NFL Wild Card Weekend After Action Report (AAR)

Upsets. NFC South dominance. More Zebra controversy. 2017 is over, but we’re still seeing the same ol’ things. For details, check out the NFL Wild Card Weekend AAR below where Danny led the way with three correct selections.

Saturday Games

4:35pm EST – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs; Line: Chiefs by 8.5

Outcome: Titans 22, Chiefs 21

Chris’s Pick: Chiefs 28, Titans 14

Chris was wrong

This one’s a head scratcher. Statistically, Alex Smith was efficient, effective, and turnover free. Marcus Mariota predictably turned the ball over early and the Titans fell behind in a hurry. It looked as though the preparation and discipline I spoke of was putting this game out of reach, until the Titans capitalized on chaos. It seems a fitting way for them to upset the balance, their regular season record seems to defy the horrid turnover differential they accrued through 16 games, but another potential turnover turned into a ball tipped high in the air only to land in Mariota’s outstretched arms. The third-year Titans quarterback threw a touchdown to himself and déjà vu must have set itself firmly in the Chiefs’ mind. The fact that the Titans ran the ball to get themselves back into this game tells me it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. I already hear the criticisms aimed at Alex Smith and I have to say this one is on Andy Reid and the defense.

Danny’s Pick: Chiefs 32, Titans 20

Danny was wrong

The Titans are the only team with a negative point differential to make it to the playoffs in 2017 add in Marcus Mariota making his first career playoff start and I did not see this going well. That being said, I think this game was as much about the Chiefs coaching as it was about Mariota finding his footing in the second half. The Chiefs’ coaching staff decided to give the ball to Kareem Hunt five times in the game’s final 48 minutes. Hunt proved himself to be one of the league’s most reliable backs over the course of the season. With Travis Kelce out with a concussion Hunt was the obvious choice to ride to victory. Instead KC looked elsewhere while the Titans’ offense picked up steam and later a big W. I’m still scratching my head about how this game unfolded.

Brad’s Pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 17

Brad was wrong

Anytime a team comes back from a deficit like this, you have to ask if the game was won or lost. My initial inclination was to blame KC for choking the game away and that’s probably part of the story, but it’s not as though they turned the ball over a bunch. Tennessee made enough plays to complete the 18-point comeback and gaining 202 yards on the ground was a critical part of that.

It’s possible that the best thing that happened to Tennessee last weekend was DeMarco Murray being ruled out with a knee injury. Derrick Henry started for the third straight game and had his best day as a pro rushing for 156 yards on 23 carries. It’s not an indictment of Murray. The Titans happen to have two running backs who need carries to be effective and, by sharing the backfield these last two years, neither has been able to reach his potential. For both Murray and Henry, more touches has equaled more yards per carry and the Tennessee offense HAS to run the ball well to win. 

8:15pm EST – Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams; Line: Rams by 5.5

Outcome: Falcons 26, Rams 13

Chris’s Pick: Rams 31, Falcons 28

Chris was wrong

It’s been said Sean McVay is his own toughest critic and I’m betting that is the case this week. The best offense in the NFL was absent on Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons when it mattered the most. The entire regular season the Rams lived or died by Todd Gurley’s performance and this weekend was no exception. When Gurley has 25 touches in a game the Rams have generally won, under 25 touches and they’ve found the loss column. That’s even more baffling considering Gurley had 14 carries in this one and a stellar 114 yards. The run game was working, so why didn’t McVay run the ball more?

That’s probably going to be one of the takeaways from this game and it’ll probably be one McVay wishes he could have back. There were other issues, of course. John Fassel’s special teams found their own adversity in the post-season, but for the most part the young players on this team were productive despite the final score line. Woods had a big night, Cooper Kupp was his reliable self, and the number of drops in this game probably mask how well Jared Goff played. They tallied the yards but couldn’t get points on the board and that’s something they’ll have to address in the off-season.

Danny’s Pick: Falcons 28, Rams 27

Danny was right

I went back and forth on this game last week and finally decided on the Falcons for two reasons: experience and Jared Goff. The Falcons have been there and done that. The entire roster is laden with playoff experience picked up on a run to the Super Bowl last year. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have been down this road and I knew the moment would not be too big for them. I had confidence that they would not have the jitters that lead some players to crack when the stage gets a little bigger. In addition, I don’t believe that Jared Goff is a very good quarterback. Sean McVay and Todd Gurley have been able to mask Goff’s deficiencies throughout the season and they all appeared in this game. Through three quarters Goff was completing less than 50 percent of his passes and he had only completed passes to three players. Goff had several throws where he misread option routes throwing to an empty patch of grass. Goff’s numbers improved in the 4th quarter as the Falcons began to play more off coverage to protect their two score lead. Goff may turn out to be a decent QB down the road, but I’m not convinced he can even be a serviceable QB without McVay or Gurley.

Brad’s Pick: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Brad was wrong

As I wrote yesterday in 5 Things I Think, the Rams just didn’t look like themselves in losing on Saturday night. The moment was just a little too big for them and Atlanta, who has already learned some of these lessons, was all too happy to benefit from LA’s errors. The season was still a huge success and I genuinely believe there are some significant playoff successes in the future of this young Rams squad. The Falcons on the other hand find themselves faced with a road match up against a Philly team without it’s quarterback and talisman. The developing theme in this postseason is veteran quarterbacking and, with Matty Ice at the helm, there is no team out there that the Falcons will be scared of.

Sunday Games

1:05pm EST – Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars; Line: Jags by 8.5

Outcome: Buffalo 3, Jaguars 10

Chris’s Pick: Jaguars 28, Bills 17

Chris was right

This one seemed to be a mix of great defense and poor offense with neither quarterback particularly confident or effective in the passing game. In the end I thought that would cost the Bills, and it did. Bortles was able to make plays on the ground in this game despite a decent defensive showing from the Bills front seven and the loss will likely make the Bills thing long and hard about their quarterback situation. Tyrod Taylor is better than many of the quarterbacks starting in the league right now, but he’s by no means the future of this team. The longevity of Bortles at the quarterback position for Jacksonville is still very much in question to me, but he might be able to prolong his tenure with continued success in the playoffs. At this point it feels like the Jaguars can stay competitive as long as Bortles continues to limit his turnovers.

Danny’s Pick: Jaguars 15, Bills 10

Danny was right

A lot of people are complaining about how painful this game was to watch. Tyrod Taylor vs. Blake Bortles isn’t going to sell a lot of tickets, but I didn’t mind the defensive struggle. The Jags won this game because they have about as good a defense as you’ll see in the NFL. The defense was good enough to mask the deficiencies of Blake Bortles and it could be good enough to get a win in Pittsburgh if it plays its best game. The Bills were a feel good story, making the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, but they weren’t going to be up to the task in the wildcard round on the road. My only take away from this game was Sean McDermott’s decision to try and drive the length of the field with Nathan Peterman at QB. Given that they were playing the best defense in the league and how bad Peterman has played previously, I am a little shocked that they did not just take a couple of Hail Mary shots. Just my opinion.

Brad’s Pick: Jags 19, Bills 13

Brad was right

The Jags won but did not cover as predicted here. The aspect of this game that I didn’t foresee was the struggle to score points. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking that Bortles is terrible and that the Jags were never about outscoring teams, but the numbers simply don’t support that as Jacksonville tallied the 5th most points in the entire league this season. While the game wasn’t what most of us would call “pretty,” the Jags had to recalibrate the game plan for the conditions and did what they had to, going with Bugatti Blake Bortles to extend their season. Having said that, if Blake runs for more yards than he passes for in Pittsburgh this weekend, the Jaguars will be watching the AFC championship game from the couch, just like you and I.

4:40pm EST – Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints; Line: Saints by 6.5

Outcome: Panthers 26, Saints 31

Chris’s Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 21

Chris was right

My favorite outcome of the weekend, the Carolina Panthers fall to the New Orleans Saints in a decently close matchup. It’s not that I’m anti-Panthers, I’m actually a big fan of this defense and Luke Kuechly, but it’s nice to see one of the NFL’s all-time greats continue his hunt for another Super Bowl. The Panthers were able to impede the running attack from Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but the great thing about having an experienced quarterback like Drew Brees is he can rise to the occasion and win with his arm when necessary. Much has been about Brady’s high-level of play considering his age, but Drew Brees isn’t that far behind him. His performance in this game was spectacular and a bit of a statement to his front office, I think. Comments earlier this season indicated the Saints were on the fence as to whether or not Brees would be brought back after the season, and I think their decision may have been decided for them.

Danny’s Pick: Saints 28, Panthers 14

Danny was right

 

Brad’s Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 20 

Brad was right

I got the Saints’ total right, but Carolina did more on offense than I expected. Cam put together a very good game in his first playoff appearance since that train wreck of a performance in the Super Bowl two years ago, but he couldn’t out duel the crafty veteran who turned back the clock to 2009 with the kind of aerial performance he had mostly kept in reserve this season. Carolina—which had clear chances to win this game late in the 4th quarter—clearly learned from their earlier two losses against New Orleans as the defense bottled up the Saints’ star running backs.

Going back to Drew Brees, Danny pointed out that he has never won a league MVP despite passing for over 5,000 yards and having three of the four highest completion percentage seasons in league history. Makes me think that we are actively in the process of taking his Hall of Fame career for granted. As the Saints turn their attention to Minnesota, they have to feel good about what they saw from #9 on Sunday. While it’s true the Vikings gave up just 83.6 rushing yards per game in the regular season, the Saints showed against Carolina that their offense is anything but one-dimensional.

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