KANSAS CITY CHIEFS ($1.22) v TENNESSEE TITANS ($4.50)
The Kansas City Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium to open the Wildcard Round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday morning.
Tell me about their seasons so far.
The Chiefs sent shockwaves through the NFL when they defeated the reigning Super Bowl Champions to open the new season. Kansas City didn’t just defeat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they slapped them around on their own home field in Foxborough Massachusetts to the tune of 27-42.
The Chiefs won their first 5 games and were favourites to win the AFC as the Patriots struggled to build momentum. Rookie Kareem Hunt was a revelation at running back and Alex Smith was a frontrunner for the league MVP.
That streak was ended by the Steelers and the Chiefs went 5-6 to finish the season. They still managed to win the AFC West ahead of the LA Chargers although it is fair to say they spluttered towards the finish after starting so brightly.
The Titans finished second in the AFC South behind the transformed Jacksonville Jaguars and come into this game with plenty of momentum after they defeated the Jaguars in the final match of the regular season (15-10). In our opinion the Titans have only defeated two good teams this season, the Jaguars (who they also defeated 37-16 in Week Two) and the Seahawks (33-27) in Week Three.
The Titans fortune is largely in the hands of QB Marcus Marriota, assisted by a total of 4 players who were selected in the Pro Bowl (LB Brian Orakpo, TE Delanie Walker, DL Jurrell Casey and OT Taylor Lewan).
The loss of DeMarco Murray is huge for the Titans
RB DeMarco Murray will miss this game with a knee injury and that is undoubtedly a huge omission for the Titans. Murray averages anywhere between 10-20 carries per game (184 for the 659 yards this season).
What is home field advantage worth in this game?
The Chiefs went 6-2 at Arrowhead Stadium this season, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-19) and the Buffalo Bills (10-16) in low scoring games. The Titans are a disappointing 3-5 away from home. The Chiefs have averaged 24.1 points at home this season and the Titans 17.5 away from home. The Total Points Over/Under is set at 44 points and we think that with two strong offences this game will be over that range.
2 match-ups Punters need to know about before investing in this match.
- Kareem Hunt v Titans Rush Defence. The Titans are the #4 ranked defence in the NFL for total rushing yards allowed and total rushing yards allowed per carry this season. This makes the match-up between RB Kareem Hunt and the rush defence absolutely crucial. EDGE: Titans
- Marcus Mariota v Alex Smith. Punters are looking at two very mobile QB’s who won’t be confined to the pocket. Kansas City have one of the worst defences against the pass in the NFL, ranked #29 for passing yards allowed this season, #23 for passing yards per attempt (7.1) and #24 for total sacks. The Titans are ranked #5 for total sacks, #25 for total passing yards allowed this season and #12 for yards allowed per pass attempt. We think Smith is a better QB at this stage of his career. EDGE: Alex Smith (KC)
The market is saying that based on the Chiefs home field advantage, as long as they play to their potential they are expected to progress. We don’t quite agree. The Titans carry very impressive form into this match and we place a heavy emphasis on their recent win over the Jaguars who were also desperate to win that game and are a better team than the Chiefs.
We think that the Titans will give the Chiefs a real scare, although not enough to progress. Our main concern is that the Titans have been blown out by the really good teams they have played this season with the exception of the Jaguars last week.
Tyreek Hill to score a touchdown ($2.10), Tennessee Titans +8.5 ($1.87), Total Points Over 44.0 ($1.87)
LOS ANGELES RAMS ($1.32) v ATLANTA FALCONS ($3.50)
The NFC is absolutely stacked with talented teams this season and the Wildcard Round begins with the Falcons travelling to the L.A Memorial Coliseum to take on the Rams.
I’m concerned about what the 49ers did to the Rams last week. Explain why I should trust them.
The San Francisco 49ers have been on an absolute rampage in the last 5 games and took their ‘biggest scalp’ last weekend when they defeated the Rams 13-34 in their own stadium. So does it ring alarm bells that extend to this match? The Rams rested their star QB Jarrod Goff, RB Todd Gurley, DT Aaron McDonald and OL Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan for the San Francisco match and obviously with them in the line-up they are a completely different team. We like the 49ers but they wouldn’t have beaten the Rams at full strength.
Jarrod Goff v Matt Ryan
A year is a long time in sport and after Goff was ranked the ‘Worst QB in the NFL’ last season he led the league in passing efficiency in 2017/18 which is a truly incredible turnaround. It is not a huge stretch to conclude that Jarrod Goff is the more favoured QB in this match-up, with the only unproven variable his ability to perform in the post-season.
The Falcons have been a really low scoring team for the past 5 weeks which coincided with matches against some of the remaining playoff teams in the NFC (New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers). The logical next question is how does the LA Rams defence match-up with those teams and the answer is very favourably.
This is essentially a match-up between the two QBs. The winner of this contest will almost certainly win the game. Matt Ryan was the NFL MVP last season whilst Goff is establishing himself as one of the better QB’s in the competition. EDGE: Goff
3 things Punters need to know before investing in this game:
- The Rams know how to score. Averaging just under 30 points per game this season, the Rams are the top scoring team in the NFL. Interestingly they have been a higher scoring team away from home which could be a reflection on the fact that the LA Memorial Coliseum hasn’t exactly been a fortress in terms of fan support, especially early in the season. As often happens success gets bums on seats and we expect the crowd to produce some serious energy in this match.
- Passing/Rushing defence rankings. The defences are similar in terms of their passing defence. The Rams are ranked #13 for total passing yards conceded this year, the Falcons are ranked #12. In terms of total yards per attempt the Falcons are ranked #11 and the Rams #13. Atlanta have a better defence against the run, ranked #9 in the competition for total yards conceded this season, the Rams are down the bottom at #28. In terms of yards per attempt, the Falcons are ranked #19 and the Rams even further down the bottom at #30. This should flag for Punters that RB Devonta Freeman is very important in this game and we expect him to play well.
- Look for the Rams to air it out. Jarrod Goff has looked his best when he looks down the field and makes big plays, stretching the opposition defence. We expect him to do this against the Falcons. If he can get a couple of big passes going early it will take the pressure off the offensive line because they won’t be able to focus on pressuring the QB if the Rams receivers are running deep routes for big yards. Early moments of this match are absolutely crucial.
We think that as long as the Rams score in the range of 24+ in this match they will win. Defensively they are strong enough to keep the Falcons from turning this match into a shootout and whilst no playoff is ‘procedural’, as long as the Rams offence and defence play to their potential they will progress to the next round.
Realistically the Rams are the best team (equal if you like the Saints) playing in the Wildcard Round and second best team in the NFC behind the Minnesota Vikings at the moment.
LA Rams ($1.38), LA Rams -5.5 ($1.92), Devonta Freeman to score a TD ($2.00), Total Points Under 48.5 ($1.93)
BUFFALO BILLS ($4.44) v JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS ($1.23)
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in our opinion one of the most exciting young teams in the NFL and host the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Stadium to begin their first playoff campaign since 2007.
Let’s cut straight to the chase. It would be a monumental disappointment if the Jaguars went out of the NFL playoffs in the Wildcard Round. Especially to the Buffalo Bills. Jacksonville have one of the best defences in the competition although they have lost their last two games of the regular season to the rampaging San Francisco 49ers (44-33) and the Tennessee Titans (15-10).
The Jaguars are now a complete team
The Jaguars were viewed as an incomplete team earlier in the season, heavily dependent on their defence to keep the score low enough for QB Blake Bortles to put together enough points to get the win. To his credit Bortles and his offence have really improved as the season progressed.
Offensively Jacksonville are averaging the fifth highest score in the NFL, which is incredible when you consider that Blake Bortles certainly isn’t the 5th best QB in the competition. At home their average of 25.9 is pretty much exactly the same as their season average of 26.1.
3 things the Bills have to do to cause an upset in this match
- The Bills need to start scoring. Buffalo average just 17.6 points per game away from home and against playoff calibre teams like the Patriots, Saints, Chiefs, Falcons and Panthers they have really struggled to score. We have seen games with offensive production to the tune of 3 vs Panthers and Patriots, 10 vs Saints and Chiefs and an outlier of 23 against the Falcons early in the season.
- Pressure Blake Bortles early. There is massive speculation about whether the Jacksonville QB can throw the Jaguars to the second week of the playoffs. Titans DT Jurrell Casey commented this week that ‘as long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands he’s going to choke’. Ranked #12 in the NFL by ESPN (ironically one spot higher than Casey’s own QB Marcus Mariota) Bortles will be most vulnerable at the beginning of the game before he gets into a rhythm. The Bills need to bring the heat early and stop his flow from starting. If he gets into the game early the Jaguars will win. The longer it takes the better chance the Bills are to cause an upset.
What is the key match-up in this match?
Jacksonville defence vs Tyrod Taylor
The Bills have chopped and changed their QB this season before settling on Tyrod Taylor. He is ranked just below Bortles at #14 by ESPN although we see the Jacksonville QB as the superior passer. We think that the Bills won’t put too much emphasis on Taylor and instead focus on the run game which has proven a weakness for the Jaguars in defence. It is pretty obvious that the Jaguars will crush Taylor’s passing game and instead this match will likely come down to how effectively Jacksonville can contain the Bills rush.
NOTE: The main concern with the Bills focusing on the running game is that they are heavily reliant on LeSean McCoy. ‘Shady’ is considered just a day-to-day prospect with a sprained ankle sustained last week. If he isn’t available then it is lights out for the Bills before this game starts. They aren’t going to get the production they need from Tolbert and Murphy.
Despite the market for each of the Wildcard matches indicating there is a warm favourite leading into the game, we think that this is the most lop-sided contest in the first week of the playoffs. The biggest question is whether the Jaguars can return to their dominant form after slipping a bit in the last two weeks.
Jacksonville Jaguars -8.5 ($1.90), Total Points Over 39.5 ($1.90)
CAROLINA PANTHERS ($3.60) v NEW ORLEANS SAINTS ($1.31)
The NFC South has its’ own playoff match-up with the Saints hosting the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in New Orleans. Both teams finished the season 11-5 and have played each other twice this season, with the Saints winning both games in late September (34-13) and early December (31-21).
The NFC is the strongest division this season, without the best overall team in the New England Patriots. This match-up would be at home in the second week of the playoffs in any other year.
I find the Panthers hard to work out this season. Can they cause an upset?
You’re not the only one. The Panther’s issues started early in the season and have centred around QB Cam Newton and TE Greg Olsen. Newton started the season under an injury cloud, missing heaps of pre-season practice and then tried to re-invent himself, spending more time in the pocket and limiting his running game. This proved unsuccessful and as Newton returned to a more balanced pass and rush game the Panthers have looked better.
Olsen was injured for a large part of the season and has just 17 receptions for the season for 191 yards. This will be his first game playing against the Saints this season and although Olsen insists that ‘we haven’t forgotten how to play’ Punters must question the ability of the Carolina offence to find the rhythm necessary to defeat the Saints in such a short time.
What should Punters be focused on in this game?
- How does the Saints’ defence deal with the movement of Cam Newton? The answer backed up by two comprehensive wins this season is pretty well. Newton threw 3 INT’s in their first match-up and was more productive in their second game with 2 TD’s. The New Orleans pass defence is ranked mid-pack although statistics aren’t a good measure against Newton’s different playing style. The defence needs to be flexible enough to combat that movement out of the pocket and QB improvisation during the play. You could argue that the Saints would prefer Newton to control the whole game as the Panthers haven’t been very successful lately when he does everything himself.
- How do the Panther’s combat Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram? The Saints RB’s have been simply outstanding this season; the first RB duo to record 1500 scrimmage yards each in a single season. We think that Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis match-up well although not to the extent that they can stop them completely.
- The Panthers need to start producing some balanced offence. This game is over if the Panthers don’t start producing some offence. The Saints average just over 30 points at home and the Panthers 21.1 away this season. Last week they spluttered to just 10 points against the Falcons and Cam Newton had 3 INT’s and a horrible 31.5 passer rating. A recent ESPN article suggested that the path to success may be in ‘re-balancing’ the offence which is so skewed in favour of Newton and dependent on him not making mistakes. The Panthers record in playoffs is 0-2 when Newton is the leading rusher and 3-1 when he isn’t (ESPN).
The problem with stopping the offensive combination of Kamara/Ingram is that you still have Drew Brees passing the ball. It will take a complete defensive performance against both the pass and the rush for the Panthers to win this game.
The biggest variable in this game is the performance of Cam Newton and there is nothing to suggest after last week’s game that the Panthers are about to turn around their offensive problems. Based on this and the strength of the Saints offence we think they will this game.
New Orleans Saints (1.34), Total Points Under 47.5 ($1.93), Mark Ingram to score a TD ($1.60), Cam Newton to score a TD ($2.50)