The Wild Card round is sort of a mixed bag. It can occasionally be good for some historic upsets — think Seahawks over Saints in 2011, featuring Marshawn Lynch’s legendary Beast Mode touchdown run. However, it’s also prone to mismatches with teams that may have very recently been in the mix for a top seed hosting teams that just barely scraped into the postseason on the final day.
Today’s action certainly looks to feature more of the latter than the former.
Buffalo at Jacksonville
The Bills are in the postseason for the first time in 18 years and they got in with some help from an unlikely source. Buffalo finished 9-7, but needed the Bengals to upset the Ravens in Baltimore to earn the sixth seed. Most have probably seen the video of the Buffalo locker room as they watched Andy Dalton thread the needle on 4th and 12 for the go-ahead touchdown.
For the Bills, that moment may end up being the final highlight of their season. Buffalo is a pretty good team and quarterback Tyrod Taylor is an underrated NFL quarterback. He can make plays with his feet and his passing ability outside the pocket helps make up for a lower-tier group of wide receivers.
But the backbone of the offense is LeSean McCoy, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury. Even if he does go, McCoy at less than 100 percent puts the already offensively challenged Bills in an even tougher spot.
The Jaguars have overachieved all season, but their defense is legitimate. Without McCoy at full strength, Jacksonville should be able to make Buffalo one-dimensional — and that one dimension wasn’t all that great to begin with.
Jacksonville certainly has bust potential, since we’ve seen quarterback Blake Bortles blow up multiple times in the past. But even a sub-par effort from Bortles should still produce enough offense for a victory.
Buffalo’s inclusion is a feel-good story, but I don’t think they have enough left in the tank to do much with the opportunity.
Pick: Jacksonville 23, Buffalo 6
Carolina at New Orleans
The second game of the day has a little more boom potential to it. Despite having to play on Wild Card weekend, the Saints have become a very trendy Super Bowl pick and with good reason.
After starting the year 0-2, New Orleans won 11 of its last 14 games and only suffered one home defeat (Patriots) all season. With Carson Wentz on the shelf for the Eagles, the Saints seem to have a great opportunity to run the table in the NFC
New Orleans has bettered its balance, which has been defensively challenged in the past. The Saints are used to having to outpace their anemic defense, but this year has been much better. New Orleans sports very impressive overall defensive numbers and gave up more than 21 points just twice over its last 11 games. That’s usually a low enough total for Drew Brees and company to come away victorious.
But it isn’t just Brees, as the Saints have the best two-headed running game in the NFL. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are each dynamic in their own way and have taken the pressure off a receiving corps that is less loaded than most seasons.
But Carolina is very familiar with New Orleans and it’s always difficult to beat a team three times in one season, as the Saints would need to do here. The Panthers were fairly well dominated in both games against the Saints, so the question is whether they are due for a turnaround or if they are simply overmatched.
I think the Panthers have a chance to pull the stunner if Cam Newton is able to make some plays with his feet and Christian McCaffrey is a steady force in the offensive attack. If either of those things doesn’t happen, it’s going to be tough for them to hold down the Saints long enough to remain within striking distance.
Pick: New Orleans 33, Carolina 17
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.