The NFL Playoffs have arrived, beginning with a quartet of wild card games, all of which are replete with intriguing storylines. This is your Weekend Primer.
FIVE HOT TOPICS
1. Watt powering up: Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt is on track to make a stunning comeback from a torn pectoral muscle sustained in Week 8. Watt, who practiced all week, should provide a huge boost to a Houston defense that ranks 22nd in adjusted sack rate and 27th in sacks.
2. Vikes running backs on track: Minnesota will have its full complement of running backs vs. the Saints, with both star Dalvin Cook and backup Alexander Mattison set to return from injury. Cook is vital to the Vikings’ hopes, as he ranks fourth in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
3. Pats a tough out at home: New England is 20-3 this century in playoff games at Foxboro, with their last loss coming in the 2012 AFC Championship Game to the Ravens. It’s tough to see Ryan Tannehill and the Titans becoming the latest team to accomplish the feat, even if the Patriots do appear to be in decline.
4. Eagles a triage unit: The Eagles are about as banged up as a team can be entering the playoffs, with tight end Zach Ertz, running back Miles Sanders and tackle Lane Johnson among the biggest question marks heading into their game against the Seahawks on Sunday. If more than one of those players is inactive, Philly could be in big trouble.
5. Tough draw for Saints: New Orleans finished tied for the best record in the NFC at 13-3 but will be forced to play Wild Card Weekend after losing the tiebreaker to the 49ers and Packers. Add to that the pain of their last two playoff exits to the Vikings and Rams, and the football gods haven’t exactly been kind to the Saints in recent past.
Sharp action hit a few openers, including Bills +3 vs. the Texans (line down to 2.5) and over 47 in the Vikings-Saints contest (number up to 49.5). The Patriots also generated some professional interest at -4.5. The line, which opened 5.5, has since settled at 5. The Eagles have been a steady sharp side, as well.
Bills (+125) at Texans: The Bills have been a phenomenal road team this season, going 6-2 straight up and 6-1-1 ATS. The Texans, meanwhile, have covered just one of their last seven as a home favorite. These teams appear headed in opposite directions.
Vikings (+310) at Saints: Minnesota has covered 38 of its last 52 off a loss and 23 of its last 30 after allowing 150-plus rushing yards. The Saints, meanwhile, haven’t been killers at the Superdome the past few years, with each of their last three playoff games coming down to the final possession. This one figures to be a lot tighter than the market would indicate.
Saturday — Titans (+5) at Patriots: Is the Patriots’ run of dominance coming to an end? The popular narrative is that we are seeing the final throes of the Belichick-Brady era, particularly after their capitulation to the Dolphins with a bye on the line last week. The Patriots have nonetheless covered seven of their last nine playoff games.
Sunday — Seahawks (-1.5) at Eagles: Arguably the most compelling wild card game, the Seahawks find themselves as road favorites against a Philly team ravaged by injuries. Despite once again falling short of preseason expectations, the Eagles have shown a knack for rising to the occasion in January, with a 4-1 record in the playoffs over the past two seasons.