Benny Gloves checking in… ‘sup?
So the real NFL season starts today. No more pretenders, just contenders. It’s the playoffs, baby! LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOO!
Titans @ Chiefs 4:20pm
This is a nice little match up to get the ball rolling, but probably has the least sizzle of wildcard weekend. KC looked like a legit Super Bowl favorite through the first 5 weeks, crashed and burned in the middle of the season and then rallied strong to look like contenders again. The Titans have been rebuilding a nice little team the last few years, and finally got over the hump into the playoffs this year.
The Titans game plan has to be mostly based on hoping that Alex Smith remembers he’s Alex Smith. Unfortunately for them Smith, has been more Dell Bomber than Check down artist this year. Ty Hill and Travis Kelce will be problems for a Tenn Defense that ranked 21st in DVOA. The added explosiveness and down field passing game, has been complimented nicely by rookie rusher Kareem Hunt. Just like the team he started hot, hit a wall, but has been very productive down the stretch. The versatile Hunt should have his way against a Titans defense that particularly struggled defending RB’s in the passing game.
The Titans dream on offense the last few seasons has been a back to the future smash mouth running game and hope that Marcus Mariota develops into a franchise quarterback. They could find some success by pounding the ball with Derrick Henry as the Chiefs were the 3rd easiest team to rush for 1st downs against. This could allow them to control the clock and limit the opportunities for the Chiefs offense. But unless Mariota can reverse what has been the worst season of his young career (highest INT rate, lowest passer rating and QBR in his 3 seasons), it will be tough for TEN to hang if this becomes any type of a shoot-out.
Breakout Player: Ty Hill… too fast to contain. Look for him to not only post some big plays in the passing game but maybe bust out a special teams TD as well.
The Pick: No need to remember these Titans…Chiefs 28 Titans 14
Falcons @ Rams 8:15pm
Lots of flashy offensive stars in this one… GURLEY! JONES! RYAN! GOFF!!!! And anytime you match up the 6th (Rams) and 9th (Falcons) ranked offensive DVOA teams, you would expect the scoreboard operators to be very busy. But you know all about those guys and what these offenses are capable of. This game is going to come down to which Defense can make enough momentum changing plays.
Now everyone knows that the Rams best chance for big plays on DEF begins and ends with Aaron Donald. This guy is like JJ Watt but not a douche. He lead the league with 91 QB pressures this season, almost all of which come from an interior pass rush. Donald is a major problem for any team, but while ATL has perennial pro bowler Alex Mack (albeit with a calf injury) at center, their interior protection is weakened by the loss to IR of starting guard Andre Levitre. Also Donald isn’t just a one man wrecking crew (even though he is), Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and Connor Barwin all registered at least 30 QB pressures as well. Needless to say Matty Ice will be under duress by an opportunistic Rams defense that forced 17 fumbles and grabbed 18 interceptions.
The Falcons defensive front can get some heat on the QB as well. Grady Jarrett is probably their best d-lineman and he, adrian Clayborn and Tak McKinnley all had at 25 QB pressures this season. That’s good production for mere mortals, who don’t line up next to a game plan wrecker like Donald. Maybe Vic Beasley looks more like last year’s version (15.5 sacks) than this years (5 sacks)? But truthfully Atl’s best chance for game changing plays come from their LB’s and DB’s. Speedy linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell will need to play sideline to sideline in hopes of containing Todd Gurley and making the Rams and their first time in the play-offs Coach and QB more one dimensional than they want to be. The real star will probably have to be safety Keanu Neal, who has forced the most fumbles of any DB in their first 2 seasons ever. He is going to have to force a turnover and be everywhere trying to stop Gurley, Watkins, maybe even Tavon Austin if ATL is to have a shot. If not the talented Rams offense will eventually take apart a Falcons Defense that ranked 29th in 3rd down defensive DVOA this season.
Breakout Player: Aaron Donald… is it cheating to pick the likely DEF Player of the Year? Maybe, but with his first chance on the big playoff stage expect to see just how easy he makes it look to completely ruin an entire possession multiple times.
The Pick: Matty Ice and SuperBowl Hangovers…Rams 35 Falcons 21