Wild card weekend for the NFL was precisely that for a couple of the games: WILD! The ending of the KC game was bizarre and the Saints - Panthers game provided the entertainment value we anticipated. Of course we expected kind of a snoozer with the slow paced game between the Bills and Jaguars but had hoped that the Rams would show up for the first playoff game in Hollywood in over 20 years.
Tennessee moves on after looking like they were going to get run out of Arrowhead. Kudos to Derrick Henry for carrying the Titans on his back but also much credit goes to Marcus Mariota for not letting the big game pressure get to him. That TD pass he threw to himself exemplifies what a crazy game that was. It didn't help that Travis Kelce got knocked out early. That made a huge difference. Even though we predicted a KC victory, we are happy that our score prediction of 28-22 came awfully close to the real score. If the fumble recovery for a TD was not overruled, we would have been spot on!
The Falcons defense proved it is no joke. The entire defensive unit was able to limit YAC (yards after catch) for most of the Rams offensive weapons and the secondary did a great job of coverage. This is a talented group and also well coached. No surprise there given that head coach Dan Quinn was the architect of the Seattle Seahawks "Legion of Boom" defense that won the Super Bowl in 2013 and nearly won it again in 2014.
Speaking of defense, the Jaguars have aruguably the best defense in the league and proved why by limiting the Bills to just 3 points. It was an ugly game and one has to wonder if the Jaguars have enough offense to beat Pittburgh on the road. Still, it is awfully hard to move the ball on the Jaguars given that they have two lockdown corners which allows the defensive front seven enough time to get at the QB. Tyrod Taylor faced relentless pressure all day in Jacksonville. Too bad we won't hear about Bills Mafia again until next season. Ending a 17 year playoff drought was a nice story and maybe we will see the Bills make more progress next season. They played with a lot of heart.
Lastly, we have the Saints who were able to finally win a big game this season through the air instead of the ground. Weird to say that since the Saints, for the most part, have usually been a passing team but this season the Saints marched onto the playoffs with a potent run game. The Panthers are not an easy team to run but for the 2nd half of the season, they gave up the most production to QBs and WRs. Drew Brees took full advantage of the Panthers secondary with an 80 yard TD bomb to Ted Ginn and constantly using Michael Thomas to stretch the field. The Saints defense was also solid and cornerback Marshon Lattimore was able to limit the damage Devin Funchess can do.
As for what we think will happen this weekend our model suggests that the following will happen.
Philadelphia beats Atlanta 24 - 17
New England beats Tennessee 31 - 24
Jacksonville beats Pittsburgh 21 - 19
Minnesota beats New Orleans 24 - 20
Defense wins championships and clearly our model is picking the better defensive team in each divisional matchup. Still, this is a QB's league and if we throw our model out the window and simply pick a final four of NFL teams with renowned signal callers, then we should expect Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisber, and Drew Brees to all be in the conference championships. That would make for better ratings!
We will do some more analysis throughout the week and have our analysis and true predictions ready by this Friday.