LOS ANGELES — The 2019 NFL regular season is in the history books. The latest Black Monday coach firings claimed the scalps of a couple team presidents. One fired coach has already been rehired. But that’s the transactional business side of football. Now comes what we leatherheads all love. To answer Jim Mora’s question, yes, it is the NFL playoffs. So here are the big questions for Wildcard Weekend.
Does December momentum matter and January experience matter?
The Seahawks started 11-3 but lost their last two games. The Eagles started 5-7 but went 4-0 down the stretch. The Seahawks are the better team, but they backed into the playoffs. The Eagles are on a roll. The Seahawks have plenty of playoff experience. The Eagles have playoff experience, but Carson Wentz does not. Fairly or not, the Philly fans will eat Wentz alive if he turns in a bad game.
Rest versus rust?
Coaches often find themselves of two minds about what to do next when their teams clinch and lock in their playoff spot before the final regular season. game. Risking injury in a meaningless game can prove horrendous. But so is what happens when players get stale from having too much time off. This year, most of the teams that clinched gave their starters Week 17 off. But Sean McDermott in Buffalo split the difference. He played his starters for a couple of series and then yanked them. Bill O’Brien in Houston gave them the entire game off.
Are the Patriots going to prove everyone wrong for the billionth time this Wildcard Weekend?
On paper, the Patriots look like they are staggering. They went 12-4, but that is very misleading. They started 8-0 and only went 4-4 down the stretch. In their final five games, they went an awful 2-3. Their loss at home to Miami in the finale was particularly egregious. For the first time in a decade, the Patriots do not have a bye week. However, they still play at home this week against a Tennessee team that did not clinch a playoff spot until the final week. Betting against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has been a fool’s bet for years.
On Wildcard Weekend, how big a factor is revenge?
Two years ago the Saints overcame a 17-0 deficit at Minnesota to take a 24-23 lead. With 10 seconds left, the Saints were on their way to the NFC Title Game. Then came the Minneapolis Miracle and one of the great radio football calls in history. Saints fans can still hear Paul Allen yelling “Oh my heavens” in their nightmares. Can the Saints treat this Wildcard Weekend game like an ordinary game? Will the pressure of being in Super Bowl or bust mode be too much for them? On paper, the Saints may be the most complete team in the NFL. But games are not played on paper. Will emotion fuel the Saints or cause them to be reckless? Can they settle down and just play football?
So, these are the questions. This Wildcard Weekend, we get the answers. With that, CDN presents the NFL 2019-2020 NFL Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide. Point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
NFL Wildcard Weekend, 2019-2020
Saturday, January 4, 2020, 4:30 p.m. on ABC and ESPN
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans (-2.5) — Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson are both good quarterbacks who can scramble. Houston has the home field and a good defense, but Buffalo has a great defense. Buffalo is a cold weather team, so playing on the road in Houston is almost a blessing. Trust the Bills defense. Upset special, Bills win this first Wildcard Weekend contest outright.
Saturday, January 4, 2020, 8:00 p.m. on CBS
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-5) — Every year the Patriots play that tired old “nobody respects us” card. This might be the one year where the anger is not phony. Tom Brady normally has to invent fictional enemies to motivate himself, but this year his team is being counted out by more than a few analysts. An angry Brady, hellbent on vengeance. does not look like a good sign for any opponent. The Titans started 8-5. But they lost two straight games before backing into the playoffs by beating Houston’s backups. Derrick Henry can run, but New England has a great run defense. Go with the Evil Hoodie. Mike Vrabel is a Bill Belichick protégé, and Belichick loves humiliating his former assistants. Patriots cover.
Sunday, January 5, 1:00 p.m. on FOX
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-7.5) — The Saints feel they have been cheated out of the Super bowl the last two years. Then they became the first team to go 13-3 and not get a first round bye. The Vikings started 10-4 before losing their last two games, both at home. Mike Zimmer has a great defense. But in the dome, Pinball Wizard Drew Brees and his maestro Sean Payton are almost unstoppable. Brees has a balanced offense that can put up points at will. The spread is high. Expect Minnesota to put up a fight. But the Saints at some point will turn out the lights. Saints win but fail to cover.
Sunday, January 5, 4:30 p.m. on NBC
Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) at Philadelphia Eagles — For most of this year, Russell Wilson was a legitimate MVP candidate. Wilson won a Super Bowl. When the Eagles won playoff games the last two years, it was Nick Foles and not Carson Wentz behind center. Wentz has a Super Bowl ring despite never having started a playoff game. The Seahawks have a healthy Marshawn Lynch, who again last week was denied the right to carry the ball from the one yard line. The Eagles have the home field and the momentum. But go with Wilson and Lynch and their playoff experience in this Wildcard Weekend finale. Seahawks cover.