NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Rounds

Atlanta Falcons -3 at Philadelphia Eagles

The Atlanta Falcons proved last week that experience does play a factor in the playoffs. This week they head into Philly with a chance to take down the NFC’s top seed.  Betting lines opened favoring the the 6th seeded Falcons.

The main reason the Falcons will be favored this weekend is the Quarterback position.  The evolution of the Quarterback position puts the Eagles at a disadvantage. Over the past half-decade the NFL has seen deliberate, slow-twitch pocket passers virtually disappear from the landscape. Over the last two weeks of the regular season Nick Foles showed no confidence in his pre-snap decision making.  The evolution of the play extending Quarterback has changed the way the game is played.  While Foles is a serviceable backup his inability to adjust at the line and extend plays has caused a change in the offense for Philly.  The Eagles have been unable to adjust their style of play from the Carson Wentz style to the Nick Foles style. With the emergence of the Falcons Dieon Jones and the tanacity of pass rusher Vic Beasley Nick Foles will be forced to make quick decisions that will not pay off.

Matt Ryan’s confidence has grown over the last three weeks of play, the reigning MVP will head into Saturday’s matchup on his hottest streak of the season.  Multiple offensive weapons will be at Ryan’s disposal which will spread a suspect Eagles secondary very thin.  The best chance the Eagles defense will have will be to put as much pressure as possible on Ryan.  Dynamic backfield playmakers Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will give Ryan the ability to bootleg and make short passing plays, eventually leading to openings downfield.

 James Caldwell: Falcons    Matt Boeding: Falcons (Take Falcons to cover)

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots -13.5

Tennessee shocked the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round setting up a matchup with the #1 seeded New England Patriots.  The Titans enter this game with all the momentum in the world, Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariotta showed up in the second half last week while the defense shut down rookie of the year candidate Kareem Hunt.  The problem that faces the Titans on Saturday is the Patriots have a bit of a different playoff history then the losers in Kansas City.

While Tom Brady gets most of the credit for the Patriots success, the defense has been playing very well, they have allowed a stingy 11.8 PPG over the last 5 home games. While the Patriots lack depth on the defensive front, the secondary has played at an elite level. Matt Patricia has schemed his way around the pass rushing depth masterfully.  The biggest factor in this game will be Pro Bowl Tightend Rob Gronkowski.  The Titans were being dominated by Travis Kelce last week giving up 66yards and a touchdown before Kelce left the game with a concussion.

The Titans strength is stopping the run, but Tom Brady has shown throughout his career the ability to make the right adjustments, even if the Titans find a way to get pressure New England has multiple playmakers that an be matchup problems.

James Caldwell: Patriots (Titans Cover)  Matt Boeding: Patriots (Pats Cover)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5

Sunday features the two most intriguing games of the weekend.  The first will see the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.  The Steelers will have revenge on their mind as they were embarrassed by the Jacksonville at home 30-9 in week five. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin stated the team has “evolved” since the beatdown.

The Steelers evolution will have to based around stopping the run as Jacksonville will look to run early and often.  Leonard Fournette torched the Steelers defense for over 160 yards and two touchdowns in their early season showdown.  The Steelers will continue to be without defensive leader Ryan Shazier which will impact he middle for Pittsburgh.  Look for Pittsburgh to do everything they can to clog up the running lanes and force Blake Bortles to beat them through the air. Bortles has dynamic young receivers on the outside but he has not shown the ability to takeover the game.

The Steelers will have to protect their franchise Quarterback on Sunday.  Antonio Brown’s calf injury will slow him no matter what he is telling people.  Big Ben will have to be given time to find his dynamic playmakers.  Le’Veon Bell is the key to success for this game, if he goes for 100 on the ground the Steelers will roll. Take into account that it will be very cold on Sunday in Pittsburgh.  Florida teams traditionally don’t play well in those type of conditions.

James Caldwell: Steelers       Matt Boeding: Steelers (Steelers cover)

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings -5

Their may be no two teams in this league that have changed more from what they were week one then the Saints and Vikings.  Adrian Peterson was pouting on the sideline, Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook had use of both of their knees and Case Keenum was a perennial backup. Fast-forward to the playoffs and now Keenum has a legitimate MVP case, Alvin Kamara is a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year and the biggest shock of all, the Saints pass defense is competent.

Sam Bradford torched the Saints for 346 yards in week one.  Case Keenum hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since week 3.  The Vikings will have to run the ball effectively to open up the passing game for Keenum.  The Saints have been much improved defense but over the last two weeks they have been giving up a lot of yards to a terrible Tampa Bay team and an at the time struggling Carolina team.  Keenum has shown he has the ability to make the throws down the stretch.

Drew Brees is a hall of famer, Kamara and Ingram are dynamic.  Most of the money is going to go towards the better QB. I love Drew Brees but the Minnesota defense makes the difference.  I see a close game here.

James Caldwell: Vikings     Matt Boeding: Saints   (Saints Cover)

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