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Playoff preview, Wildcard Saturday

Posted Jan 6, 2018

Titans-Chiefs, Falcons-Rams get postseason ball rolling.

A look at today’s NFL Wild Card games:

TENNESSEE (9-7) at KANSAS CITY (10-6), 4:35 p.m.

SCOUTING THE CHIEFS: Kansas City is the second team in NFL history to produce a 4,000-yard quarterback, a 1,000-yard running back, a 1,000-yard tight end and a 1,000-yard receiver (San Diego accomplished the feat in 1981). Quarterback Alex Smith threw for a career-high 4,042 yards, with 26 touchdown passes and five interceptions, and led the NFL with a passer rating of 104.7. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt won the NFL rushing title (1,327 yards). Wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 75 passes for 1,183 yards and tight end Travis Kelce had 83 receptions for 1,038 yards. The Chiefs were No. 5 in total offense (ninth rushing, seventh passing) and No. 6 in scoring offense (25.9 points per game).

Kansas City had three defensive scores in 2017. The Chiefs were No. 28 in total defense (25th rushing, 29th passing) and No. 15 in scoring defense (21.2 points per game).

Hill has four scores on returns (three on punt returns, one on a kickoff return) in 31 NFL games.

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: Kansas City has won back-to-back AFC West Division titles and has qualified for the playoffs in four of five seasons under head coach Andy Reid.

STAT THAT MATTERS: Reid ranks ninth on the NFL’s all-time wins list with 194 victories (regular and postseason). He trails only Bill Belichick (276) among active coaches for most combined wins.

SCOUTING THE TITANS: Quarterback Marcus Mariota has completed 39 touchdown passes without throwing an interception in the red zone since entering the NFL in 2015. Running back Derrick Henry had three touchdowns of 60 or more yards in 2017 (second in the NFL behind Hill’s five). Tennessee was No. 23 in the NFL in total offense (15th rushing, 23rd passing) and No. 19 in scoring offense (20.9 points per game).

The Titans were No. 13 in total defense (fourth rushing, 25th passing) and No. 17 in scoring defense (22.3 points per game). Tennessee tied for fifth in the league with 43 sacks. The Titans’ No. 4 ranking against the run in the NFL included finishing first in the AFC in rushing defense (88.8 rushing yards allowed per game).

Punter Brett Kern led the NFL in gross punting average (49.7 yards per) and net punting average (44.6).

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: The Titans have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in nine  seasons.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Titans are 6-1 in games decided by three points or fewer (excluding ties) in the past two seasons under head coach Mike Mularkey (tied with the Steelers for the best record in the NFL in that span).

ATLANTA (10-6) at LOS ANGELES (11-5), 8:15 p.m.

SCOUTING THE FALCONS: Atlanta was 10-0 when scoring more than 20 points. Quarterback Matt Ryan (4,095 passing yards) has gone over the 4,000-yard plateau in seven straight seasons (tied for the second-longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the third-longest such run in NFL history). The Falcons were No. 8 in total offense (13th rushing, eighth passing) and No. 15 in scoring offense (22.1 points per game).

Atlanta intercepted Carolina quarterback Cam Newton three times and held tight end Greg Olsen to one catch on nine targets in a 22-10 victory in the regular-season finale. The defense intercepted four passes in the final two games after collecting just four INTs in the first 14 games. The Falcons were No. 9 in total defense (ninth rushing, 12th passing) and No. 8 in scoring defense (19.7 points per game). Atlanta last ranked in the Top 10 in both categories in 1998 and went to the Super Bowl that season.

Kicker Matt Bryant made five field goals on five tries against Carolina, all in the second half, including one from 56 yards.

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: The Falcons are the only NFC team to make the playoffs in 2016 and 2017.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Falcons led the Patriots, 28-3, midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI but ended up losing, 34-28, in overtime.

SCOUTING THE RAMS: Running back Todd Gurley had 118 yards rushing and 158 receiving for a combined 276 yards from scrimmage in the Rams’ 27-23 win over the Titans on Dec. 24. Gurley became the third player in NFL History to have 100-plus rushing and 150-plus receiving yards in a single game, and the first since 1986. Gurley had 1,305 yards rushing, 788 yards receiving and 19 total touchdowns in 15 games this season. His 2,093 yards from scrimmage led the NFL and his 114 points led all non-kickers. The Rams were No. 10 in total offense (eighth rushing, 10th passing) and No. 1 in scoring offense (29.9 points per game).

Los Angeles entered the final regular-season weekend ranked No. 1 among NFL defenses in negative plays (335), No. 2 in points off turnovers (120), No. 4 in sacks (48) and tied for fifth in takeaways (25). The Rams were No. 19 in total defense (28th rushing, 13th passing) and No. 12 in scoring defense (20.6 points per game).

Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper was No. 2 in the NFL in punt returns (12.5 yards per) and No. 1 in kickoff returns (27.4 per, including a 103-yard touchdown). Kicker Greg Zuerlein led the NFL in scoring (158 points) and touchbacks (73).

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: Six Rams have been on a playoff roster previously and first-year head coach Sean McVay is making his first trip to the postseason. The Rams haven’t hosted a playoff game at the Los Angeles Coliseum since 1978.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Rams are the only NFL team with four skill-position players taken in the Top 10 selections of an NFL Draft (quarterback Jared Goff, Gurley and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin).

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