success on offence, especially since they rank 6th in rushing yards per game.
The Vikings give up the 6th fewest points this season, a middle of the pack defensive team. Hunter, Smith, and Griffen have been the key cogs on defence on a bend but don’t break style of defence. They’ll need to be on top of their game to stop Brees and company.
It's hard not to think the Saints will win. They have a good offence with solid players surrounding Brees. The Saints in my opinion are the best team in the NFC despite not clinching a bye week. Saints win 31-17.
Seattle Seahawks vs Philadelphia Eagles
Seattle finished 11-5 after dropping their final two games of the season, but despite that, Russell Wilson has been having an MVP-type season, and has had success on this stage before winning 6 of his last 7 wildcard games. A lot of the weight off the offence will have to be carried by Russell and Tyler Lockett , especially with all of the injuries to their running game.
Defensively the Seahawks give up a lot of passing yards and points. In the last 5 games Seattle’s defence has given up 400+ yards in 4 of those games. The defence lacks a big pass rusher, ranking second last in team sacks with only having one player recording more than 4 sacks this season. It’s been tough for them to create pressure all season.
The Eagles capped off their season winning 4 straight to take the NFC East title and Carson Wentz has had a lot to do with it. In December Wentz went 4-1 with 10 touchdowns and 1 interception, looking like the guy who earned his big pay day just a few years ago. He’ll have to lean Zach Ertz with the receiving core being so shallow, but Ertz has been the most consistent Eagles player on offence all season long. Miles Sanders will also look to continue his explosion in production as well as he’s been on of the biggest difference makers for Philly this past month.
The Eagles defence has replicated their season, up and down. They don't have a great secondary and they don't create turnovers as much as the rest of the league, but Malcolm Jenkins has been a tackling machine. They have a defence that can be hard to score against but they will need to replicate what they did against the Seahawks offence back in week 12 if they want to pull off the upset.
The Seahawks are slumping heading to the playoffs, while the Eagles have been red hot. Wentz has found his groove and if he gets help the Eagles can stun the Seahawks. Eagles 17-10.