NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Weekend

Jan 5, 2018

by Chase Gage

 

JONESBORO, Ark. — This year I’m going to do something a little different.

Instead of just giving my personal analysis of each game and then my picks, I have decided to do two sets of picks.

First, I will do my traditional picks based on the eye test, my thoughts on the matchups, etc. The new system that will accompany those picks is based strictly on statistics. Take momentum, matchups, luck and all that out of the argument. I’ll analyze each team based on statistics such as points per game, points allowed per game, etc. to get an idea of which team is better “on paper”. These will not be my official picks as it will function more as a control in an experiment. I’ll be able to reflect on my picks versus who the stats would say would win and see if it’s better to stick to them or gut feelings.

Sound fun? Probably not. But if you’re still here, let’s get into it.


4 Kansas City Chiefs (-8.5) vs 5 Tennessee Titans

Saturday, Jan. 6, 3:20 P.M. CST, ESPN

  Chiefs Titans
Points Per Game 25.9 20.9
Yards Per Game 375.4 314.0
Opp Points Per Game 21.2 22.2
Opp Yards Per Game 365.1 328.0
Point Differential +4.7 -1.3
Record vs Playoff Teams 2-2 2-2
Head-to-Head 0-0 0-0

 Statistical Pick: Kansas City Chiefs

alex smith

Analysis: The Titans somehow limped into the playoffs after a less-than-impressive regular season. They were lucky enough to play in the weak AFC, and even weaker AFC South. If not for an injury to Deshaun Watson, there is no doubt in my mind that the Titans would be sitting at home watching this game on television.

The Chiefs started the year off as the best team in football. Then, they reminded us all that they were, in fact, the Chiefs. They struggled through the middle part of the season but finished strong. They started 5-0, then went 1-6, but finished 4-0.

Tennessee has virtually no offensive weapons to compete with those for Kansas City. The Chiefs, despite their bad stretch, finished as the sixth-highest scoring team in the NFL (25.9). Tennessee ranks near the bottom at 19th (20.9). The reemergence of Kareem Hunt as a legitimate star in the backfield to compliment the passing attack of Alex Smith, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce should be very concerning for the Titans.

The Titans like to keep games low-scoring, and if they’re able to combat the deep Kansas City offense, they’ll be able to compete in this game. I don’t see that happening.

Pick: Kansas City Chiefs


3 Los Angeles Rams (-6.0) vs 6 Atlanta Falcons

Saturday, Jan. 6, 7:15 P.M. CST, NBC

  Rams Falcons
Points Per Game 29.9 22.1
Yards Per Game 361.5 364.8
Opp Points Per Game 20.6 19.7
Opp Yards Per Game 339.6 318.4
Point Differential +9.3 +2.4
Record vs Playoff Teams 3-2 2-5
Head-to-Head 0-0 0-0

Statistical Pick: Los Angeles Rams

gurley does it again

Analysis: The Rams might be the best team in football right now. Their offense is the best in the league thanks to the real MVP, Todd Gurley II. Jared Goff overcame his rookie struggles to assert himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the game. This is a great young team with tons of potential.

The Falcons don’t have to worry about potential. They’re proven. After losing the Super Bowl last season, the Falcons had a hangover to start their revenge tour. They reeled off three wins to start the year, followed by three losses in as many weeks. After a 4-4 start, they managed to win six of their final eight games to finish the year at 10-6, good enough for the final playoff spot in the deep NFC. Matt Ryan is still an elite quarterback, and Julio Jones, despite a ‘down’ year, is one of the greatest receivers of a generation.

Will the new kids on the block be able to knock off the defending NFC Champions? It’ll come down to defense.

Both offenses are high powered. Both teams will score points. The question is, who will be able to slow down the opposing offense?

The Falcons defense comes into this game ranked 8th in the NFL in terms of points allowed per game and 9th in yards allowed per game. The Rams sit behind them at 12th and 19th, respectively. Does that mean the Falcons take the cake? Well, not so fast.

The Rams offense is the standard in the league when it comes to scoring points. Atlanta averages three more yards per game than Los Angeles, but the Rams put up nearly eight more points per game than the Falcons. The Rams outscore their opponents by an average of 9.3 points per game, while Atlanta’s point differential sits at 2.4 points per game more than their opponents.

In short, though the Atlanta defense is slightly better than that of the Rams, they’re facing a much more high-powered offense.

Defense wins championships, but offense will carry you through the playoffs (ask the 2013 Broncos, 2015 Panthers and 2016 Falcons). I’m taking the youngbloods.

Pick: Los Angeles Rams


3 Jacksonville Jaguars (-8.5) vs 6 Buffalo Bills

Sunday, Jan. 7, 12:05 P.M. CST, CBS

  Jaguars Bills
Points Per Game 26.1 18.9
Yards Per Game 365.9 302.6
Opp Points Per Game 16.8 22.4
Opp Yards Per Game 286.1 355.1
Point Differential +9.3 -3.5
Record vs Playoff Teams 1-3 2-4
Head-to-Head 0-0 0-0

Statistical Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars

jags d

Analysis: The Bills are lucky to even have a playoff spot. The Jaguars have one of the toughest defenses I’ve seen in the NFL in a long time. Their offense isn’t that great, but it may be better than Buffalo’s. A better offense and defense than your opponent usually leads to a win.

The key to this game is quarterbacks. As great as the Jacksonville defense is, if this game comes down to Blake Bortles, the Jags are in trouble. I wouldn’t trust Bortles to make an eight-yard pass for a first down in the first quarter. He is possibly the most inconsistent (unless you count being consistently bad) quarterback in the league.

Tyrod Taylor is not much better, but if he played for a team like Jacksonville, they would be a legitimate Super Bowl threat

At the end of the day, though, the Jaguars are significantly better than the Bills. They have the best running game in the AFC and a defense that causes problems for everyone they’ve faced, except Jimmy Garoppolo. The Bills are one of two teams in the playoffs (Titans) with a negative average points differential (-3.5) and yard differential (-52.5). In fact, they rank dead-last amongst playoff teams in:

  • Points Per Game
  • Point Differential
  • Points Allowed Per Game
  • Yards Per Game
  • Yard Differential

The only category I analyzed in which they came in better than 12th was yards allowed per game, in which they ranked 10th, ahead of the Chiefs and Patriots respectively.

To summarize, the Bills aren’t even deserving of a playoff spot.

Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars


4 New Orleans Saints (-7.0) vs 5 Carolina Panthers

Sunday, Jan. 7, 3:40 P.M. CST, FOX

  Saints Panthers
Points Per Game 28.0 22.7
Yards Per Game 391.2 323.7
Opp Points Per Game 20.4 20.4
Opp Yards Per Game 336.5 317.1
Point Differential +7.6 +2.3
Record vs Playoff Teams 4-4 4-4
Head-to-Head 2-0 0-2

Statistical Pick: New Orleans Saints

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers
CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 17: Damiere Byrd #18 celebrates with teammate Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers after a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Analysis: Man. I don’t want to do this.

Both of these teams have Super Bowl potential. They are the two most experienced Playoff teams in the NFC with two quarterbacks that have been to the Super Bowl.

There’s a reason the Saints are 2-0 versus the Panthers this season. On the field, up to this point, they have been the better team.

The key to this game for the Panthers is to keep it low-scoring. If they are able to contain Ingram and Kamara while limiting Drew Brees, they’ll have a chance to win. If the New Orleans offense gets rolling, however, it could be a long game in the Big Easy.

Home field also plays a significant role in this one. Carolina had a chance to win the NFC South and clinch home-field advantage in the first round, but they collapsed against the Falcons on the road. The Panthers play about the same in Charlotte as they do anywhere else, but their opponent is a different animal.

The Saints play best in the Superdome. They average 34.4 points per game and posted a 7-1 record on the year at home, compared to 25.9 points per game and a 4-4 record away from home.

Drew Brees is one of only three quarterbacks in the NFL Playoffs to win a Super Bowl (Brady, Roethlisberger), and one of five to make it to the Super Bowl (Newton, Ryan). He’s playing at home against a team he’s beaten twice this season. He has the best running game of his career, and one of the best defenses. This one has all the makings of a Saints victory.

I’m a die-hard Panthers fan. Cam Newton is an elite quarterback. The Panthers defense is salty. The Panthers were able to travel to New England and get a win and were also able to run against the stingy Vikings defense. Carolina was without Greg Olsen for their first two meetings with New Orleans, but will he be enough to turn the tide?

As much faith as I have in my team, and I do believe they can win this game, it is in my best interest as a sportswriter to pick against them, and take the better team with a top-ten all-time quarterback playing at home with possibly the best bunch of players he has ever had around him.

Pick: New Orleans Saints


Statistics (For those who are interested)

 

Records vs Playoff Opponents

Patriots 5-2 (Saints, Falcons, Bills x2, Steelers) (Chiefs, Panthers)
Saints 4-4 (Panthers x2, Bills, Falcons) (Vikings, Patriots, Rams, Falcons)
Panthers 4-4 (Bills, Patriots, Falcons, Vikings) (Saints x2, Eagles, Falcons)
Vikings 3-2 (Saints, Rams, Falcons) (Steelers, Panthers)
Steelers 3-2 (Vikings, Chiefs, Titans) (Jaguars, Patriots)
Rams 3-2 (Jags, Saints, Titans) (Vikings, Eagles)
Eagles 2-1 (Panthers, Rams) (Chiefs)
Chiefs 2-2 (Patriots, Eagles) (Steelers, Bills)
Titans 2-2 (Jaguars x2) (Steelers, Rams)
Bills 2-4 (Falcons, Chiefs) (Panthers, Saints, Patriots x2)
Falcons 2-5 (Saints, Panthers) (Bills, Patriots, Panthers, Vikings, Saints)
Jaguars 1-3 (Steelers) (Titans x2, Rams)

 

Points Per Game (NFL Rank)

Rams 29.9 (1st)
Patriots 28.6 (2nd)
Eagles 28.6 (3rd)
Saints 28.0 (4th)
Jaguars 26.1 (5th)
Chiefs 25.9 (6th)
Steelers 25.4 (8th)
Vikings 23.9 (10th)
Panthers 22.7 (12th)
Falcons 22.1 (15th)
Titans 20.9 (18th)
Bills 18.9 (22nd)

 

Opponent Points Per Game (NFL Rank)

Vikings 15.8 (1st)
Jaguars 16.8 (2nd)
Eagles 18.4 (4th)
Patriots 18.5 (5th)
Steelers 19.2 (7th)
Falcons 19.7 (8th)
Saints 20.4 (10th)
Panthers 20.4 (11th)
Rams 20.6 (12th)
Chiefs 21.2 (15th)
Titans 22.2 (17th)
Bills 22.4 (18th)

 

Average Margin of Victory/Point Differential

Eagles +10.2
Patriots +10.1
Jaguars +9.3
Rams +9.3
Vikings +8.1
Saints +7.6
Steelers +6.2
Chiefs +4.7
Falcons +2.4
Panthers +2.3
Titans -1.3
Bills -3.5

 

Yards Per Game (NFL Rank)

Patriots 394.2 (1st)
Saints 391.2 (2nd)
Steelers 377.9 (3rd)
Chiefs 375.4 (5th)
Jaguars 365.9 (6th)
Eagles 365.8 (7th)
Falcons 364.8 (8th)
Rams 361.5 (10th)
Vikings 356.9 (11th)
Panthers 323.7 (19th)
Titans 314.0 (23rd)
Bills 302.6 (29th)

 

Yards Per Game Allowed (NFL Rank)

Vikings 275.9 (1st)
Jaguars 286.1 (2nd)
Eagles 306.5 (4th)
Steelers 306.9 (5th)
Panthers 317.1 (7th)
Falcons 318.4 (9th)
Titans 328.0 (13th)
Saints 336.5 (17th)
Rams 339.6 (19th)
Bills 355.1 (26th)
Chiefs 365.1 (28th)
Patriots 366.0 (29th)

 

Yard Differential (per game)

Vikings +81.0
Jaguars +79.8
Steelers +71.0
Eagles +59.3
Saints +54.7
Falcons +46.4
Patriots +28.2
Rams +21.9
Chiefs +10.3
Panthers +6.6
Titans -14.0
Bills -52.5

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