Straight Up Picks for Wild Card Weekend
Wild Card Weekend in the NFL is upon us. Four games kick off what is sure to be an exciting postseason. All eight teams that are playing this weekend are aiming to do something that has not been done since 2010: win four games to win the Super Bowl. In fact, since 1970 (when the Wild Card format in the playoffs began), just six teams that played in the Wild Card round went on to win the Super Bowl. Will any of these eight teams buck these trends? Let’s dive in and pick the winners of all four games.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
The Bills are in search of their first playoff win since 1995. In their last playoff appearance two years ago, they lost a 10-3 defensive struggle to the Jaguars. I believe this experience will be valuable for the Bills and their coaching staff. They called a very conservative game and got burned for it. Look for the Bills to play much looser now that they have had a taste of the postseason. Buffalo is no stranger to playing in tough environments, as they went 6-2 SU on the road this year.
J.J. Watt’s return will be a big boost for the Texans’ defense. However, it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective he will be. Without him, Houston allowed 144.1 rushing yards per game. If Watt is not 100 percent, this is a very scary number against an opponent like the Bills, who you know would like to establish a physical ground game.
The biggest edge in this game is in the defenses. Buffalo ranks third overall while Houston ranks 28th, the worst of any playoff team. The Bills have the personnel to negate what the Texans do well. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson will struggle against a top-ten rush defense. Tre’Davious White is one of the best cover corners in the game, and he should neutralize DeAndre Hopkins’ big-play ability. Football usually favors the more physical team in the trenches, and that is the Buffalo Bills. Bills fans, get ready to party like it’s 1995.
PICK: Buffalo Bills
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
This is the most vulnerable the Patriots have looked in quite some time. If the Miami Dolphins can go into Foxborough and beat New England in a game they had a lot to play for, who can’t beat the Patriots? This is an interesting matchup from a historical standpoint. It marks the sixth-ever playoff matchup where one coach played for the other. Titans coach Mike Vrabel should be familiar with Bill Belichick’s schemes and tendencies, having played for him from 2001-2008.
As ripe as New England seems for an upset, there are certain trends I cannot get past. The Patriots are 11-0 under Belichick against quarterbacks making their playoff debut. In addition, the Titans have not won in Foxborough since 1993, when they were the Houston Oilers. Since then, they are 0-6 SU in New England.
Bill Belichick is known for being a genius at taking away the opposition’s best threat. Look for the Patriots to key in on the NFL’s leading rusher, Derrick Henry, and force Ryan Tannehill to beat them with his arm. The Patriots have allowed just one rushing touchdown to an opposing running back all year. If Henry is having a hard time moving the chains and/or finding the endzone, I don’t see Tennessee being able to pull the upset.
PICK: New England Patriots
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
The Saints are by far the biggest favorites on Wild Card weekend, and it’s easy to see why. The Saints have averaged 40 PPG over their last four games. In addition, their 36.3 PPG since Week 10 is the highest in the NFL in that span. The most refreshing thing for Saints fans is that Alvin Kamara seems to be back on track. After scoring just two total touchdowns in the team’s first 14 games, he has four touchdowns in the last two games combined. New Orleans has the most balanced offense and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback to lead them.
The last time we saw the Minnesota Vikings in a meaningful game, they were getting routed at home by the Packers. They managed just seven first downs in a 23-10 loss on Monday Night Football. Kirk Cousins doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in winning big games. Minnesota’s offense will get a boost with the return of Dalvin Cook, whose 1,135 yards ranked 10th in the league. However, he will face a stout New Orleans front that ranked fourth against the run this year.
On paper, this looks like the weekend’s biggest mismatch. If Minnesota falls behind early, this game could get away from them. The Vikings secondary has been more vulnerable than usual this year, so look for Michael Thomas and Jared Cook to take full advantage for the Saints.
PICK: New Orleans Saints
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
The Seahawks and Eagles game is the only one of the four that is a rematch from the regular season. Seattle went into Philadelphia in Week 12 and won a 17-9 defensive struggle. Both teams are dealing with their share of injuries. The Seahawks backfield is a complete mess, forcing them to sign Marshawn Lynch off the streets last week. The Eagles have injury concerns on both sides of the ball. They’ll be without a bunch of people in the secondary and might be without the services of Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz on offense.
Since Pete Carroll became head coach of Seattle in 2010, the Seahawks have owned the Eagles. They are 5-0 against Philadelphia under Carroll and have harassed Carson Wentz each time they faced him. Wentz is 0-3 against Seattle, with four touchdowns, five interceptions, and three lost fumbles. In two of those games, he had a full complement of players. Is he all of a sudden going to improve on these numbers with a depleted cast?
The Eagles have some positive momentum going, winning four “must-win” games to clinch the NFC East. However, all those games were against the weakest divisional opponents in the league. The Seahawks are a different beast. They came a few inches away from winning what was arguably the toughest division in the NFL. Look for Seattle to follow the same script that won them a game in Philadelphia earlier this year, and advance to the second round.
PICK: Seattle Seahawks
Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.