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Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Offense: Like the Panthers, the Titans offense is based off a power running game. They have to get that going in order to have a chance against the Chiefs because their quarterback is struggling. Whether it’s because of injuries or coaching, Marcus Mariota has been bad this year, regressing in his third NFL season. Their offense lacks dynamic playmakers on the outside, with very weak receivers. The Kansas City Chiefs run one of the most difficult offenses to defend against in the NFL. Every play can start out looking the same but the options are endless. A handoff inside to Kareem Hunt. Alex Smith keeping the ball on an option. A shovel pass to Travis Kelce. A slant to Tyreek Hill, who can then take the pass to the house. Anything can happen in the Andy Reid offense.

Defense: The Titans have a below average defense. They aren’t particularly good at rushing the passer and their only impact player in the secondary is Kevin Byard. Their cornerbacks have been bad this year, especially their big money free agent acquisition, Logan Ryan. The Chiefs have an average defense that can be exploited by certain teams, but not by the Titans. Justin Houston and Chris Jones still lead a dynamic pass rush that helps the gambling cornerbacks the Chiefs have in Marcus Peters.

Prediction: The Titans don’t belong in the playoffs and the Chiefs do. This is an easy choice. Chiefs 28-10

Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams

Offense: The Rams and Falcons have an incredible collection of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Ryan, Devonte Freeman, and Julio Jones make an imposing triplet for the dirty birds. On the other sideline, the Rams possess one of the best offensive talents in the league in Todd Gurley. However, the edge in this matchup goes to LA because of their superior coaching. Steve Sarkisian has just not captured the same magic that Kyle Shanahan was able to a year ago as the offensive coordinator. On the other hand, Sean McVay has been great as play caller and head coach of the Rams.

Defense: The Falcons’ defense is extremely fast and athletic, as players like Vic Beasley and Deion Jones possess great speed and instincts at their respective positions. The Rams have a great pass rush led by Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. For Atlanta, Keanu Neal has grown nicely as a hard-hitting safety that can stop the run and be an enforcer over the middle in the passing game.

Prediction: The Rams incredible coaching and home field advantage should propel them to the divisional round and a match-up with the Minnesota Vikings. Rams 27-21

 

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

Offense: The Panthers are predicated on a power running game. However, their best threat in the run game is their quarterback, Cam Newton. Newton is a great player and an incredible threat in the run game. However, overall, the Panthers lack explosive playmakers outside of Newton and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. Their receivers lack speed and are not threats. For the Saints, their offense has changed dramatically from earlier Saints teams. The onus is no longer on Drew Brees and the passing game. Instead, it’s focused on rookie phenomenon Alvin Kamara, who has burst onto the scene as a bona fide superstar. The Saints have a balanced offensive attack that’s dangerous to explode in any game.

Defense: The Panthers have an excellent front 7 on defense. Their pass rush is anchored by the ageless wonder that is Julius Peppers. They still have one of the best linebackers in the NFL in Luke Kuechly. However, their secondary is much less talented outside of James Bradberry. Expect the Saints to exploit that mismatch with Brees and his array of weapons. For the Saints, what was a crippling weakness has become a strength. Marshon Lattimore has become one of the best corners in the entire NFL in just his first year and Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins have been effective as pass-rushers.

Prediction: The Saints pummeled the Panthers twice in the regular season. Don’t expect a different result for the third match-up. Saints 35-24

Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense: The Buffalo Bills are one of the best stories in the NFL. After a playoff drought that extends into the 20th century, they’re finally back in the tournament. It’s unfortunate that this is the team they have to play in their first game back. The Bills have an offense that’s great when they’re ahead in games. They run the ball well but Tyrod Taylor and the Bill’s receivers are simply not great in the passing game. For the Jaguars, they want to run the ball and keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’s hands. While Bortles has played decently recently, he is always prone to making terrible mistakes with the football and is nothing more than a game manager. The Jaguars should focus on giving the ball to Leonard Fournette, a great power back who’s sure to beat up on the Bills.

Defense: The Bills have the prototypical “bend and not break” defense. They’re going to let you get yards on them, but they’ll tighten up in the redzone, holding you to field goals. Their secondary is led by rookie cornerback Tre’davious White, who’s acquitted himself well in his first year from LSU and they have some good pieces in the front seven with veterans Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes. The Jaguars have an extremely talented defense, one that is on par with that of the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears. They simply have more talent at every single level of their defense than the teams they go against. Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr., and Yannick Ngakoue are an imposing pass rushing quartet that attacks quarterbacks. The Jaguars linebackers have incredible speed, as Myles Jack and Telvin Smith can cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game as well as run sideline to sideline in the run game. And finally, their secondary is insanely talented. Jalen Ramsey is a stud, and putting A.J. Bouye on the opposite sideline has put defenses in a no-win situation when it comes to passing the football.

Prediction: The Bills were a cute story, but the clock has struck midnight on Cinderella in the form of the Jaguars. Jaguars 27-14

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