It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The NFL Divisional Round is the best football weekend of the year. Last weekend’s Wild Card weekend produced some good games and this week should see more of the same. Who’s going on to the Conference Championship games? Let’s take a look:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
Last week I predicted the Rams would destroy the Falcons based on their having a great season. Turns out having experience in the postseason matters a lot more as the Falcons beat them handily 26-13. Now they travel to Philadelphia where they face the top seeded Eagles. But for some reason the Falcons are favored in this game. Why? Because the Eagles have Nick Foles at quarterback and not Carson Wentz.
But the Eagles didn’t get the best record in the NFC just because of their quarterback they also have one of the best defenses in the league. They finished in the top 5 in run defense, points per game and yards per game. Atlanta does not have a strong offensive line so this could create many problems for Atlanta.
With Foles at quarterback, the Eagles will try to succeed with their 3rd ranked rushing attack against the Falcon’s 9th ranked run defense. I see the Falcons stacking agaisnt the run and daring Foles to beat them with his arm. For this reason I like the Falcons in a tight game.
Prediction: Falcons 22, Eagles 20
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Did anyone see the Titans beating the Chiefs in Kansas City? Oh yeah, me! Can they keep the magic going for another week at New England? Probably not.
The Titans have a weak passing attack but a great rushing attack. They usually feature Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield but Murray is hurt. Derrick Henry had a great game last week, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown. For the Titans to have a chance, they’ll have to dominate on the run and keep the Patriots’ offense off the field.
There are so many intangibles that don’t favor the Titans. Quarterbacks with little playoff experience do terribly against the Patriots. The Patriots are undefeated against teams coached by Mike Mularkey. The only drama is will the Patriots cover the 13.5 point spread.
Prediction: Patriots 36, Titans 17
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 1:05 PM (CBS)
This game is a rematch of their Week 5 matchup where the Jaguars won 30-9 on 5 Ben Roethlisberger interceptions. Leonard Fournette also had 181 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game. Will we see a repeat of that? NO. Since that game, Big Ben has become one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he is hell-bent on revenge. The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league but the Steelers have too many weapons.
One big difference between that game and this game is the Steelers won’t have inside linebacker Ryan Shazier who was injured and out for the year. This has made the Steelers run defense worse. For the Jaguars to win, they’ll need their rushing attack to succeed and not rely on Blake Bortles.
This will be a close, low scoring game but this comes down to quarterbacks, and Blake Bortles will not rise to the occasion.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 19, Jacksonville 15
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 4:40 PM (FOX)
Is Case Keenum the biggest surprise of this season? He’s gone from journeyman to one of the better quarterbacks in the league. The 29-year old isn’t just some game manager either – he can run and throw deep. But he has little playoff experience and Drew Brees has more playoff experience than almost everyone.
This game is such a good matchup on both sides. Both teams are well-rounded and have good defenses. The Saints have the 2nd best offense, while the Vikings are ranked number 1 in defense. The Saints defense was good until they were decimated by injuries, and that might be the difference in this game. The Vikings have many things going for them – they’ve had a week off, they’re at home, the Saints defense is hurt. But it still could go either way. Drew Brees could be the deciding factor in this one.
Prediction: Saints 30, Vikings 23