It's playoff time! The NFL field has been whittled down from 32 teams to 12, and eight of those teams will battle it out in this weekend's wildcard round.
Over the next few weeks, NZME's resident NFL tragics will share their thoughts and tips on each game as we get closer to finding a Super Bowl champion.
ALEX CHAPMAN (AC) Radio Sport Journalist – "The Axe Chap" is a dyed-in-the-wool New England Patriots fan and office antagonist; he'll bring niggle in spades. Pick to win the Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers
CHRISTOPHER REIVE (CR) NZ Herald Sport Journalist – Reive will be consistent & reliable, delivering quality from first game to last, in other words the opposite of his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. Pick to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints
MARC PEARD (MP) Producer of the Radio Sport Breakfast – Radio Sports resident NFL savant, eating up stats like Christian McCaffrey does yards for Peard's Carolina Panthers. Pick to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints
NIGEL YALDEN (NY) Radio Sport Rugby Editor – Yalden supports the New York Jets, hence has a monumental credibility issue to deal with before we even get started. Pick to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints
Now, let's get to the tipping.
AFC: Houston Texans v Buffalo Bills at Houston – Sunday 10.35am
AC: The Bills have really been fun to watch this year and while the Texans lost last week to the Titans, they did so without Deshaun Watson. With their QB returning having finished the regular season with 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns, I can't see Houston losing.
Prediction: Houston to win by at least a touchdown
CR: It seems a touch strange to look at both teams' 10-6 record and think one has under-performed and the other over-performed, but here we are with the under-performing Houston offence to meet the over-performing Buffalo outfit. Buffalo, who had a friendly regular season draw, will be found out by the Deshaun Watson-led Texans, who welcome back defensive powerhouse JJ Watt.
Prediction: Texans by 11+
MP: The Bills have surprisingly been pretty good this season with a more than serviceable defence and an offence that has struggled but done enough to get them into the Wildcard round. Now it's business time and I expect the X-Factor players to shine. Looking across the board, I like the Texans X-Factor at quarterback to be the difference in a game that will be decided by inches.
Prediction: Give me the Texans at home by 3 points
NY: As impressed as I am with Buffalo (Bills coach Sean McDermott deserves to be in the coach of the year conversation) Houston have better playoff experience and a more reliable quarterback in Deshaun Watson. The return of JJ Watt to the Texan defence will be a great boost for the home side as well
Prediction: DeAndre Hopkins has two touchdowns and over 150 yards receiving as the Texans win by double digits
AFC: New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans at New England – Sunday 2.15pm
AC: Yeah, so the Patriots lost to the Dolphins - get your laughter out of the way. Come on then Brady haters, get out your shovels and bury him. In all seriousness though, this legacy feels like it's starting to crumble. New England should win this week, but can't see them getting much further in the playoffs.
Prediction: Patriots to win in an ugly game.
CR: The Titans have had a bizarre year, beating the best teams and losing to the worst. The Patriots have needed quarterback Tom Brady to make things happen in a stagnant offence, but their defence has been immense. It's hard to say which version of the Titans will show up, but for me playoff experience wins this one.
Prediction: Patriots by 10 or fewer
MP: I love the Titans and what they have achieved this season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has proven he wasn't given enough of anything during his time in Miami. Tannehill taking over from the ice cold Marcus Mariotta proved the Titans wanted wins and wanted them now. I loved the power running game of Derrick Henry, an offence that boasts the top yardage running back this season and the highest percentage passer this season. So why pick the Pats? It's the Pats at home in a must win game. The Titans should out match them in nearly every position and should win this game, but won't. Pats, Melbourne Storm, Crusaders... They just win.
Prediction: Patriots by 10 points
NY: This is all about Tennessee running back Derrick Henry. If the Titans can establish their running game through Henry, who has been super impressive this season, then they can pressure the hosts' defence, who have looked tired in recent outings. That said, this is the playoffs and it's a playoff game in Foxborough, so only a fool would back against the home side
Prediction: Titans win - yep, I'm that kind of fool
NFC: New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans – Monday 7.05am
AC: It's almost farcical that the Saints have to play in this. They finished the year 13-3 but on countback with Green Bay, they're now in this. As a result, and after a fantastic offensive season (scored more than 30 points 11 times), I have a feeling they'll want to make a statement against a Minnesota team which isn't as good defensively as it once was, and is led offensively by a guy (Kirk Cousins) who has a reputation of not fronting in big games.
Prediction: New Orleans to ease to at least a 10 point victory.
CR: Drew Brees v Kirk Cousins; Alvin Kamara v Dalvin Cook; Michael Thomas v Adam Theilen; Jared Cook v Kyle Rudolph – offensively, this game is going to be a whole lot of fun. The Saints defence love to get after the quarterback and will be pressing Cousins all game, while the Vikings secondary are among the best at picking off opponents in the league. Expect some fireworks, but the Saints to be too good.
Prediction: Saints by 10 or fewer; Cousins to be sacked at least three times.
MP: Brees and Thomas v Cousins and Diggs. Kamara v Cook. This game is set up to be a real doozy. The only problem is one team is trending up while the other has hit the slides. The team trending upwards is playing at home and I expect the Saints to be playing through to a Super Bowl berth; they were my pick to be the NFC representative at the start of the season.
Prediction: Give me the Saints by 7.
NY: Which quarterback do you trust more in the playoffs? Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins?
Prediction: Saints by lots.
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia – Monday 10.40am
AC: The hardest game to pick. Seattle aren't as defensively sound as they once were, but they still have Russell Wilson. Having said that Carson Wentz and Philly know how to overcome adversity, and they'll have to, with plenty of injuries. The return of Jadeveon Clowney will be huge for Seattle.
Prediction: Eagles to cover the spread, Seattle to win.
CR: A few weeks ago it seemed the Eagles' playoff hopes were out the window after a loss to Miami. But with the Dallas Cowboys refusing to clinch the division, they somehow find themselves in the post-season. From what they've shown this year, this will be where their journey ends and the Seahawks will run up the score.
Prediction: Seahawks by 11+
MP: It's a battle of the beaten up birds; the Eagles are flapping about with no receivers left while the Seahawks are relying on 33 years of skittles to run the ball. So which team can outlast the other in a battle of patch ups? I'm taking the Eagles to cope better at home as they haven't had the best of receiving corps for years. My only "if" is if [Seattle running back] Marshawn Lynch gets an extra week of training behind him and goes better, then the Seahawks will take it.
Prediction: Toughest to pick but I'm going Eagles by 1
NY: You've got to tip your hat to Philadelphia for making the playoffs. They've endured a tough season in terms of injuries, but that all catches up with them against a Seattle team that seems to produce its best play on the road.
Prediction: The Seahawks defence get to Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on a regular basis as Seattle win by 10 points
Wildcard weekend picks
Alex Chapman (2019 champion): Texans, Patriots, Saints, Seahawks
Christopher Reive: Texans, Patriots, Saints, Seahawks
Marc Peard: Texans, Patriots, Saints, Eagles
Nigel Yalden: Texans, Titans, Saints, Seahawks