An eventful Week 17 propelled two mediocre teams into the NFL playoffs.
The Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills ended the season with scoring margins of minus-22 and minus-57, respectively. They both advanced as AFC's two wild-card representatives.
Along with also each posting 9-7 records, the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers amassed plus-92 and plus-83 scoring margins, respectively. The Chargers beat the Bills by 30 in November. They're out.
A complicated, unforgiving four-team tiebreaker muddled Wild Card Weekend, as OddsShark now touts the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs as touchdown favorites to survive the opening stage. The updated Super Bowl odds list both AFC wild-card teams as overwhelming long shots.
With the past two conference champions fighting for a road upset, the NFC side is far more interesting. Here's a look at all four of this weekend's Wild Card Round showdowns.
Odds to Win Super Bowl
Buffalo Bills: 75-1
Tennessee Titans: 75-1
Atlanta Falcons: 25-1
Carolina Panthers: 25-1
Jacksonville Jaguars: 22-1
Kansas City Chiefs: 18-1
Philadelphia Eagles: 12-1
Los Angeles Rams: 9-1
New Orleans Saints: 15-1
Pittsburgh Steelers: 21-4
Minnesota Vikings: 15-4
New England Patriots: 21-10
Wild Card Weekend Preview
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs and Titans would have made for a marquee matchup earlier this season. While the eventual AFC West champions jumped to a 5-0 start featuring wins over the top-seeded New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, the Titans opened at 6-2 with signature triumphs over the Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks.
Prolonged losing streaks have since robbed each squad of luster. Before salvaging the division crown with three straight wins, the Chiefs lost six of seven games in an ugly stretch including two Meadowlands shortcomings against the New York Giants and New York Jets. Tennessee, who obtained its last six victories by a combined 30 points, needed overtime to beat the 0-16 Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
Allowing 3.6 yards per carry and an NFL-low five rushing touchdowns, Tennessee's front seven will pose a steep challenge to Kareem Hunt, whose lone Week 17 carry—a 35-yard touchdown run—vaulted him over Todd Gurley for the rushing title. A No. 25-ranked passing defense, however, gives Alex Smith and Co. a clear plan of attack.
He fell off from an MVP-caliber September, but Smith still registered career highs in passing yards (4,042), passing touchdowns (26) and yards per pass attempt (8.0). His 104.7 quarterback rating topped everyone and ranked 26 spots ahead of Marcus Mariota (79.3).
Kansas City's explosive offense rebounded from a midseason swoon to score 116 points in its final four games. Tennessee, meanwhile, has not recorded more than 24 points in a game since Week 6. The Titans must keep the Chiefs grounded in a low-scoring slog to pull off an unlikely upset at Arrowhead Stadium.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Titans 16
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
The Atlanta Falcons are a dangerous No. 6 seed.
Only three other teams (Jaguars, Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers) finished inside the top 10 of total offense and defense. While Matt Ryan mustered just 20 passing touchdowns a year after tossing 38 in an MVP campaign, he also produced his seventh straight 4,000-yard campaign.
Some of his struggles can be pinned on regression to the mean. Yet as noted by Pro Football Focus' Falcons Twitter account, he endured some bad breaks to surrender 12 interceptions:
They open the postseason in a warm-weather location against the Los Angeles Rams, who went 4-4 at their new venue and 7-1 on the road. Better red-zone execution could set Atlanta up for a second-round matchup against the Eagles, whose offense has stuttered since losing Carson Wentz.
Then again, the Rams resemble last year's playoff version of the Falcons. Before sitting their starters against the San Francisco 49ers, the NFC West champions entered Week 17 ranked first in Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Despite placing No. 19 in total defense, they have often looked elite by forcing 28 takeaways and 48 sacks.
Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald give each unit a superstar MVP candidate. Although Jared Goff was 10 when the Rams last made the playoffs—and coincidentally got clobbered by Michael Vick's Falcons—experience is not a prerequisite to postseason success.
Prediction: Rams 28, Falcons 27
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
Any slim chance of a Bills upset hinges on LeSean McCoy's availability.
The star running back, who finished the season with 1,586 total yards, left Sunday's Week 17 win early with a sprained ankle. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 29-year-old could play, but not at full strength:
Losing McCoy against any opponent would present a major obstacle for Buffalo, which attempted the NFL's fourth-most rushes (487) and second-fewest passes (476). Losing him against a Jacksonville defense No. 1 against the pass and No. 21 against the run would be catastrophic.
On the other end, rookie Leonard Fournette should feast on a Bills defense that ceded 124.6 rushing yards per contest. The Jaguars lucked out by avoiding the Titans—who won both head-to-head matchups—and the sizzling Chargers.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Bills 10
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints will begin the postseason at home, where they have won seven straight since dropping Week 2's game against New England. They host the Carolina Panthers, whom they defeated twice in 2017 by scoring 65 combined points.
Per the Scouting Academy's Deuce Windham, playoff squads seeking a three-game sweep over a division foe wield a record equivalent to both NFC South clubs:
Drew Brees combined to go 47-of-63 for 489 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in both victories. Cam Newton, who threw three interceptions in Week 3's 34-13 loss to New Orleans, yielded another three in Week 17's finale against the Falcons. Having spent most of the season without tight end Greg Olsen, he concluded 2017 with a career-low 6.71 yards per pass attempt.
"Right now we need to turn the page extremely fast," Newton told reporters in a press conference after going 14-of-34 for 180 yards in Sunday's 22-10 loss.
The Panthers will go as far as Newton takes them. He flaunted MVP-caliber form during the season, particularly when orchestrating a Week 4 win at Gillette Stadium. At his best, he transforms them into a Super Bowl contender.
Another underwhelming performance, on the other hand, will send them packing after Wild Card Weekend.
Prediction: Saints 30, Panthers 24