As we prepare for the best weekend in football, the excitement builds for several of these teams who will eventually earn their way to their respective conference championships. Every moment now has met its pinnacle, where each play could be the difference in moving on and contending for a championship or going home early and losing any hope at taking home the Lombardi Trophy.
We’ll see some of the league’s best quarterbacks over the past decade and have a front row seat to some of the best defenses in the game this season.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have come in hot and will be matching up against a Carson Wentz-less Philadelphia Eagles hoping to hold on to their No.1 seed in the conference. The real question is whether or not Nick Foles can move the offense enough to remain a threat, while not giving up the ball and allowing the Falcons’ defense to take advantage of the moment.
The Falcons offense isn’t what it was a year ago, however, any momentum Ryan can grab with Julio Jones and the Falcons’ backfield will be paramount to their being able to battle an Eagles defense who was among the league’s best on third down conversation rate throughout the regular season. The stinginess of the Eagles defense will determine a lot in this one, and they’ll need to maintain their top-5 scoring defense if they hope to have a chance at moving on.
The Patriots hosting the Titans has a little less pull on it among the weekend’s slate, however, somehow Marcus Mariota has willed his squad into the divisional round anyway. In many ways this game doesn’t fit with the rest. The Titans aren’t one of the best defenses in the league, they aren’t among the top offenses either, yet they possess enough talent to make this interesting should some things go their way.
Both of New England’s units are among the league’s elite in points scored, and points allowed per game this season. But, while the playoffs tend to tighten up some games that would otherwise be two-score games or more, there is one key statistic that could send this one up the river in a hurry. The Patriots are +10 in comparison to the Titans in turnover differential this season and if the Titans struggle in any form to control, or possess the ball their chances diminish significantly of getting within even a single score in this game.
The Jacksonville Jaguars smashed the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger tossed 5 picks and Leonard Fournette ran for over 180 yards on the ground. The Jaguars have been able to be successful this season when able to hide Blake Bortles behind the running game, but chances are that won’t be an option this go-round.
October was a long time ago to both of these teams, and with the return of Antonio Brown to the lineup it seems as if only another massive turnover-laden game by the Steelers could afford the Jags the opportunity they need to advance. Jacksonville is quite possibly the best defense in the league, but the playmakers on the Steelers sideline will be equally as willing to impose their will on the other units.
This one has a major opportunity to be the best game of the round. Two top defenses, the chance for an awful quarterback to come out of his shell and actually do something for his team instead of relying on everyone around him to lead the charge and a lot of potential for momentum shifts throughout the game. I like this one to be an entertaining game despite the Jaguars lack of anything resembling that a week ago.
Finally we come to what actually has the potential to be an all-time great. Both teams are top-10 in scoring, the Vikings are top-5 in third-down conversion rate, the Saints are tops in yards per play, both are at least +5 in turnover differential which should make anyone excited for an offensive showdown hungry for this one. Conversely, on the other side of the ball, both teams are top-10 in points allowed as well which makes it that much more exciting for all of those who aren’t watching their teams this weekend.
Once again we went at it trying to pick each game of the weekend, so here to an enjoyable slate of games for everyone.
This week the following contributors voted on each game: Brett Mock, Matt Danely, Josh Hudgens, Stephen Reed, Chris Shepherd, Chris Blystone, Andrew Aziz, Jared Malott and Jake Arthur. Again, our group voted ‘winners’ which have been bolded, with the vote counts in parenthesis and unanimous predictions were noted by an asterisk (*).
Thus far the staff’s numbers are: Faraz Majid – 68/105 (64.8%) | Brett Mock – 161/247 (65.2%) | Chris Blystone – 134/215 (62.3%) | Matt Danely – 150/247 (60.7%) | Andrew Aziz – 148/232 (63.8%) | Jake Arthur – 144/219 (65.8%) | Jared Malott – 146/234 (62.4%) | Stephen Reed – 143/235 (60.9%) | Chris Shepherd – 141/234 (60.3%) | Josh Hudgens – 101/155 (65.2%)
Saturday @ 4:35 ET
Falcons (7) @ Eagles — Contrarians: Matt Danely, Stephen Reed
Saturday @ 8:15 ET
Titans @ Patriots (8) — Contrarian: Chris Blystone
Sunday @ 1:05 ET
Jaguars @ Steelers (7) — Contrarians: Danely, Blystone
Sunday @ 4:40 ET
Saints (5) @ Vikings — Contrarians: Jake Arthur, Andrew Aziz, Stephen Reed, Blystone