Wildcard weekend never seems to disappoint us in the NFL, and this year was no different. The parity that is on display between the 5th best and 12th best team shows how tight the NFL is without you really having to think about it. I mean c’mon who saw the Titans defeating the Chiefs in Arrowhead? Not many… until you dive deeper and realize that the last Kansas City quarterback to win a home playoff game was???
Yes. That Joe Montana. The same Joe Montana who retired from the Chiefs after the 1994 season. It has been 23 years since Arrowhead faithful have seen their team win a game at home during the NFL’s second season.
Then you had the up and coming Rams. Fresh off of a fantastic turnaround and most assuredly coach of the year honors for Sean McVay, they were “flying high” heading into the first playoff game for the Rams in Los Angeles since 1979. And that was short lived, thanks to the current NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who seem to have found their swagger again. Could Atlanta be poised to return to the Super Bowl? Maybe. They have a long road ahead of them that continues in Philly this weekend.
Jacksonville has seemed to be the belle of the ball this season, despite shaky offensive play from Blake Bortles and the rest of the offense. Their defense held true to form in Sunday’s 10-3 win against Buffalo despite the BillsMafia throwing everything they had at the city of Jacksonville. Thank you to Buffalo for your participation in this years NFL postseason, please pick up your parting gifts at the door.
And then there was the best of the weekend. Saints/Panthers gave us a great matchup of divisional rivals. History shows that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. But the Saints managed exactly that, by defeating Cam Newton’s crew 31-26.
So the stage is set for this weekend. Let’s take a look at the matchups:
Falcons (-3) vs Eagles – Saturday 1:35 pm PST
The Falcons know that if they want to get to Minnesota, and potentially have their revenge, they’re going to have to do away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The #6 seed Falcons have already completed 1/3 of their mission, defeating the Rams last week. Atlanta comes into this game as a 3 point favorite. Really? A favorite on the road against the #1 seed in the NFC? What does Vegas know?
Well I will say that Vegas definitely doesn’t trust Nick Foles to lead the Eagles to an NFC title game. The pundits in Vegas say the sharp money is leaning Atlanta. The Falcons defense ranked 9th overall this season and held the Rams to just 13 points. Atlanta seems like the sexy play because of their experience and their quarterback play.
The Westgate has publicly said that the line would be Philly -7 if Wentz was the Eagles starter this weekend. Carson Wentz isn’t worth 10 points, in my opinion.
Philadelphia had the number 4 overall defense in the league, and coach Doug Pederson will lean of that unit to get the job done against a talented Atlanta offense. Ball control will be key for the Eagles and that is where the addition of Jay Ajayi will be of great importance. Ajayi will need a game in the neighborhood of 135-150 and a TD coupled with the Eagles controlling the Time of Possession battle to come out with a victory. I think Ajayi and the defense get it done.
PICK: Eagles 24 – Falcons 13
Titans vs. Patriots (-13) – Saturday 5:15 pm PST
A week has gone by, and everyone is still talking about the Mariota to Mariota touchdown and how Tennessee pulled off an amazing comeback. Let’s be real though. The NFL is game where consistency is king. Case in point, the New England Patriots. Every NFL comeback of epic proportions requires at least two to three things. A fluke play or two, a little bit of mismanagement from the other team and one or two 50/50 calls to go your way. The Titans got every bit of that last weekend. There will definitely not be the same mistakes made by New England coaching this time around so Tennessee will have to step up their game if they want to advance to the AFC Championship.
Tennessee will be led by a strong defense and solid running game. Derek Henry has to duplicate last weeks performance (150+, 1 TD) and Mariota has to run the ball more, but in the right situations. When the Titans enter the Red Zone, look for Mariota to do more scrambling and making plays with his feet if they want to win. But if know that, don’t you think The Hoodie does also?
Bill’s main game plan for the last 18 years has been to shut down your biggest strength and make you win a game in other ways. Look for New England to put seven or eight guys in the box to stuff Henry and look for David Harris(or similar) to spy on Marcus Mariota and make him use his arm to beat the Pats. Secondary will use man to man a lot, and guys like Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore are going to earn their money. The Patriots bend but don’t break defense contains two units of quality cornerbacks so rotation will be key for Matt Patricia’s defense. And let’s be honest, they aren’t exactly facing an all-star group of receivers.
Brady and the offense will keep it status quo. Short passing game will set the tempo and they will look to get Brandin Cooks about 3-4 deep shots down the field.
PICK: Patriots 31 – Titans 13
Jacksonville vs Pittsburgh (-7) 10:05 am PST
The Blake Bortles experience carries on another week. Let’s be honest, unless he makes the Super Bowl, Bortles is auditioning for other teams for next year’s contract. Blake Bortles is the new Alex Smith. Ultimate game manager. Either way, the stage is set.
Jacksonville crushed Pittsburgh in week five 30-9, thanks to Big Ben’s 5 INTs. I can safely say that probably will not happen again. Although I do believe Jacksonville’s defense will have a few takeaways in this game. Their defense is second in the league in points per game and total yards per game. Someone other than Blake Bortles will need to lead the Jaguars in rushing this week, and I think I know just the guy. Last meeting, Leonard Fournette rushed for 181 yards and 2 TDs in the Jags victory. He will need to control this game with key yards on crucial downs. As much as I’d love to see Blake shred the Steeler D all Sunday morning, it’s just not the smart game plan if you’re Doug Marrone.
Pittsburgh is clearly the better team on paper, but we play the game on the field. I’m wondering if Leveon Bell’s recent Franchise Tag talks will be a distraction to him. Antonio Brown is not 100% and their weapons past that are just okay. Martavis Bryant is the X-factor in this equation as Jacksonville can use Ramsey and Bouye to cover Brown and Schuster. I think the Steelers get it done though, setting up the TV ratings game we all want to see.
PICK: Steelers 21 – Jaguars 19
New Orleans vs Minnesota (-5) 1:40 pm PST
As I stated before, New Orleans played in the most exciting game of wildcard weekend. They beat Carolina 31-26, despite a lack of a rushing attack. If New Orleans wants to move on, for their sake, they need to get the ground game re-established in Minnesota. Minnesota has a pretty good running game themselves. In Dalvin Cook’s absence, Latavious Murray has rushed for 842 yards this season while Jerrick McKinnon helped out with another 570 yards. But this battle will fall on the shoulders of the QBs.
Brees and Keenum will be tested by two of the best defenses in the NFL. The majority of the tangibles in this game are pretty even with the only difference I see is the pedigree of the two signal callers. Brees is a Super-Bowl winning QB while Case Keenum has exact the same number of playoff starts as I do.
I think Keenum is good enough to go stride for stride with Brees, should the tempo of the game dictate that he has too. Keenum is out to prove the doubters wrong and earn himself the big bucks next year. I think his career is just starting right now.
PICK: Minnesota 24 – New Orleans 14