The NFL Divisional Round of the postseason doesn’t look like it has in years past. No Green Bay Packers, no Seattle Seahawks, and no Denver Broncos among others. Replacing those perennial playoff teams are the Titans, Jaguars, Eagles, and Rams to name a few. Eight new teams reached the tournament this season and the only mainstays are the Steelers, Patriots, and Falcons. While we expect New England and Pittsburgh to square off in the AFC championship, anything can happen. Here’s the breakdown of all four games coming up this weekend.
Titans vs Patriots: The Pats are favored to win by two touchdowns at home against Tennessee. That’s a lot of points when you consider the fact that the Titans can run the ball effectively and play solid defense. They erased a large deficit in the Wild Card Round against the Chiefs with a little luck. Marcus Mariota caught his own touchdown pass and Travis Kelce left the game with concussion-like symptoms in the first half after Kansas City jumped out to a 21 – 3 lead. Perhaps we would have had a different outcome if not for these variables, but the game goes on and that’s history.
The Patriots have had a couple weeks to get healthy and prepare for the postseason. I very highly doubt New England would allow Tennessee to make a comeback again if they take an early lead. The Pats championship pedigree, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick will not allow that to happen. So if the Titans want to be remembered, they’ll have to have success on the ground and keep New England’s offense on the sideline. Plus they’ll have to blitz up the middle and get in Tommy’s face to throw off the game-plan. Not an easy thing to do since TB12 gets rid of the ball as quickly as any quarterback in the league.
I would also recommend that the Titans play bump and run coverage to throw off the timing of the offense. The Patriots love to throw short passes and screens so Tennessee better play tough at the line of scrimmage and disrupt Brady’s offensive scheme. Easier said than done because N.E. is better than any other team in the league at adapting and making adjustments throughout the game. I expect the Patriots to get out to a big lead and never look back. Unless Derrick Henry rushes for 200 yards the Titans don’t have much of a chance! The Pick: Patriots
Falcons vs Eagles: Atlanta is a three-point favorite on the road against the number one seed Philadelphia Eagles. The only reason for that is because MVP candidate Carson Wentz is out for the season and Nick Foles has shown he’s not an MVP caliber player. He can be efficient and smart and utilize the running game to work off play action, however, he can’t create plays with his feet when a play breaks down. Wentz is a master at that! The fact that the Falcons have such a fast, athletic defense doesn’t bode well for Philly’s offense. The Eagles will need to establish the ground game and set the tempo early in order to win.
And I believe they can. It’s no secret that Matty Ice doesn’t play as well in the cold. Sounds like an oxymoron! Better yet, his team doesn’t play to their level in cold weather either. Being on the road in the playoffs is hard enough, but add in the fact that Atlanta plays in a nice, warm cushy dome while the Eagles have spent the last month playing football in freezing temperatures. This is why Devonta Freeman is so vital in this contest. Not just his running ability but what he does out of the backfield. He can catch the ball and make big plays with a bit of grass and a couple of defenders attempting to catch him.
Steve Sarkisian, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, needs to take the weather factor into account and call a short passing game along with making the rushing attack a top priority. The Eagles have an excellent defense that is quick and strong. They can make plays in the open field. Matt Ryan doesn’t throw many interceptions but he’s gotten away with a bunch of 50/50 balls because of Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu. The Eagles will be ready for that! I see a very low scoring game at Lincoln Financial Field this Saturday.
Philly has had trouble scoring since Wentz tore his ACL and the Falcons aren’t the same high powered offense they were a year ago. Defense usually wins and while the Falcons have a very good defensive unit, the Eagles have a better one with the home crowd behind them. If the Eagles can keep Atlanta’s offense in check then they should make just enough plays to win the game. I suspect the Eagles defense to be ball hawks and swarm to the football. Confidence is key and the Eagles still have that despite losing their starting quarterback last month. The Pick: Eagles
Jaguars vs Steelers: Yes we all know that Jacksonville beat down Pittsburgh in week five capped off by a Leonard Fournette 90 yard touchdown run. However, that game was very uncharacteristic for the Steelers offense as Big Ben threw five interceptions! Despite all the turnovers, Pitt was able to move the ball consistently against one of, if not the best defenses in the league. Antonio Brown had 157 receiving yards and Le’Veon Bell had over 100 yards from scrimmage. Any Steelers fan would take those statistics and feel confident that their team will win. In most cases, that’s true except when your Hall of Fame QB throws five picks. That was obviously the difference in the game.
Now, we saw last week that Jacksonville has a tough time putting the ball in the end zone as they have for the majority of the season. Five or six field goals won’t cut it! The Steelers will score 20+ points in this game given all the play-makers they have. Sacksonvile is for real but that offense is no good guys! They only managed to score 10 points at home against the Bills in the Wild Card Round. The Bills have a very good defense but not that good! The Steelers pack a heavy punch on defense as well. Therefore, I don’t see the Jaguars scoring more than 13 points if they’re lucky. If the Jags are going to pull off the upset then the defense will have to play as good or even better than week five! In my opinion, for Jacksonville to be victorious, they’ll have to cause turnovers and cash in on them with touchdowns. Not field goals! This will likely be another low scoring game but in the end, the Steelers will have more points on the board. And I think Blake Bortles is in for a rude awakening when the black and yellow jerseys are hunting him down! The Pick: Steelers
Saints vs Vikings: The best match-up of the Divisional Round is without a doubt the New Orleans Saints visiting the second-seeded Vikings in Minnesota. Both teams are very similar in many ways. They both put emphasis on the defense first and foremost. Each squad can run and throw the ball and neither team makes many mistakes. So what’s the key to victory?! The answer is big plays! Yes, both teams can methodically move the ball downfield but the more third downs that arise, the worse it will be! So which team has the biggest capability of creating 50-yard touchdowns or simply gaining chunks of real estate at a time? I bet your first thought was the Saints!
Surprisingly, the Vikings have had their share of big plays whether it’s Stephon Diggs or Adam Thielen on a go route or even Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray making things happen out of the backfield. Don’t get me wrong! The Saints have huge play-makers like Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, and the phenom rookie Alvin Kamara. So as you can see, this is a very even match-up. When two teams are so similar and neither really has an advantage, it’s likely we side with the home team. I expected this match-up to occur and even gave a prediction for it last week. I had the Vikings 28 – Saints 25. I have not changed my mind!
People easily forget how ferocious Minnesota’s defense is and that they’re the backbone of this team. They’re solid on all three levels on defense and they have a bunch of superstars on their roster. Case Keenum has been great this season for the Vikes. He’s played smart football, has thrown some beautiful passes and most importantly doesn’t turn over the ball.
I think Kyle Rudolph, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury, will play a big factor in this game. I’m pretty sure Sean Payton will have his defense focused on Thielen and Diggs along with stopping the backs from making plays. This leaves Rudolph opportunities to guide the sleigh and take advantage of one on one coverage against smaller safeties and slower linebackers. On a neutral field, I may lean towards the Saints. But still, I think Minnesota is the more complete team and less prone to turnovers. Mike Zimmer has done an incredible job with his squad. The Pick: Vikings
- At the end of the day, all we can hope for as football fans without a horse in the race is to have exciting games and be entertained by the best teams in the NFL! Enjoy the games while they last. Only three weekends left for professional football!