Hello, my name is Brian, and I’m new to Wild Card Weekend. I’ve watched from afar, casually crushing pizza and wings, chuckling to myself as the league’s best bad teams play in games they think actually matter. I used to find it adorable and exciting, but now I’ve been dragged down into the mud. Now I’m the one who has to scratch and claw for every first down as I shout to the void that my team has a chance next week against the best teams in the conference. Now I’ve got to feel like every other fan in the world, living and dying with every play of the preliminary playoff round no one cares about, knowing death awaits next week. Now I’ve got to *shudders* watch old Giants highlights to try and convince myself it can be done. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. How do all of you heathens live like this? It’s the first week of January, and I’m stressed out about a football game. What? My birthday hasn’t even happened yet and I’m worried about the end of all things. This is absurd, and I would like something done about it. I’m sure the league will be willing to swap the Pats’ and Chiefs’ seedings, right? Do a quick favor for everyone’s favorite franchise? No? Okay.
Literally all the fun has been sapped out of this weekend for me, but there’s a chance everyone else in America will look back on January 4th, 2020 as something resembling V-J Day. I’ll save my thoughts on that for later. But for everyone without a rooting interest, Wild Card Weekend is the perfect appetizer. Get a taste of playoff action before the big boys show up. Let the young teams on the rise and surprising stories get one last moment in the sun. Warm your digestive system up for the relentless assault it will have to endure over the next month with all the beer and snacks and fried food and pizza and whatever else you prefer (there are no wrong answers in gameday grazing unless it’s a vegetable-based non-dip/finger food offering) (And keep your wine away from my NFL you filthy hipster). You can kind of roll your holiday partying and eating habits over into the Super Bowl, which, by that time, will be close enough to March Madness where you can convince yourself that eating terrible food and drinking a ton is all life is and that you’ll live forever because you’re 21 years old again. Football takes priority over any resolutions, so don’t worry about going to the gym, or whatever. Just watch football and work out tomorrow. That’s what I’ve always done, and look at me! A true Adonis in every sense. Embrace Wild Card Weekend, it’s the last time the stakes of the games don’t crush the joy out of every snap before late summer. That’s a scary sentence. You know what else is scary? How good I am at picking playoff games. Be thankful you get to come along for the ride once again. All lines from Bovada.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans (-3)
And you thought Jags-Colts last week was irrelevant. Apologies to the good people of Buffalo and the tens (dozens?) of devoted Texans fans. Guess what the h8rz will be furious to learn? The Texans, not the Pats, are, according to DVOA, the worst team in the playoffs (how about Dallas being 6th? Kind of makes you question the validity of the whole thing…). They are, of course, granted special abilities by playing in their traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot, but that powerful home-field advantage can only do so much in the face of Josh Allen and the Bills. I know what you’re thinking: Deshaun Watson at home has to be better than Josh Allen on the road, right? Wrong. The Bills have the better defense, the better coaching staff, and the better jerseys. And they’re the only AFC playoff team the Pats actually beat this year and they could theoretically meet in the AFC Championship Game. I’m trying to muster some optimism, just let me have this. Josh Allen got a ton of hate during the draft and last year and even during this year (mostly from me), but he’s about to explode onto the scene as the semi-forgotten young QB you can build around. JJ Watt’s ill-advised return from injury won’t save them.
Pick: Bills +3
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-5)
I’ll level with everyone: I’m worried. I’m worried that this is it and that the final game ends not in triumph, but in humiliation and ridicule. And this is a terrible, terrible matchup. The Titans coach is a Patriots legend. Half their roster is former Patriots. They have the best, most explosive running back in the league. Their number one receiver is essentially a clone of the player that beat them last week to kick them into the nadir of hope known as the Wild Card round. They’re red hot, younger, and desperate to prove themselves. Everyone who’s watched one second of both the 2019 Pats and the Tannehill Titans would say the boys from Nashville have more than just a shot at winning in Gillette, they should be expected to be in it at the end. It would be a small measure of irony if Mike Vrabel delivered the final blow to the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports. And if this is the end, what a run. Never fully appreciated, always discounted, always thrown to the side for newer, flashier teams, always dragged down by fake controversies concocted by jealous also-rans, always delivering happiness to those of us lucky enough to call ourselves fans. If the Pats lose tonight, it’s likely over. Brady could leave. McDaniels could leave. Hell, Belichick could leave. But the memories will stay forever. Just like the glory of winning one final game in Foxborough. Because I know for damn sure the Tennessee Titans aren’t going to be the ones to end the dynasty. Over my dead body will this nothing franchise get the satisfaction of beating Tom Brady at home. This is the final stand, the climactic scene where the old soldiers know they’ve only got one more battle left in them. The Pats will win this game on pride, alone. You’ll have to wrestle the NFL crown out of their cold, dead hands, and no one’s been able to kill them, yet. Long live Brady. Long live Belichick. Pats by a thousand.
Pick: Pats -5
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-8)
I appreciate the NFL dumping the two terrible NFC playoff games on the same day because now I get to pretend to ignore them. I mean, it’s Kirk Cousins going into the Dome in the playoffs. That’s the only information you need. This game’s already over.
Pick: Saints -8
Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
The Seahawks’ bizarre inability to play in games decided by more than three points will keep this interesting, but the Eagles already got their Super Bowl. Winning the division with the most injuries in history (don’t fact check that) is kinda all they need. It would be typical of both the Seahawks and the Eagles if Philadelphia somehow won this game, prolonging America’s exposure to excruciating NFC East play that has surely done as much damage to this country as the housing market crash, but I don’t see it. Eventually, attrition and nanobubble concussion water win out in the end. It’s just the rule of life.
Pick: Seahawks -2.5