The NFL’s second-season is upon us with four wild-card playoff games this weekend.
For those football fans who shied away from the NFL due to the anthem-kneelers, it’s safe to come back in the water, because all the players who knelt the entire season failed to make the playoffs.
For those interested in watching the four wildcard games this weekend, here is a preview of the action:
TENNESSEE TITANS at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs are riding a four-game winning streak entering the playoffs, and the Titans stumbled into the second-season losing three of their last four. The Chiefs strong finish was spearheaded by quarterback Alex Smith, who quietly had a terrific season, finishing with 26 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
Will the Titans 23rd-ranked offense be able to keep up with Kansas City on the scoreboard? That might be tough with Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota coming off a substandard season, throwing just 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Titans tight end Delanie Walker wants the super-athletic Mariota to play more “backyard football” in the playoffs, like he did against Jacksonville in Week 17, when he ran for 60 yards on 10 carries.
“Sometimes you’ve got to play backyard football,” Walker said. “Sometimes you’ve got to overcome coaching. And I think that’s what makes some players great, when they know how to do that.”
Titans running back DeMarco Murray is out with a knee injury, so Derrick Henry will get a heavy workload against a Chiefs’ run defense that was pedestrian in the regular season.
The Titans were 3-5 on the road this year, and Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadiums is a tough place to play.
Expect Kansas City to prevail.
ATLANTA FALCONS at LOS ANGELES RAMS
Both of these teams enter this game very healthy, which is rare after 16 regular season games.
The Falcons have no players listed on their injury report, and the Rams have only one, backup wide receiver Mike Thomas, who is doubtful.
A big question entering this game is whether the Falcons’ offensive line can hold up against the Rams’ talented defensive front led by Aaron Donald, perhaps the NFL’s best defensive tackle. But the Rams’ defensive line is much better at passing-rushing than run-defense. The Rams have the NFL’s 28th-ranked run-defense, so Falcons tailback tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could have a big day.
The Rams have the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense, so Atlanta’s inconsistent defense better bring their “A” game. The Rams lost one of the NFL’s best placekickers, Greg Zuerlein, a couple of weeks ago, so the Falcons could have a kicking edge with veteran Matt Bryant.
This is the first NFL playoff game for Rams QB Jared Goff, and he faces Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who has played in eight.
This game is a toss-up.
BUFFALO BILLS at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
This game lacks a little sizzle since it matches up a pair of middling quarterbacks: Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.
Both teams will try to win this game with a “ground-and-pound” approach to take pressure off their quarterbacks. How will the Bills 29th-ranked rush defense deal with the Jaguars’ outstanding rushing attack, featuring a pair of bell cows in Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory, who can beat you with both power and speed?
Speaking of running backs, the Bills’ star running back LeSean McCoy suffered a severe ankle injury last Sunday, so he won’t be 100 percent for this game. What should we expect from McCoy?
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” McCoy said. “I don’t want to make any promises. My teammates have been asking me the same questions. I don’t want to lie them. Because people that know me, they know I want to be out there. But I’ve been in a situation like this before here, and played on a bad ankle, bad foot — actually a bad hamstring — and I didn’t do well at all. And it kind of hurt us. And I don’t want to be in the same situation.”
No McCoy would be bad news for the Bills, because their quarterback, Taylor, works best when complimented by a running game.
If McCoy can’t play, or is limited, expect to see a heavy-dose of running back Marcus Murphy, who has just eight career carries in three NFL seasons.
This game will likely be won by the team that plays better defense and can run the ball. The Jaguars have the better defense/running game combo, are at home, and should win this game.
CAROLINA PANTHERS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Carolina QB Cam Newton didn’t play particular well in either of the regular season games against the Saints, both convincing New Orleans wins. And keep in mind, Saints standout cornerback Marshon Lattimore, didn’t play in either of those games due to injury. He’s back now, so that makes Newton’s challenge even greater.
Surprisingly, the Saints’ running game dominated the Panthers’ excellent run defense in both games. Most other teams struggled running against the Panthers stout front. Don’t expect the Panthers’ run defense to get dominated again.
However, stopping the Saints’ superb quarterback, Drew Brees, will be a lot more difficult. Back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus, Brees is healthy and driven to get back to the Super Bowl. And for the first time in a long-time he has a top-shelf defense to compliment his air show.
This game is at the New Orleans’ Superdome where Brees rarely loses. Expect the Saints to prevail.