Ahh, at last, the season starts to take shape, the also-rans are swept aside for another year and the business of defining a champion can begin. 12 teams are set to battle through the single-elimination tournament with the final 2 meeting in Super Bowl LII (52-just in case you’re wondering).
The Patriots, Steelers, Eagles and Vikings all secured 1st round byes, leaving eight teams to play on this so-called “Wild-card weekend”. Enough of the build-up, let’s take a look at the first pairing and assess their chances of progression.
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs 9.20 pm tonight
The 1st game of the weekend sees unfancied Tennessee visit Arrowhead stadium to try an overcome the up-down-and decidedly back up again Chiefs. On offense, No DeMarco Murray for the visitors means their run-game will fall squarely on the broad shoulders of Derrick Henry and the scampering ability of QB Mariota. I’ve backed Mariota all year and when he runs with the ball he can make those crucial plays, no point trying to make him a pocket passer now, that is work for another day, let him do what he does best and notch up yards on the ground whilst keeping the defence pinned back with the occasional good pass. Henry looks ready to succeed Murray, though i think the balance of both together is better (like a less explosive version of Ingram and Kamara @the Saints), I’d let him bruise his way through the Kansas D-Line early and see if that softens them up for Mariota later on. Watch out for T.E Delanie Walker to get free in the endzone, he is Mariotas favourite target in these situations and has proven tough to stop all year. For Kansas City, the much-maligned (that should be his prefix by law) Alex Smith has had a career year (26 TDS,-5 INTs and a rating of 104.7), Kareem Hunt has won the rushing title in his debut season and Travis Kelce has been the best Tight End in the league this term. Throw in Tyreek Hill and his freakish speed and the Titans defense certainly has a lot to overcome. Speaking of the D side of the game, many were surprised that K.C finished only 28th in Total D way behind the Titans who were 13th. The Chiefs surrendered marginally less points but significantly more yardage per game so don’t assume they have this one in the bag. Mariota was far more prone to a turnover this year than the last 2 seasons and it seems likely that Marcus Peters or another of K.Cs D-backs will have the chance to pick off a pass, but as long as its only 1 then the Titans still have a good chance. All that said, I think explosiveness does win this match-up and I can see a long Kick off return giving the unflappable Butker one last shot at the sticks late-on for a close K.C win. I’ll go 20-23 Chiefs.
The Keys to winning:
QB: Mariota has to limit his turnovers and make Wilson-esque runs when he gets the chance. Smith only has to play as he has all year, feed Kelce, feed Hunt, feed Hill, and don’t be afraid to pull the trigger down-field.
Rush: Henry averages 4.3 yards per attempt on his 2-year career, and he’ll need every inch he can muster tonight. Hunt is reaching nearly 5 yards per attempt so, if he can continue his upward trend then the Chiefs will easily match the Titans smash-mouth-rushing output.
Receivers: Which T.E performs best tonight? Kelce and Walker have been excellent and both teams are poorer when these two don’t shine. I’d expect similar yardage numbers and probably a score each too. All square there then, so the difference maker here is Hill, if he breaks a tackle and sets off at pace the Titans with jet-packs wont stop him. Prevent Smith finding Hill and the Titans have a better chance of victory.