McGon’s Picks: NFL Wild-Card Playoffs

It sucks that the NFL regular season is over, but you know what that means.

The PLAYOFFS are here, and we have some exciting matchups coming this weekend. While the point spreads do not necessarily reflect it, I think we will have some good games on our hands this weekend. The early Saturday game, Titans-Chiefs is not that exciting, but you have the defending NFC Champion Falcons playing the rising Rams in their first playoff since 2004 (which was also against the Falcons) on Saturday night. On Sunday, you have two of the longest playoff droughts coming to an end in the Bills-Jaguars matchup, and the most intriguing matchup of the weekend comes late Sunday with NFC South rivals squaring off in the Panthers and the Saints. Despite a Super Bowl for the ages, only 3 of the 12 playoff games last year were decided by one score, as the other 9 were 13-point plus blowouts. And of those 3 close games, the Packers were up 21-3 on the Cowboys before a second half comeback, and the Falcons were up 28-3 on the Patriots before a second half comeback, in case you forgot (JK, no one forgets). So especially with the way NFL ratings have gone down this year, the league needs some better games this postseason.

As for the regular season finale, Week 17, things were pretty unpredictable like I predicted. However, I did not do so badly. I went 10-6 straight up, and 8-8 against the spread, which helped me finish with an above .500 record against the spread for the regular season. Here’s a look back at the picks I made (winning team in red, spread winner in red):

Cowboys (-3) at Eagles

Packers (+7) at Lions 

  • Lions 35, Packers 11- It’s very hard to succeed with a backup QB in this league, but despite only playing in less than half the games, Aaron Rodgers may have proved he is the league MVP this season.

Texans at Colts (-5.5) 

Bears at Vikings (-12)

Jets (+15) at Patriots

  • Patriots 26, Jets 6- Another #1 seed for the Patriots, but is there trouble in paradise in New England? We will see if this latest report impacts the Patriots on the field over the next few weeks.

Redskins (-3.5) at Giants

  • Giants 18, Redskins 10- Despite the frigid temperatures, this game was actually great to attend, as it felt like a late season baseball game in which the crowd was pretty empty, and everyone was just there to have a good time. As for the game, the Giants only TDs came on a long run and off of a turnover, but Kirk Cousins and the Redskins could not get anything done.

Browns at Steelers (-6)

  • Steelers 28, Browns 24- I left the Giants game at halftime, so I caught the end of this one. My boy Jabrill Peppers had his first career INT, but what a heartbreaking way for the Browns to clinch an 0-16 season.

Panthers at Falcons (-3.5)

Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)

  • Bengals 31, Ravens 27- Holy Andy Dalton! This game definitely felt more like a Bills win than a Bengals win. How crazy that after the Ravens had played great down the stretch, all they had to do was beat the Bengals at home, and they could not get it done. I thought this spread was too big, but I took Ravens after because the Bengals had looked so horrible just 3 and 2 weeks prior. The Bengals did not make the playoffs, but at least they played spoiler in Weeks 16 and 17.

Bills at Dolphins (+2.5) 

  • Bills 22, Dolphins 16- Buffalo did it! It felt right that the Bills would lose and ruin any playoff chances, but even if they did win, I didn’t think there was any chance the Ravens would lose at home. Let’s go Buffalo!

Saints at Buccaneers (+6)

  • Buccaneers 31, Saints 24- After two weeks of nearly upsetting a division rival, Tampa finally pulled through. However, this did not affect the Saints, as the Panthers loss clinched the NFC South for New Orelans.

Jaguars (+2.5) at Titans

  • Titans 15, Jaguars 10- The Jaguars had nothing to play for, and the Titans had everything to play for. This may have not been a great pick, but if these two teams were matched up again this week, I would definitely go with the Jags.

Chiefs (+4) at Broncos

Raiders (+7) at Chargers

  • Chargers 30, Raiders 10- The Chargers are definitely better than the Titans and Bills, but they have to pay the price for their 0-4 start by watching from home this weekend.

49ers (-4) at Rams

Cardinals (+8.5) at Seahawks

  • Cardinals 26, Seahawks 24- Considering the Cardinals were able to finish 8-8 without Carson Palmer or David Johnson, suddenly my bold prediction before the season of the Cardinals finishing 12-4 is not so far off.

2017 Straight-Up: 173-83, 2017 Vs. Spread: 125-121-10

Enough of the regular season. It’s playoff time.

Image result for nfl playoffs gif

Titans at Chiefs (-8.5)

Chiefs 27, Titans 14

  • The Titans did not finish the season very strong, and are lucky to be a playoff team, yet they were able to earn the first wild card spot. However, they may have been better suited to be the second wild card and face the Jaguars, because I think this is a bad matchup for them. Outside of struggling to finish the season, they will be missing DeMarco Murray, who is probably their most experienced player in big games, as he played a few playoff games and plenty of prime time games with the Cowboys. The Chiefs, meanwhile, finished the season strong after their midseason slump, winning 4 in a row (3 under Alex Smith). The Chiefs won’t blow the Titans out of the water on the scoreboard, but they will control the clock with Kareem Hunt in the cold weather and clearly be the superior team on Saturday to win and cover.

  • 2016 Titans-Chiefs matchup, the last time these teams met.

Falcons (+6) at Rams

Rams 27, Falcons 24 

  • Records get thrown out the door in the postseason, but everyone who has watched football this year knows the Rams have been significantly better than the Falcons, even if they were only one game better in the standings. While this game is home for the Rams, they don’t necessarily have a home field advantage, and the likely good weather will play to both team’s advantage. The Falcons are obviously more experienced in the postseason than the Rams, and of course come in with a chip on their shoulder after last season’s Super Bowl collpase (however, their play has not exactly reflected a chip on their shoulder). At the end of the day, I think the Rams will get this victory strictly on being a much better team than the Falcons this season. The other factors will make this a close game, however, and I think the Falcons cover. If the Falcons can get by this game, they have a great chance to turn a somewhat disappointing season into an NFC Championship appearance, as they would play the shorthanded Eagles the following week.

  • 2016 Falcons-Rams matchup, the last time these two teams met.

Bills at Jaguars (-8.5)

Jaguars 30, Bills 13

  • A playoff matchup between two perennial losing franchises is awesome, however, I think the Jaguars will ultimately show they are a much better team. The Bills may be without LeSean McCoy in this one, and even if he plays, he probably will not be at full strength. Whether he plays or not, the Bills will have a tough time up against Sacksonville and the best defense in the NFL. While the Jaguars offense is not always great, I think they will spend a lot of time on the field on Sunday and put up some points. I see this game being within a score at halftime, but then the Jaguars will pull away in the second half to win and cover.

  • 2016 Jaguars-Bills matchup, the last time these two teams met.

Panthers at Saints (-6.5) 

Saints 24, Panthers 17

  • I have the Saints covering a decently large spread, but I think this still has potential to be the best matchup of the weekend. It is hard to beat a team 3 times, but the Saints dominated in both matchups this season. The Panthers were playing well down the stretch, but looked shaky in each of their last two games. Combine the fact that the Saints are much better at home and the Panthers are much worse on the road, all signs point towards New Orleans. However, despite Drew Brees being the Super Bowl winning QB of the two, Cam and the Panthers have much more recent experience in the playoffs, including a trip to the Super Bowl just two years ago. The Panthers will play hard and this will be a good game, but I think the Saints are a touchdown better, and I think they will win, cover, and move on.

  • These teams met in Week 3 and Week 13, and the Saints won both times.

Now, I’ll reveal my pre-playoff playoff bracket. These picks are not necessarily the ones I’ll be making the next few weeks, as the matchups could change and I could also change my mind. However, this is how I think the playoff will shake out. I’m not going to give explanations, as I will save them for the week prior to the game.

Wild-Card Playoffs

  • AFC: Chiefs (4) over Titans (5), Jaguars (3) over Bills (6)
  • NFC: Saints (4) over Panthers (5), Rams (3) over Falcons (6)

Divisional Playoffs

  • AFC: (2) Steelers over (3) Jaguars, (1) Patriots over (4) Chiefs
  • NFC: (2) Vikings over (3) Rams, (4) Saints over (1) Eagles

Conference Championship

  • AFC: (1) Patriots over (2) Steelers
  • NFC: (2) Vikings over (4) Saints

Super Bowl LII from Minneapolis, MN

  • Vikings over Patriots

Let’s hope for a great Wild-Card Weekend, be back next week for the Divisional Round. Can the Falcons or Panthers score an upset and make another run to the Super Bowl?

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