Philadelphia will have to ride their top ranked defense if they hope to advance pass Atlanta.
By: Elias McMillan
Wild-Card Round: 1-3
Atlanta @ Philadelphia – I guess I should be embarrassed for taking the Rams last week. The Falcons showed their experience and pretty much shut down L.A. on the road. Now, come a big test in the number one seeded Eagles. It is a big test for Atlanta because they are the favorites and now everyone is expecting to see the Atlanta team from last post season. I think Atlanta is different from a season ago but chances are they will probably get to their second straight NFC Championship game on Saturday. Atlanta brings to the table an offense with a ton of potential in the passing or running game. Philadelphia has been able to lean on its defense this season so that will be a key matchup in this game. I feel confident that the Eagles defense will do everything in their power to try to win this game for the home team. The Falcons have a pair of good RB’s but Philly is strong against the run. The Eagles are vulnerable in the secondary and it should be interesting to see if Matt Ryan can figure out a way to make Julio Jones a big factor in the game. I think this game will turn on the Eagles lack of offense. I have no reason to have confidence in QB Nick Foles. Especially when Atlanta’s defense is playing well. The Eagles were one of the top running teams on offense in the league this season but Atlanta did a really good job limiting Todd Gurley a week ago. I don’t think they will let Jay Ajayi or LeGarrette Blount get off too many big gains. I think Atlanta will be able to ride their defense and just get enough out of their offense to advance to next week while ending Philadelphia’s season. Prediction: Falcons 21 – Eagles 16
Tennessee @ New England – The Titans were a nice surprise last weekend as they came back from a 21-3 hole to win in Kansas City. They will have to get it done on the road again this week against top seeded New England. I think Tennessee stands a better chance in this game than most people are giving them. Really, I do. New England is New England. But they can be knocked off their game. They are beatable. I don’t have much faith in the Titans defense though. Shutting out Alex Smith for one half is one thing compared to going up against Tom Brady. New England has so many weapons and so many ways to attack. Tennessee will have problems with the Patriots balanced attack. Tennessee is really physical up front on defense so I want to see if they can defend the run well again this week while putting heat on Brady. I big part of last week was that Travis Kelce was knocked out of the game. The Titans will have to account for another dominant, pass catching TE in Rob Gronkowski. I think New England will have an advantage their. The main reason why New England is beatable is because of their defense. Marcus Mariota had a strong second half last week in Kansas City but he has been wildly inconsistent this season. Mariota has Derrick Henry to lean on and Tennessee has a pretty good record with him as the main option in the run game. Outside of Henry and TE Delaine Walker, Tennessee really doesn’t have a lot of reliable players at the skill positions for Mariota to go to. Tennessee may have a “fighter’s chance” but New England should be able handle business at home. I can see Brady having his way with the Titans secondary and Mariota will over extend himself trying to keep up. Prediction: Patriots 38 – Titans 23
Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh – Jacksonville’s win over Buffalo last week sure wasn’t pretty but it was definitely better than losing. The Jaguars will take their strong defense to Pittsburgh on Sunday to face a Steelers team they defeated earlier this season. Week 5 was a long, long time ago but I think Jacksonville can take a lot from what happened in that game and maybe find themselves with a chance to score a big upset on Sunday. There is a lot of talk about the Jaguars having to deal with playing in the cold weather on the road. But playoff football usually comes down to two things: defense and the run game. And Jacksonville has both. The Jaguars have studs on the defensive line that can stuff the run and pressure the QB. They have a talented group of linebackers. And their secondary is close to what Seattle had a few years ago, led by standout Jalen Ramsey. All that being said, Pittsburgh has a really good offense. We all know what Ben Roethlisberger is capable of in January. I do have questions about how WR Antonio Brown will look, as he will be returning after dealing with a lower leg injury. Even if Brown is rusty, Pittsburgh’s WR core is solid. RB Le’Veon Bell is one of the best at his position in the game but Jacksonville did such a great job against him earlier this season. I think this will be a game where the Steelers offense cannot abandon the run. Bell can lead this offense when called upon. I know that the Steelers are not a run first offense anymore but Bell need at least more than 25 touches. For the Jaguars, their offense is a point of weakness but they can at least run the ball. RB Leonard Fournette is ready for another heavy workload. He had a strong performance in Pittsburgh in Week 5 and this time around, he’ll be facing the same defense without its starting middle LB. I believe Pittsburgh could be vulnerable defending the run in this game but unfortunately Jacksonville can’t run it every play. Eventually QB Blake Bortles will have to try to look like a NFL QB in this game. I don’t think Bortles is the worst starter in the league but the Pittsburgh secondary will have to be really off their game for him to be able to do anything substantial. Much like in 2007, I think the Jaguars have the tools to upset the Steelers on Sunday but I’m not brave enough to pick it. It will be tough sledding for the Pittsburgh offense but they’ll find a way to outscore a Jaguars team that may have problems on their own scoring points on the road. Prediction: Steelers 23 – Jaguars 13
New Orleans @ Minnesota – New Orleans clearly outclassed Carolina at home last week. They didn’t add any “cool” points with the way they finished but they at least got the job done. I believe they will face a tall task this week in Minnesota. The Vikings are very tough at home and the Saints should remember that. Minnesota opened this season beating the Saints at home. New Orleans will be looking to reverse that result on Sunday. I like Minnesota in this game because of their defense. I think Drew Brees will not have the passing windows that he had last week against Carolina. Minnesota does a great job at limiting the run with their front seven. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram found it hard to find space last week and I think that will continue in Minnesota. The Saints also bring into this game a good defense. New Orleans has a legit secondary this year and they are coming off a game where the pass rush made a big impact. But I think the Vikings offense will be able to excel by just playing at their own pace while not trying to do too much. QB Case Keenum will use the running game to keep Brees on the bench but he will also take his shots down field as he has a top-notch group of receivers. I think Brees has an edge over Keenum but Minnesota’s defense has an edge over on New Orleans’. Prediction: Vikings 29 – Saints 21