Although the Buccaneers’ season is over, there is still plenty of football to enjoy. The Wild Card round of the playoffs begins this weekend. Here are my predictions and analysis for each matchup.
Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans
The Buffalo Bills will travel to Houston to take on the Texans on Saturday at 4:35 PM EST. Neither team is expected to make a deep postseason run and I’d have to agree. However, a winner must emerge between these two teams. In this case, I have to give the edge to the Texans.
Bills’ Offensive Blemishes Overshadows Their Defense
Although the Bills sport the third-best defense in the NFL, it will not be enough to cover the blemishes on offense. The Bills sport a solid running game with the combined attack of Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, and even Josh Allen. As a passer, Allen has made strides in his sophomore campaign. However, he still only has a mere 58.8% completion rate. He isn’t nearly as accurate as an NFL quarterback should be. I believe this will ultimately be the downfall of the Bills’ offense and will result in an early sendoff from the playoffs.
Watson Historically Craves The Spotlight
Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson has a 67.3% completion rate on the season. Though he has been inconsistent late in the season, that should not worry Texans fans. One of the main reasons Watson was drafted was for his ability to perform on the biggest of stages. I believe we will see quite the performance from Watson in the playoffs. In addition, with playmakers like DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller (who is a game-time decision), Daren Fells and Carlos Hyde, this Texans offense should be, at the very least, productive in the playoffs. Not to mention the imminent return of J.J. Watt should do SOMETHING to help the Texans’ 28th ranked defense.
So in conclusion, I think Josh Allen and the Bills have made tremendous strides this season and have a lot to look forward to. However, I do not believe they will win this upcoming matchup with the Texans. I fully expect the Bills to make another run at the playoffs and the AFC East crown next season, however.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
The Titans will take on the Patriots in Foxborough on Saturday at 8:15 EST. This matchup caught me off guard, as I was not expecting the Patriots to have to play in the Wild Card round. For this reason, I have elected to take a bold prediction for this matchup; the Titans will defeat the Patriots in their own turf and eliminate them from the playoffs.
David vs. Goliath
Why am I taking the Titans on this one? Well, a part of it is because I think the Patriots are vulnerable. But a vulnerable Patriots squad is likely to win against a smaller team. Make no mistake, though; Mike Vrabel will be David to Bill Belichik’s Goliath. Their offense is led by a revitalized Ryan Tannehill who has posted an ultra-efficient 70.3% completion rate. He has two excellent receivers in A.J. Brown and Corey Davis and is further supported by this year’s rushing king Derrick Henry. Their offense isn’t top 10 this year, but it should be more than enough to keep up with the Patriots’ unexpectedly flat offense.
Their challenge, however, will be going against the NFL’s number 1 ranked defense. Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty (ruled out) and Patrick Chung make up an extremely dangerous secondary; two of which tie for the top of the league in interceptions (Gilmore 6, D. McCourty 5). Their front seven is equally ferocious, as they have compiled 44.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss and have forced 15 fumbles recovering two of them for touchdowns. This defense is a fierce set of “armor”, but it won’t be enough to cover for the “slow-moving” offense led by Tom Brady. Whether it is the lack of talent at the receiver position or if there is some truth to the rumors of a slowdown by Brady, the Patriots offense is simply not as dominant as we are accustomed to. This will be what costs them, similar to their division rivals in the Bills.
It’s a bold prediction, to be sure. However, I don’t believe the Patriots defense will ultimately be enough to cover for the offensive blemishes. The Titans will take advantage of this weakened Patriots team and for the first time since 2009, the Patriots will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
The first Sunday game will feature the Vikings taking on the Saints in New Orleans at 1:05 PM EST. Out of all of the Wild Card matchups, this one will be the toughest to call. Both teams have managed to stay in the playoff conversation in the most recent seasons that come to memory. However, I have to give the edge to the Saints.
Cousins Falters Again On The Big Stage
I have a soft spot for the Vikings; they have come close to winning the Super Bowl several times. I really want them to get over the hump and hoist the Lombardi trophy. Sadly, this will not be the year. They have an amazing offensive tandem which includes Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph. However, their quarterback Kirk Cousins is not among the same level of athlete as the above mentioned. At best, Cousins has been an average quarterback who hasn’t consistently been able to perform in big games. Whether it’s fair or not, that label will continue to follow him until he can prove the NFL world wrong.
Brees Still Has It
Meanwhile, the Saints boast an offense led by Drew Brees, a future Hall of Famer who has not appeared to slow down with his 74.3% completion rate. He has the electric, all-purpose running back, Alvin Kamara, and the NFL’s leading receiver, Michael Thomas at his disposal. This is an offense created to succeed and it shows with their ninth ranking among all NFL offenses. Not to mention they are backed by a solid defense led by the likes of Cameron Jordan, Kiko Alonso, and Marshon Lattimore. Each player is excellent in their own respect and lead their defense with confidence.
In a lot of ways, these two teams are really similar. Both sport jaw-dropping talent on offense and excellent defenses. The difference, I feel, will be the abilities of the quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins has proved to me over and over again that he is overmatched playing with the big boys in the spotlight. He’s a likable guy and I hope one day he proves me wrong. But I do not believe Sunday will be that day.
Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles
The last matchup of the Wild Card round pits the Seahawks against the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday at 4:40 PM EST. Make no mistake, these are not the same Eagles that went on their fairytale Super Bowl run back in 2017. Granted, they have been plagued with multiple injuries to key players. But these Eagles still have a bit of work to do before they are ready to make a deep postseason run again. Though I think the Seahawks will win, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles make it interesting.
I believe, any other year, Russel Wilson is the MVP of the league. Unfortunately, both Lamar Jackson and Michael Thomas had MVP caliber seasons as well. However, that shouldn’t take away from what Wilson and the Seahawks have accomplished. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf have been nothing short of spectacular as receivers for Wilson. Though the injury to Chris Carson hurt, Seahawks fans should not fret. Marshawn Lynch looks excellent and I’d lean on him more if I were Pete Carroll. The 26th ranked defense is misleading. The front seven is full of playmakers such as Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Ezekiel Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney (Questionable) that have led the way for a 4th ranked rushing defense.
The Eagles’ ground game could potentially have a tough time if Miles Sanders (questionable) can’t play or isn’t as effective as he has been all season. In addition, Carson Wentz will be making first career playoff appearance which means he lacks the true playing experience. Wentz has been good this season with a completion rate of 63.9% resulting in 4,039 passing yards, 27 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. However, he will be without several key players including Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Desean Jackson. The defensive side of the ball is where I expect the Eagles to make things interesting with the likes of Fletcher Cox (questionable) and Malcolm Jenkins on the roster.
This one could potentially be a good game. However, the Eagles appear to be overmatched against a strong Seahawks offense. Perhaps Wentz shocks me and fair better in his first playoff appearance than I’m giving him credit for. But the Seahawks are a lock to win it in my mind.
There should be plenty of excitement heading into Wild Card weekend. Plenty of big-time players are sure to give us a show. The Buccaneers season may be over, but playoff football is sure to excite!