NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card

The NFL Playoffs are just one week away, and it’s time for predictions! Although the playoff teams are all but wrapped up in the NFC, multiple teams are still fighting for their spots in the AFC. The Seahawks are the only team with a chance to slide into the playoffs, but they are relying on Carolina to defeat the Falcons at home to give them the edge.

The Chargers and Bills are both sitting at 8-7 and have a bit more leeway in finding their way into the playoffs, but will still need to win their last game and either the Ravens or Titans to lose in Week 17 for them to sneak their way into the January gauntlet.

I will be starting with the Wild Card, followed by the Divisional Round games tomorrow before I predict my AFC/NFC Championship games and finally my Super Bowl LII winner. Now, without further ado, my predictions for the playoff’s Wild Card games. I’ll be starting with the NFC, click here if you would like to skip to the AFC.

NFC

Wild Card

#6 Seattle Seahawks at #3 St. Louis Rams

First and foremost, I have to say I think the Seahawks will be able to squeak into the playoffs with another win against the Cardinals and a Falcons loss to the Panthers. The Falcons losing is nothing guaranteed, but they have really disappointed this season and I just don’t see enough passion and flair from them to get them a win against Carolina. The Seahawks on the other hand, are the luckiest (good and bad) in the NFL and will probably get another great hand from Lady Luck at the end of the season.

Rams running back Todd Gurley jumps over Seahawks safety Earl Thomas in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Once they get in however, they will have a huge matchup against their NFC West rivals for their wild card game. Although they managed to pull out a win against the Rams in their first matchup, the Seahawks were absolutely dismantled and put to shame and their most recent game, a 42-7 loss at home. The loss showed just how weak the Hawks run defense has fallen, and their victory against the Cowboys didn’t do anything to dispel that. Seattle held Ezekiel Elliott to just under 100 yards, but I would put most of that on a failure by Dallas head coach Jason Garrett to use Zeke more. Not only did allow Dak Prescott 34 times (only completed 21), but Garrett showed a complete unwillingness to use the feature back even at the goal line.

The Rams aren’t as stupid and have built their entire offense around Todd Gurley III. It is finally the Rams time to show they can compete with the big boys, and while they may not go much farther than the former kings of the NFC West, I have faith they have enough firepower to squash a crippled and almost pathetic Seattle team.

Final Score: 24-14

#5 New Orleans Saints at #4 Carolina Panthers

Carolina has won the past two showdowns between these heavy hitters in the NFC South, and I think the Saints may have a great chance to make it three in this playoff game. Cam Newton looks hungrier than ever for a shot at redemption after losing Super Bowl 50, but he showed in that game and many games since an inability to keep his cool when it matters most.

Drew Brees’ Saints are nothing to sneeze at, especially with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram creating a lethal running game to compliment an already prolific passing attack. It is hard to call this one for sure, but I think the past matchups have shown that Carolina has trouble containing so many different offensive weapons and can be exploited when an offense isn’t one-dimensional. I expect New Orleans to start off the game run heavy before transitioning to a quick-tempo passing attack that will catch the Panthers off-guard and result in quick points. The only way for the Panthers to win is an MVP showing from Newton; he has shown he can play to that level but he will have to stay collected in the rivalry game if his team has a chance to move on.

Final Score: Saints 37, Panthers 20

AFC

Wild Card

#6 Chargers at #3 Jaguars

I don’t have much faith in the Ravens, especially against a Bengals team has nothing to fight for besides the pure joy of beating a division rival. That might not seem like much, but the AFC North is always chippy and taking away the hopes and dreams of a division opponent means a lot to the players on those teams. The Chargers have a great chance to win against a defeated and hopeless Raiders team, moving them into the playoffs and onto face the Jaguars.

This creates a great matchup for a strong defense and offense that has found some wheels under Blake Bortles against a Phillip Rivers dark horse team with major weapons in Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. I don’t think the Chargers have enough talent to make a deep run, but they can certainly put up points against the Jaguars defense. This wouldn’t be a problem if the Jags scored points consistently, but they currently have 8 of 11 receivers unhealthy or on injured reserve and can’t be expected to keep up with the high powered offense under Rivers. I expect the Jags to control the game in the first half before signs of fatigue start to show in their secondary and the Chargers start putting up points.

Final Score: Chargers 21, Jaguars 10

#5 Titans at #4 Chiefs

This matchup is interesting, if only for the surprising paths both teams took to get to the playoffs. The Chiefs looked like they were running away with the AFC, going undefeated to week 5 before losing five of their next six games. The Titans were sitting at .500 for most of the season before winning four consecutive games in weeks 6-9; they would finish winless in their last four games, but I think they have enough fire in the tank to pull out a win at home against the Jaguars in Week 17.

Kareem Hunt never turned out to be as good as he was projected at the start of the season, but that does not mean he isn’t a key component to a dangerous Chiefs’ running game. Alex Smith has huge amounts of experience in the NFL, and coach Andy Reid is smart enough to game plan for a team with a semi-mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota and a lack of running game. While I do see this one being closer than expected, it is the Chiefs game to lose and I just don’t see that happening in the first round.

Final Score: Chiefs 24, Titans 20

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