Eight teams survived to play this weekend, with what looks like two strong matchups in both conferences for the right to advance in the postseason.
- Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans (-2.5): I’ve used this line on spots in various radio and podcasts in the last couple of weeks and I’ll use it here: The Houston Texans are the most dangerous team in the AFC. They are fully capable of beating any other playoff team, even on the road. But they are also the most difficult team to trust to win even one game, because their bad games are real doozies in wasted opportunity.
Buffalo’s defense is well-coached and stocked with enough talent to slow down Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. Where the Texans can compensate is by throwing the ball to the TEs and RBs, notably Duke Johnson and Darren Fells. Bills LBs Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are very good players, but each is prone to missing tackles in space in the passing game. When they also have to worry about Watson tucking and running, it makes them even more vulnerable.
It’s my lowest-confidence forecast of the weekend, but I’ll ride with the home team getting the emotional lift from J.J. Watt’s return facing a Bills passing offense that is big-play-or-bust.
Texans 30, Bills 28
- Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-5): If you put this game on a neutral field and stripped away the history behind the teams, I’d take the Titans. Would not even think twice about it, not with the way NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry has been running and the combination of Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown can torch a defense.
Alas, this game is in New England. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady simply do not lose at home in the postseason. I can’t explain how they’ll pull it off. Maybe a Stephon Gillmore pick-6, or a Julian Edelman jet sweep TD. The Patriots will win. Sorry, Titans fans, I don’t make the rules…
Patriots 18, Titans 17
- Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles (+1.5): The winner of this game is the winner of the battle of attrition. The injury list between these two teams, from IR to the current cadre of key players ruled out, is enough to nearly field a playoff team of its own.
I believe the key to this game will be the Eagles offense and its ability to hit on big plays. Their best remaining weapon is TE Zach Ertz, who will play this game with a lacerated kidney suffered two weeks ago. Carson Wentz is capable, but he’s going to need more help than he often gets. Maybe the run game can lift up the Eagles, and Miles Sanders has looked great in the second half of his rookie season.
I know Seattle and Russell Wilson will find some big plays against the dilapidated Philly defense. Wilson has proven he can and will find any receiver on any play. Even on the road on the East Coast, I just don’t see the Eagles defense getting enough stops to slow down the Seattle offense. Jim Schwartz’s defensive front will do some damage, but that’s where Wilson will show why he’s a worthy MVP candidate. Wentz cannot match that.
Seahawks 27, Eagles 17
- Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-8): This one has blowout written all over it. Drew Brees to Michael Thomas was the NFL’s most prolific passing combo not just in 2019 but in the history of the league. Minnesota will try to face that while missing CBs Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander...on the road...in a revenge game from two years ago in the playoffs that you’d better believe the Saints remember.
I’d feel better about Minnesota’s chances if I trusted Kirk Cousins more against the Saints defense. Cousins hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with his prior big-game experience, but in this case it’s the New Orleans defense that gives me even more pause for the Vikings. Linebacker Demario Davis is a deserving All-Pro, and his ability to play in any direction is the exact kind of defensive weapon that can stymie the Vikings offense.
Saints 33, Vikings 14
Louisiana 35, Miami OH 20
Tulane 23, Southern Miss 21
LSU 33, Clemson 28