2018 NFL Wildcard Weekend is here! I've put together an NFL Classic Team that I hope can snag me a contest win. I'm leaning heavily on a couple of high-scoring offensive teams: the Kansas City Chiefs, and the New Orleans Saints.
The Atlanta Falcons defense has played much better in recent weeks. I'm siding with the Falcons in a few areas to get the job done for me. Yes, I do know that the L.A. Rams average 29 points per game.
On Sunday afternoon, my hope is that the New Orleans Saints pummel Carolina's defense. That shouldn't be an issue. New Orleans beat Carolina 34 to 13 in the first game between the two NFC South rivals. In the second game between the two NFC South rivals, the Saints beat the Panthers 31 to 21.
2018 NFL Wildcard Weekend Classic Team
QB – Drew Brees, $6,400, New Orleans vs Carolina
Brees is a surefire first ballot hall of fame player. There's no doubt that Brees belongs in the elite status with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, etc. This season, Brees has taken a step back so that the Saints' rushing attack could flourish.
Brees has only thrown for 4,334 yards. He's only tossed 23 TD passes. He did only throw 8 interceptions on the season. He also completed 72% of his passes. What that tells me is that the low numbers are by design. That doesn't bother me because the Carolina Panthers' secondary has yielded over 300 yards passing in Carolina's last 3 games.
I've got the feeling that the Saints come out passing from their very first drive. I love Brees' match up on Sunday.
RB – Mark Ingram, $6,900, New Orleans vs Carolina
Alvin Kamara, the Saints' other Pro Bowl running back this season, is at $8,000 on DraftKings. Kamara could have a giant game versus the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. But, it was Mark Ingram who had the better games against the Panthers during the regular season.
In the first game against the Panthers, Ingram rushed for 56 yards from 14 carries. He also caught 2 of 4 targets for 30 yards. In the second game versus the Panthers, Ingram rushed for 85 yards and a TD on 14 carries.
RB – Devonta Freeman, $6,300, Atlanta at L.A. Rams
The L.A. Rams' defense isn't bad against the pass. The Rams only allow 217.2 passing yards per game on average. Versus the rush, the Rams aren't nearly as good, though. LAR ranks 28th in the NFL against the rush. Opponents average a healthy 122.3 rushing yards per game versus the Rams' defense.
Devonta Freeman should figure heavily in the Falcons' game plan on Saturday. Freeman had it tough against both the New Orleans Saints' rush defense and the Carolina Panthers' rush defense in Week 16 and Week 17. Before playing those 2 teams, Devonta had torn it up on the ground in Atlanta's previous 3 games.
Freeman should have no trouble running all over the Rams on Saturday night. LAR must keep WR Julio Jones under control. I see Freeman and Atlanta's rushing attack controlling the entire game.
WR – Michael Thomas, $7,800, New Orleans vs Carolina
Michael Thomas showed up to the Saints' practice on Thursday, Jan. 4, without an injury designation. That's an excellent sign. Thomas had two fantastic performances against the Carolina Panthers this season. He caught 7 of 8 targets for 87 yards and a TD in the first game.
In the second game, Thomas caught 5 of 9 targets for 70 yards and a TD. He should have a decent outing versus the Panthers on Sunday afternoon now that he's fully healthy.
WR – Tyreek Hill, $6,800, Kansas City vs Tennessee
It was a breakout second season for Kansas City's best wide receiver. Tyreek Hill caught 75 passes for 1,183 yards. He scored 8 TDs. Hill also rushed 17 times for 59 yards. In 3 of Kansas City 4 final regular season games, Hill caught no less than 4 passes. He had a fantastic game versus the Miami Dolphins in Week 16. Hill caught 6 passes for 109 yards.
The problem with battling KC is that you must pick your poison. Do you concentrate on stopping TE Travis Kelce, or stopping WR Tyreek Hill? The Titans are excellent against the rush. A decent passing attack can burn the Titans defense. I'm hoping Tennessee concentrates on stopping TE Travis Kelce.
WR – Eric Decker, $3,500, Tennessee at Kansas City
Yep, I'm adding a Tennessee Titan wide receiver to my NFL Wildcard Weekend Classic Team. Decker hasn't had a great season. But, if Tennessee wants to have any shot of upsetting KC, they must lean on their veterans. Decker is one of those veterans. He still catches anything thrown his way.
Also, KC's defense just isn't all that great versus the pass. The Chiefs allow 247 passing yards per game on average. That ranks 29th. This is the game QB Marcus Mariota goes to Eric Decker instead of throwing it to Rishard Matthews.
TE – Austin Hooper, $2,900, Atlanta at L.A. Rams
It sure doesn't look like Austin Hooper gets a lot of looks from Atlanta QB Matt Ryan on Saturday. Hooper hasn't caught more than 3 passes since Week 10. However, the Rams have a decent defense against opposing wide receivers.
I expect Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to have something special in store for the Rams defense. That something special could be throwing the ball all day to Austin Hooper.
FLEX – Leonard Fournette, RB, $7,400, Jacksonville vs Buffalo
I'm all over Jacksonville's rushing game versus the Buffalo Bills' rush defense in this intriguing game on Sunday. The Bills allow 124.6 rushing yards per game. There were a couple of times this season where Buffalo's defense flat out bombed against the rush. The Saints rushed for 298 yards against the Bills.
Because Jacksonville now has a viable passing attack, Buffalo can't send 8 men into the box to stop Fournette. The brilliant rookie RB is likely to have a monster game on Jan. 7.
DEF – Atlanta Falcons, $2,000 – Atlanta at L.A. Rams
Based on stats, the Atlanta Falcons defense has no chance of stopping the L.A. Rams offense. The Rams average 29 points per game. That ranks first in the NFL. The Rams can throw the football with QB Jared Goff. They can run the football with the terrific Todd Gurley II.
A closer look reveals that the Falcons might be perfectly suited to contain the Rams offense. Atlanta allows 318.4 total yards per game. Opponents only rush for 104.1 total yards per. The Falcons play a zone defense in the secondary. That means they'll be able to put some pressure on QB Jared Goff as he scans the D.
Not only that, but I like that Atlanta can rush the football with Devonta Freeman. That should definitely take pressure off Atlanta's defense. As crazy as it sounds, this projects to be a low-scoring affair due to the game planning from both teams. I'll ride Atlanta's defense and hope they cause the inexperienced Goff to make a couple of mistakes.
Good luck in all of your 2018 NFL Wildcard Weekend Contests!