As the regular season ends, so does the inconsistent play. These are the so-called elite teams and they’re playing for their seasons.
Last year’s Wildcard round was a complete and upper wipeout, with the spreads suggesting wide-win margins for most.
I’m not so sure that carries into 2018, though.
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Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs: Titans (+8.5) – 20/21
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the few teams that home field advantage matters for. Arrowhead Stadium is as partisan an atmosphere as you’ll find in football. For that reason and that reason only, they’re big favourites.
Tennessee are sweating on the health of Demarco Murray, but his absence may in fact, be a blessing in disguise. Derrick Henry is a far more influential back than Murray, and can pick up blitzes well enough that he can feature on third down, despite what Mike Mularkey thinks.
Andy Reid’s Chiefs are a real mixed bag and can implode at any time, as you saw on their losing run midseason. To say they’ll be over eight points better than anyone in playoffs in stretching it, let alone a roster that possesses a strong offensive line.
They’ll once again rely on Travis Kelce and chunk plays from Tyreek Hill. Kevin Byard is more than a match for the latter, and if they fail to establish the run, there’s no way they beat Tennessee by more than a touchdown.
Selection: Titans (+8.5) – 20/21
Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams: Falcons (+6.5) – 10/11
The offensive genius that is Sean McVay gets his just rewards for a Coach of the Year calibre season by hosting last year’s beaten Super Bowl finalists in the Atlanta Falcons. Welcome to the pressure cooker.
Contrary to Kansas City, the Rams will have no such home field advantage. They do have a better organised offence, and Aaron Donald, though. What they don’t have, is battle-tested football players.
The Falcons know what it takes to win playoff games. While some off-season imports will try to focus the group, if the Rams fall behind early, this is a real uphill battle.
Julio Jones is battling injuries, but he’d likely play through anything. As good as the Rams are, even the best coverage units in the league struggle with Jones on play-action passes. Even the Ram with the most playoff experience, Andrew Whitworth, has never won a postseason game.
Los Angeles are the better team, but nerves and inexperience will keep this one close.
Selection: Falcons (+6.5) – 20/23
Buffalo Bills v Jacksonville Jaguars: Under 39.5pts – 20/23
This game is really in the balance, because it hinges on the health of LeSean McCoy. ‘Shady’ has over 1,000 more scrimmage yards than anyone else on the Bills roster, and controlling the clock with the run game is imperative to any Buffalo success in Florida.
Jacksonville’s front four are quick to the passer, and the back end are ball hawks. They score points on defence and they’re efficient on special teams, but they’re a run-heavy team for good reason – Blake Bortles.
The UCF product has been efficient in not throwing away games won by his defence, and that’s about all you can say for him.
With both teams running the ball, it’s likely a low-scoring affair due to the clock limitations. The quarters will fly by, and both sides will be conservative as the franchises haven’t seen a playoff game for a combined twenty-eight years.
Selection: Under 39.5pts – 20/23
Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints: Carolina (+7.5) – 8/11
Before this line came out, I thought we might be looking at 3.5 points in favour of the Saints. What we got, was 7.5pts. That’s massive for a side who have played their opponents twice already.
The Saints’ playbook has emptied, and everything is now on film for the Panthers to address.
They’ve been beaten twice already, but the Saints have far less they can do on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Shula and the Panthers have variety and can dissect an exposed linebacking corps with Christian McCaffrey in the slot – especially as they can adjust to what went wrong on both divisional clashes so far this year.
Defensively, New Orleans will look to a rookie in Marshon Lattimore to lock down primary receivers.
Just as well they don’t have one – and their primary threats are their quarterback, tight end and running backs. Lattimore’s influence will be minimal on this game.
Whatever about Brees’ firepower eventually breaching the Carolina wall, they’ll do well to beat them by more than a touchdown.
Selection: Carolina (+7.5) – 8/11Head on over to PaddyPower.com for the latest NFL odds
* All odds correct at time of posting.