NFL NFC and AFC wild-card round preview and predictions

Kansas' Kareem Hunt leads the league in rushing in his rookie season.
Kansas' Kareem Hunt leads the league in rushing in his rookie season. Photo credit: Getty

AFC wild-card playoff
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) vs Tennessee Titans (9-7) on Sunday at 10:35am (NZT)

The first of two AFC wild-card games has the up-and-down Tennessee Titans travelling to take on the much-favoured Kansas City Chiefs.

Tennessee finished second in the AFC South to book their spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota had his worst season under centre statistically, throwing more interceptions than he has touchdowns.

The Titans have relied on a gritty defence to help grind out their wins, led by second-year free-safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league in interceptions.

More of the same will be required by the Titans if they are to progress, as they prepare to face one of the more high-power teams on offence.

Kansas started their season with a hiss and roar, winning their first five games before a horror run of form saw them lose their next six of seven.

Rookie sensation Kareem Hunt has been a revelation in Kansas, racking up more than 1300 yards rushing, and should be a lock for the Rookie of the Year award.

Quite simply put, when Hunt does well, the Chiefs do well.

The result will all come down to what Titans defence shows up - the side on the wrong end of a thrashing at the hands of the Houston Texans earlier in the season, or the Tennessee that shut down Jacksonville just a week ago.

Kansas City Chiefs 17-10 Tennessee Titans

NFC wild-card playoff
Los Angeles Rams (11-5) vs Atlanta Falcons (10-6) on Sunday 2:15pm (NZT)

There are only three words needed to describe the Los Angeles Rams' 2017-2018 season and that's Goff, Gurley and God - God being in the form of rookie head coach Sean McVay, who's masterminded the Rams' remarkable turnaround from just a season ago.

The 31-year-old has ended any notion that last year's first overall pick, Jared Goff, is a bust, or that running-back Todd Gurley isn't as good as we perhaps thought.

Goff has 28 touchdowns this season, while Gurley is a genuine MVP candidate, with more than 1300 yards rushing and almost 800 receiving yards, leading his team in receptions.

Todd Gurley.
Todd Gurley. Photo credit: Getty

Their efforts combined have meant the Rams head into the postseason as the highest-scoring team, with 29.9 points per game, having been the worst in the league just last season.

If Atlanta are to make a return to the Super Bowl, their pretty good defence has got to become great.

The unit are top-10 in both points and rushing yards allowed, but against Gurley that may not show on the field.

The Falcons were famously denied by the New England Patriots in the most recent Super Bowl, having been up 28-3 only to blow the lead and live forever in football folklore.

They head into the must-win clash in unfamiliar territory, as the weaker of the sides offensively. 

Star wide-receiver Julio Jones continues to be the team's key to success, registering more than 1400 receiving yards - the second best in the league.

But just how can they match it with arguably the scariest side, and still then have to score points of their own in what can be considered a down-year offensively?

While the Falcons finished the season with 10 wins, a respectable feat for any team, they will need the find the form that saw them make the Super Bowl if they are to beat the Rams at the Coliseum.

Los Angeles Rams 34-27 Atlanta Falcons

AFC wild-card playoff
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs Buffalo Bills (9-7) on Monday at 7:05am (NZT)

If the Buffalo Bills are any chance of upsetting the apple cart and beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in their own backyard, the responsibility lies firmly with LeSean McCoy.

The star running-back is in doubt for the clash after suffering an ankle injury and would be disappointed not to suit up against a Jags team with a suspect run defence.

While they sit comfortably as the league's best defence against the pass, they concede on average 120 rushing yards.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has flashed brilliance, but inconsistency saw him dropped, until he was promoted to starter once again.

While their offence has failed to fire, their defence has not been without their own struggles, as they've been unable to contain the run or the pass all season.

This only bodes well for a Jaguars team who are perhaps flying under their radar for the offensive qualities.

But their greatest asset comes in the form of shutdown corners AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, who have helped them finish the regular season as the best in pass defence.

AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey.
AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Photo credit: Getty

They also possess one of the league's most impressive pass-rush defensive-end duos, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, which should keep the very mobile Taylor on his toes.

Buffalo needed results to go their way to book their spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and they will need things to once again go their way when they make the trip to Jacksonville.

If McCoy's chances of playing are doubtful, then so are Buffalo's chances of winning.

Jacksonville Jaguars 21-10 Buffalo Bills 

NFC wild-card playoff
New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs Carolina Panthers (11-5) on Monday at 10:40am (NZT)

The New Orleans Saints head into their clash with the Carolina Panthers having already beating them twice this season.

But both teams possess numerous weapons on either side of the ball, which makes for an unpredictable encounter.

One of the more intriguing matchups will be how the Carolina defence contains perhaps the most electric running-back one-two-punch in the league.

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have lit the NFL up this season, with both proving a threat in the rush and pass game.

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Photo credit: Getty

Not to mention they are led by future hall-of-fame quarterback Drew Brees, who's formed a dangerous bond with wide-receiver Michael Thomas.

That potentially makes for a scary match-up if you are a Carolina fan, as their secondary continues to struggle since star cornerback, Josh Norman's departure.

But what they do possess is the third-best team in rushing defence - something they will have to back up when they take on the Saints.

Even more so as their offence has struggled to cause team's much concern as they rank as one of the worst in passing yards.

While rookie running-back Christian McCaffrey has yet to be given the mantle as the team's every down back, he's a player Carolina rely heavily on both on the ground and in the air. 

Carolina and Co. also have to worry up about an ever-improving Saints defence, led by veteran defensive-end Cameron Jordan and rookie stand-out cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

Beware Carolina, the game may be being played in New Orleans but the Saints are coming.

New Orleans Saints 28 Carolina Panthers 14


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