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NFL playoffs: Making the case for the wild-card underdogs

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Last season we entered the divisional round of the playoffs with a No. 5 seed (L.A. Chargers) and two No. 6 seeds (Philadelphia and Indianapolis) making a push for the conference championship game. The year before that, we had one six (Atlanta) and a five (Tennessee).

There are some seasons where a scratch field tears its way through the playoffs, like in 2016 when the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in each division survived the wild-card round respectively, but most of the time we can expect at least one upset, especially this year when the talent seems to be more evenly distributed throughout the field.

Here’s the case for such an upset in each of the four games this weekend:

The case for Buffalo over Houston (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

• I liked the comparison that a few smart folks have made this week between the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars, ’18 Chicago Bears and ’19 Buffalo Bills. Each had an incredible, world-beating defense backed by just enough of an offense to help them navigate through a season and into the playoffs with a little bit of steam. We’ve seen these teams succeed to a varying degree depending on what kind of production they’ll get from the offense when it matters the most. Regardless, their ability to limit offensive efficiency (Buffalo is fourth in yards per play allowed) shouldn’t be overlooked.

• So, about that Bills offense: No. 22 in DVOA. Josh Allen is -15 in defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement; that essentially makes him the Andy Dalton of this year’s playoff field, but with a mobility factor that makes the offense more diverse. Pretty much any advanced statistic available on Allen will tell you that the basic, box score statistics are dangerous and misleading when it comes to Allen. That said, I think they have one bright spot in their corner: Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Daboll, who is interviewing for some head coaching jobs, has done a lot to milk the efficiency out of this offense by stripping the system down to what its functional parts do well. The Bills rank sixth in big plays, which, to me, shows a situational awareness of his offense and his quarterback. In the postseason, “big” plays can represent knockout blows or force coaches to alter the way they game plan on the fly.

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