Aaron Donald, Andy Levitre, Andy Reid, Atlanta Falcons, DeMarco Murray, Jared Goff, Julio Jones, Kansas City Chiefs, Kyle Shanahan, LA Rams, Marcus Mariota, Matt Nagy, NFL, Sean McVay, Tennessee Titans, Todd Gurley, Vic Beasley, Wade Phillips, Wildcard Weekend
Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ Kansas City Chiefs 10-6)
The first game of the weekend pits the stumbling Titans against the resurgent Chiefs.
The Chiefs started the season strongly, winning five straight games before losing their way in the middle of the season but having won their last four games they are looking something more like the team that started the season. Ever since Andy Reid handed play calling duties back to his co-ordinator Matt Nagy things have gone better for the Chiefs offence, which finished the season ranked fourth in the NFL by DVOA. However, the defence has continued to struggle, ranked thirtieth overall by DVOA and last is in the league against the run.
The Titans’ season never quite took off this season, but they kept grinding out enough results to make the playoffs. They are not the worst ranked team in the playoffs by DVOA but their offence has struggled and Marcus Mariota has not really looked right all year despite the team investing in receiving options in the offseason. It will not help an offence that was at least top ten in running the ball to be missing running back DeMarco Murray who has been ruled out through injury. The Titans will need to run the ball effectively against the Chiefs’ poor run defence to control the clock if they are to win this game and have lost half of their two pronged back field.
There is a template for the Titans to win this game, but on the road in the famously loud Arrowhead stadium I find it hard to see them running the ball well enough and containing the explosive Chiefs offence enough to win. They might keep it close, this is the playoffs after all, but in the end I think the Chiefs run out winners in this one.
Atlanta Falcon (10-6) @ Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
In one of the games of the weekend the Rams who changed their fortunes so drastically in a year welcomes a Falcons team who are still trying to get over last season.
The Rams made a statement against the Indianapolis Colts in the opening game of the season and have pretty much lived up to it for the rest of the year. In fact the only true bad loss of the year was against Washington in week two. Certainly by the time they faced the Seahawks for a second time they were up for the challenge and got the biggest win for a road team in Seattle in a very long time. There has been a lot of praise for thirty-one year old rookie head coach Sean McVay who has turned round a moribund offence whilst being brave enough to hire Wade Philips and let him do his thing despite Philips being over twice McVay’s age. The offence built around Todd Gurely, who ran for thirteen hundred yards and caught nearly eight hundred yards of passing, has made Jared Goff a competent quarterback and they have put up big scores against the teams they should whilst competing well against better competition. The defence has also played well and is also top ten by DVOA plus boasts in Aaron Donald, a terrifying interior pass rusher who should be defensive player of the year. They may lack playoff experience but they are a formidable proposition.
The Atlanta Falcons were always going to find the year after the lost such a big lead in the Super Bowl difficult, but with Kyle Shanahan leaving to become head coach of the 49ers the offence has stumbled all year. They have more than enough talent and in Julio Jones one of the very best receivers in the league but whilst some regression to the mean after last year’s stellar season was to be expected, this team is only just in the top ten of offences by DVOA and that doesn’t seem good enough. More worrying for them is that starting guard Andy Levitre tried to go in the last game of the season and only managed five plays. Facing Aaron Donald is not the time to have a backup playing one of your interior offensive line spots. Even more worrying for the Falcons is that their defence is a surprising twenty-second by DVOA and whilst I knew that Vic Beasly wasn’t playing with the form he had last season where he was one of the leading sack getters, I thought this fast young defence was better than their DVOA ranking. They also play the same scheme as the Seahawks who the Rams have played twice this year and so it could be a long day against a very good offence.
This looks to be a really good game, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it, but I have to think that the Rams will win out in the end. That said, some small part of me still thinks that the Falcons of last season might re-appear, but it would be a surprising if the Rams didn’t win..