Jan. 19, 2018
NFL Divisional Round Preview/Predictions
The road to the Super Bowl continues on as the field continues to narrow. We’ll be down to four teams by the end of the weekend. Let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchup.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles
This was supposed to be the dream season for the Eagles. They had what could’ve been the league’s MVP throwing passes and the top record in all of football. Now they must pick up the pieces without Carson Wentz. After one solid outing, it is clear as day that the Eagles under Nick Foles are an inferior version of the team. They will now have to rely on their fourth-ranked defense and their running attack led by Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. Their matchup with Atlanta will be a tough one.
The Falcons won their wild-card matchup last week with defense and steady production from their running game. Their defense, in particular, held the high-scoring Rams offense to just 13 points. What is interesting however is that the Rams offense didn’t look too bad. Jared Goff never looked scared of the moment and Todd Gurley played well despite his relatively low number of touches. They simply were unable to get the points. So immediately, the challenge will be to make Nick Foles uncomfortable and be wary of the Eagles running game. Offensively, now is the time for the Falcons passing game to shine. Running the ball against the Eagles isn’t advised. They were number one against the run this season. However, their secondary can be beaten. Matt Ryan hasn’t played up to his MVP form, but now he may have to in order to ensure the victory.
For the Eagles will have to make this an ugly game. Their third-ranked rushing attack must be the tip of the spear. This takes the pressure off of Foles, keeps the Falcons offense on the sideline, and wears out the Falcons defense. They must apply pressure to Ryan via their elite pass rush and make sure the Falcons pay a price for every inch. And with the chip the Eagles should have on their shoulder (they’re seen as underdogs despite playing at home), they should be playing with an edge. And finally, Foles has to keep it simple. That means no turnovers and taking what the defense gives him.
In the end, I just don’t trust the Eagles without Wentz under center. Atlanta is more experienced and the better team. They won last week off of experience and will likely do it again this week.
Prediction: 21-17 Falcons
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots
The Titans provided the big upset last week after mounting a huge second-half comeback. Right off the bat, the big question is how successful will their running game be against the Patriots. It’s their main form of moving the ball and keep Tom Brady off the field. It will be the matchup to watch. When it comes to throwing the ball, that’s when I expect the difficulty to come in. The Patriots secondary offers versatility and the ability to go man-to-man if needed. That opens up the Patriots defense to do other things. So long story short, the Titans must run the ball well to win.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans will have to deal with a complete offense. They struggled last week when the Chiefs had things rolling. Now imagine that added with good coaching to sustain it. With Brady and Josh McDaniels, there won’t be a second-half lull. What I will say about the Titans is that they have solid interior defenders to defend the run if they can force the Patriots to do it. But, I doubt they’ll force the Patriots to do anything of the sort. That would mean stopping Brady and Gronk in the passing game.
In the end, I don’t see how the Titans win this game. The Patriots have the better team, they’re rested, and had an additional week to game-plan Even if the Patriots struggle early, I expect them to finish strong.
Prediction: 35-21 Patriots
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
This is the game I am most looking forward to. This is the first time I can remember the Steelers having their entire offense intact entering the playoffs during this offensive focused era. On the other side of the field is the best defense in pro football.
The big question mark is the Jacksonville offense. Can Blake Bortles provide any kind of threat to the Steelers? Can he hit open receivers? That will be crucial to the success of the Jags. In order for that question to be answered, the Steelers will have to stop Leonard Fournette, who has already torched them this season. So once again, Bortles job will simply be not to crash the car so to speak. Defensively, the Jaguars have already made the Steelers look foolish this season. They picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times en route to a victory. That happening again is unlikely, but they can still match up well. The one thing the Jags have to be wary of is Le’Veon Bell. The Jags struggle against the run at times.
For Pittsburgh, job one is not to overlook this team. There’s already head-scratching rumors about Bell leaking out of the locker room and players looking forward to playing the Patriots. They must have forgotten how badly the Jaguars beat them up earlier in the season. Job two will be to stop Fournette. He gashed them for 181 yards in the first game. That cannot happen again. Furthermore, stopping Fournette means we see more of Bortles having to make plays. And finally, job three will be to limit turnovers. Big Ben cannot afford to be careless with the football against this team. Big turnovers can flip field position and momentum in favor of a one dimensional Jags offense. Also, keep an eye on Antonio Brown. If he’s anything less than 100 percent, Jalen Ramsey may be able to keep him from making big plays. So that means Juju Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant will need to be ready to fill the role of playmakers in the passing game.
I’m going with the upset here. Typically when elite offenses and defenses step on the same field together in the postseason, the defense wins more often than not. I believe the Jags defense will force turnovers while Fournette has another big game against the Steelers. As for Bortles, he simply doesn’t do anything to lose the game.
Prediction: 21-20 Jaguars
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings
These teams hooked up way back in week one, but both teams are far better than they were then. The matchup between the Saints offense and Vikings defense will be the proverbial clash of the Titans. Minnesota is up there with Jacksonville in terms of defensive prowess. They will play aggressive man-to-man coverage at times and love to stuff the run at times. They don’t really have any weaknesses on this side of the ball. Also, the Panthers found ways to slow down Alvin Kamara and Melvin Ingram last week. I expect the Vikings to pick up on those things. Offensively, Case Keenum leads one of the more balanced offenses in the league. They can throw the ball deep and run the ball inside and out. While the Saints defense is good, they gave up far too much to the Panthers. There are things there for the Vikings to exploit.
As for the Saints, I believe this will come down to Drew Brees and his ability to successfully pass the ball. Given his elite level of play, he will find some success against the Vikings, but the question is how much. I would say that getting back to their run-first mentality will be their best chance at victory, but that won’t be easy against the Vikings. So their best bet may be to play field position and get after Keenum to force some mistakes out of him. And this is where the Saints can turn the game. While the balanced nature of the Vikings offense can give the Saints trouble, they also match up well at each position. The Saints secondary can cover the Vikings receivers. I believe their front seven can keep the Vikings running game in check.
In the end, I will side with the defense to win the day once again. The Vikings unit is just to good. Also, I believe Keenum and the Vikings offense will make just enough plays to win this one.
Prediction: 24-21 Vikings