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Saturday marks the first day of the NFL Playoffs, and two intriguing matchups kick off the bracket. Two returning playoff teams take on two playoff surprises, with big-name talent pacing each team. The Titans and Chiefs will rely on their running backs in Arrowhead, while the Falcons and Rams could have a shootout on the west coast.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs are a eight-point favorite over a team that beat them last year. The Titans have a defined identity: they want to run the ball and play good defense. That means a steady diet of Derrick Henry, who will be the lead back for Tennessee in DeMarco Murray’s absence. The Chiefs have a dynamic attack but will likely lean on rookie Kareem Hunt, who snagged the rushing title in his first season with a 35-yard rush last week against Denver.
The Rams host the Falcons in the nightcap, where the Rams will look to keep their magical turnaround going. They’re just the second team in NFL history to go from worst to first in scoring in consecutive seasons, led by MVP candidate Todd Gurley. The architect of the new-look Rams is 31-year old Sean McVay, who could be in line for Coach of the Year.
The Falcons haven’t had anything come easy since the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, but they secured a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. Matt Ryan took a step back following last year’s MVP season, finishing with his lowest yardage total since 2010. A lack of scoring is a major red flag for the Falcons, who haven’t topped 30 total points since Week 12.
As far as seeding goes, Rams-Falcons is critical to determining the divisional matchups in the NFC. If the Falcons can win in Los Angeles, they’ll be locked into a trip to Philadelphia next week against Nick Foles and the top-seeded Eagles. It’s a littler trickier for the Chiefs and Titans, unless you’re confident the Jaguars will beat the Bills on Sunday. If Jacksonville advances, the Chiefs and Titans will be playing for the unenviable prize of a first-class trip to New England to play the Patriots.
Someone told me to include the team’s records in the bracket, but I refuse to do that because IT IS THE PLAYOFFS AND THE SLATE IS WIPED CLEAN.
Here’s how the 2018 bracket looks:
Bracket re-seeded after Wild Card round
Upcoming Playoff Schedule
WILD CARD WEEKEND: JANUARY 6/7
January 6th, 8:15 p.m. Eastern – Falcons at Rams on NBC
January 6th, 4:35 p.m. Eastern – Titans at Chiefs on ESPN/ABC
January 7th, 1:05 p.m. Eastern – Bills at Jaguars on CBS
January 7th, 4:40 p.m. Eastern – Panthers at Saints on FOX
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: JANUARY 13/14
January 13th, 4:35 p.m. Eastern – Wild Card winner at Philadelphia on NBC
January 13th, 8:15 p.m. Eastern – Wild Card winner at New England on CBS
January 14th, 1:05 p.m. Eastern – Wild Card winner at Pittsburgh on CBS
January 14th, 4:40 p.m. Eastern – Wild Card winner at Minnesota on FOX
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: SUNDAY, JAN. 21
Conf. Championship 1- 3:05 p.m. Eastern
Conf. Championship 2- 6:40 p.m. Eastern
SUPER BOWL LII: FEB. 4, U.S. BANK STADIUM (MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA)
6:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC