2018 NFL Divisonal Round Preview

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans, Tennessee, Atlanta, and Jacksonville all moved on from their Wildcard Round games. The Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 31 to 26. The Titans upset the Kansas City Chiefs 22 to 21. The Atlanta Falcons beat the L.A. Rams in La-La-Land 26 to 13 while the Jacksonville Jaguars used their stingy defense to hold Buffalo to 3 points in a 10 to 3 win over the Bills.

Can the 4 Wildcard Round winners keep it up? If they do, it won’t be easy. Only one of the Wildcard Round winners, the Atlanta Falcons, head to the 2018 NFL Divisional Round as a favorite. The Falcons are -3 favorites over backup QB Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. Can Philly come up with a game plan to stop the Falcons’ offense?

Check out a preview of all 4 NFL Divisional Round Playoff Games!

2018 NFL Divisonal Round Preview

Saturday, Jan. 13

Atlanta Falcons -3 at Philadelphia Eagles +3

When:  4:35 pm ET

Preview: After Nick Foles first game replacing Carson Wentz as the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback, it appeared as if Philly’s winning machine would keep rolling along. Foles completed 24 out of 38 for 237 yards. He tossed 4 TD passes. The Eagles rushed for 108 yards from 27 carries. All seemed right in the world as the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 34 to 29.

But, all wasn’t right in the world. First, Foles had only completed 24 of 38 versus one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Second, the Eagles defense had allowed the Giants to score 29 points. The Giants are the second worst team in the NFL after the Cleveland Browns. The G-Men are so bad that the organization fired it’s general manager and head coach in the middle of the season.

Foles was much worse in his second game as the Eagles starter. Versus an Oakland Raiders team that had already been eliminated from the playoffs, Foles completed 19 of 38 for 163 yards. He threw a TD. He threw a pick. Foles was bad enough that the Raiders’ D was able to key in on Philly’s rushing attack. Oakland held the Eagles to 78 rushing yards. 

That’s the real reason I love Atlanta at -3 versus the Eagles on Saturday. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that Philly’s going to go back to rushing the football, and playing defense. That’s all well and good. At some point during this game, Foles is going to have to make a hard throw, though. Will he succeed? I don’t believe he will.

Atlanta’s defense has been one of the best units in the NFL the past couple of weeks. The Falcons held Carolina to only 10 points in Week 17. Holding the Rams to only 13 points is flat out brilliant. The Falcons could dominate the Eagles’ offense while the Eagles’ defense hasn’t exactly been a shut down unit lately.

I think the Falcons roll.

Pick: Atlanta Falcons -3

Tennessee Titans +13.5 at New England Patriots -13.5

When:  8:15 pm ET

Preview: How good are the Tennessee Titans? I believe they’re much better than anyone thought they were. Two things occurred in the Titans stunning 22 to 21 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wildcard Round.

First, QB Marcus Mariota turned the page on his career. All great quarterbacks need a signature win to get them closer to elite status. Mariota’s comeback win over the Chiefs might have put him into elite status. He engineered an over 8 minute drive that ended in a touchdown to start the second half. Also, he threw a 6-yard TD pass to himself. He threw a 22-yard TD pass to veteran wide receiver Eric Decker with just over 6 minutes to play that gave the Titans the lead for good.

Second, Tennessee’s defense stepped it up against both the rush and the pass. The Titans held the Kansas City Chiefs to 69 rushing yards from 16 carries. The Titans dominated Alex Smith and KC’s passing attack in the second half.

A third thing also happened. Because RB DeMarco Murray couldn’t play due to an injury, second-year running back Derrick Henry got the carries he needed to have a huge impact on the game. Henry rushed for 156 yards from 23 attempts. He scored a rushing TD.

I get that the New England Patriots are 8 to 5 favorites to win Super Bowl 52. But, this is a much different Tennessee Titans team than the one in the regular season. The Titans have a big shot to beat the Patriots straight up on Saturday.

Taking the points is a no-brainer.

Pick: Tennessee Titans +13.5

Sunday, Jan. 14

Jacksonville Jaguars +7.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5

When:  1:05 pm ET

Preview: The Jacksonville Jaguars used a crazy stingy defense to hold Buffalo to only 3 points in a 10 to 3 Wildcard Round win. The Jags must now battle the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. The two teams have already played this season, and it wasn’t even close.

The last game ended with Jacksonville at 30 points, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 9 points. In that matchup, the Jags picked off QB Ben Roethlisberger 5 times. They held Pitt’s rushing attack to 70 yards from 20 carries. Although it’s difficult to see Pitt getting blown out again by the young Jags, it makes total sense to believe that Jacksonville keeps this battle much closer than 8 points.

The biggest problem I have with the Steelers is their defense. On the surface, Pittsburgh’s defense appears well-suited for the second go around against the Jaguars’ offense. The Steelers allow 306.9 total yards per game. That ranks fifth in the NFL. Pitt allows only 105.8 rushing yards per. That ranks 10th in the NFL. If the Jags attempt to unleash Blake Bortles and the passing game, Pitt should have an answer. The Steelers only allow 201.1 passing yards per.

But, although the stats appear to favor Pitt’s defense, recent play from the Steelers’ defense gives a different impression. QB Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens offense racked up 38 points against Pitt’s D on Dec. 10. A week later, the New England Patriots scored 27 points. Two weeks after that, in Week 17, the Cleveland Browns scored 24.

The thing about the Jaguars is that their offense only needs to score more points then their defense allows their opponents to score. That’s how the Jags were able to win last Sunday after scoring only 10 points.

The Jaguars’ defense allows less than 170 passing yards per game. Jacksonville could provide a money line upset in this game in the Divisional Round. I’m definitely taking the points.     

Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars +7.5 

New Orleans Saints +4 at Minnesota Vikings -4

When:  4:40 pm ET

Preview: At first glance, it’s difficult to tell how things are going to change for the New Orleans Saints. In Week 1, as a +3 dog, the Minnesota Vikings held the Saints to under 20 points in a fantastic 29 to 19 win. The Vikings dominated New Orleans in every phase of the game. Minnesota’s win set the tone. The Vikings developed the best defense in the NFL, and QB Case Keenum become one of the most reliable signal-callers in the league. All of it has added up to the Vikings being a 3 to 1 choice to win Super Bowl 52.

For the Saints, the loss led to a Week 2 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. Then, the light bulb went off. New Orleans became one of the best teams in the NFL as well. How? The Saints developed a fearsome rushing attack to go with a fearsome defense, and New Orleans did it while playing one of the toughest schedules in the NFL.

Not only did the Saints play Atlanta and Carolina each twice this season, they also took on the L.A. Rams, New England Patriots, Sunday’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Buffalo Bills. That’s 8 games of 16 that the Saints played against teams that made it to the playoffs.

That’s also the reason I like New Orleans straight up. As well as Keenum played during the regular season, he wasn’t as battle-tested as the New Orleans’ defense. Make no mistake, Keenum will have to throw the football to beat Saints’ D.

I’ll take the battle-tested defense over the unproven playoff quarterback any day of the week.

Pick: New Orleans Saints +4 

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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