Happy Wild Card weekend as we make the picks
1. Patriots (13-3) … Remember how they were dead in September?
2. Steelers (13-3) … Playing the role of R2D2?
3. Eagles (13-3) … Nick Foles is not the savior.
4. Vikings (13-3) … Case Keenum is not the savior.
5. Falcons (10-6) … Matt Ryan is a savior?
1. Browns (0-16) … 0-16 might be as hard as 16-0.
2. Giants (3-13) … The mighty have fallen.
3. Bears (5-11) … And there goes John Fox.
4. Broncos (5-11) … And we were so excited at 3-1.
5. Not the Niners … Our final five does not include San Francisco.
Being a football fan these days — college or NFL — is like rooting against the sun to rise. There is a certain inevitability to the conclusion.
The Southeastern Conference will win in the NCAA title, and the Patriots loom in the NFL. The College Football Playoff’s selections were vindicated on New Year’s with Georgia and Alabama advancing, and I’m afraid that come February, Super Bowl LII will be the New England Patriots vs. the Eagles/Vikings/Rams/Falcons with Lord Hoody and Company finding a way to repeat.
Seriously, who besides the Steelers, who will have to win in New England, really can beat the Patriots? Like Pittsburgh, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams have the running games to keep Tom Brady off the field, the best defense. But Bill Belichick can find a way to make Case Keenum or Jared Goff look bad, and one-dimensional.
If the Eagles had Carson Wentz, then I’d feel less resigned to this despair. The Atlanta Falcons provide a glimmer of hope, but, then, all one has to do is remember last year, if they somehow come out of the NFC as the No. 6 seed.
It’s pretty much Steelers or bust for those who don’t want to see the Patriots repeat.
With that cheery assessment, let’s break down Wild Card weekend.
Tennessee at Kansas City
Stunner of a fact: The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since beating the Steelers in January 1994 with Joe Montana as their quarterback. This makes me feel old. (And, while Jimmy Garoppolo is off to nice start with the Niners, please halt all comparisons to No. 16. Genuflect, everyone.)
The other shocker about this is that Arrowhead is a tough place to play. This ain’t Jacksonville, where home-field advantage doesn’t exist.
K.C. started 5-0 and finished 4-0 on its way to a 10-6 season. This serves as another reminder of why not to go crazy over your team in September. But does Tennessee really impress?
The Titans made a good jump for the franchise in 2017, but Kansas City ends its Arrowhead sorrows.
Atlanta at Los Angeles Rams
The NFC playoffs, while not as consequential, should be more entertaining. This is not your average 3-6 matchup. The Falcons have the best personnel to win the NFC, starting with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Atlanta also has the motivation — having blown a 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. If the Falcons were to exorcise the ghosts of last season, this scenario would be the way — coming all the way back from the No. 6 spot, having to win three postseason games on the road and then avenging the matter against New England.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, head coach Sean McVay gets a lot of deserved credit for turning around the Rams, especially in comparison to Jeff Fisher. Yet the relevant coach in this game is Wade Phillips. While we can write a lot on the trials and travails of the 2017 Denver Broncos, letting him walk was an oft-overlooked development. The Rams can chew the clock with their ground game and let Phillips figure out how to stop Matty Ice.
Except that we’re going to go with the Cinderella redemption story, at least for this week. Falcons “upset” the Rams.
Buffalo at Jacksonville
This game is a good reminder that this is Undercard Weekend. The best four teams in the league are sitting at home resting. The winner of this game has no shot during the divisional round against the Steelers or Patriots.
Both are very much in the “happy to be here” category. The Jaguars’ defense is impressive and Leonard Fournette has been a good addition. But Blake Bortles? Really?
Let’s stop a moment to congratulate the Buffalo Bills on making the playoffs since the Music City Miracle after the 1999 season. I’ve been to Buffalo, and it makes Vail look tropical. Bills fans deserve some happiness from their team.
That said, the Bills’ quarterbacks make Bortles look like a mastermind, and the Jags advance.
Carolina at New Orleans
Another fine offering from the NFC. The Saints surprised just about everyone by winning the NFC South. One could have made an argument for Atlanta, Carolina or Tampa Bay winning the division at the beginning of the season.
But Drew Brees is ageless and the Saints are rolling again. The Saints swept the season series with the Panthers and will make it three in a very noisy Superdome.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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