Highlighted by the Tennessee Titans’ comeback and the Cam Newton concussion controversy, last weekend’s Wild Card Round games were very entertaining, and this next round should deliver as well. Here are my previews and predictions for each of these games:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
I had high expectations for the Los Angeles Rams as they entered the postseason for the first time in several years, but the Atlanta Falcons showed the importance of experience. The Rams may have been the more talented team, but this talent just did not look ready for the stage, while the Falcons were.
The Falcons were not great on offense by any means. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald dominated their offensive line as expected, but they made winning plays. They took advantage of critical Rams special teams turnovers and converted them into points, while the defense took care of the young Rams offense. If the defense plays with the intensity they brought into Los Angeles, the Falcons will have a great chance of leaving Philadelphia with a victory. Against the Rams, they forced quarterback Jared Goff to beat them and he was unable to, and I expect them to do this to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles as well. Everybody knows this is not the same team without MVP candidate Carson Wentz under center, and it has shown. Foles does not have the accuracy, mobility, or the wow factor that Wentz possesses.
I do not think the Falcons offense will have tremendous success so the game will be close, but in the end, Foles will be unable to move the ball up and down the field. Falcons win 20-10.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
I did not see that performance coming from the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs. I fully expected the Chiefs to blow them out, and that appeared to be the case in the first half. In my predictions for the Wild Card round, I called out Marcus Mariota, and boy did he prove me wrong in the second half of that game. Running back Derrick Henry took some of the pressure off him, but he made big plays at big moments including his pass to himself that he ran in for a touchdown. Mariota was consistently on the big stage in college, and he looked prepared for the intensity that came with postseason play.
Unfortunately for the Titans, they get the reward of traveling to New England and taking on quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots. Because of some troubling locker room rumors circulating I believe this Patriots team will be extra motivated, as if they needed an extra edge to play with. The Titans will ride their momentum from Kansas City to a strong first half in New England, and this game will be closer than the spread indicates, but Brady and the Patriots will be too much to handle as the game progresses. Patriots win 31-20.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
When the Buffalo Bills went up against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the performances of both teams made it very difficult to tell that they were playing in January. The Jaguars have a young, hungry, and extremely talented defense, but their offense is awful. Blake Bortles struggles to complete screen passes, passes to the flat, and his deep ball might be the worst in the league, but he was able to run for enough first downs to sneak past the Bills with a victory.
Unlike the Bills, the Pittsburgh Steelers will score more than 3 points. I know the Jaguars had their way the last time they visited Pittsburgh, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not throw five interceptions once again, and he will not allow the Jaguars defense to do the scoring for Jacksonville. The Steelers offense is out for revenge, and with all the talent on that side of the ball they will score at least 20 points. On the other hand, I don’t know if Bortles and company can even score 10 if their defense does not consistently set them up with good field position. The Jaguars defense is bound to make some game changing plays, but it will not be enough. Steelers win 24 to 7.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
This Divisional round matchup intrigues me the most. The Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Case Keenum have been proving doubters wrong all year long on their march to a 13-3 record. The defense has been dominant, allowing the fewest points per game in the league, but it is not as if the defense has been doing it all by themselves. The Vikings have a top ten offense in terms of points per game, and Keenum has one of the highest QBRs in the NFL. Minnesota has talent, terrific coaching, and they have the once in a lifetime opportunity of playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
This feels like it could be a special year for the Vikings, but the same could be easily said for the New Orleans Saints. This team plays with a unique swagger that reminds me of a young Seattle Seahawks team, and against the Carolina Panthers they showed why their offense is so dangerous. The Panthers committed to stopping the run and taking Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram out of the game, but Drew Brees still is a top five quarterback in the league, and he proved that he is capable of winning the game on his own. The defense has question marks, but this unit consistently makes critical plays. I am never confident predicting the Saints to win on the road, but I am going to take New Orleans winning on a field goal near the end of regulation to send them to the NFC Championship. Saints win 27-24.