Wild Card Weekend is upon us. Finally, it’s playoff season. Records are wiped clean and every team is one loss away from elimination.
While the consensus is that the NFC is up for grabs, many have already penciled in their AFC Championship matchup. The Patriots and Steelers are seen as the class of the Conference, with the rest trailing far behind. But, let’s not jump the gun here.
Recently, there’s been a run of top-seeded teams in the Super Bowl. However, just 5 years ago the Baltimore Ravens went all the way from the Wild Card round to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
Like the saying goes, “any given (Saturday or) Sunday”. Any team can get hot in the playoffs. And despite the (Vegas) odds stacked heavily against them, this year’s crop of underdogs can make things interesting.
Buffalo Bills (+6600 to win Super Bowl)
The Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since the ill-fated “Music City Miracle” in 1999. Head coach, and former engineer of Carolina’s elite defenses, Sean McDermott has led his team to the postseason in his first year.
As a the #6 seed, the Bills face an uphill battle on the road. But, they have a few game-breakers on their roster that can flip the script very quickly.
In 2017, Tyrod Taylor was the 3rd most sacked quarterback in the entire NFL. Despite the constant pressure, he only threw 4 interceptions. Taylor also racked up 427 yards on the ground, 2nd among playoff quarterbacks.
Taylor’s ability to make plays with his feet can be dangerous, but the real MVP of Buffalo has been LeSean McCoy. Although he is dealing with an ankle injury, the belief is that McCoy will play on Sunday.
“Shady” is capable of carrying the entire offense on his back. Not only is he a shifty runner, he also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In fact, the running back led his team in receptions this season with 59.
Facing the AFC’s best defense, the Bills have the offensive firepower to exploit the Jaguars’ one weakness–defending the run. Despite boasting the NFL’s #1 pass defense, the Jags were pedestrian against the run this season, ranking 21st in the league.
If the Bills can change things up enough to prevent Jacksonville from stacking the box, they’ll have a good chance to win on Sunday. And if they take down Jacksonville, anything can happen next.
Tennessee Titans (+10000 to win Super Bowl)
Yesterday, CBS Sports published an article entitled “Why Titans don’t stand a chance against the Chiefs“. In it, they cite the fact that Kansas City is 7.5 point favorites, with a huge home field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium.
They talk about Marcus Mariota’s inconsistency this season and the Chiefs’ “high-powered” offense.
But, guess what? None of that is relevant now. The slates have been wiped clean. People can talk all they want, but they still need to play the game.
While unlikely, if DeMarco Murray plays on Saturday it would give the Titans a big boost. The Chiefs are one of the worst teams in the league against the run. And, with Derrick Henry emerging as one of the best young backs in football this season, the Titans are poised to run all over Kansas City.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota’s passing has regressed this season in a big way. But he’s still dynamic with his feet, as he rushed for 5 scores this season. And, with a stable of talented pass-catchers in Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, and Delanie Walker, Mariota has plenty of options.
The Titans’ defense is also a stout, run-stopping unit. Ranked 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, they sit behind only the three top defenses in the NFC: Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Carolina.
Both of these AFC underdogs are being overlooked and underestimated. They are in the playoffs for a reason. If either team pulls of a win in the Wild Card round, watch out. We could be in for a big surprise.