Buffalo @ Houston
The Houston Texans have qualified for the playoffs 6 times in their franchise history. On each occasion they’ve done so by winning the AFC South, but they’ve never had a good enough record to earn a first round bye, meaning this is the sixth time they have hosted a first round playoff game. Every single time the NFL has opted to schedule their game in the early Saturday window. That means whenever the Texans have made the playoffs the Saturday afternoon wild card game has been played in Houston. Basically the NFL is saying they just aren’t very interested in the Texans. Or is it us saying that? Clearly the league is basing this on ratings potential; maybe we’re to blame. Also their opponents have been Cincinnati (x2), KC, Oakland, Indy, and now Buffalo, so that doesn’t exactly help. Sorry Bills, no disrespect, but you get it. Actually that’s been the vibe around the Bills all season. Everyone acknowledges that they’re winning games, but no one’s really prepared to take them seriously. Until now! That’s right, I’m going with Buffalo! I don’t care about Houston’s win two, lose one pattern that I’ve talked about for over a month and that will surely come back to bite me. Eff it! I’m picking the Bills anyway! Wait, when did you say their last playoff win was? Oh God, is there still time to take it back?!? What do my oh mean "No"? How is that possible? I haven't even hit publish yet ... Oh whoops, damn it!
Tennessee @ New England
The fact that it is so jarring to see the Patriots playing in the wild card round is perhaps the best example of just how dominant they’ve been over the last two decades. That or the six Super Bowl wins and three other appearances. Ok yeah, maybe it’s more the latter, but the frequency of their first round byes is staggering. New England hasn’t played on the opening weekend of the playoffs since January of 2010. That’s ten years to you and me. So is this a sign that the Patriots are more vulnerable than they’ve been in a decade, or did they just get bored by the regular season? I’d say boredom, how else do you explain closing out with a home loss to the Dolphins? That’s a question many Patriots players and staff were likely asking themselves on their drive home Sunday, considering how to make sense of that embarrassment to their shamed families. Just imagine arriving home on 12/29 and telling your teary-eyed child “Christmas is over and daddy lost to the Dolphins.” It must have been difficult, especially because most young kids don’t understand the type of spark that Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide to an offense. Those little dum-dums are probably equally flummoxed by the impressive run that Ryan Tannehill has led the Titans on. But after Ry guy posted a 7-3 record as starter hopefully their parents are well aware of the threat he poses. I imagine New England will be ready though, Bill Belichick seems to do a fairly effective job of preparing for playoff games.
Minnesota @ New Orleans
The Saints are the first 13-3 team to have to play on the opening weekend of the playoffs since 2011. The last such team? The New Orleans Saints. These guys can’t catch a break. That season the two teams receiving byes were Green Bay and San Francisco, and the NFC East was won by a 9-7 team. This begs the obvious question: are we living in some sort of glitchy repeat simulation of the 2011 season? Those playoffs ended with that aforementioned, mediocre NFC East team winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots, so good news Philly fans! As for the 2011 Saints, they won their first round game over a wild card from the NFC North. It’s all lining up! But aren’t these 2019 Vikings better than those 2011 Lions that lost in New Orleans? Uhhhh, yes? I don’t know! Maybe I’m too deep into this ‘19/‘11 corollary if I’m researching a Lions team from eight seasons ago (don’t worry, I didn’t actually do any research). If I ignore history and focus merely on the teams playing this Sunday I still side with the Saints based on their homefield advantage and the fact that they’ve averaged 40 points per game over the last month. That’s a hell of a total no matter what year you’re talking about. Though I suppose if we revisit this in 2027 that number may not be as impressive. With the rate these hot shots are whizzin’ that football around there’s no reason to think teams won’t be putting up 70+ every week.
Seattle @ Philadelphia
The Seahawks are sputtering into the playoffs, having lost three of their last four thanks to a struggling offense and a rash of injuries. The Eagles have overcome their own injuries to win four in a row and capture the NFC East crown. It should be noted that those four wins were all against teams from ... the NFC East, so take this hot streak with a grain of salt. But hey, a win is a win, and win in the playoffs is like some sort of jumbo win. So who gets the jumbo win this week and moves on to the Divisional round and an opportunity for a MEGA win? Before I make my pick why don’t we get some input from the man who will provide color commentary for the game, Cris Collinsworth: