VOL. 42 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 5, 2018
Titans at Chiefs: What to watch
First down: Don’t be just happy to be there. The Titans have precious few players who have played in a postseason game. Even veterans like Derrick Morgan and Jurrell Casey are tasting the playoffs for the first time. They will have to survive the early jitters and realize it is just another football game (albeit with higher stakes) and go out and take care of business.
Second down: Keep riding the defense. The Titans defense has shown it can turn in dominant performances on occasion, like the one Sunday vs. Jacksonville. The Chiefs have plenty more offensive firepower and speed with Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, not to mention tight end Travis Kelce. It will be a major test for a Tennessee defense that has been up and down this season, but could use a big “up” on Saturday.
Third down: Run, Marcus, run. Marcus Mariota ran the ball 10 times for 60 yards against Jacksonville, and it might have been the difference in the game as the quarterback moved the chains with his legs and supplementing a sluggish run game with scrambles of his own. Linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo took Mariota aside last week and coaxed him into running when chances presented themselves. Despite his many hurts, Mariota will likely have to run again Saturday for the Titans to have a chance vs. the Chiefs.
Fourth down: Find a way. The Titans aren’t pretty, and sometimes they struggle just to get a first down or get off the field on third down. But nonetheless, they are in the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and players seem to believe what Mike Mularkey and his staff are selling. Now that the postseason is here, they have to hope that formula works and that they can continue to grind out “ugly wins.”
Matchups to watch
Jayon Brown or Kevin Byard vs. Travis Kelce. For all the speed the Chiefs can dazzle you with, stopping Kelce is job one for the Titans defense on Saturday. Kelce is Alex Smith’s go-to target to move the chains and in the red zone. He is to the Kansas City offense a lot like Delanie Walker to the Titans offense.
Rishard Matthews vs. Marcus Peters. Matthews has kind of disappeared lately since his hamstring injury a few weeks ago, but the Titans need him back in a big way now that the playoffs have arrived to give Marcus Mariota another reliable target besides Walker.
Jack Conklin vs. Justin Houston. Houston is one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, and Conklin, an All Pro as a rookie, will have his hands full trying to keep Marcus Mariota upright and clean against the KC pass rush.
It’s playoff time, and time to predict the results from Wild-Card Weekend.
Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6); Saturday, 3:35 p.m., ESPN
The Titans have done well to get to the playoffs with a struggling quarterback in Marcus Mariota, an offensive line that has sagged compared to last year and a running game that has not lived up to expectations.
Defensively, the Titans are good when they get sacks and turnovers. When they don’t, they are not. The worry here for Tennessee is that the Titans won’t have the speed to keep up with the likes of Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, and that their penchant of settling for field goals will catch up with them. Prediction: Chiefs 20, Titans 9.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at Los Angeles Rams (11-5); Saturday, 7:15 p.m., NBC
The defending NFC champion Falcons flew under the radar for most of the season, finishing third in the best division in the football, the NFC South. Atlanta still has Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to base the offense around, and the Falcons defense has unfinished business from last year.
They travel west to face the potent Rams, who feature one of the best quarterback/running back combos in the league with Jared Goff and MVP candidate Todd Gurley. This one should be a shootout as the very interesting NFC playoffs unfold. Experience may end up being the difference here. Prediction: Falcons 34, Rams 31.
Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6); Sunday, noon, CBS
The Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since being victimized by the Music City Miracle. The Jaguars have been strangers to the postseason as well, making their first appearance in 10 years.
Buffalo could be without LeSean McCoy, which would put a definite crimp in their offense and run game. Jacksonville’s defense is good enough for a deep posteason run, but the offense can’t keep up with Blake Bortles being so inconsistent at quarterback. It will be interesting to see which team can mask its shortcomings better. Prediction: Bills 20, Jaguars 17.
Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5); Sunday, 3:30 p.m. FOX
These two teams know each other well, since they are division foes and two of the three teams from the NFC South in the playoffs. The Saints have been revitalized this year with Drew Brees finally having a running game with rookie Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, plus a stout defense – something that has been missing for quite some time down on the Bayou.
The Panthers will go as Cam Newton goes, but they have plenty of weapons as well and a strong defense, led by linebacker Luke Kuechly. Might be the game of the weekend. Prediction: Saints 35, Panthers 30.