Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday 6th January, 9:35pm (UK Time)
|Titans v Chiefs||
The Chiefs, once considered a dead cert for the Superbowl this year, have been up and down, but finally have some momentum going into the playoffs. The offence could post 40 points a game behind rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, if it gets clicking. Quarterback Alex Smith has had a career season in perhaps his most important year to date. However, where this team needs to sure up is on defence; playing with third-string safeties and cornerbacks has made them open to big plays, something the Tennessee offence is well known for this year.
The Titans face a tall order if they are going to topple the Chiefs, and are going to have to rely on their running game if they are to win. Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry are potentially the best 1-2 punch at running back in the league, and there is a chance they will feast on Kansas City’s 24th ranked rush defence. The biggest question for the Titans is if their defence can contain all of Kansas’ options on offence, and that’s going to have to start from a strong rush from defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, with linebacker Wesley Woodyard covering the run.
If the Chiefs get out in front early then this game could be over quickly, purely because the Titans don’t have the fire power on offence to match that of Kansas City. For the Titans to have a chance, they will have to run the ball and control the tempo of the game.
Atlanta Falcons vs Los Angeles Rams
Sunday 7th January, 1:15am (UK Time)
|Falcons v Rams||
The Falcons know what to do in the playoffs after making the Superbowl last year, so the reigning NFC champions will be back with vengeance. The offence may be lacking in some aspects, but it still has the potential to explode should the running game finally get going or if wide receiver Julio Jones begins to wear down opposing cornerbacks. The defence is going to have to play lights out to contain the Rams running game, but the secondary should be able to match the fast Rams receiver core behind their young players.
The Rams are in extremely unfamiliar territory, and so are the players at all the important positions. The starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver all have four or fewer years’ experience in the league and have never played in the playoffs before. Hell, the head coach is in his first year and is only 31-years-old! The team will need running back and MVP candidate Todd Gurley to get going to control the game and hope their defence can contain Julio Jones.
The majority of the Falcons team have played and won in the playoffs, with most returning from the Superbowl last year. The Rams have played better than their experience would suggest, but this is the playoffs, and bad things can happen to teams who underestimate the significance of it.
Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday 7th January, 6:05pm (UK Time)
|Bills v Jaguars||
The Bills have ended the longest standing active playoff drought in all four Major American sports by making the playoffs this year. The team has done so behind stout defensive play and a strong running game, letting them control the tempo of the game and the clock throughout. Star running back LeSean McCoy is doubtful to play, and without him its hard to see how this Bills team is going to break through the Jaguars.
The Jaguars are finally playing post-season football after what seems like an eternity, and they fully deserve to be doing so. The defence is loaded with stars, most notably two shutdown corners in A.J Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Combine these two with a defensive line that posted the most sacks in the league and you can see how easy it is for Jacksonville to smother opposing offences. Unfortunately, the offence is still shaky behind quarterback Blake Bortles and can still only go as far as he can take them.
Both teams have top-tier defences, meaning this is lining up to be a low-scoring game. They both need to have their running games going behind LeSean McCoy or Leonard Fournette. If McCoy can’t play, then it’s definitely ‘advantage Jaguars’.
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints
Sunday 7th January, 9:40pm (UK Time)
|Bills v Jaguars||
The Panthers offence is currently shaky at best, purely because it all relies on the magic of Cam Newton to create nearly everything. The running game has been inconsistent and the wide receivers can’t seem to get open. Thankfully, the defence has returned to the level that took this unit to the Superbowl two years ago. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will have to have the games of their lives if they are to stop the Saints running backs that have torn the league wide open all year.
The Saints finally have something they haven’t in years: a shutdown defence. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore has already established himself as one of the best corners in the league despite being in his first year. If he can take away Newton’s number one option consistently, that will give the defensive line time to get to him and put him under pressure, something he regularly struggles with. Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are the best partnership in the NFL, but they face the best linebacker pairing in the league, so will have their hands full come Sunday.
This game will come down to the Saints’ running game against the Panthers’ defence. If the defence can keep the game close then Cam Newton will be under less pressure and be able to relax and play his game, rather than having to play catch up. If the Saints get ahead then its more than likely that Cam will give up some turnovers and see the game get out of hand. Playing in the dome is a huge advantage for the Saints.