Falcons at Eagles
Were Carson Wentz healthy, this game would be a much different story. Philly might be the most unheralded 1 seed ever. Big Dick Nick Foles should prove to be a serviceable replacement, however I’m not sure that he will be able to utilize the weapons on Philly’s offense the way Wentz did through the first 13 games. Matt Ryan looked good last week. Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu might be the scariest WR duo left in the playoffs. The Falcons often pourous secondary, who last season was consistently bailed out by their superior pass rush, looked slightly competentent last week. It’s a bummer we won’t be able to see Wentz lead his first playoff push in a season that he showed so much promise, and I think it’s a shame an underachieving Falcons team will essentially back their way into another NFC championship game.
Atlanta 24 – Philadelphia 10
Titans at Patriots
On paper this should be a blow out. The Patriots will be out for blood after the ESPN story released last week. The Titans barely beat the Chiefs last week, who showed that you need a little more than jet sweeps and 6 yard check downs to win a playoff game. The Titans, to their credit, controlled the line of scrimmage and were able to grind out the clock in the second half. Their offensive line is the real deal, and tackling Derrick Henry is like tackling a rhino who runs a 4.3. However I don’t think that Mariotta has proven he can get the ball downfield. On the defensive side, I see Belichick taking Henry out of the game and forcing Mariotta to beat them through the air. I don’t forsee the Titans pedestrian defense being able to keep up with the Patriots assortment of backfield weapons or disrupt the Brady-Gronk connection that has essentially made the Patriots offensive unstoppable. Frankly you’d have to be an idiot not to take the Pats coming off a bye, with a finally healthy roster and an entire week of bulletin board material to fuel them.
Patriots 31 – Titans 14
Jaguars at Steelers
The Jags absolutely smoked the Steelers earlier in the season and I don’t think the game was a fluke. Jacksonville’s defense is the real deal. They have two shutdown corners in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. They have a great pass rush with Myles Jack on the edge and some big bodies in the middle like Malik Jackson and Marcel Dareus. I think the Jags defense is the single best unit, offensively or defensively, left in the playoffs and I think it will be enough to at least slow down the Pittsburgh offense, especially with questions surrounding AB coming off of injury. I forsee the Jags controlling the clock with Leonard Fournette and using their defense to keep Pittsburgh’s offense in check. Also Blake Bortles might be Joe Flacco 2.0. The hottest debate around the NFL has moved on from “is Joe Flacco elite?” to “is Blake Bortles hot garbage?”
Jaguars 21 – Steelers 17
Saints at Vikings
I think this will be the most interesting game of the weekend. The Vikings have quietly been the class of the NFC this season. For a third string QB Case Keenum had a great season, throwing for over 3500 yards and completing 67% of his passes, and has made a strong case to return as the starter next season should Teddy Bridgewater continue to be unavailable and the Vikings move on from Sam Bradford. Their defense is also legit af. They have a physical, veteran secondary that will beat up on opposing receivers and offer tackling support in the run game, something that will be crucial in stopping the Saints. Xavier Rhodes could be penalized on every single snap and I️ am envisioning him beating the absolute shit out of Michael Thomas. The Saints have shifted away from the air-it-out, deep-ball oriented offensive attack that has been a hallmark of Drew Brees’ time in New Orleans in favor of a more balanced run-pass mix. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara anchored what was arguably the greatest running back stable in NFL history. Ingram racked up more than 1,100 rushing yards along with 12 TDs. Kamara, in addition to being the NFLs premier return man this season, accumulated over 1500 yards from scrimmage to go along with 81 catches and 13 TDs (8 rushing, 5 receiving). I think the Vikings defense has the perfect blend of physical run-support DBs, sideline-to-sideline tacklers like LB Anthony Barr and FS Harrison Smith, and veteran DLs to slow down the Saints. The Super Bowl is in Minnesota this year so one way or another we will find out if the Vikings are this seasons team of destiny.
Vikings 28 – New Orleans 20