Saturday, January 13, 2018

NFL PLAYOFFS - Divisional Round Preview

It's on to the divisional round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs as the Saturday games feature the Atlanta Falcons at the Philadelphia Eagles while the New England Patriots host the upstart Tennessee Titans. On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars are at the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints play at the Minnesota Vikings to conclude the weekend action.


Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots -  Tom Brady and the Patriots are gunning for their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance, but the Tennessee Titans won't be an easy opponent.
The Titans stunned the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, coming back from 18-point deficit to defeat the host Chiefs, 22-21 as quarterback Marcus Mariota led the way on offense along with running back Derrick Henry, who will need another big rushing performance if the Titans are going to hang with the Pats.
New England has things clicking offensively lately as the running game with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead  has been effective. In addition, tight end Rob Gronkowski is healthy and leading the receiving corps that has many options for Brady to throw to. If the Patriots get it rolling early, it could very well be a blowout win for them.
Each team's defense has stepped it up as well, especially the Patriots, who were getting lit up in the first five weeks of the season. The Titans made second half adjustments and shut out Kansas City last weekend after allowing 21 first half points.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers -  The Steelers were hammered by the Jaguars, 30-9 back in Week Five as QB Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted FIVE times, including two pick six interceptions.
But that was then and this is now so expect the Steelers to look like a completely different team this time around. Roethlisberger, along with running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receivers Antonio Brown (recovering from calf injury) and JuJu Smith -Schuster, will look to torch the vaunted Jacksonville defense, which has intercepted 21 passes to this point.
As long as the Steelers defense keeps the Jags' running game (led by rookie Leonard Fournette) in check it should be a much better outcome for them as they look forward to a rematch with the New England Patriots in the AFC title game next weekend. Plus the fact the weather will be totally different in mid-January than it was in early October in the Steel City will also be a factor that should benefit the Steelers.


Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles -  The Falcons knocked off the Los Angeles Rams rather easily last week and will look to win another one on the road this week against a Eagles team (13-3) that will not have All-Pro QB Carson Wentz (knee surgery) until next season.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will provide a stiff challenge to the Eagles defense, which has been very consistent all season long.
Reserve QB Nick Foles can do the job, but the Eagles know they have to be able to run the football with Jay Ajayi (5.8 ypc average) and LeGarrette Blount (4.4 ypc) looking to carry the load.
The Falcons have been erratic this season and if they fall into a hole early, it could be a long afternoon for them. However, they could also force the turnovers as they did last week against the Rams and that would be huge. The Eagles offense has struggled to score points since Wentz went out with the knee injury.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings -  This game could very well be the best match up of the weekend and might go down to the wire.
The Saints feature a dynamic offensive attack while the Vikings defense has been stellar all year long and will present numerous challenges to Saints QB Drew Brees and company.  Something has to give.
Brees has running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara along with wideouts Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, Jr. and they will look to solve the Vikes defense. Meanwhile, Minnesota went 11-1 after a 2-2 start and their defense has allowed just under 15 points per game during that stretch.
The Vikings offense has overcome many injuries and QB Case Keenum has enjoyed a dream season filling in for injured QBs Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater. Running backs Dalvin Cook (4.8 ypc average), Latavius Murray (3.9 ypc) and Jerick McKinnon (3.8 ypc) will be ready to pound the rock while receivers Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and (tight end) Kyle Rudolph provide solid targets for Keenum to pass the ball to.
Look for this one to possibly go down to the wire and whoever has the ball last could determine the final outcome.

The Heftyinfo predictions for the Divisional Round games  (Home teams listed in bold)

Atlanta over Philadelphia
New England over Tennessee
Pittsburgh over Jacksonville
Minnesota over New Orleans

Last week's Record -  3-1



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