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NFL wild-card playoff picks and Super Bowl odds: Jaguars and Saints win easily

Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were tough to stop this season. (Chuck Cook/USA Today)

This year’s wild-card round is not exactly what everyone expected when the season began.

The Buffalo Bills are heading back to the postseason for the first time since 1999 after defeating the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 and watching the Cincinnati Bengals upset the Baltimore Ravens. The Los Angeles Rams are in for the first time since 2004. And the Jacksonville Jaguars, a year removed from a 3-13 record, won 10 games with a historically good defense and earned the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

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But not everything is a surprise.

Using the win rates that fuel our weekly power rankings, which take into account a team’s actual record and what its record should be based on points scored and allowed — also known as its Pythagorean win percentage — if we simulate the playoffs 1,000 times, the New England Patriots, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and Philadelphia Eagles, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, have the best chances of winning Super Bowl LI.

Team Win Super Bowl LII Super Bowl odds
New England Patriots 26% 4-to-1
Philadelphia Eagles 23% 4-to-1
Minnesota Vikings 19% 5-to-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 14% 7-to-1
Jacksonville Jaguars 5% 19-to-1
Los Angeles Rams 5% 22-to-1
New Orleans Saints 3% 31-to-1
Kansas City Chiefs 2% 46-to-1
Carolina Panthers 1% 106-to-1
Atlanta Falcons 1% 156-to-1
Tennessee Titans <1% 278-to-1
Buffalo Bills <1% 455-to-1

There are, however, some caveats to those numbers.

Philadelphia’s numbers don’t fully factor in the difference between starting quarterback Carson Wentz, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 14, and backup Nick Foles, who doesn’t run the offense as efficiently.

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has completed 61 percent of his passes over his past four games, producing a 81.6 passer rating, his lowest since 2012.

Still, matchups are everything, and here is something to watch for in each of this weekend’s games and how they project.

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-8)
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs, 57 percent
Pick: Tennessee Titans +8

Kareem Hunt’s rookie season for the Chiefs ended with the league’s rushing title. The 22-year-old finished the year with 1,327 rushing yards and 1,782 total yards from scrimmage, third-most in 2017, with 11 touchdowns. A bruising rusher, he averaged 3.1 yards per carry after contact, the sixth-most in the NFL this season. No player had more rushes of 20 yards or more (12) in 2017.

The Titans, meanwhile, stopped just 20 percent of opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage, 22nd in the league this season.

However, that doesn’t mean Tennessee will get blown out — they forced opponents to go three-and-out on 36 percent of drives this season, the ninth-best mark in 2017 and the fifth-best mark among this year’s playoff teams.

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-6.5)
Winner: Los Angeles Rams, 55 percent
Pick: Atlanta Falcons +6.5

The Rams are the first team in the Super Bowl era to go from worst to first in points scored per game, thanks in large part to running back Todd Gurley having an MVP-caliber season. For Atlanta to succeed and move on, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the Falcons’ top run defender, will need to be at the top of his game.

Jarrett finished the year with 55 combined tackles, 28 at or behind the line of scrimmage. Among defensive lineman, only Calais Campbell of the Jacksonville Jaguars (33) had more. Jarrett also had a hand in four sacks, earning him the 13th highest overall rating out of 72 qualified interior linemen from the game charters at Pro Football Focus in 2017.

The Falcons can score, too. Their 2.1 points per drive ranked seventh during the 2017 regular season and only the Patriots and Saints managed more yards gained per offensive drive.

Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-8)
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars, 68 percent
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars -8

Let’s not overthink this. The Bills scored 1.2 points per game fewer than expected on passes after factoring in the down, distance and field position of each throw. The Jaguars allowed 8.2 points per game fewer than expected due to its defense. So if Buffalo thinks it can have success with the pass against Jacksonville, it’s kidding itself.

That leaves Buffalo to rely on a running game in which its best rusher, LeSean McCoy, is “day-to-day” with a right ankle sprain suffered in Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins. McCoy finished the regular season with 1,138 rushing yards (4th) on 287 attempts, scoring six touchdowns rushing and two more receiving.

If he can’t go, the Bills will need to rely on a running back committee that managed just one touchdown from scrimmage all season despite getting 144 opportunities (rushing and receiving) with the ball.

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-7)
Winner: New Orleans Saints, 62 percent
Pick: New Orleans Saints -7

Carolina is going to have its hands full trying to stop this Saints offense.

Drew Brees had the highest completion rate in NFL history (72 percent) in 2017 and the team has the first running back tandem in NFL history — Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara — to top 1,500 yards each from scrimmage in the same season. In addition, the Saints’ running backs scored a league-high 4.1 more points than expected this season after factoring in the down, distance and field position of each touch from scrimmage.

Read more on the NFL:

Fancy Stats: The ‘mother of all stats’ doesn’t see the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders

Examining the Redskins’ top quarterback options if Kirk Cousins leaves

As Carson Palmer follows Bruce Arians into retirement, is Larry Fitzgerald next?

‘I think I am being considered, yes’: ESPN’s Jon Gruden on becoming the Raiders’ next coach