NFL Divisional Round Preview: Who’s going to Championship weekend?
As we get further into the NFL playoffs we’ve got some great games ahead of us. Before I talk about this weekend coming up I want to say congratulations to the teams that won on wild card weekend. With saying that, this is when the real contenders get to come into play. Personally I think the divisional round is where some of the best football is played all year. This preview is going to touch upon what each team is going to have to do to make it to the next round, then at the end I’ll put my picks for each game. Going in chronological order, here’s what I think about each game this weekend.
#6 Seed. Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Seed. Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, January 13th @ 4:35 PM on NBC
Atlanta’s win condition: Atlanta played extremely well last week against the Rams, they executed an intelligent game plan with a high focus on controlling the clock and taking care of the ball. This week I expect them to have to do something similar to win in Philly. Without Carson Wentz on the other sideline all the Falcons have to worry about is taking care of the ball on offense. The defensive side for the Falcons should have a pretty easy time slowing down Nick Foles who has struggled to replace the Eagles young stud QB.
Philadelphia’s win condition: The Eagles have home field advantage in this game and they’re going to need it. In order to win this game the Eagles are going to have play the field position game through their defense and special teams as well as create turnovers. With a struggling offense they will need as many opportunities to score. On the offensive side of the ball they are going to have to take risks down the field with Alshon Jeffery in one on one opportunities.
My pick: Falcons 24, Eagles 17. The Falcons control their own fate in this game, if they can take care of the ball they should have no problem winning.
#5 Seed. Tennessee Titans @ #1 Seed. New England Patriots
Saturday, January 13th @ 8:15 PM on CBS
Tennessee’s win condition: The Titans won an extremely close game in Kansas City last weekend and they deserved every bit of it. However this week is going to be tremendously more difficult. In order to win this game the Titans are going to need a lot of things to go their way. On the offensive side of the ball they need to get the run going early, and control the clock. The best way to beat Tom Brady is to keep him off the field and control the pace of the game. On the Defensive side of the ball they need to be able to slow down Dion Lewis, and create turnovers. Honestly even with doing both of those things I’m sure Brady would orchestrate a performance to put the Titans away. It’s hard to give Tennessee a chance in this game.
New England’s win condition: The Patriots come into this game well rested and ready to go. To win this game they have to do what they’ve been doing all year, which is pretty much just step on the field and play. The Titans will probably be keying on the run this game so the Patriots will have to get their receivers and Gronk involved early to clear the box for their running backs. On the defensive side of the ball they just have to slow down the run game and make Marcus Mariota beat them through the air. The Patriots want a fast paced game here because Mariota has struggled all season with turnovers and can’t compete with Brady in a high scoring game.
My pick: Patriots 31, Titans 18. In the end the Patriots are just a higher caliber team than the Titans and that will be proven this weekend when they advance to the AFC championship.
#3 Seed. Jacksonville Jaguars @ #2 Seed. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, January 14th @ 1:05 PM on CBS
Jacksonville’s win condition: DEFENSE DEFENSE DEFENSE! That’s what they’re going to need to win this game. If they can throttle Big Ben and the Steelers offense the way they did in their last matchup then the Jags should be able to win this game. On the offensive side of the ball they need Bortles to take care of the ball, which means no careless mistakes like forcing throws or getting too cocky on scrambles and fumbling the ball. On defense they need to have Jalen Ramsay and a safety on Antonio Brown’s side of the field at all times. I don’t care how good Ramsay is, if Antonio Brown is out there one on one Ben is throwing him the ball, and he will most likely come down with it.
Pittsburgh’s win condition: To win this game the Steelers are going to need to dominate the Jags at the line of scrimmage. Both offensively and defensively the big guys are going to control this game. If Pittsburgh can get Le’Veon Bell going by pushing the Jags front 7 around then they can win this game. On the defensive side of the ball they need to be able to keep Leonard Fournette down and make Bortles beat them through the air. The run game will play such a pivotal role in this game I think whoever has more rushing yards will win.
My pick: Jaguars 23, Steelers 20. I’m going with the underdog in this one, I love watching good defenses play and I think the Jags are one of the best ones I’ve seen in a while (besides the 2013 Seahawks). Ultimately I think the Jags defense just makes a few more plays than the Steelers offense and that will lead to the Jaguars advancement to the AFC championship.
#4 Seed. New Orleans Saints @ #2 Seed. Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, January 14th @ 4:40 PM on FOX
New Orleans’ win condition: The Saints have improved a tremendous amount since their loss to the Vikings in week 1. I think the biggest factor for their victory this Sunday is control of field position. This game is going to be a defensive battle and I think scores are going to be hard to come by. By controlling the clock and where the Vikings get the ball they can secure a trip to the NFC championship. What to watch for in particular is the Saints usage of the screen game. If they can get Alvin Kamara into space on a Vikings blitz, it will result in a huge game deciding play.
Minnesota’s win condition: Similar to Pittsburgh I think in order to win the Vikings are going to have to control the line of scrimmage. On offense the Vikings are going to need to get the run game going to allow their pass game to open up with play action. Defensively they’re going to have to key in on Alvin Kamara and the run game. If they can force the Saints into 3rd and long plays then the Vikings will be in a good position to win this game.
My pick: Vikings 17, Saints 14. This has the potential to be the best game of the year, and I think that’s exactly what were going to get. In a game that’s probably going to come down to one play, I think the Vikings take it in the final seconds.
Written by: Jon Tetreault ( @jtetreault13 )