NFL Divisional Round Playoff AAR

Brad says the youngsters won, but there’s one old man left. Here’s what happened this weekend.

Saturday Games

4:35pm EST – Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles; Line: Falcons by 3

Outcome: Eagles 15, Falcons 10

Danny’s Pick: Eagles 24, Falcons 20

I’ve talked a lot about how I believe that experience matters and I really do believe that, but the Falcons have been too inconsistent this season to expect them to win back to back playoff games on the road. At the end of the day this game came down to the Eagles’ defense playing in conditions that were meant for defensive football. The Eagles’ defense was overshadowed for so much of the year by Carson Wentz and the offense leaving many to forget just how good Fletcher Cox, Malcom Jenkins, and the rest of that Philly defense are. The Eagles were able to gash the Falcons in the first half on the ground and that opened up the defense to allow Nick Foles to make just enough plays to win this game.

Outcome: Eagles 15, Falcons 10

Brad’s Pick: Falcons 20, Eagles 17

Well, I wasn’t too far off on the totals, but I was certainly wrong about Atlanta winning on the road for the second straight week. Foles did juuuuuuuust enough and the Iggles’ defense stood tall. Our friends at The Ringer wrote that Doug Pederson engineered the perfect game plan to aid his limited QB, and it’s hard to argue with that, but Philly got contributions from all over the place with eight players recording a reception and four players getting a handoff. Julio Jones played a good game for Atlanta, but inconsistency in the running game made everything harder for the Falcons offense. Freeman carried the ball 10 times for seven yards. Yeah, you read that correctly. Congrats to Philly for proving so many of us wrong.

Outcome: Eagles 15, Falcons 10

Chris’s Pick: Falcons 28, Eagles 21

Chris’s take: Julio Jones. Matt Ryan. Devonta Freeman. Tevin Coleman. Mohammad Sanu. The DNA for the league’s best offense last season, couldn’t scrape together 16 points to beat the Philadelphia Eagles for a chance at the NFC Championship. I should say this is an upset, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it, and the Eagles did finish the season with a better record, thanks to Carson Wentz. The Falcons have been dead to me for a long time, but this is a new low. Their defense showed up to play, limiting Nick Foles and this Eagle’s offense to just 15 points through four quarters. Jay Ajayi rushed for just 54 yards, 48 of them coming in the first quarter, and some think he had a good game. He finished with 98 all-purpose yards, and he provided a much-needed outlet for Nick Foles when it counted, including a 32-yard gallop after a catch in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles are in trouble if this is the offense that comes to play next week. Matt Ryan and company are back to padding their stats and missing any meaningful post-season play, and with that, my prediction from Week 6 comes true. The Falcons have missed the NFC Championship, and I don’t see them making it back anytime soon.

8:15pm EST – Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots; Line: Pats by 13.

Outcome: Patriots 35, Titans 14

Danny’s Pick: Patriots 38, Titans 21

No surprises here. The Patriots were too talented for an underachieving Titans team that in many ways had no business winning on the road the previous week. The Patriots moved the ball at will and capitalized on the Titans’ mistakes to put this game in the bag by halftime. I’ll give the Titans credit in making this game competitive in the first quarter. I honestly thought this game was going to be a snoozer from start to finish. We learned that Marcus Mariota still has a way to go before he is going to be leading teams deep into the playoffs.

Outcome: Patriots 35, Titans 14

Brad’s Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 13

I couldn’t have been much closer with my prediction here and I will definitely take credit for that since I did such a bad job on forecasting the other games. This was the same brand of vanilla we’re used to from the Pats. They threw the ball 53 times, but there was a lot of “take what the defense gives you” within that scheme; namely short passes that work as an extension of the running game. After marching down the field to take a 7-0 lead toward the end of the first quarter, Tennessee didn’t get much else going the rest of the day. The Titans weren’t bad, but they weren’t good, which is what we have come to expect from them this season as well. Status quo all around Saturday night in Foxboro.

Outcome: Patriots 35, Titans 14

Chris’s Pick: Patriots 28, Titans 24. 

Chris’s take: I thought this felt like a potential upset, but in the end, I didn’t think the Titans were going to get the same breaks they had against the Chiefs. The Patriots played solid football and made this one a no-contest. I had hoped for a closer scoreline, to see if Tom Brady would show signs of age, but he was for the most part efficient and the Brady we all know. Danny and Brad called this one and even had a scoreline in the ballpark, so kudos to them.

Sunday Games

1:05pm EST – Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers; Line: Steelers by 7

Outcome: Steelers 42, Jaguars 45

Danny’s Pick: Steelers 28, Jaguars 10

This Jaguars team is a blueprint for how to win with a mediocre quarterback. They have a dominant defense, a strong running game, and strong special teams. The suffocating defense allows an offense little margin of error and again Ben Roethlisberger did not take them seriously enough throwing an early pick that led to them falling behind. The Steelers defense showed that it has been unable to recover from the costly injury to Ryan Shazier against the Bengals. The Steelers struggled to stop a Jaguars offense that barely mustered 10 points the previous week. While some of this could be attributed to the Steelers looking ahead to a rematch with the Patriots, it also points to some deeper problems with depth and game planning. Despite all of this, the Steelers had a chance to pull this game off but Mike Tomlin made several important coaching errors late in the game that likely cost them a chance at the end.

Outcome: Steelers 42, Jaguars 45

Brad’s Pick: Steelers 27, Jaguars 14

The overconfident and poorly prepared Steelers slept through the first 20 minutes of this football game and only woke up when they found themselves down 21-0 to the NFL’s 4th highest scoring regular season offense. They fought valiantly, but in the end just conceded too many points to hope to win. In studying this match up beforehand I assumed that the Steelers would take the Jags seriously after the vicious beatdown they received from Jacksonville earlier in the season, but the offense made more of the same mistakes allowing the Jaguar defense to get on the board. Coach Mike Tomlin is catching a lot of flack for this loss and I think it’s fair. The preparation part may or may not be his fault, but the in game decision making was pretty bad. I don’t think he should be fired as a glance at his resume clearly reveals that you won’t find a better option out there, but he’s not as untouchable today as he was this time last week.

Outcome: Steelers 42, Jaguars 45

Chris’s Pick: Steelers 24, Jaguars 27.

Chris’s take: I thought this was going to be an upset and it turned out to be true. The Jaguars came through defensively, though a glance at the stat sheet leaves you questioning how? Big Ben had a fantastic game, marred by a couple of early errant throws, but he kept this Steelers team fighting down the stretch. An injured Antonio Brown left it out on the field and made some spectacular plays, alongside Martavius Bryant, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Le’Veon Bell was electric, so how did the Steelers lose?

Playoff games often come down to small mistakes, and while I do think Mike Tomlin’s calls look bad under a microscope, we would obviously be singing a different tune if they had panned out. The most glaring being an onside kick that ended giving the Jaguars excellent field position late in the game. He didn’t seem to trust his defense, but why would he? They gave up 42 points to Blake Bortles and the Jaguars.

4:40pm EST – New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings; Line: Vikes by 5

Outcome: Vikings 29, Saints 24

Danny’s Pick: Vikings 24, Saints 23

That will likely be the most entertaining fourth quarters we’ll see this playoff season. While a lot of attention will be paid to the exhilarating end of the game, we should focus on how Minnesota built the lead that allowed this team to hang on for the win. In the first half, the Vikings were able to out-physical their opponent. The Saints had no answers for a Vikings defense that suffocated Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram at every turn. By the time, the Saints got on the board the Vikings already had a 17 point advantage. The Saints may be the better team, but by the time they made the necessary adjustments the game was close to spiraling out of control. I personally felt (and still feel) that this year’s Super Bowl champion was going to be the winner of this game. They were the two most balanced teams left in the field. It’s a shame we can’t see them play again in three weeks.

Outcome: Vikings 29, Saints 24

Brad’s Pick: Vikings 27, Saints 20

We thought that the schedule makers saved the best for last and we were right. Two talented teams played a hotly contested game and it was a shame that someone had to lose, but the Vikings had just a little more magic in the fourth quarter. New Orleans relied on its rookies a lot this year and, in the end, it may have been some of that inexperience that cost them, but it was a charmed season that I don’t think they would trade. The Saints deserve a lot of credit for not folding when they found themselves down 17-0 at halftime. However, the play of the day belonged to Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs who won’t soon forget the play Viking faithful are gleefully calling “Seven Heaven” in homage to the #7 worn by their QB. As I wrote yesterday, Minnesota would make history with a win in Philly next week by being the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Outcome: Vikings 29, Saints 24

Chris’s Pick: Vikings 17, Saints 24.

Chris’s take: Drew Brees is the consummate professional, and I hate that he has to be. The experienced quarterback I espoused last week did exactly what I thought he would do, he didn’t panic, he just led his team down the field with under three minutes to go and put them on top late. The Saints were seconds from advancing over Case Keenum and the Vikings, and the inexperience of a good player reared it’s ugly head and gifted the game to the Vikes. I truly hope Marcus Williams is able to forget this play and not let it define his career, I’m sure Brees has said as much to him, but for now, he cost Brees a chance at another Super Bowl because he couldn’t rise to the occasion. The moment was too big for him to handle and that’s a shame. I should say, I’m a Packers fan. If you’ve read our material up to this point, you probably know that, but I think there’s a misconception, ahem, Brad, that the youngsters won the war. They certainly came out on top this weekend, but the ageless one remains undefeated and I’m not sure anyone is going to bet against him.