NFL Divisional Round: 8 teams remain on the march to Super Bowl LII
By Drew Farmer
The road to Super Bowl LII has been narrowed from 12 teams to eight. The NFL Divisional round kicks off Saturday with the Atlanta Falcons traveling north to play the Philadelphia Eagles. The road to the Super Bowl will end up in Minnesota, but first, each team must earn their spot in Minneapolis for the big game on February 4.
NFL Football Games on Saturday, Jan 13th, 2018
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Falcons went into the Los Angeles and defeated the LA Rams in the Wild Card round. Although an upset, the Falcons had improved greatly going into the game. Now, a rejuvenated Atlanta go into Philadelphia to play the once invincible Eagles. Five weeks ago, few would have expected the Falcons to be in the NFL Divisional round. The team was 7-5 after week 13, and any thoughts of a return to the Super Bowl were all but forgotten. However, Matt Ryan and company won three of their last four, and qualified for the playoffs as the third NFC South team. A return to the Super Bowl is on.
After losing quarterback Carson Wentz in week 14 to injury, the Eagles finished the regular season 2-1. The team had been dominant with Wentz under center, however, Nick Foles' inconsistency has shown after taking over.
Atlanta has won three of their last four against the Eagles. Making matters worse, the Eagles have lost their last four playoff games. With a back-up quarterback and resurgent Falcons team, it looks likely to be five straight playoff losses for Philadelphia.
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots
If you believe the media this week, there is trouble in New England Patriots paradise. A clash between coach Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft has made headlines around the world. But this is the Patriots and any internal fight won't overshadow the team's professional on-field demeanor. The Pats are reigning Super Bowl champions for a reason, and the team has overcome plenty to receive the tag as favorites again this postseason.
The last time these two teams met in the NFL Playoffs was 14 years ago. The Pats won, 17-14, and Brady was New England's quarterback. New England is far more powerful than the Tennessee Titans. The Pats defense, which was poor at times in the regular season, must be careful with Titans dual threat quarterback Marcus Mariota. The quarterback threw for more than 3,200 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017. The only problem was Mariota's 15 picks. The Pats defense will be primed to stop Mariota threw the air, and Belichick will make the Titans beat them on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, Brady will be Brady. He is the leading candidate for the NFL Most Valuable Player award for a reason. The Patriots are –13 going into Saturday's game.
NFL Football Games on Sunday, Jan 14th, 2018
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars went into Heinz Field in week 5 and completely manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers. Why can't the Jags do it again in the NFL Divisional round? There is no reason Jacksonville can't, but the Steelers did reel off 10 wins from 11 games following their home defeat to the Jags.
Jacksonville didn't have the same consistency following its win over the Steelers, and the final two weeks of the regular season were abysmal. Quarterback Blake Bortels had a nightmare during the final fortnight as he threw five interceptions in two defeats. He only threw for 87 yards against Buffalo in the Wild Card round. The Jags could just as easily have been eliminated had Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor not been knocked out of the game on the Bills' final drive.
Pittsburgh on the other hand come into the game with a healthy Antonio Brown. The team's rushing attack with Le'Veon Bell is strong and the Steelers can beat the Jags through the air on the ground. Bell ran for nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. There's also Ben Roethlisberger who threw for 4,251 yards and 28 touchdowns. Roethlisberger did toss five interceptions against the Jags in week 5, but don't expect that to happen again.
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings
These two teams started the NFL regular season against each other, and for one team, they will end the 2017-18 campaign against the other. The Minnesota Vikings came out 29-19 winners in week 1 on their home turf. US Bank Stadium became a fortress for the Vikings as the team suffered just one loss in Minnesota all season.
The New Orleans Saints have relied on running back duo Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara quite heavily. The two-headed monster ran for 20 combined touchdowns in the regular season. Add in Drew Brees' 23 touchdown passes, and it's easy to see why the Saints offense was so potent.
However, the Vikings defense gave up the fewest points (15.8) and the fewest yards (275.9) per game in the regular season. The Saints will have their work cut out for them. Minnesota's overpowering defense should be able to stifle Brees and company for a second time and continue its march to Super Bowl LII.