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FOOTBALL FREAK: NFL playoffs best tournament in pro sports

['John Turner']
['John Turner']

A look at all four wild-card games this weekend

Twelve teams have punched their ticket to the best tournament in professional sports.
It all begins with "Wild-Card Weekend" on Saturday evening as the NFL playoffs open in Kansas City, with eight new teams who weren't in the post-season last year.
The intensity level, focus and speed of the game elevates to another level in the playoffs. Usually the teams that play the best complimentary football in all three phases of the game continue to move on in the tournament, and ultimately make it to the Super Bowl. 
Teams who are on a roll going into the playoffs tend to make it deep into the tournament, and there are a number of teams playing well while teams struggling into the playoffs won't last long.
For the first time ever in Super Bowl history, the home team this season has a real legitimate chance to be in the big game in their home stadium. They are the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, but have a very solid team and one that travels well with their running game and dominant defence. 
With the injury to Carson Wentz in Philly, the Vikings are, in The Freak’s mind, the team to beat in the NFC.
However, the NFC has six teams, unlike the AFC, that if they all play up to their potential can make it to Minnesota. In the AFC, it truly looks like there are three legitimate contenders – Patriots, Steelers and Chiefs. 
The Titans are in the playoffs for the first time in nine years, the Jaguars in 10 years and Buffalo in 18 years. These wild-card games are usually very exciting and dramatic, so buckle up folks for a great weekend of football.

Stat of the week
The Buffalo Bills snapped the longest playoff drought in all four of North American professional sports as they qualified for the first time in 18 years when the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in dramatic fashion on a late fourth-down touchdown pass.

Wild-card games
Buffalo at Jacksonville

The Jags are struggling going into this home game, but still have a very good defence going up against a Buffalo offence that has a banged-up running back in Shady McCoy, who is its top offensive weapon. 
Buffalo has enough issues moving the ball and scoring points with McCoy, so this, and the strength of the Jags’ D, will cause big problems for the Bills’ offence. 
The Jags’ offence isn’t world-beaters either, but Leonard Fournette and Blake Bortles will do enough to lead Jacksonville to its first playoff win in 10 years.

Tennessee at Kansas City
The Chiefs have won four in a row while the Titans limped into the playoffs, losing three of their last four games. This is a recipe for disaster for Tennessee as they have struggled the last month of the season, and now have to go into this hostile environment and to try and move on. 
After a mid-season slump, the Chiefs have righted the ship, will feed off the home crowd and beat the Titans (sorry Frankie) in a low-scoring game.

Atlanta at Los Angeles
The last time Los Angeles hosted a playoff game was 1985, and The Freak was a student at TOSH and Swatch and Benetton were big brands! 
This is the most interesting game as the Falcons have a lot of playoff experience with their run last year’s Super Bowl. The Rams only have six players who have played in the post-season. Even the Browns have more players with playoff experience!
The Freak believes this will be a factor, and the Rams don’t have a big home-field advantage unless many people jump on the bandwagon in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
There will be a Matt Ryan to Julio Jones sighting, and the fast Falcons’ D shuts down Todd Gurley. Take Atlanta in a road upset.

Carolina at New Orleans
The Panthers have struggled offensively the last three weeks, and the Saints had a concerning loss last week in Tampa.
This is the third time these two teams play each other this season, and it’s always tough to beat a team three times in one year. However, Carolina's receivers can’t get any separation, and can only box out defensive backs with their size, which is a big issue as the best running back on the team is quarterback Cam Newton.
The Saints’ D will capitalize on these weaknesses, and with their two-headed running game – Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram – will beat the Panthers at home.
Last week: 7-for-8.
Season: 89-for-118.

John Turner is a Summerside school teacher and coaches youth football. His column appears every Thursday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to ssidespartansfootball@yahoo.ca.

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