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NFL Playoff Picks and Predictions: Divisional Round Matchups January 13-14, 2018

NFL Playoff Picks and Predictions: Divisional Round Matchups January 13-14, 2018: The first weekend of the NFL playoffs is in the books, and the Wild Card Round trimmed the field of 12 to a field of eight. The action continues this weekend with the Divisional Round, and after receiving byes, the top two seeds in each conference will enter the mix.

In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans will try to follow up their upset of the Kansas City Chiefs when they face the top-seeded and Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots. The other matchup features the Jacksonville Jaguars, fresh off an ugly win over the Buffalo Bills, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over in the NFC, the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles are set to take on the defending conference champion Atlanta Falcons, and the New Orleans Saints will face the Minnesota Vikings.

Here is a closer look at all four Divisional Round matchups, along with my predictions for each.

NFL Playoff Picks and Predictions: Divisional Round Matchups January 13-14, 2018

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are the No. 1 seed in the NFC and are playing at home, but there is a reason that Falcons are favored. With Nick Foles starting in place of the injured Carson Wentz, Philadelphia managed a combined 25 points over the final two weeks, and the running game all but disappeared. The defense was also inconsistent down the stretch, allowing big games to Jared Goff and Eli Manning over the final four weeks. On the flip side, Atlanta’s defense has been on the upswing, and they grounded the top-ranked offense of the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card Round. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and company would have been a dangerous No. 6 seed even if the Eagles were at full strength. Without Wentz to lead the attack, the Falcons will move on.

Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (-3) Cover the Spread

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

Although this is a huge spread for a playoff game, it is more than justifiable given the circumstances. Yes, the Titans found a way to beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, but the Chiefs blowing home playoff games is par for the course. On the other hand, the Patriots don’t lose at Foxboro, especially in the playoffs. Tom Brady is playing at an MVP level, and Rob Gronkowski is as healthy as he has been this late in the year in quite some time. Tennessee will do its best to slow the pace by pounding Derrick Henry, but New England will force Marcus Mariota to beat them, and he threw more interceptions than touchdowns this season. The Titans just aren’t going to be able to keep pace with the Brady and company, and this one should get ugly in the second half.

Prediction: New England Patriots (-13.5) Cover the Spread

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

Yes, the Jaguars went into Pittsburgh earlier this year and clobbered the Steelers 30-9, picking off Ben Roethlisberger five times, but that is going to mean absolutely nothing come Sunday. Roethlisberger has been locked in down the stretch, and while Antonio Brown may be a little less than 100 percent, his injury allowed rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster to develop as a big-play weapon in his own right. On the flips side, Blake Bortles looked incompetent as a passer in the Wild Card round, allowing a bad Buffalo run defense to hold Leonard Fournette in check. You can bet that Pittsburgh is going to sell out to stop the run, as well. Running the ball and playing elite defense has carried the Jaguars this far, but the Steelers have the superior offensive firepower, and Roethlisberger isn’t going to gift wrap another game for Jacksonville.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5) Cover the Spread

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

A lot has changed since the Vikings beat the Saints 29-19 early in the regular season. In that meeting, Sam Bradford torched the Saints for 346 yards and three scores, and Adrian Peterson was still part of the New Orleans backfield. Fast forward several months, and an injured Bradford has been replaced by the surprising Case Keenum, and the Saints shipped out Peterson, paving the way for the dynamic backfield combo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Granted, Minnesota ranks first in just about every conceivable defensive category, but New Orleans has improved a lot on the defensive side of the ball, and Drew Brees is leading arguably the most balanced offensive attack in the league. I expect this to be a lower-scoring game, especially by New Orleans’ standards, but with the pressure at an all-time high, I have a feeling that Keenum is going to look a lot more like the journeyman he was throughout his career, rather than the quality starter he has been this year. I’ll take Brees and four points.

Prediction: New Orleans Saints (+4) Cover the Spread

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