NFL playoffs: Picks, predictions for wild-card games
The NFL playoffs, which conclude Feb. 4 with Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, begin Saturday and Sunday with wild-card weekend.
And we have some fresh faces this year.
There are eight new teams in this year’s playoff field — Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints and Panthers in the NFC, and Jaguars, Titans and Bills in the AFC. That's tied for the most in a season (2003) since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990. Since 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.
The Eagles and Jaguars both completed "worst-to-first" turnarounds this season in their respective divisions. Five of the eight division winners (Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints and Jaguars) finished in either third or fourth place in their divisions last year.
Swipe for Sporting News' picks and predictions for all four wild-card playoff games this weekend.
1 Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-7 1/2): Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Vinnie Iyer: This game comes down to which team will be more aggressive in going after big plays in the passing game ... and executing them. The Chiefs have gone back to the attack mode with Smith that made them so successful early in the season with great play-calling by offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. The Titans have a strong run defense under coordinator Dick LeBeau and will focus on containing Hunt. But even with a good pass rush, they can be exploited downfield, both inside and outside. Expect the Chiefs to jump out to a significant lead by the third quarter and force the Titans to go away from sticking to the run.
Chiefs 30, Titans 16
David Steele: The playoffs are when the flaws in the Kansas City defense can be lethal, where they can get exposed as they did by the likes of the Jets and Raiders. This won’t be one of those weeks, though … not by the Titans. Smith, Hunt, Hill, Kelce … the Chiefs are not infallible, but they should have plenty in the tank to ride through this opponent and into the divisional round against the Steelers or Patriots.
Chiefs 33, Titans 19
2 Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-4 1/2): Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
David Steele: Over the last six weeks the Falcons have given up 23 points or fewer in each game; that included two games against the Saints and single ones against the Vikings and Panthers, all potent offenses. The irresistible force of the Rams offense — led by Todd Gurley, who led the NFL in combined rushing and receiving yards — should still be too much.
Rams 31, Falcons 26
Vinnie Iyer: The Falcons have the much better run defense, but the Rams have the more dangerous backfield because of Gurley. The Rams will get into Matt Ryan’s face with Aaron Donald, while the Falcons won’t have the same success winning on the edge against tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein to get to Jared Goff.
Rams 31, Falcons 27
3 Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.5): Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
David Steele: Once again, Blake Bortles has to avoid messing up and giving the Bills a chance. If he stays upright, uses his legs, leans on Leonard Fournette and the rest of the running game and avoids turnovers, the Jaguars should move on.
Jaguars 26, Bills 16
Vinnie Iyer: "Sacksonville" will be in full force defensively, and the Jaguars also will be in business offensively. It’s Fournette and the league’s top rushing attack against the Bills' No. 29 run defense. It will be a quick afternoon for Jacksonville as it advances to a rematch with Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs.
Jaguars 34, Bills 10
4 Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-6): Sunday 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Vinnie Iyer: The Panthers have a mighty run defense that shuts down most teams, but the Saints have had great success against them, like against most opponents, with the 1-2 punch of veteran Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. It's much easier to go with the Saints in the Superdome, where they lost only one game all season, to the AFC-best Patriots way back in Week 2.
Saints 34, Panthers 23
David Steele: Cam Newton, after being so much of his old self most of the season, suddenly became the least reliable link in the Panthers’ chain last week. That puts the Panthers’ stellar defense in the hot seat, needing to slow Ingram, Kamara, Michael Thomas and triggerman Drew Brees to give them a chance. That’s a tall order … too tall.
Saints 27, Panthers 23