Road to Super Bowl LIV - My Playoff Predictions Week 1
Wild Card Weekend
Bills @ Texans - Saturday 4 January
Both teams come into the Wildcard round with a 10-6 record and on paper, this looks like an unstoppable force about to hit an immovable object.
The Texans have offensive weapons that would be the envy of many teams in the NFL. Despite a questionable Will Fuller, Houston still has a fighting force with DeAndre Hopkins and recent signing Kenny Stills making them a real vertical threat. The key here will be for quarterback Deshaun Watson to keep the passing game alive against a Bills side whose expertise seems to lie in blocking explosive plays.
For Buffalo though, their goal has to be keeping Deshaun Watson down, in their last matchup a year ago, the Bills kept Watson to just 171 passing yards. A year on, they’ll need to recreate the defensive magic and force the Texans offence back to the sidelines. Josh Allen isn’t the standout quarterback like Watson, so his role in a Buffalo win will have to be remaining level headed and keeping those offensive drives, long and slow, run down the clock and keep Watson away from the pitch.
This game can only be a close one, the Bills have been inconsistent all year on offence and the key to a Buffalo victory on Saturday is the ability to shut down Deshaun Watson and stop the Texans passing game in its tracks.
Bills victory 23 - 20
Titans @ Patriots - Saturday 4 January
Like the Bills and Texans this feels like another offence heavy versus defence heavy matchup which is undoubtedly going to give us a low scoring game.
The only difference I see here is experience, the Titans just don’t match up against the Patriots. I know I recently rallied against the Patriots’ performance this season but when it comes down to crunch time, who do you think will deliver in the high-pressure environment like the playoffs?
The Patriots have made it to four of the past five Super Bowls, while the Titans have only made the playoffs once, in the past decade. Tom Brady has 40 playoff appearances, while 31-year-old Ryan Tannehill will be playing his very first playoff game. The Patriots roster has 377 games of combined playoff experience while the Titans roster sits at just 79.
It’s not just playoff experience I have an issue with, the Titans come into this week's game with a kicker yet to attempt a field goal for them. Signed from the Carolina Panthers Practice Squad towards the end of the season, Greg Joseph last made a field goal kick on December 30 2018; since signing with the Titans he has completed all nine of his extra-point attempts in his last two games, so Titan fans shouldn’t despair just yet.
I’m not completely ruling out the Titans here, in a straight shootout I trust Tannehill more than Brady right now but we all know there is more to it than that. Belichick and the entire Patriots team are just better equipped for this game than the Titans.
Patriots victory 20 - 17
Vikings @ Saints - Sunday 5 January
Expect the unexpected. My prediction falls on the shoulders of the Saints but, if I’m truly honest, there isn’t a clear winner on paper. For every argument the Saints should win, ask yourself - why wouldn’t Minnesota?
Your only real difference in quarterback is experience and rest time, Drew Brees is a true veteran of the NFL and while he may be older he certainly isn’t slowing down. This has been helped this season by an injury of all things, taking several weeks off for a thumb injury has done Brees the world of good. He is probably the only player going into the playoffs with any kind of energy, he hasn’t had 16 games take their toll on him, instead Teddy Bridgewater reduced that pressure even more by winning in those opening weeks, giving Brees even less work to do when he returned.
The Vikings shouldn’t be ruled out altogether, Cousins, Cooks and Diggs are all fantastic on offence but the trouble for Minnesota will be keeping pace with the Saints who in a loss to the 49ers still managed to end the game 48-46.
Every other game for the Wildcard Weekend has been easy for me to predict but this game is proving troublesome, I don’t want to rule out the Vikings but I just can’t shake the feeling that while everything looks great on paper, the Saints have just looked better on screen.
Saints victory 32 - 20
Seahawks @ Eagles - 5 January
The City of Philadelphia hasn’t seen a fight this scrappy since Rocky vs Creed, the Seahawks, who were Super Bowl favourites just a few weeks ago are now running with a team plagued by injuries and inconsistencies while the Eagles have put up poor defensive and receiving performances all season.
The key for a victory on either side is the passing game. With Seattles’ recent loss of breakout running backs Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson to injury, everything lies on Russell Wilsons' shoulders once again. As far as quarterbacks go, his ability to get the ball downfield for 20+ yard attempts is second to none, on Sunday, the pressure will be on Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf, who will be playing in his first ever playoff game.
Seattle have the offensive weapons to make up for their reduced backfield ability but it does rely on every player pulling their weight and not leaving it all to Wilson, as it has done every other week this season.
For the Eagles, the key is keep that Seattle passing game down whilst utilising their own backfield players for the shorter passes. They’ve been able to make up for their lack of a real receiving core in the last four wins but against a Seattle defense this isn’t going to be easy to replicate again.
In football the mantra is ‘Just win Sunday’ - while both teams do need to just focus on winning Sunday, it’s hard not to look at their overall path to the Super Bowl. No matter who wins they’ll have to go on and face either the Packers, Saints or 49ers, which is no easy task.
Seahawks victory 17 - 7