Four more games kick off next weekend as we get to see each of the top 4 teams in action for the first time this postseason. Below is my preview and prediction for each game.
Sat. January 13th at 4:35 PM: #6 Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5)
In a rare occurrence for the NFL Playoffs, the sixth seeded team will enter as favorites against the #1 seed. The Eagles looked dominant all year long but lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz to an injury late in the season. On the bright side, their backup QB is Nick Foles who has had prior success as a starter with the Eagles. However, Foles looked horrible at the end of the season, casting serious doubt on how far the Eagles can make it in the playoffs. Despite the injury, Philadelphia still has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Legarrette Bount and Jay Ajayi lead the ground game, while tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery provide threats through the air. On defense, Brandon Graham led the team with 9.5 sacks while cornerback Patrick Robinson had 4 interceptions. The Falcons enter this matchup coming off an impressive win in Los Angeles on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I think Atlanta is hungry to return to the NFC title game again and will ride their playoff momentum through an undermanned Philly team and come out with the win. Falcons beat Eagles 26-17.
Sat. January 13th at 8:15 PM: #5 Tennessee Titans @ #1 New England Patriots (-13.5)
After overcoming an 18 point deficit at Kansas City in the Wild Card round, the Tennessee Titans will travel to Foxborough to take on the top seeded New England Patriots. With running back Demarco Murray sidelined, Derrick Henry had a monster game for Tennessee with nearly 200 total yards. However, the Titans will need to get more out of Marcus Mariota in the passing game if they want to have a chance to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. One thing that may help slow that vaunted Patriots offensive attack is defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau’s defensive scheme. The main reason the Titans earned a playoff spot, and came back in KC, is thanks to their defensive pressure which has slowed down the other team’s offensive attack. For New England, it’s business as usual as they play their NFL record 8th consecutive home divisional playoff game. While the Patriots are clearly the more talented team, they will still have to focus on avoiding big hits to Tom Brady and keeping Marcus Mariota in the pocket. While the Titans may keep it close early with defense, the Patriots will pull away and win 24-9.
Sun. January 14th at 1:05 PM: #3 Jacksonville Jaguars @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5)
After squeaking out a win against the Bills in the Wild Card round, the Jacksonville Jaguars will head to Pittsburgh where they intercepted Roethlisberger five times on their way to a 30-9 win in Week 5. However, the Steelers have played much better since that Week 5 loss. The question for the Steelers will be the availability and effectiveness of wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown had a monster season, and along with Leveon Bell, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers have one of the most formidable offenses in the league. However, the Jaguars counter with an elite defense led by Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell. I think the key to this game is the effectiveness of Blake Bortles. If the Steelers offense and Jaguars defense offset, the x factor in this game will be the play of Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense. While they can rely on Fournette in the running game, it will be critical to have success in the air to keep a balanced attack, especially if they fall into an early deficit. I don’t think Bortles can repeat what he did on the ground against Buffalo and don’t trust him as a passer, so I think Pittsburgh wins this one 19-10.
Sun. January 14th at 4:40 PM: #4 New Orleans Saints @ #2 Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
The final game of the weekend may be the best one, with Saints traveling to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in a rematch of the 2009 NFC Championship. The Saints are coming off a thrilling win over division rival Carolina, while the Vikings are rested and ready to go. Minnesota has surprised everyone this season after losing their starting quarterback and starting running back. However, Case Keenum has stepped up and played at an MVP level for most of the season. The emergence of wide receiver Adam Thielen to go alongside Stefon Diggs has been a big reason why. On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings are as solid as ever both with the pass rush and the secondary coverage. They will be tested with Drew Brees and the Saints dynamic offense – which includes a duo of running backs in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram that have been deadly on the ground all year long. Add Michael Thomas and Tedd Ginn as deep threat wide receivers and this offense is hard to beat. I think this will be a very close game but the Saints pull the upset and move on 28-27.
Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments down below.