NFL Playoff Picks 2018: Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Wild-Card Round

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (93) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Postseason football is finally upon us as the wild-card round of the playoff kicks off on Saturday afternoon. 

Hopefully the games provide more entertainment than the odds indicate. In the four matchups this weekend, only one home team (the Los Angeles Rams) is favored by less than a touchdown.

Despite the discouraging odds, the NFL postseason is usually good for a few upsets, and any wins by the road teams this weekend would qualify as such. 

Here's a rundown of the weekend schedule, followed by a closer look at two of the more intriguing matchups:

          

Wild Card Weekend

Game: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-8)

Date and Time: Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Prediction: Chiefs 23, Titans 13

                

Game: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-5.5)

Date and Time: Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Prediction: Falcons 24, Rams 23

              

Game: Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-9)

Date and Time: Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Prediction: Jaguars 27, Bills 10

         

Game: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-7)

Date and Time: Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Prediction: Saints 31, Panthers 27 

Full playoff bracket and scenarios available here

          

Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars

Calais Campbell leads a dominant Jaguars defense
Calais Campbell leads a dominant Jaguars defenseStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

The Bills are back in the postseason for the first time since quarterback Doug Flutie guided them to a wild-card berth in 1999. Like that '99 team, however, this Bills squad will likely be one-and-done. 

Buffalo barely squeaked in at 9-7, despite playing one of the league's easiest schedules. Based on ESPN's Football Power Index rankings, the Bills only played three games against the top-10 teams in the league—a Week 4 win at Atlanta and two late-season blowout losses to the Patriots

The Bills were particularly lucky in terms of the defenses they faced this year. Buffalo went 7-1 against teams ranked 20th or worse in scoring defense, but were just 2-6 against all other teams. 

The Jaguars boast the NFL's second-ranked scoring defense, which will be the toughest test the Bills have faced. 

For Buffalo to have a shot, the Bills defense will likely need to step up and slow down a Jaguars offense that has been surprisingly potent this season. 

That won't be an easy task, however, as the Jags offense has proved capable of scoring on just about anyone. Jacksonville dropped 44 points on the Ravens defense (6th overall in scoring defense) and 30 on the Steelers (7th in scoring defense).

Buffalo, which ranks 18th in scoring defense, probably isn't up for the challenge. 

Prediction: Jaguars 27, Bills 10

          

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams

A healthy Devonta Freeman will try to lead the Falcons to an upset in Los Angeles
A healthy Devonta Freeman will try to lead the Falcons to an upset in Los AngelesWinslow Townson/Associated Press

Falcons fans had reason to worry early in the week when running back Devonta Freeman was a limited participant in practice, but ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reported some good news on Thursday:

A healthy Freeman could be the key to the game for the Falcons, especially facing a Rams defense which ranked 30th in yards-per-rush allowed. Los Angeles surrendered 4.7 yards per attempt on the ground this season—a weakness Atlanta will surely try to exploit, especially if they can take an early lead. 

On the other side of the ball, Atlanta has to find a way to stop Todd Gurley. 

Gurley closed the season on a high note, racking up over 450 yards of total offense in Weeks 15 and 16, before resting in the season finale. 

The Falcons have plenty of experience against the elite rushing teams this season. Amazingly, Atlanta played half of its schedule against teams ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense, going 3-5 in those games. 

That looks like a somewhat respectable record against the top rushing offenses at first glance, however, those three wins were tainted by injuries. The Falcons beat the Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott, the Panthers without Jonathan Stewart and the Saints in a game during which Alvin Kamara was knocked out in the first quarter. 

So. based on the numbers, it looks like both teams should be able run the ball with ease in this matchup. As a result, the winner could be whichever team is able to take a lead into the second half and chew up clock with its run game. 

If getting an early lead proves to be important, the edge could go to Atlanta, which has far more playoff experience than the Rams.

Prediction: Falcons 24, Rams 23

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