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Sportsnaut Pick’em: Wild Card Weekend

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL playoffs are finally upon us and Sportsaut is continuing its pick’em competition into the postseason. The standings are still tight, as yours truly holds a tenuous two-game lead on Vincent Frank. Since there are only four games this week, our experts not only picked the games, but wrote up short explanations for each of them. Here are our Wild Card picks.

Michael Dixon

Chiefs -8.5 over Titans

I’m not convinced that the Chiefs have found the swagger that they had in the first half of the season. With that said, I don’t think it’s going to cost them until the divisional round against the Pats or Steelers. The Kansas City defense is not great. Still, it’s hard to see Tennessee’s offense hanging in this one. It may be a false positive, but expect Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt to do more than enough to win this one.

Falcons +5.5 over Rams

The Falcons are a team that should be a threat to get to the Super Bowl again. But turning it on after a shaky offseason is much easier said than done. Even Atlanta’s wins have generally been less than completely impressive. Week 17 aside, Los Angeles is absolutely rolling right now. If the Falcons bring their B-game, the Rams will punish them. I just haven’t seen enough of Atlanta’ A-game to think that it will come this weekend.

Bills +8.5 over Jaguars

Jacksonville is ripe to get upset here. But given LeSean McCoy’s injury, how can we feel confident about the Bills’ offense going up against the Jags’ defense? Make no mistake, a Buffalo win wouldn’t especially surprise us. But at the end of the day, look for the Jacksonville defense to do just enough to win, even if it’s not a cover. Assuming Blake Bortles manages this game well, look for the Jags to head to Pittsburgh next week.

Saints -7 over Panthers

The Panthers are good. Still, the Saints are a more complete team. New Orleans can win any way it needs. If it turns into a battle of quarterbacks, I’d take Drew Brees over Cam Newton, especially in the dome. If it’s the running game, I like Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Heck, I even like the Saints in a defensive battle. Carolina has been good this year. But I just haven’t seen enough consistency to make me believe that the Panthers can head into the dome and win against a game Saints team.

David Kenyon

Chiefs -8.5 over Titans

Falcons +5.5 over Rams

Bills +8.5 over Jaguars

Saints -7 over Falcons

Clearly, I am not to be trusted with NFL picks

Rachel Wold

Chiefs -8.5 over Titans

I’ll pick the Chiefs to win handily at home and cover the spread against the Titans. Both passing defenses rank within the top eight in yards allowed. But, there is little chance Marcus Mariota outperforms Alex Smith. Mariota has been far too error-prone this season and the Chiefs defense could certainly force more blunders. Offensively for the Chiefs, they have some of the most electric playmakers in the league. Something will have gone terribly awry for Kansas City if the Titans pull off an underdog win.

Rams -5.5 over Falcons

In picking a winner for the next Wild Card game, the Rams will cover the spread and beat the Falcons. The Falcons have just been too volatile all season to trust against the league’s highest-scoring team. Though, I do feel this game will produce high points across the board with both teams’ running backs having tremendous performances. Todd Gurley should easily be the Rams MVP while one too many turnovers committed by Matt Ryan sink the Falcons’ ship.

Bills +8.5 over Jaguars

My prediction for the Bills at Jacksonville depends on LeSean McCoy being able to play. If McCoy suits up (he’s reportedly going to), then I do not think the Jags will cover the spread. In the end, despite whether or not McCoy plays, I’ll pick the Jaguars to win by a small margin. I see the defense coming up with big plays, only to be somewhat negated by Blake Bortles doing his typical Bortles’ things. For what it is worth, I think this will be the lowest scoring Wild Card game.

Saints -7 over Panthers

Lastly, the Saints – at home — will own the Panthers and cover the spread. Offensively, the Saints have tallied the second-most yards and fourth-most points on the season. Drew Brees is far too superior to Cam Newton to even compare here. On top of that, the Saints running backs are a nightmare in the waiting as well as wide receiver Michael Thomas. The two other times the Panthers played the Saints this year, they lost by 21 and 10 points. I see this trend continuing.

Jesse Reed

Chiefs -8.5 over Titans

The Chiefs will win and cover the spread. Tennessee’s defensive secondary is highly exploitable, and Marcus Mariota is, too. Kareem Hunt might struggle to reach 100 yards on the ground, but he’ll make up for it with receptions and runs after the catch. The Titans are going to get run out of Arrowhead Stadium, losing by at least 10 points.

Rams -5.5 over Falcons

Sean McVay has to be licking his chops to get after the Falcons’ speedy, yet misdirection-prone defense. The Rams’ offensive line is going to have a big game making holes for Todd Gurley, who comes into the contest rested up from taking Week 17 off. Also, Wade Phillips is a Jedi Master, while Steve Sarkisian is an impostor. This could get ugly, and quick. Taking the Rams to cover.

Bills +8.5 over Jaguars

The Jaguars will win, but I’m taking the Bills to beat the spread. Buffalo’s defense has the outside cornerbacks to shut down Jacksonville’s passing game, and Leonard Fournette will have trouble dominating on the ground. The big reason I’m picking the Jaguars to win is that their defense is incredible, and Buffalo’s offensive line is not. Tyrod Taylor will be running for his life, and with LeSean McCoy injured, the Bills don’t have the firepower necessary to pull off the upset.

Saints -7 over Panthers

Picking the Saints to win and cover. Cam Newton hasn’t had good luck going up against New Orleans’ revamped defense in two tries this past season, and I don’t expect him to suddenly have a field day in the playoffs. The Panthers have a tremendous defensive front and the speed at linebacker to make a difference against the Saints’ two-headed attack of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. But in the end Sean Payton’s innovative mind will figure out ways to exploit the matchups.

Vincent Frank

Chiefs over Titans -8.5

Does anyone really expect Marcu Mariota to outduel Alex Smith? One has been a bottom five quarterback this season. The other should receive MVP votes. They’re playing at the friendly confines of Arrowhead and Smith will have the likes of Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to help him on offense. Look for a blowout win from the home team top open the playoffs. Chiefs 31, Titans 13.

Rams over Falcons -5.5

Experience might matter a bit here, but that’s not going to be enough for the Falcons to overcome an offense that has regressed and coaching disadvantages. The idea of Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian outwitting Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is hilarious. The only real advantage Atlanta has here is Julio Jones against Trumaine Johnson. Even then, Jones caught just three touchdowns and struggled in the red zone. Look for Jared Goff and Todd Gurley to send the Falcons to a one-and-done after winning the NFC last season. Rams 27, Falcons 20

Jaguars over Bills -8.5

This really shouldn’t even be too close. Jacksonville yielded less than 170 passing yard per game and 17 touchdowns through the air during the regular season. Tyrod Taylor threw a grand total of 14 touchdowns. And while Jacksonville’s run defense might be it’s biggest issue on that side of the ball, LeSean McCoy is nowhere near 100 percent. Even if he’s able to go, his injury will limit him. Look for a dominating defensive performance from Jacksonville’s defense and ball controlled offense with Leonard Fournette on the ground. Jaguars 20, Bills 3

Panthers over Saints +7.0

We’re going to go with the Saints here, but look for it to be closer than the seven-point spread suggests. Also, look for it to be a high-scoring game. In their past three home dates with Carolina, the Saints are averaging 36.7 points. For their part, the Panthers are averaging north of 30 in those three games. Sure the Saints’ defense has improved leaps an bounds, but we’re expecting Cam Newton to turn it on here. Still, it won’t be enough for Carolina to overcome the dominating performances we’ve seen from youngsters Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. In the best game of Wildcard Weekend, New Orleans punches its ticket to the NFC Division Playoffs. Saints 34, Panthers 31

Ethan Sears

Titans +8.5 over Chiefs

I think KC wins this one pretty easily, but Tennessee hangs around and covers backdoor. If you’re putting money on these, this is one where I’d stay away. Andy Reid vs. Mike Mularkey in a playoff game is the Playoff Coaching Matchup from Hell. The Titans should be able to slow down Kareem Hunt relatively well, but I don’t trust their secondary to handle Hill or Kelce. On the other side, the Chiefs have been so unreliable this year it’s hard to give more than a touchdown.

Rams -5.5 over Falcons

This is my best bet. The game is closer than 5.5 on paper, but Atlanta is terrible at covering a lot of things the Rams excel at, as I wrote in my film preview. Todd Gurley is going to run wild and Steve Sarkisian’s offense can’t keep up.

Jaguars -8.5 over Bills

Apologies to Bills fans, but they’re simply overmatched in this game. I don’t think Buffalo can win in the trenches on either side of the ball, I don’t think Tyrod Taylor can throw against this defense, and with LeSean McCoy dealing with an injury, I don’t see how the Bills can move the ball against Jacksonville.

Saints -7 over Panthers

New Orleans is my pick to win the NFC. No other team in the conference is as good as the Saints on an all-around basis. Carolina might keep this close, but I struggle to find a way for the Panthers to stop the run. We saw the Saints beat the Panthers twice this season already. They’re going to make it three times on Sunday.


Ethan Sears: 133-110-13

Vincent Frank: 131-12-13

Michael Dixon: 123-120-13

Jesse Reed: 122-121-13

Rachel Wold: 115-128-13

David Kenyon: 106-137-13

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