That was one crazy NFL Divisional Round Weekend. A team that appeared dead in the water, yes, that’s you Minnesota, won on a final regulation play. Another squad that was a home dog came up huge while one team that was a major road dog also came up huge.
One team that figured, managed to win. That squad, the New England Patriots, played the worst remaining team in the NFL Playoffs. If the Divisional Round taught us anything, nothing’s set in stone. Not even the Patriots march to Super Bowl 52.
Check out a recap of every 2018 NFL Divisional Round game!
2018 NFL Divisional Round Recap
Saturday, Jan. 13
Atlanta Falcons -3 at Philadelphia Eagles +3
When: 4:35 pm ET
Recap: The Atlanta Falcons traveled to Philadelphia as a -3 favorite. Atlanta left Philadelphia as a 5-point loser, 10 to 15. What happened? Nothing, really. Perhaps, Philadelphia shouldn’t have been home dogs.
The Eagles had been the very best team in the NFL leading up to Carson Wentz’s late-season injury. QB Nick Foles was brilliant against the New York Giants. He wasn’t so brilliant versus either the Oakland Raiders, or the Dallas Cowboys. Versus the Atlanta Falcons, he didn’t have to be brilliant. Foles just didn’t have to make any mistakes.
He ended up throwing for 246 yards when completing 23 of 30. He didn’t throw an interception. That’s where the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons. Philadelphia has turned into a better rushing version of the Minnesota Vikings. The Falcons had no answer for a team that decided to lean on it’s running game and defense.
In hindsight, it makes sense. Philly was a passing team first because Carson Wentz was their quarterback. The Eagles employ 2 of the better running backs in the NFL in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. The only reason Philadelphia threw the ball more than they passed it is because Wentz was their QB. I’m not discounting the 246 yards Foles threw for versus Atlanta. I’m just saying that Philadelphia is more balanced with Foles as their QB because he’s not going to bail them out.
As far as the Atlanta Falcons’ defense is concerned, it dominated Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. Ryan only completed 22 of 36 for 210 yards. He threw a single TD pass. The Eagles were brilliant against Julio Jones. Matty Ice went to the Julio well 16 times. Julio only caught 9 of the 16 targets. Atlanta rushed for 86 yards on 20 carries.
Although the final score doesn’t say it, the Eagles dominated the Atlanta Falcons this past Saturday. Sure, Atlanta had a shot to win the game in the final minute. It would have been a lucky victory. The Eagles should have been up by at least 10 points by the time Atlanta was on their final drive.
Score: Eagles 15, Falcons 10
Tennessee Titans +13.5 at New England Patriots -13.5
When: 8:15 pm ET
Recap: Early in the Tennessee Titans horrible loss to the New England Patriots it appeared as if the Titans might actually put up a fight. Heck, the Titans controlled the game. Tennessee rushed out to a 7 to 0 lead over the Patriots after Marcus Mariota threw a beautiful 15-yard TD pass to Round 1 draft pick Corey Davis. Davis made a great one-handed catch. After that? Things went south for the Titans in a hurry.
Why? It’s easy to write that the Patriots are just better because, well, they are. That doesn’t tell the whole story. The reason the New England Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans this past Saturday night is because of a fundamental difference between the Patriots and the Titans. It doesn’t necessarily stem from QB play, defense, running backs, offensive or defensive lines. It has everything to do with philosophy.
The New England Patriots make in-game changes that give them the best chance to win a football game. The Tennessee Titans don’t. That’s the fundamental difference. Overall, New England has more talent. Nobody will disagree with that. But, the most talented team doesn’t always win football games over less talented teams.
The Miami Dolphins beat the Patriots straight up during the regular season specifically because the Dolphins switched things up. Tennessee didn’t switch things up at all. They started out by only utilizing RB Derrick Henry in the rushing attack. They didn’t even try to throw the football to him.
After going down 14 to 7, the Titans continued to try to rush the football on first down. There was absolutely no creativity from Tennessee’s offense. After going down 21 to 7, Tennessee decided to keep Mariota in the pocket. Now, they wanted their young quarterback to win the game for them. New England had already adjusted so that they took away every single one of Mariota’s rushing lanes.
The Titans didn’t even adjust at halftime. It was actually disappointing to see how the Patriots outplayed Tennessee. What was more disappointing was watching how the Patriots thoroughly out strategized the Titans in every phase of the game.
Score: Patriots 35, Titans 14
Sunday, Jan. 14
Jacksonville Jaguars +7.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5
When: 1:05 pm ET
Recap: Many football handicappers are going to look at Jacksonville’s Divisional Round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and believe the Steelers choked. A legendary NFL organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t supposed to lose playoff games to traditional loser organizations like the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s not supposed to happen. But, it did this past Sunday.
How did it happen?
The Steelers only allowed 105.8 rushing yards per game during the season. That ranked 10th in the NFL. However, the Jags rushed for 164 yards from 35 carries. Rookie RB Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards from 25 carries. Fournette also rushed for 3 TDs. QB Blake Bortles rushed for 35 yards on 5 carries.
The Steelers didn’t choke. Contrary to what some football handicappers might think, the Steelers played as well as they could. Pittsburgh’s defense had been a mix of heart, luck, and brilliant coaching during the regular season. In the Divisional Round loss to the Jags, the Steelers’ D played with heart. It even got some brilliant coaching. The defense ran out of luck, though.
That’s the thing. Eventually, you must bring a better horse to the race. There’s no way around it. Jacksonville, not surprisingly when you think about it, was the much better horse in this past Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round race against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most football handicappers should have seen this coming. The Jags dominated Steel Town 30 to 9 in Week 5. Jacksonville picked off QB Ben Roethlisberger 5 times in that win. They picked him off 2 times in the Divisional Round win. Fournette rushed for 181 yards in Week 5. He secured the 109 rushing yards in the Divisional Round win.
7.5 points was a gift to those who believed in the Jaguars. Jacksonville didn’t blow their upset chance over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jags are just better.
Score: Jaguars 45, Steelers 42
New Orleans Saints +4 at Minnesota Vikings -4
When: 4:40 pm ET
Recap: The Jags might have not blown their chance at upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Saints definitely blew their chance at upsetting the Minnesota Vikings. New Orleans had the Vikings on the ropes. They had them dead to rights. The game was over. All Saints free safety Marcus Williams had to do was tackle Vikings’ WR Stefon Diggs. Just wrap him up after he catches the ball. Just don’t whiff on the big hit.
Williams whiffed on the big hit. He whiffed bad. He whiffed so badly that Diggs turned around, stayed in-bounds, and ran into the end zone for a 61-yard TD catch on the final play.
Often, NFL coaches say that they didn’t lose a game because of a single play. Losses happen due to the entirety of the game. There are no last second losses. This is one of those games where it literally came down to the final play.
The final play was Williams whiffing on the simplest of tackles. There’s no reason to go over anything else that happened in the game. Not really. If Williams makes the easy tackle, the game’s over, and the Saints head to the NFC Championship in Philadelphia.
He didn’t make the tackle. Minnesota is the team with a shot to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl 52. The Saints? They get go home and decide if they want to pay $25 million next season to their 39-year-old hall of fame quarterback.
Score: Vikings 29, Saints 24