Predictably Predictable Predictions: Vol. 2

It’s ur boy Benny, back again… more content strictly for the Keep It To Athletics Crowd.

Wild Card weekend got off to a wild start. Two road dogs grabbing outright wins and ur boy Benny was wrong about just about everything. What’s going to happen today?

Sunday 1/7

Bills @ Jags 1:05 pm

The Story: Two surprising playoff teams meeting in a matchup nobody predicted.

Keys to the Game: This one is all about turnovers. The Jags Def gets a lot of hype, and its #1 Defensive DVOA ranking was fueled by a strong secondary and forcing the second most turnovers in the NFL. The fact that a team with Blake Bortles as their QB finished in the top 5 in turnover differential is pretty damn impressive. Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye were both top 12 CB’s for success rate in the passing game this season and the Jag’s had a league leading 7 Def TD’s.

However, the Bills might protect the football better than anyone on the league. The Bills turned the ball over only 16 times all year, and 6 of those came in the disaster that was Noah Peterman’s start. Oh and the Bills are sneaky good at getting turnovers too, especially the 18 INT’s which was top 5 in the league. They have their own lockdown corner in rookie Tre’Davious White who was top 20 in success rate this season.

Numbers for Nerds: The Jags may have had the #1 Def DVOA but their rush Def was only 26th overall, bad news when facing a Bills team that ran for more yards than anyone in the NFL over the last six weeks. The Bills turnover success on DEF may be a bit of mirage. They don’t generate the type of pressure that would normally force those turnover numbers, finishing with the second lowest pressure rate in the NFL this season.

Breakout Player(s): Its the RB’s for both teams. It’s clear that both teams want to be conservative and would be very happy to run the ball with their lead backs effectively. Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy are so important to each team’s desire to not put the game in the hands of their QB’s and WR’s against opportunistic DEF’s. McCoy’s availability is the Big pre-game story after getting hurt last week. Reports are currently that he will play, but if not the Bills offense will be severely limited.

The Pick: Nobody Circles the Wagons like these Bills… Bills 21 Jags17… The road dogs keep rolling, McCoy plays and has a big game. The vaunted Jags D struggles when it can’t make big plays and Bortles winds up making at least one costly mistake.

Panthers @ Saints 4:40pm

The Story: Two familiar foes meet again, but has one flipped the script? Also Obligatory mentioning of how hard it is to beat a team 3 times in one season.

Keys to the Game: I am not sure what year this is but the old cliches about DEF and running games winning in the playoffs apply to this big time.

These aren’t your father’s Saints. At some point this year they went from a fun ‘n gun dome team with a historically bad run of DEF’s. To a smash mouth running team lead by two home run hitters at RB in Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Even more shockingly their DEF became down right competent. They had the 9th best pressure rate with Cam Jordan chipping in with 13 sacks and CB’s Marshon Lattimore (rookie) and Ken Crawley were both top 20 for passes defended. And perhaps the biggest key to their turnaround? They had the fewest missed tackles in the NFL.

However these are your father’s Panthers. They continue to have a dominant DEF line (they were top 5 in “stuff rate”) lead by familiar names Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. But It’s really all about Cam Newton, and that’s just the way he likes it. The Panthers offense is running based and while Jonathan Stewart is nice, Cam is the engine that makes them go. In the past five weeks, he’s rushed 56 times for 290 yards and a score — including 11-plus carries in each of the past four games. He may be inconsistent as a passer but his ability to make big plays in the running game and pick up key first downs will be what allows Carolina to hang in there.

Numbers for Nerds: Have the Saints really changed their ways? Through 13 weeks the Saints ranked first in yards per carry at 4.97 but since then they rank 29th in yards per carry at 3.59.

Can the Cam keep the Saints offense off the field? The Panthers were 2nd in DVOA on 3rd down runs and remarkably on plays of 3rd and 7 or longer Cam ran for 1st downs on 7 out of 15 carries.

Breakout Player(s): Michael Thomas is a very dangerous outside receiver, who should expose the Panthers’s 19 ranked DEF in coverage against #1 WR’s. If he gets matched up one on one watch for Drew Bree’s to target him.

Christian McCafferty needs to be that safety valve option that they thought he would be when drafted. He will need to make plays in the passing game to extend drives especially against a Saints team that has given up yards to pass catching backs.

The Pick: These Saints go marching on, but do it through the air… Saints 28 Panthers 23… Panthers manage to stifle the Saints running but too much Bree’s and Thomas and Kamara gets loose in the screen game. Cam puts up another Superman effort but can’t quite do it alone.

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