Happy 2018 everyone!!! It’s that time, the NFL Playoffs commences this weekend, and we’ve got some great and unexpected match-ups.
Byes: New England Patriots (13-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) Saturday 4:20PM ET (ESPN)
The Titans are making their first playoff appearance since 2008. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had more interceptions than touchdowns in the regular season. Though he has shown more moxie, he must do better than that if the Titans want to advance. If running back DeMarco Murray’s, a go, he and Derrick Henry are a proven 1,2 combo that can move the chains and keep the Chiefs’ offense on the sidelines.
The defense is solid led by Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey. Safety Kevin Byard was tied for the league lead in interceptions. He’ll have the task of slowing the Chiefs’ receivers.
The Chiefs clinched the AFC West. Quarterback Alex Smith finished top ten overall with his best stats in years. He has his playmakers led by Pro Bowler Travis Kelce and versatile wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing, so the Titans will have to tame him.
Their defense finished near the bottom, but have the players to slow down Mariota such as linebackers Justin Houston, Reggie Ragland and Dee Ford. Safety Marcus Peters, who finished top five in interceptions, will have to make sure the Titans don’t move the chains
Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) Sunday 1:30PM ET (CBS)
After beating Miami, the Bills needed the Cincinnati Bengals to defeat the Baltimore Ravens to get in the playoffs, and it happened. No doubt, Buffalo is partying like it’s 1999, well 2000 technically since that was the last time the Bills were in the playoffs, which was the longest playoff drought of the four major sports.
Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy, who finished top five in rushing, is nursing an ankle injury, so he’ll likely not be 100%. As he goes, so do the Bills’ offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor may have to use his arm more. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who himself is nursing a knee injury, will have to make big plays.
Pro Bowler Micah Hyde and cornerback Tre’Davious White lead the Bills’ defense.
Meanwhile the Jaguars clinched the AFC South and their first playoff berth in a decade. The Jaguars ranked in the top ten in total offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles was just outside the top ten. He’s got a solid corps in wide receiver Allen Hurns, who just came back from injury, as well as tight end Mercedes Lewis and receiver Marquise Lee, who are both nursing ankle injuries. The Titans need to beef up their run game though, meaning running back Leonard Fournette may get a lot of touches.
For as good as the offense has been, it’s been the defense that’s led the way for the Jags. They finished only behind the Minnesota Vikings in total defense. Pro Bowler Calais Campbell, who finished second in sacks, looks like a genius now for signing with the Jags in the offseason. He along with fellow Pro Bowler Malik Jackson will try to pressure Taylor. Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye, who finished top five in interceptions, and Jalen Ramsey lead a fierce secondary.
There’s also some storylines off the field, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was traded from the Bills to the Jaguars halfway through the season. Head coach Dough Marrone was let go from the Bills’ coach in 2014.
Coming up, I’ll preview the NFC Wild Card weekend.