In the blink of an eye, Wild Card Weekend is nearly here. Four NFC and four AFC teams will compete to advance to the next round of playoff games.
Both conferences feature rookie running back sensations looking deliver their most elite performances. How will Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara fare under playoff pressure?
Aside from these rookies, three NFC South quarterbacks will suit up. Though, only two of these divisional teams has the opportunity to move forward. By default, the end of the road will either come for the Carolina Panthers or New Orleans Saints, who face each other for the third time this year.
On the AFC side, three franchises playing this weekend were hardly projected to make it this far. The rustiest team as far as playing in the postseason is the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo lost in the Wild Card playoffs in 1999 and hasn’t been back until now. Can the Bills survive the likes of the Jacksonville Jaguars?
These are our stud and dud predictions for Wild Card Weekend.
Stud: Albert Wilson, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Wilson has seen a major uptick in his targets over his past two games. This has resulted in the fourth-year receiver nabbing 13 catches for 183 yards in Weeks 16-17. Now, with the stakes high and the Tennessee Titans coming to town, expect Wilson to continue playing a major role. The Titans gave up the 26th-most receiving yards on the season at an average pace of 256.3 yards per contest. On top of this, we can bet Tennessee will be doing everything in its power to bottle up lightening rod wideout, Tyreek Hill. Wilson should benefit with more targets as a result.
Dud: Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Meeting for the third time this season, Newton and the Panthers will head to the Super Dome to tango with the New Orleans Saints. In his previous two games against the Saints, the Panthers lost both while Newton tallied three touchdowns and three interceptions. Unfortunately for Newton, the Saints defense is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 59.4 percent of their passes. This could spell disaster considering Newton just threw three picks and completed a mere 41.2 percent of his passes in his Week 17 game.
Stud: Jordan Poyer, safety, Buffalo Bills
This is a big game for the Bills. We predict Poyer has a top-notch performance when he faces the Jacksonville Jaguars on Wild Card weekend. Poyer just recorded his fifth interception of the season and now will attempt to rattle the cage of quarterback Blake Bortles. Fortunately for Poyer, Bortles has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. With everything on the line, Poyer and the Bills defense should have a field day as they attempt to force errors on one of the more mistake-prone quarterbacks in the league.
Dud: Sam Ficken, kicker, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams enter their Wild Card playoffs without star kicker Greg Zuerlein, who made a league-high 95 percent of his field goals prior to his season-ending injury. Now, the Rams will have to rely on Ficken’s inexperienced leg on Saturday. Talk about pressure for a kicker that has attempted only three field goals as a Pro. Ficken made only two of those three field goals with his long being a mere 23-yarder. When it comes to extra points made, Ficken missed one of five. Should the game come down to the wire, we could easily envision Ficken caving under pressure.
Stud: Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints
Thomas had some sketchy performances this season. But over his past four games, he has caught a lofty 29 of his 38 targets from quarterback Drew Brees. Now, Thomas will be facing a Carolina defense that he has scored against in each of his two games this year. We are talking about a defense that, over its past four games, has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Thomas should thrive considering how well he and Brees have been synced up lately.
Dud: Keelan Cole, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fans were hopping on the Cole train after the speedy rookie turned 13 catches into 294 yards and one touchdown between his Week 15-16 games. But in Week 17, Cole’s stud performances came to screeching halt. He managed only 33 yards from four catches when the Jags lost to the Tennessee Titans. Now, Cole and the Jaguars should be put to the test by the Bills defense. The Bills have been tough and have yielded only one wide receiving score in their last four contests. Cole might easily come up short once again.
Stud: Tevin Coleman, running back, Atlanta Falcons
Coleman managed a lowly 23 yards on his 11 attempts in his last game against the Panthers. But now, Coleman gets a dream matchup when he heads to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. On the season, the Rams have allowed a whopping 122.4 rushing yards per game at a healthy pace of 4.7 yards per attempt. Even splitting carries with fellow back Devonta Freeman, Coleman should find gaping holes when he receives his snaps. For what it is worth, the Rams finished the 2017 regular season giving up the fifth-most rushing yards per game.
Dud: Charles Clay, tight end, Buffalo Bills
Clay is often quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s go-to guy in the red zone. But, that is a zone Clay might have a hard time getting into on Sunday. Clay will be pitted against that feisty Jaguars defense, which has surrendered only five tight end touchdowns all season. Throughout the year, opposing tight ends have averaged only four catches and 40.4 yards per contest against Jacksonville. This will be a tough pairing offensively for Clay.
Stud: Rishard Matthews, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans
Matthews’ games have been all over the charts. But we predict he rebounds from his horrible one-catch, seven-yard performance in Week 17. Matthews should catch a break playing a Kansas City defense that has allowed the fourth-most receiving yards (258.2) on average per game. Even better for Matthews is opposing receivers have averaged 12.7 yards per catch against the Chiefs. Only one other team gave up more in this category in 2017. Matthews is primed to shine if he and quarterback Marcus Mariota can take advantage.
Dud: Deion Jones, linebacker, Atlanta Falcons
Jones tallied an impressive 10 combined tackles in his last game. Though he might be challenged to accomplish the same on Wild Card weekend. He will be attempting to put the brakes on the dynamic duo of quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. Gurley led the league with 19 total touchdowns. And Goff turned a new leaf, helping the Rams become the highest scoring team in 2017. Jones is going to have his hands full attempting to slow down the high-rolling Rams offense when it counts the most.
Stud: Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
Somebody on defense is going to have to step up against the mighty Saints offense when a playoff win is a must. Kuechly should be prepared to handle the task. In his six-year career, Kuechly has managed a total of 116 combined tackles against the Saints. This makes for the most tackles against any team Kuechly has faced. This will be a rough matchup, but the Panthers’ best defender might be the guy who makes all of the difference.
Dud: Kevin Byard, safety, Tennessee Titans
Byard finished the regular 2017 season tied for the most interceptions (eight) along with 24 defended passes. But, he stands to be incredibly challenged opposing the league’s highest-rated starting quarterback. Alex Smith is not a guy to make many errors and has thrown only five interceptions in 505 passing attempts. Plus, Byard will have to deal with tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce led all tight ends with 83 catches on the season along with eight touchdowns. This means double-trouble for Byard.
Stud: Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
We touched on Goff’s amazing breakout season this year. This is why we predict a stunning performance from Goff at home against the Falcons. Goff should be primed for success against a Falcons passing defense allowing a 65.5 percent completion rate. Plus, the Falcons have given up 22 passing touchdowns compared to managing only eight interceptions all season. Goff threw just seven picks all year which is why he stands to deliver the goods in his first career playoff performance.
Dud: Kareem Hunt, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
It is difficult to qualify Hunt as a complete dud, but his matchup against the Titans run defense will be no picnic. The speedster rookie will be facing a Tennessee defense that has not allowed a single running back rushing score in its last four games. During this stretch, the Titans have given up only 82 running back rushing yards per tilt at a pace of 3.6 yards per carry. This is the same defense that surrendered a mere 69 rushing yards on 19 carries to Jacksonville Jaguars rookie rusher, Leonard Fournette last week. Hunt might easily fall victim as well.
Stud: Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags did well by signing Campbell during free agency. He has been a key contributor to “Sacksonville” after tallying a team-high and personal-best 14.5 sacks. Now, when the Bills arrive, Campbell gets to feast on one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league. Tyrod Taylor has been sacked 46 times in 15 games. This is an absolutely ridiculous stat that favors a monster game for Campbell. Let’s just say it would be shocking of Campbell failed to get at Taylor on Sunday.
Dud: Mark Ingram, running back, New Orleans Saints
Somebody might be tested by the Panthers defense and it could be Ingram. It is a must for the Panthers to slow down the Saints run game, and the aforementioned Kuechly may be the thorn in Ingram’s side this weekend. It’s worth pointing out that over his last two games, Ingram has tallied only 120 combined rushing and receiving yards and one touchdown. And just last game, Ingram’s fellow teammate running back Alvin Kamara out-gained him.