NFL picks, Wild-card weekend: Which Panthers team will show up?

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In this file photo, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton signals his first down in the middle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in Charlotte, N.C. | Bob Leverone/AP

Mark Potash’s breaks down the four games on Wild-Card Weekend.

Titans at Chiefs

  • Time: 3:35 p.m., ESPN/Ch. 7.
  • Line: Chiefs by 9. Total: 44.
  • Records (overall/ATS): Titans 9-7/8-7-1; Chiefs 10-6/10-6.
  • Outlook: The Chiefs have postseason experience on their side, with three playoff berths (1-3) in five years under Andy Reid. They closed with four consecutive victories. The Titans are in the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. They barely made it against one of the weakest schedules in the NFL, losing three games in a row before beating the uninspired Jaguars. Everything points to the Chiefs, except for one significant X-factor: Marcus Mariota’s mobility has improved of late (13 carries, 84 yards in the last two games). If he can escape and create, he’s a much more dangerous quarterback.
  • Pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 13.

Falcons at Rams

  • Time: 7:15 p.m., Ch. 5.
  • Line: Rams by 6½. Total: 48½.
  • Records (overall/ATS): Falcons 10-6/7-9; Rams 11-5/9-7.
  • Outlook: If experience matters, the Falcons should be getting more support than they’re getting here. The upstart Rams have the youngest team in the NFL, headed by the youngest coach in the NFL in 31-year-old Sean McVay. They were 4-12 last season and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, when Jared Goff was 10. The Falcons were in the Super Bowl last season, beating the Seahawks and Packers to get there. Their offense isn’t the same with Steve Sarkisian replacing Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator, but their defense can cause problems for a rookie QB in his first playoff start.
  • Pick: Falcons 23, Rams 20.

Bills at Jaguars

  • Time: Noon, Ch. 2.
  • Line: Jaguars by 9. Total: 39½.
  • Records (overall/ATS): Bills 9-7/9-6-1; Jaguars 10-6, 9-7.
  • Outlook: Both teams ended playoff droughts without superior QB play. The Jaguars have a stellar defense that ranked second in the NFL and scored seven TDs. Their offense somehow was sixth, despite Blake Bortles ranking 20th in passer rating and rookie RB Leonard Fournette averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The Bills’ rise is an even bigger mystery. They ranked 29th in total defense and 26th in total offense with a QB who was benched in Week 11. Bills RB LeSean McCoy’s bum ankle is problematic. But so is Bortles’ penchant for being Bortles.
  • Pick: Jaguars 23, Bills 10.

Panthers at Saints

  • Time: 3:40 p.m., Fox-32.
  • Line: Saints by 7. Total: 48½.
  • Records (overall/ATS): Panthers 11-5/9-7; Saints 11-5/9-7.
  • Outlook: Tough call here because it’s hard to tell which Panthers team will show up, the one that beat the Patriots, Vikings and Packers (with Aaron Rodgers) or the one that lost to the Bears 17-3 and the Saints by 21 at home and 10 on the road. Of the 20 teams to face an opponent in the playoffs after sweeping the regular-season series, 13 (65 percent) have won the third game, too, per Elias. Cam Newton is the obvious X-factor. He was 24th in the NFL in passer rating, but had five games of 100-plus ratings (16 TDs, one INT). He has a history of letting it all out in situations like this.
  • Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 27.
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