Marcus Mariota and Alex Smith (11)
Marcus Mariota and Alex Smith (11)
Arrowhead Stadium has provided the Kansas City Chiefs one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL – until the postseason. The Chiefs will try to record their first home playoff victory in 24 years when they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday in an AFC wild-card matchup.
The back-to-back AFC West champion Chiefs have won four straight following a midseason lull and again look like a contender. Their defense made a dramatic turnaround over the final month of the regular season, holding each of their last four opponents under 350 total yards while forcing 12 turnovers. The Titans are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, squeaking in by snapping a three-game skid with a 15-10 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. Tennessee went 3-5 on the road, where it averaged just 17.5 points and 270.8 total yards.
TV: 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Chiefs -9. O/U: 44
ABOUT THE TITANS (9-7): Tennessee’s offense has shown flashes of brilliance but has been inconsistent, with everything hinging on the running game. DeMarco Murray is doubtful with a torn MCL, meaning Derrick Henry likely will carry the load and try to establish the run to open up the passing game for Marcus Mariota. Tennessee’s defense ranks fourth against the run and came up big last week against the Jaguars with four takeaways.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (10-6): Kansas City’s offense went through a slump while losing six of seven games in the middle of the season, but everything clicked again in its last four contests. Rookie Kareem Hunt finished as the NFL’s leading rusher while Alex Smith joined Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks in the league to pass for more than 4,000 yards with fewer than 10 interceptions, finishing with 4,042 yards and five picks. The Chiefs’ once-suspect secondary played well down the stretch.
1. Chiefs WR Albert Wilson has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two postseason games.
2. Mariota has thrown 39 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the red zone in his three-year career.
3. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Tennessee’s Delanie Walker are the only NFL tight ends with at least 800 receiving yards in each of the last four seasons.
The Atlanta Falcons rolled through the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl a year ago behind a high-powered offense that led the league in scoring. For the Falcons to take the first step toward a return trip to the title game, they will have to slow the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense when they visit the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.
Sixth-seeded Atlanta blew a 25-point lead over New England in a stunning collapse before falling in overtime in Super Bowl LI and has not looked like the same team this season despite registering 10 wins. “We’ve been tested,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn told reporters. “We’re battle-ready. … This week will be another battle. This is now also when we get to test what we’ve done over the last 20 weeks to see how we can work together, and we’re really excited to do it.” The Rams won four games last season but earned their first trip to the playoffs behind second-year quarterback Jared Goff and star running back Todd Gurley, who are among the leading MVP candidates. “We certainly don’t shy away from what a great opportunity it is to be able to play on Saturday night, prime time,” Los Angeles first-year coach Sean McVay told reporters. “I think it’s something that our guys will be excited about, going against the defending NFC champs.”
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Rams -6.5. O/U: 48.5
ABOUT THE FALCONS (10-6): Atlanta won six of its last eight, with the only two losses coming against division winners Minnesota and New Orleans, but Matt Ryan had only five touchdown passes versus four interceptions in the final six games. He still has one of the league’s most dangerous targets in Julio Jones, who caught 88 passes and eclipsed 1,400 yards (1,444) for the fourth straight season. The Falcons also feature the backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a combined 1,493 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 63 receptions and four scores. Atlanta surrendered 19.7 points per game and allowed only one 100-yard rusher.
ABOUT THE RAMS (11-5): Goff hardly looked ready for the bright lights after the 2016 No. 1 overall pick threw for five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games as a rookie, but he tossed 28 scoring passes against only seven picks this season. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and led the league in touchdowns (19) and yards from scrimmage (2,093) while rushing for more than 100 yards six times. Gurley also topped the team with 64 receptions while rookie Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods recorded five TDs apiece while making 62 and 56 catches, respectively. The Rams ranked 28th against the run despite the presence of stud tackle Aaron Donald (11 sacks).
1. The Rams are the second team in history to lead the league in scoring after ranking last the previous season.
2. Ryan has thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception in his last four playoff games.
3. Gurley was held to 61 yards in Atlanta’s 42-14 victory in December 2016.
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills have one thing in common entering Sunday’s AFC wild-card matchup – they hardly were trendy choices to make it to the postseason. The Jaguars will make their first playoff appearance since 2007 when they host the Bills, who staged a late run to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.
Jacksonville was no fluke in going from worst to first, not only winning the AFC South title but also contending for the top overall seed until a surprising loss at San Francisco in Week 16. “They’re a challenge across the board – offense, defense, special teams,” Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters. “You look at where they’re ranked and where we are, and ask, ‘What favors us?’ Not a whole lot.” Buffalo’s one-dimensional offense could be without star running back LeSean McCoy as it prepares to face a Jaguars defense that ranks among the league leaders in yards and points allowed, sacks and interceptions. “This is the start of a different type of season,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone, who guided the Bills in 2013-14, told reporters. “This is 12 teams. … Every one of those teams is dangerous, and it comes down to how you perform on that Sunday.”
TV: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Jaguars -9. O/U: 39.5
ABOUT THE BILLS (9-7): McCoy, fourth in the NFL with 1,138 yards rushing, sprained an ankle in last Sunday’s regular-season finale and was limited to stretching during Thursday’s practice. McCoy also had a team-best 59 receptions and his absence would place a huge burden on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is second on the team in rushing and presides over the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing attack at 176.6 yards per game. If McCoy can’t go, the other options are veteran Mike Tolbert or Marcus Murphy, who had one career rushing attempt prior to gaining 41 yards on seven carries last week. Linebacker Preston Brown made 144 tackles for a defense that ranked 29th against the run (124.6 yards).
ABOUT THE JAGUARS (10-6): Jacksonville’s success is built on two familiar pillars – a running game led by rookie Leonard Fournette that paced the league at 141.6 yards per game and a ferocious defense that piled up 55 sacks and 21 interceptions while scoring an NFL-leading seven touchdowns. Blake Bortles completed a career-high 60.2 percent of his passes and had a career-low 13 interceptions – five in his last two games – but could get back leading receiver Marqise Lee (ankle). Fournette rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing three games. Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue lead the pass rush with 14.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.
1. Buffalo beat visiting Jacksonville 28-21 last season and lost to the Jaguars 34-31 in London in 2015.
2. The Jaguars are one of two teams (Pittsburgh) to feature at least four players with at least six sacks.
3. Bortles had at least two TD passes in two meetings with Buffalo, while Taylor had only four interceptions in 420 passing attempts.
Cam Newton (1)
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints hope to disprove the notion that it’s tough to beat a team three times in the same season when they host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in an NFC wild-card matchup. The rivals finished tied atop the NFC South standings, but the Saints earned their first division title since 2011 – and home-field advantage for the third meeting – by virtue of sweeping the regular-season series.
Both teams enter the postseason looking to bounce back from disappointing showings in Week 17. The Saints started 0-2 before a 34-13 victory at Carolina in Week 3 kicked off an eight-game winning streak, but they went 3-3 over their final six contests and their defense was gashed in a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday. Carolina could have captured the division with a win at Atlanta last week, but the offense sputtered in a 22-10 loss. It was only the Panthers’ second defeat in their last nine games, but the other was a 31-21 setback at New Orleans in Week 13.
TV: 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Saints -7. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (11-5): Carolina’s offense has been fairly one-dimensional all season, but it has been a dynamic dimension with Cam Newton (754 yards, six touchdowns), Jonathan Stewart (680, six) and rookie Christian McCaffrey (435, two) leading the league’s fourth-best ground attack. Newton hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since Week 5 at Detroit and has done so only twice all season, but he tossed three interceptions last week. The defense ranks third in the league in sacks, with Mario Addison and Julius Peppers leading the way with 11 apiece, and will need to shut down the run and pressure Drew Brees in order to have success.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (11-5): New Orleans owns the league’s No. 2 offense, and it’s more balanced than in years past thanks to the rushing duo of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints even had success running the ball against Carolina’s third-ranked run defense, gaining 148 and 149 yards in the two meetings. New Orleans’ defense turned in two of its best performances of the season against the Panthers, holding them under 300 total yards in both games, but the Saints also have given up big yardage totals on a few occasions – including 455 total yards last week.
1. Since 1970, teams that swept the regular-season series also won the playoff rematch 13 out of 20 times.
2. The Panthers have forced 19 turnovers in their 11 wins but only two in their five losses.
3. Saints WR Michael Thomas ranked third in the league with 104 receptions this season and has caught three touchdown passes in four career games against the Panthers.