Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Updated: January 5th 2018

Yes, your fantasy season is over, but the NFL playoffs have begun! Whether your team is still alive or failed to make the exclusive 12-team field, the action this weekend should be very entertaining. There are some big point spreads but something tells me we will see one or more upsets this weekend.  Like last year, some of the RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little analysis on each game, which can be found below. Enjoy the games!

A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -8.5): ML – 6 KC & 0 TEN// ATS – 4 KC & 2 TEN
  2. Atlanta Falcons @ LA Rams (Line LAR -5.5): ML – 2 ATL & 4 LAR // ATS – 3 ATL & 3 LAR
  3. Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars (Line JAX -8.5): ML – 0 BUF & 6 JAX // ATS – 1 BUF & 5 JAX
  4. Carolina Panther @ New Orleans Saints (Line NO -6.5): ML – 1 CAR & 5 NO // ATS – 2 CAR & 4 NO

#5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ #4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) [Line: KC -8.5]

Stephen Wendell: The Titans are a really nice story, but KC at Arrowhead will prove to be too tough. The Chiefs come in on a hot streak that will continue with a win over the Titans that will be a little closer than the experts think.   Projected Score: Chiefs 28 – Titans 20.

Matt Papson: Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Chiefs 31 – Titans 16.

Robert Cowper: This one isn’t even that close for me, honestly.  The Titans are a bad team with a mediocre record that snuck into the playoffs because they earned wins against a poor division.  Of their nine wins, four came against below average quarterbacks (Brissett twice, Kizer/Kessler and Savage).  The Chiefs did struggle in the middle of the season too, losing six of seven in one stretch, but they are hot now after four straight wins.  Wunderkind Kareem Hunt had his “sophomore slump” a little early during that losing streak, however he has rebounded and is ready to dominate the playoffs.  Not counting the Week 17 Denver game when Hunt had one carry (for 35 yards and a score, by the way), he had three straight games of 100+ total yards and at least one touchdown.  With Hunt running well again I don’t think there is any way that the Titans can beat the Chiefs.  The Chiefs are 6th in the league in average time of possession per drive, whereas the Titans are 22nd; if the Chiefs go up by two scores the Titans won’t be able to score enough in their limited time of possession.  Projected Score: Chiefs 22 – Titans 11

Matt Goodwin: Based on scoring differential and other key markers, teams like the Titans and Bills were far inferior to the Chargers and Ravens. Yet the Titans and Bills find themselves in the tournament this weekend while the other two are watching on the couch just like I will be. That said, it’ll be a quick visit for the Titans who unless they get something outer-worldly from QB Marcus Mariota both with his legs to make plays and in the air, I see this game being a big one for Kareem Hunt in the passing game (you saw what Gurley did to the Titans a few weeks ago) and I see Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill both scoring in this game and potentially even a defensive score out of the Chiefs. I’ll be watching Corey Davis on the Titans to see if he can build some momentum to be a fantasy relevant WR2 next season in RSO leagues. Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Titans 13

Nick AndrewsThe Chiefs played like Super Bowl favorites for the first five weeks of the season but struggled through the middle of the season forcing them to be playing this weekend instead of having a bye. Because of this, along with the past history of Andy Reid teams coming up short in playoff games, I really wanted to pick the Titans here to upset the Chiefs. However, over the last four weeks, the coaching staff seems to have realized that they need the offense to run through rookie Kareem Hunt and allow him to touch the ball 25-30 times a game in order to win. The Titans have the opportunity to beat the Chiefs but more likely this game will be decided by whether the Chiefs beat themselves with bad/conservative play calling. Projected Score: Chiefs 23 – Titans 13.

Bernard Faller: Kansas City heated up at the right time, rolling into the playoffs on the strength of a four-game winning streak.  The Chiefs feature one of the best all around offenses in the NFL with good skill weapons across the board, a solid offensive line, and quarterback Alex Smith having a career season.  The same can not be said for the other side of the ball.  Kansas City managed one of the worst defenses in football struggling against the run and pass.  The Titans limp to the postseason losers of three of their last four games, ending the season with a negative point differential.  The decidedly mediocre Tennessee team relies on winning at the line of scrimmage with good run offense and defense but struggles both throwing the ball and defending the pass.  Tennessee will not hang with the big play Kansas City offense.  Projected Score:  Chiefs 27 – Titans 20

#6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ #3 Los Angeles Rams (11-5) [Line: LA -5.5]

Stephen Wendell: Atlanta is overwhelmed with relief to be back in the playoffs so they officially have a chance for redemption of last year’s Super Bowl debacle. That redemption will start on the road in LA against a very talented Rams team, but I believe Matt Ryan finds a way and Goff makes a couple key mistakes due to his inexperience, resulting in a Falcons upset victory and a second round matchup with Philadelphia. Projected Score: Falcons 28 – Rams 24.

Matt Papson: Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Falcons 28. 

Robert Cowper: The Rams were a great bounce back story in 2017.  Sean McVay would get my vote for Coach of the Year and Todd Gurley should be considered for MVP now that Carson Wentz is hurt.  That being said, I’m actually not feeling that confident in the Rams chances.  Goff’s numbers have not been as strong in the final half of the season as they were earlier in the year.  Part of that may be them slowing him down to preserve him for the playoffs (as they did in Week 17 by resting him fully), but you can look at his rate stats and see the trend line decreasing too.  Goff’s five highest outings in regards to yards per attempt, a stat he finished 2nd in for the season, all came in Weeks 1-9.  In those weeks his Y/PA was 9.13 or higher; all of his games since Thanksgiving have been 8.23 or lower.  He’s still playing at an above average level, most quarterbacks including Matt Ryan, would love to have a Y/PA like Goff’s, but if I had to bet I would say that Goff plays closer to the bad than the good in the playoffs given his lack of experience.  Don’t forget the Rams also lost kicker Greg Zuerlein; replacement Sam Ficken went 2-3 last week but with a long of just 23 yards.  That will likely matter in a game that I expect will come down to field goals.  The Falcons won three of four to clinch the last playoff spot but could be without Julio Jones who is questionable as of this writing.  I expect Julio to play, even if limited.  He only has 3 TDs on the year but his 88 receptions were 9th most in the league.  Regardless of Julio’s status, keep an eye on Mohamed Sanu, a homer favorite of mine (67-703-5).  Thankfully Devonta Freeman should be healthy enough to play.  I’m not ready to buy in on the Rams yet, they are young and inexperienced at the two most important positions: quarterback and head coach.  Dan Quinn is no Vince Lombardi, but take him and the Falcons.  Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Rams 25

Matt Goodwin: I think this game has the potential to be the most fun of the weekend slate and certainly has the potential to be high scoring. I’m curious about what Devonta Freeman’s knee injury really is as it seemed to come from nowhere. Not sure if that is going to be a factor in this game, but seemingly not as Freeman is not on the final injury report. If it is, I think the Falcons have the potential to get blown out, even with being the more experienced playoff team. In the end, I think Wade Phillips’ defense is going to be fired up against a turnover prone Matt Ryan and I think the Falcons aren’t a good come from behind team. In a tight game, I would worry about Rams rookie kicker Sam Ficken as he’s definitely no “Greg the Leg”. I’m most excited to see Cooper Kupp’s continued ascendance to fantasy relevance and expect him to have a solid game. Give me fellow Miami alum Sean McVay and the Rams in this one. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Falcons 17

Nick AndrewsI don’t know whether Sean McVay and the Rams were resting their start players to purposefully try and fall to the #4 seed to increase their chances of playing the Eagles in the Divisional Round or if they truly wanted to keep them fresh for the playoffs. Either way, everyone else lost in week 17 so the Rams stayed in the #3 seed and will play the Vikings with a victory over the Falcons. The Falcons have had a down year compared to last year’s offensive explosion but they are the only NFC team to return the playoffs from 2016. That is a big check mark for playoff experience on their side of the matchup. If the Falcons are going to beat the Rams it will be because this game is tight in the 4th quarter and their Super Bowl experienced team will be cool and calm under pressure. Expect this game to be the highest scoring game on Wild Card weekend. Projected Score: Rams 34 – Falcons 27.

Bernard Faller: Coach Sean McVay is evidentiary piece number one for what a difference quality coaching can make.  The Rams went from one of the worst teams in football with the lowest scoring offense (by a lot) in 2016 to one of the best teams with the highest scoring offense in the NFL for 2017.  Atlanta, on the other hand, does not look like the same team which narrowly missed winning the Super Bowl last year.  The offense never fully recovered from losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seemingly just a small step out of balance all year.  Look for the Rams dominance continuing in the first playoff game for either new Los Angeles team.  Projected Score:  Rams 31 – Falcons 21

#6 Buffalo Bills (9-7) @ #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) [Line: JAX -8.5]

Stephen Wendell: Bills Mafia is in full effect as the team is back in the playoffs for the first time since Y2K! They travel to Jacksonville to play a really improved Jaguars team whose defense is flat out relentless. The line is pretty large in my opinion as I do not trust Blake Bortles to play mistake-free football in the pressure type situations he will find himself in this weekend. Ultimately, the defense will be too tough, even if McCoy is fully healthy for the Bills. Jacksonville advances. Projected Score: Jaguars 20 – Bills 13. 

Matt Papson: Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Jaguars 24 – Bills 15.

Robert Cowper: Much like Tennessee against Kansas City, I don’t think the Bills stand a chance in this matchup.  Buffalo is saying that LeSean McCoy may play this weekend but I think that is more gamesmanship than anything.  How often does somebody get carted off with an injury and return the next week?  So, the Bills will likely need to rely on QB Tyrod Taylor’s arms (and legs) to will them to competitiveness.  The Jags pass defense is just is so good.  They lead the league in numerous categories including: completion percentage, yards per attempt, rating, and interception percentage.  They also have the second most sacks so it’s the rush and the coverage working in tandem to shut down the opposition.  Pro-Football-Reference.com tracks “expected points contributed” and in that category the Jags pass defense has “contributed” 121.9 points which is astronomical.  The second best pass defense checks in at 61.30, half of the Jaguars.  Amazingly, the Jacksonville pass offense only contributes 71.65 points – they are the only playoff team whose pass defense is worth more than their pass offense, and I would bet that would hold true for non-playoff teams too.  Projected Score: Jaguars 26 – Bills 9 

Matt Goodwin: I don’t like this matchup at all for the Bills, especially with Lesean McCoy a game-time decision. I think Blake Bortles may have turned a corner late in the season and all of a sudden the Jags passing offense is formidable even without Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. Combine this with a tough running game and a play-making defense and Buffalo won’t be able to control clock or move the ball. I’ll be watching to see if late season rookie sensation Keelan Cole continues his hot streak. Projected Score; Jaguars 30 – Bills 10

Nick AndrewsWhen the Bills traded Marcell Dareus and started Nathan Peterman it seemed like they had packed it in for the season. Instead, they managed to sneak into the playoffs for the first time this millennium and set up some pretty juicy narratives against the Jaguars. As previously mentioned Marcell Dareus will be playing against his old team for the first time since being traded. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone also was the head coach for Buffalo in 2014 before voiding his contract and leaving the team. But the biggest story is whether LeSean McCoy will be available for Sunday. Even if McCoy can gut it out it will be difficult for the Bills to generate much offense on the best defense in the NFL. If he cannot go the slim chances that Bills have to win will likely disappear completely. Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Bills 6.

Bernard Faller: These teams each play in a similar manner relying on good pass defenses and the run game while limiting quarterback usage.  Jacksonville has simply been much better at it this year with a dominant best pass defense that is perhaps the best in the league.  Blake Bortles improved but is still an average option at quarterback the Jaguars will try to cover up.  Buffalo struggled making the playoffs and most would consider them the worst team in the playoffs.  The Bills could be in real trouble if LeSean McCoy is unable to produce due to his injury.  Expect a low scoring contest.  Projected Score:  Jaguars 24 – Bills 13

#5 Carolina Panthers (11-5) @ #4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) [Line: NO -6.5]

Stephen Wendell: Pretty easy game for me to pick here. Saints beat the Panthers twice this season, Cam has no weapons to speak of, and Drew Brees now has two fantastic RBs to go with a solid core of WRs. Saints win big! Projected Score: Saints 35 – Panthers 24.

Matt Papson: Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Panthers 27. 

Robert Cowper: The Panthers lost to the Saints in both head to head matchups by a combined 31 points this season.  This one will probably be closer just because it’s the playoffs and the Saints may be more risk averse in their play calling but I do still expect them to win.  Drew Brees was not his usual prolific self this season, he threw for the fewest yards and touchdowns of any season since joining the Saints, because the offense has relied on the dynamic one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.  I was dead wrong on Kamara who I avoided in rookie drafts and am sorry now.  He’s been fantastic with over 1,500 total yards and 14 total TDs.  On the Panthers side, the passing game has been hampered by the trade of Kelvin Benjamin, the injury of Greg Olsen and the inconsistency of Devin Funchess.  Funchess has played through injury without missing a game so he’s tough, but still, he has not surpassed 60 yards receiving since Week 11.  RB Christian McCaffrey is the team’s leading receiver, averaging 5 receptions and 40 yards per game.  Both defenses are Top 11 when it comes to total points allowed but both are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to yards per play and the number of punts forced.  I think it will be a game with a lot of yardage but it’ll come down to who converts in the red zone and that favors New Orleans (58.2% vs 53.8%).  Projected Score: Saints 34 – Panthers 19

Matt Goodwin: I know that the Saints swept the Panthers this season in fairly convincing fashion. However, Cam Newton has had some monster games in the Big Easy in the past few years. The Saints now boast a play-making defense with a very underrated secondary and probably the best running game in the NFL. That said, I still like the Panthers here, especially if they can figure out how to get Christian McCaffrey in space and use Greg Olsen in the middle of the field where the Saints are more vulnerable. This one’s probably closer than the other three games given the division familiarity. Projected Score: Panthers 24 – Saints 21

Nick AndrewsHad the Bills not found a way into the playoffs I would have said that the Panthers are easily the worst team to make the playoffs this year. Cam Newton doesn’t have enough weapons around him on offense and the defense isn’t as elite as several of the other NFC teams in the playoffs, including the Saints. Newton himself hasn’t looked elite since his MVP 2015 season. Other than an explosive game against the Dolphins, Newton hasn’t thrown for 250 yards or completed 65% of his passes in a game since week 5. The Saints are too strong of a defense and too efficient of an offense to allow Cam Newton and the Panthers enough short fields and opportunities to beat them. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Panthers 13.

Bernard Faller: Two intra-division rivals face off for the third time this season.  The New Orleans story starts with finally finding a competent defense this season.  This changed the formula for the Saints relying much more on one of the best run games in the league highlighted by rookie sensation Alvin Kamara.  Drew Brees’ numbers may be down but not due to effectiveness as he leads the NFL in completion percentage and yards per attempt.    Carolina made the postseason again but it was not pretty.  Cam Newton’s struggles as a passer continue resulting in an erratic offense throughout the year.  New Orleans dominated the first two matchups racking up over 30 points in each contest.   It is difficult beating a playoff-level opponent three times but there is nothing suggesting anything but the same here. Projected Score:  Saints 28 – Panthers 21

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell