NFL Divisional Round Playoff Picks
4:35pm EST – Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles; Line: Falcons by 3
Danny’s pick: I think this is the most difficult game to pick. I picked the Falcons to win last week because I believe experience matters and I think the Rams are a little overrated as well. The Falcons have all the tools to return to the Super Bowl, however they have underachieved most of the season and seemed to crumble against good competition when it mattered most. The Eagles have not been the same since losing Carson Wentz about a month ago. Nick Foles has had moments of brilliance, but his performance thus far has given Philly very little reason to have high hopes in the playoffs. Despite the grounding of Philly’s offense, the defense has been solid all season. The Eagles have a strong front seven led by Fletcher Cox. They have the ability to get after the QB and they will be playing at home in the wind. If the Eagles can a get a run game going, I could easily see them pulling this game out. Meanwhile they are playing against a dome team in the elements coming off a week of rest. I should have a little more faith in Dan Quinn and Matt Ryan, but I think the Eagles will make just enough plays to get to championship round. Eagles 24, Falcons 20
Brad’s pick: Atlanta proved me wrong last week by going to LA and taking down the favored Rams, but they face a different test this week as they are no longer the underdog. It’s been more than a month since Philly last put together a good game—the Week 14 win at LA that cost Carson Wentz his season and a crack at MVP—but coming out of the bye week, I expect the Eagles to have regained at least some of their composure. Coach Pederson will have a sound game plan in place to lean on the defense and protect Nick Foles. If they can avoid getting into a shootout with the Falcons, I think Philly has a chance to spring the upset, but, at the end of the day, you’re still talking about Foles getting the best of Matt Ryan in a one possession game. Philadelphia shows up with a lot of heart, but Atlanta moves one step closer to a Super Bowl return. Falcons 20, Eagles 17
Chris’s pick: Make no mistake, this game isn’t over without starting quarterback Carson Wentz. We’ve seen flashes from backup Nick Foles, but in recent weeks the Eagles have fallen far short of expectations. There is a different vibe on this team without their QB1 and while I’m sure they get along just fine with Foles, it’s going to be an uphill battle. This appears to be a Falcons offense that is finding their stride in the playoffs, and just one year removed from a tremendous amount of success I think they’ll continue that level of play against the Eagles. The key component for the Falcons’ success, in my mind, continues to be their speedy defense and the high level they’re playing at. I think this is a better defense than we saw last year, and they might be looking to make me eat my words from earlier in the season.
For much of the year, I’ve said the Falcons are dead to me after a poor performance against the Patriots. I’ve also said I believe the Eagles are on the downward slope and they might be another example of one playoff opportunity and done. This is probably my toughest pick of the year, but I have to lean towards experience and the enormous chip on the shoulder of this Falcon’s defense. Matt Ryan made some big mistakes that cost them the Super Bowl last season, but ultimately we remember this defense giving up an unheard of number of points in the final quarter and a half. They probably see it that way, too. Falcons 28, Eagles 21
8:15pm EST – Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots; Line: Pats by 13.
Danny’s pick: Again, I believe experience matters and it matters most at the QB position. Marcus Mariota surprised me last week against the Chiefs but I just don’t see him having a repeat performance against a Bill Belichick-led team with an extra week to prepare. Brady meanwhile will be on the war path after the rumors that have been spreading about intra-office turmoil in Foxboro. Add in the disparity in experience between the two QBs and the frigid temperatures in the North East and I don’t think this game will be close. I expect this game to be out of hand by half-time. Patriots 38, Titans 21
Brad’s pick: As has been very well documented this week, Tennessee authored an all-time playoff comeback last week at Arrowhead Stadium to extend KC’s playoff misery. The 19-0 second half they played was certainly aided by a Chiefs letdown, but, even so, you have to think the Titans enter this week’s game brimming with confidence and playing with nothing but house money. I think that helps Tennessee avoid any major jitters to begin the game, but who knows how they’ll react when they hit some adversity? For that reason I have to go with the tried and true Patriots here. Additionally, no team in the modern era has better worn the “Eff You” mantel and this is the first time the Pats will be taking the field since the release of the Wickersham article. I think this is a statement game for New England who wins handily at home. Patriots 34, Titans 13
Chris’s pick: For every good comeback, there are a dozen things in hindsight that probably shouldn’t have happened. Or put another way, for all the good plays, you need a little luck (read: break). Mariota caught his own touchdown, the Chiefs forgot they had the leading NFL rusher, Kelce went out in the first half. I’m not making excuses for the Chiefs, I’m just pointing out things that aren’t going to factor into today’s game. Tom Brady throws plenty of touchdowns to his receivers, he won’t be throwing any of them to himself accidentally or otherwise. If Gronk goes down, Tom Brady has proven he can win with just about anybody. And it’s not very often we hear anyone criticize a Bill Belichick-led offense for any of the decisions it makes; we probably won’t start today. With that said, the Titans feel pretty reminiscent of that 2010 New York Jets team in that they have a defense and a fantastic run game, and a quarterback playing decently. It feels somewhat disingenuous to say Mariota has played well recently, we’ve been criticizing the Titans all season for how they’ve managed to arrive in this position, but it also feels wrong to say Mark Sanchez is on his level. This Patriots defense feels like the weak point to me in this game, but it’s hard to bet against Tom Brady playing against Marcus Mariota. Patriots 28, Titans 24.
1:05pm EST – Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers; Line: Steelers by 7
Danny’s pick: I love what the Jags have done with their defense. They have an incredible front seven and two great corners that can lock down just about anybody. If there is one weakness with this defense it is at safety. The safeties play good football, but they are a tad slow for the position. If you can somehow buy your QB some time, there are plays to be had over the top. That being said, the Jags’ pass rush can get home as fast as anyone in the league, especially if they can force teams into obvious passing situations. That is why it is so important for the Steelers to stay on schedule on offense. Ben Roethlisberger will be looking to redeem himself against a Jags defense that made him look washed up earlier this season. On the other side of the ball, Blake Bortles is a mess. He played well down the stretch in the regular season and then quickly reverted to form against Buffalo last week. If the Jags had Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, or Teddy Bridgewater (none of whom have much playoff experience) I would pick them against this Steelers team, but with Bortles I don’t think this is close. Roethlisberger just has to make sure he doesn’t lose this game and the Steelers will be fine. Steelers 28, Jaguars 10
Brad’s pick: I foretold this matchup like 2 months ago if you can believe it and, lo and behold, it has come to pass. The Jaguars are a fun story and I think the defense is built to last with only Paul Posluszny and Calais Campbell on the wrong side of 30, but the way the offense looked at home last week makes this a hard sell. No matter what other factors you put in front of me—LeVeon Bell’s impending contract situation, Big Ben’s retirement threats, past game results, etc.—I will always come back to one simple truth: I do not believe that Blake Bortles can be the winning quarterback in two consecutive playoff games. Steelers 27, Jaguars 14
Chris’s pick: If ever there felt like an upset, it’s definitely going to come from a defense like this. I know this Steelers team has the most balanced offense in football, but I have an unsettling feeling that we’re not going to see that on Sunday. I don’t know what Antonio Brown we’re going to get, he’s dealing with an injury leading into this weekend and that might rear it’s ugly head at some point. Big Ben isn’t getting any younger and he’s proven breakable in the past, and while I hope that’s not a factor to deal with, this Jacksonville defense gets after quarterbacks like no other. This could very well be a Ravens-esque type run from Jacksonville and I’m not seeing how Blake Bortles is going to fall on his face against this Steelers defense. They’re a tough team, but I can’t get the image of Brett Hundley throwing for three touchdowns and 245 yards on this team. With no Shazier, anything seems possible and I think this is a match up many might be a bit over confident about. I’m going against the grain in this one. Steelers 24, Jaguars 27.
4:40pm EST – New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings; Line: Vikes by 5
Danny’s pick: At mid-season I picked the Saints to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I love what they’ve done this season. They have embraced the physicality of the game playing strong defense and running the football. Drew Brees has continued his stellar play at age 39. A week ago I would have taken the Saints in this game, but the loss of Andrus Peat makes me question how well the Saints’ offensive front will handle a strong Vikings front seven. I love the Vikings’ front defense. They have playmakers at every level. They physically impose themselves on their competition and they play sound, fundamental football. On offense the Vikings compliment the defense, running the football with Case Keenum making enough plays to keep the opposing defense off balance. This will probably be the best game of the weekend and one everyone should try and carve out some time to watch. I think Vikings fans will be out of their mind want to exact revenge for Bountygate. The Vikes will win in a close one. Vikings 24, Saints 23
Brad’s pick: I’m glad the scheduling department saved this one for last because it’s easily the juiciest game of the weekend. We’ve been reminded all week about the Bountygate game, but it’s hard to imagine anyone on the field will really care about that come Sunday (the fans, on the other hand, will be bloodthirsty). The Saints will find it tough to run the ball once again this week, which places the pressure squarely on a depleted offensive line, and if they can’t keep Brees’ jersey clean it will be a long afternoon. The Vikes may take some time to impose their will, but I think they eventually suffocate the Saints with the kind of brutal efficiency they’ve benefited from all year. Vikings 27, Saints 20
Chris’s pick: This is probably my favorite match up of the weekend. I really enjoy watching Drew Brees and this Saints team play. They’re going to have their biggest test of the post-season as they try and beat one of the toughest defenses in the league. We also get to see if Case Keenum continues to have success in the quarterback position. He lacks the experience of Drew Brees (most quarterbacks do) and this Vikings team has had some extra time off. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for the young quarterback, but I think this game comes down to how successful the Vikings veteran defense is at handling an explosive offense with rookie sensation, Alvin Kamara. I’m an admitted Packers fan, but this isn’t a Super Bowl pick, so I feel I have no reason to pick against them at this point. But that doesn’t really matter here; I like the experienced Drew Brees over the steady hand of Case Keenum. Vikings 17, Saints 24.