We’ve made it! After a very exciting 2019 regular season, it’s a new year, which means it’s time for the postseason. Usually, the wildcard round can often come with matchups between undeserving teams, but this year, we have a very strong slate of teams that didn’t earn a first-round bye; we’ll be entertained by four compelling matchups. So, who’ll advance to the divisional round? Let’s predict every game that’ll take place in the first round of the playoffs.
Saturday, 4:25 PM ET: Bills (10-6) at Texans (10-6)
Spread Pick: HOU (-2.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (43.5)
Score Prediction: Bills 20 Texans 24
Starting off the postseason a very tightly matched affair, the Bills will travel to Houston to take on the Texans. Neither of these teams has much postseason success, with Buffalo not winning a playoff game in the past decade and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s only playoff win coming against Connor Cook, of all quarterbacks. In other words, this game is essentially a coin-flip, and because of that, I’ll side with the better quarterback, who is also at home. Deshaun Watson has had issues with this Sean McDermott style of defense, which limits explosive plays; he has awful in Week 6 against the Bills last year, but also against a similar defensive scheme in the Panthers in Week 4 this year. However, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s not facing as strong of a defense as everyone believes- Buffalo has struggled against above-average offenses this season. On the flip side, Josh Allen’s been a mediocre quarterback at best, and although Houston’s secondary has some problems, they’re at their best versus 11-personnel (which Buffalo runs often), and the defense as a whole could be reenergized by the return of star defensive lineman JJ Watt. Each team has its own advantages in this game, but the Texans have the type of star talent that can be the difference in a postseason game, so I’ll take them to win a very close game.
Saturday, 8:15 PM: Titans (9-7) at Patriots (12-4)
Spread Pick: NE (-4.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44.5)
Score Prediction: Titans 24 Pats 30
Can the Patriots be dethroned in the AFC? They’ve made the Super Bowl the last three years, but due to their shocking loss to the Dolphins, they’re forced to not only host a wildcard team, but face a Titans team that’s been as hot as any team in the NFL. At first glance, I really thought Tennesee had a chance to win this game, as I truly believe they’re a better team at the moment. Yet, upon further review, I advise fans to not get their hopes up- New England has the upper-hand in a lot of minor matchups. The Patriots offense has had issues, but when they’ve utilized 21 personnel, they’ve been fantastic. Well, according to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Stats, Tennesee is allowing a 63% success rate on runs from that formation, and even better, struggle against short passes, especially to running backs. Long story short, the Titans defenses’ weaknesses align with New England’s strengths, which is not ideal for them. On the other side of the ball, I do believe the Titans can have success against a Patriots defense that has clearly been overhyped (they’ve regressed significantly), but still, rain in the forecast definitely hurts them, and Bill Belichick also has an inside track on Ryan Tannehill- he’s faced the former first-round quarterback eleven times already. Could the Titans win this game? Maybe; they have more talent and have been playing much better. Will they? I’d strongly lean against it, considering all the different ways that the league’s smartest organization will be able to exploit them.
Sunday, 1:05 PM ET: Vikings (10-6) at Saints (13-3)
Spread Pick: MIN (+7.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (49.5)
Score Prediction: Vikings 34 Saints 24
In the first of the two Sunday NFC postseason games, the Saints will host the Vikings in a rematch of the “Minneapolis Miracle” from the 2017 divisional round. Obviously, New Orleans will be looking to get revenge for that heartbreaking loss in front of their home fans, but will they be able to? Unfortunately for them, the bitterness will live on much longer. The Vikings will be fresh after resting their starters last week, and with running back Dalvin Cook coming back, their offense should finally be fully healthy; when they’re at full health, they’re a legitimate top-five unit. Meanwhile, the Saints defense, which is dealing with significant injuries on the defensive line, has regressed significantly in both pass defense and run defense; Minnesota will be able to have success utilizing heavy formations. As for the other side of the ball, New Orleans has been clicking on offense, but with a great linebacking group and arguably the best safety duo in the NFL, the Vikings are well equipped to slow down the likes of Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara, and since the Saints don’t have a true #2 receiver, that could be problematic for New Orleans. Minnesota will come out firing, and as a result, will move on to the second round, while the Saints are sent home once again.
Sunday, 4:40 PM ET: Seahawks (11-5) at Eagles (9-7)
Spread Pick: PHI (-1.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (45)
Score Prediction: Seahawks 16 Eagles 20
Based on the severe amount of injuries that both the Seahawks and Eagles have had this season, it’s only fitting that the two teams are facing off in the first round of the playoffs- they are, in my opinion, the two least deserving NFC playoff teams. In essence, this is as even of a matchup as one can have, as both teams have glaring weaknesses. Plus, both of these teams are well acclimated to playoff games, so in reality, there is no edge whatsoever. However, Philadelphia, who’ll be behind their home fans, is the most logical pick. Pete Carroll is a great head coach, but his in-game management/dismissal of analytics is extremely harmful to the Seahawks; Doug Pederson’s fourth-down aggressiveness, on the other hand, is a major asset for the Eagles. Plus, Philadelphia’s front four appeared to have a coming-out party last week in pass rush and run defense, and facing a depleted offensive line, they could cause serious havoc; Russell Wilson has really struggled against pressure in recent weeks. There’s always the issue with Wilson against the Eagles’ poor secondary, but still, Philadelphia is the more efficient team on early downs, and has seemed to adapt offensively in the last couple of games. In what’ll be a very close game, every minor detail is magnified. In that case, I’ll take the better-prepared team with the home-field advantage- the Eagles will win yet another playoff game despite dealing with extreme adversity.