Finally, the NFL Football playoffs are here
January 06, 2018 8:10 AM
by Bob Christ
Finally, the playoffs are here.
And for the first time under the current postseason format, which was invented in 1990, all four home teams during the wild-card round are betting choices by at least 6 points, with the line growing for each since first being posted. This is in great contrast to the 2015 playoffs when each of the lower-seeded visitors in the round were favorites and won.
On the surface, it appears Tennessee and Atlanta are getting “atomic wedgies” from the schedule maker being placed in the Saturday time slots. The Titans are coming off a down-to-the-wire must win to make the playoffs and will play on short rest at Kansas City, which had a pseudo bye at Denver in Week 17. It's even worse for Atlanta, which went all out last week to beat Carolina and now has a cross-country trip on short rest to LA to face a Rams team that gave Week 17 off to many of its prime-time performers.
And it might be wise to give a little extra attention to the six seeds (Buffalo, Atlanta), for third seeds have gone only 8-10 against them the past nine years.
Now for a closer look at the weekend's games. The odds are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas. Times are PST.
Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Line: Chiefs by 8.5 (44.5)
Facts: KC, 24-8 at Arrowhead the past four regular seasons, is on a five-game home playoff losing streak dating to 1995, a league record. Included was a 10-7 defeat in 1995 as an 11.5-point pick over Indy... The Titans qualified for a WC with their 15-10 win over Jax on Sunday. The Titans, without RB DeMarco Murray (knee), scored only on five FGs... KC, behind the league's leading passer, Alex Smith, hasn't faced a playoff team since Week 6, a 19-13 home loss to Pittsburgh... In last year's meeting in KC, the Titans won on a last-second FG, 19-17, in the coldest game the past two years -- 1 degree at kickoff (-9 wind chill). It should be in the 40s Sunday... Chiefs rookie RB Kareem Hunt took the rushing title last week while other contenders rested. In mid-August at Caesars, he was a 200-1 shot to win it.
Analysis: The Titans were lethargic down the stretch behind QB Marcus Mariota, losing three in a row before finishing with the win against a Jags team that had nothing to play for. Overall, Tennessee was beaten in four games this season by teams that ended up with double-digit losses. Horrendous!. That matches the total of such defeats by all 12 playoff teams last year. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are largely well-rested after last week's "bye" in Denver, won by KC 27-24. But the Chiefs do have a weakness in their run defense, allowing 4.3 a carry. Even without Murray, the Titans should be able to exploit this, thanks in large part to Mariota's scrambling, to at least stay close.
Forecast: Chiefs 16, Titans 10
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at LA Rams (11-5)
Time: 5:15 p.m.
Line: Rams by 6 (48.5)
Facts: Rookie LA coach Sean McVay makes his playoff debut against Atlanta's Dan Quinn, who led the Falcons' to the Super Bowl last season. The last three times a first-year boss opened his playoff career vs. a coach with Super experience, the vets went 3-0 (3-0 ATS, too). But in 2011, rookie Jim Harbaugh's 49ers upset Sean Payton's Saints 36-32... Atlanta is 6-2 on West Coast trips the past six seasons, including a 42-14 romp in LA last year that resulted in coach Jeff Fisher getting axed... The last time the Falcons made a cross-country journey on short rest it earned a 27-3 win in 2012 as a 3-point dog in San Diego... LA averaged a league-low 14.0 points a game in 2016. In 2017, behind much improved QB Jared Goff, it's tops at 29.9. Atlanta was No. 1 last year with 33.8 a game, but now is 15th at 22.1.
Analysis: The Rams have dazzled this season behind RB Todd Gurley, who would have won the rushing title if he didn't sit out last week. But will LA be able to slow Atlanta? Wade Phillips, the Rams' DC, gets much credit for his team improving its sack total by 17 over last year and giving up eight fewer TDs than in 2016, but the rush defense is a mess, jumping from 3.9 yards a carry in 2016 to 4.7. Now they'll face a Falcons running game behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman that's averaging 4.3 a carry. In four games this year against teams that averaged 4.3 or better, LA yielded 6.1 a carry. If that happens again, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan should have lots of time to look for WR Julio Jones. Plus, in pressure situations, the Rams will have to rely on backup PK Sam Ficken.
Forecast: Falcons 35, Rams 30
Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Jaguars by 8.5 (39)
Facts: Bills star RB Shady McCoy is questionable (ankle) after getting hurt last week in Miami. Before going down, he had 10 yards on 11 carries... Jax, meanwhile, could be without its leading receiver, Marqise Lee (questionable, ankle)... The Jags enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. In 1986, the NY Jets lost their last five to finish 10-6 but won their wild-card game... Buffalo had the benefit of a 100-yard edge in penalty yards in its win 22-16 win over Miami, the third-biggest differential in a game this season... Jax tied for the league best with eight scores off returns this season... Buffalo, making its first playoff appearance since the 1999 season, was outgained by an average of 52.5 yards a game in 2017, the worst margin for any postseason team since the 2010 Bears.
Analysis: Rookie coach Sean McDermott's Bills, who are embarking on their third straight road game, didn't do anything particularly well but won enough behind their 29th-ranked offense and No. 26 defense. Buffalo did manage to beat the teams they were supposed to handle, going 7-1 vs. those that wound up with 10-plus losses. But they were only 2-6 against all others. This game, against the Jags' top-rated pass defense, could be a jolt to the senses of Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, who didn't make a start against any team in the top 10 in this category and still rated only 16th on the chart. Making matters worse, he was sacked 46 times, third most. The Jags' defense had 55, second most. Without a healthy McCoy, it seems Buffalo's Cinderella season ends here barring a meltdown by Jax QB Blake Bortles.
Forecast: Jaguars 23, Bills 10
Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Line: Saints by 7 (48)
Facts: New Orleans swept the season series from Carolina to win the NFC South for the first time since 2011... Dating back to the 1934 league title game, teams in the NFL and AFL that swept a two-game regular-season series have gone 20-11 against that team in the postseason. Only two of those 31 teams won both regular-season meetings by double digits like the Saints did, 34-13 in Carolina and 31-21 in N.O... Saints rookie Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Carolina's three-time Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen are ready to go. Neither played in the team's first two meetings... Week 3's game was the turning point for N.O., which was 0-2 before shredding the Panthers by three TDs with Carolina QB Cam Newton having his worst day of the year – until he topped that in the season finale in Atlanta.
Analysis: The Panthers should receive a major boost from Olsen their three-time Pro Bowl tight end, who missed much of the season with a foot injury. Two seasons ago, during Carolina's run to the Super Bowl, he totaled 17 catches for 163 yards and two scores against the Saints, his two best games of the year. And this week he'll be going against a Saints secondary that's without veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro (IR, wrist). Sure, Saints QB Drew Brees set the NFL record for accuracy this season, but it's not like his receivers have been getting much separation. And this is the same team that had trouble putting away NFC bottom feeders Washington and Chicago in the Dome. Thus, no sweep for the Saints.
Forecast: Panthers 30, Saints 21
Last week: 11-5 ATS: 9-7 SU
Season total: 127-119 (.516) ATS; 155-101 (.608) SU