NFL divisional playoff preview
If the divisional round of the NFL playoffs is anything near the excitement of the wild card round, NFL fans should get ready to be on the edge of the couch all weekend! Let’s look at this week’s matchups.
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles, 4:35pm ET - NBC, Saturday, January 13
The battle of the birds. The Falcons are coming off a huge win over the Rams and will look to carry that momentum into Philadelphia this weekend. The Falcons have playmakers all over the field with an experienced group of wideouts in Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan who is looking to lead the Falcons back to the Superbowl. The Eagles defense is stingy giving up only 306.9 yards per game, good for fourth in the league, so a big day from Julio is needed for Atlanta to put up some points.
The Eagles go into the playoffs without star quarterback Carson Wentz, who was having an MVP caliber season before going down with a season ending ACL injury. Nick Foles will have a tall task in trying to prove himself against a Falcons secondary that came up huge last week, but if the Falcons can manage to keep pressure on Foles, expect Saturday to be a long day for the Eagles.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots, 8:15pm ET - CBS, Saturday, January 13
Are we really expecting the Titans to go into New England and dethrone the Patriots? Anything is possible after the Titans pulled off the unlikely upset last week against the Chiefs in a tough environment. The Titans will look to be road warriors again and defy the odds and they are not looking to back down.
“It’s a playoff game," safety Kevin Byard said about the upcoming game, "so it’s not like it’s the preseason where I can go out there, ‘Oh, it’s Brady,’ and I’m chillin’…This is a playoff game. So I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana... I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like Blake Bortles.”
Beard led the league with eight interceptions and had two huge picks in the season finale against the Jaguars to help clinch a playoff spot. But the Patriots aren’t the Jags or the Chiefs. Tom Brady is 6-1 all time against the Titans and has only thrown one interception against them in his career. This is a David and Goliath matchup, but expect Brady and the Patriots to try and put the Titans away early.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:05pm ET- CBS, Sunday, January 14
The Jaguars handled the Steelers in a 30-9 week 5 win in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been much better since then, finishing 13-3 and proving to be one of the best teams in the league. The league’s leading receiver Antonio Brown has been out since week 15 with a calf injury, but he plans to play against the Jags. Bne Roethlisberger was terrible in their first matchup, throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns.
Blake Bortles was no better last week against the Bills, having more yards rushing than he did passing, and with a hot crowd behind them, the Steelers defense could get after the Jaguars offense. Jacksonville will need to play tough defense and grind this one out on the ground to keep the Steelers offense off the field if they plan to keep up in this game.
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings, 4;40pm ET - FOX, Sunday, January 14
The Vikings flexed their muscles on the Saints at home, defeating them 29-19 in week one. But since then, Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook have both went down to injury. Insert running backs Jerrick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, and quarterback Case Keenum, who has been efficient all season throwing for 3547 yards with 22 touchdowns 7 interceptions and a 67.6 completion rating. The Vikings boast the top ranked defense in the league in yards per game and the Saints explosive offense ranked second in total yards during the regular season.
The Saints will have their hands full trying to shutdown receiver Adam Thielen, who caught 91 balls for 1276 yards this season. But don't count out the Saints, who always have a chance with Drew Brees at quarterback. This game could go either way, and it will take all four quarters (and maybe more) for this game to be decided.