The Divisional round of the NFL playoffs is often referred to as the best weekend on the pro football calendar. This weekend, eight teams will try to make the Divisional round live up to it’s name with four playoff matchups. In this special post on Charm City Bird Watch, we will break down each matchup. Each game includes a 100-word blurb and a score prediction from founder Jake McDonnell, and contributors Nolan McGraw, Tyler Feeser, and Vasilios Nikolaou.
Saturday, Jan. 13
Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons
NFC: #6 Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Philadephia Eagles – 4:35 pm – NBC
Jake: Just a few short weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were the clear-cut favorite in the NFC to reach Super Bowl 52. Without their potential MVP-caliber franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, the Eagles are left with Nick Foles, and the #6-seeded Falcons are actually favored.
The end of Philadelphia’s regular season left a lot to be desired, whereas the Falcons clinched a playoff berth by beating the Carolina Panthers. Atlanta followed that up with an impressive Wild Card win on the road against the Rams. I originally picked the Rams to win that game, but switched to Atlanta heavily due to the battle-tested experience of Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. I am using that same narrative this week to pick Atlanta. Their experience will outplay, outthink, and outlast the experiences of Doug Pederson, Foles, and company.
Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 16
Nolan: Despite finishing with one of the best records in the NFL and getting a first round bye, things are looking not so sunny in Philadelphia right now. The Eagles will be three-point underdogs this Saturday when they host Atlanta, mainly due to the loss of Carson Wentz. Since losing their star quarterback, the Eagles have averaged just 17.6 points per game while playing teams with a combined 18-30 record. I don’t see the Eagles defense stepping up and controlling the tempo of the game, which means 17 points will not be enough to beat Atlanta. Matt Ryan and the Falcons are heating up at the right time and should have no trouble taking the Eagles down.
Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 16
Tyler: Like most people, I underestimated the Falcons this past week. They looked very good while taking down the NFC West Champion Rams. They don’t quite look as dominant as they did during last season’s Super Bowl run but they are hot and that is all that matters.
Now, the Falcons travel to Philadelphia and take on the #1-seeded Eagles. The Eagles are obviously without Carson Wentz, which helps the Falcons tremendously. Since Nick Foles has taken over at QB, he has only played well in one game. That’s not to say he has played terribly either. He has thrown two interceptions in roughly two and a half games compared to five touchdown passes. With the way the Falcons offense is clicking right now, Foles is going to have to be more than just a game manager for the Eagles. He is going to need to put up points. Will he be able to against the defense that just held the league’s highest scoring offense to 13 points? I don’t think he can.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons are proving that their playoff experience and confidence is carrying them right now and I look for them to continue it into conference championship weekend.
Pick: Falcons 20, Eagles 16
Vasilios: Atlanta absolutely stunned the top-scoring offense in the NFL last week in the Rams, and all of a sudden they regained their composure from last year’s playoff run. It seemed the old Falcons were back. Last week was the first road playoff victory of Matt Ryan’s career and he will look to make it two consecutive weeks against the Eagles. The Eagles finished as the #1 seed even after the devastating loss of sophomore phenom Carson Wentz. Nick Foles will be under center and the loaded RB stable will be relied on heavily. Eagles are most likely to be one and done.
Pick: Falcons 24, Eagles 10
Image Credit: WBUR
AFC: #5 Tennessee Titans @ #1 New England Patriots -8:15 pm – CBS
Jake: Last week the Tennessee Titans shocked the world when they marched into Kansas City, scored 19 unanswered points, and won their first playoff game in 13 years. Marcus Mariota looked like the franchise quarterback that the Titans drafted him to be, throwing touchdowns to himself and leading the Titans back from an 18-point deficit.
The Titans’ playoff party will end on Saturday in New England. Despite what may or may not come out of the Patriots rumors that recently came to light, the Patriots cannot be pleased with this latest distraction. Even if the relationship between Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is at a stand-still right now, they’ll want to prove that they’re as strong as ever. This game has blowout written all over it.
Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 13
Nolan: For the second year in a row, New England will be facing a pushover team in the divisional round. Last year the Patriots defeated a very weak Houston Texans team and now they look for their seventh straight trip to the AFC championship as the Titans come to town. I doubted Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense coming into the playoffs but they really showed a lot of poise in their comeback against Kansas City. If Tennessee is going to pick up another upset, they have to be perfect. Anything is possible, but you would be a fool to bet against New England here.
Pick: Patriots 30, Titans 17
Tyler: This game is not appealing. It’s football so it’s better than nothing but for a divisional round matchup it leaves a lot to be desired. I know I trashed the Titans last week and said that they weren’t a traditional playoff team and that they were helped out by a weak AFC conference. That is still all true. If anything, last week’s game against the Chiefs speaks volumes about how weak the AFC is. This week they will are in for a much bigger test.
Don’t let week one convince you that Kansas City is a better team than New England. They were back then, but now New England would embarrass Kansas City. Bill Belichick will always take away the opposing team’s best option on offense, which this week is clearly Derrick Henry. Look for Henry to be bottled up most of the afternoon. The Patriots are going to force Marcus Mariota to beat them and I don’t think he can do that. Even if he can sustain a few drives here and there, I see no way that he can keep pace with Tom Brady and the Patriots offense on the other side.
Pick: Patriots 34 Titans 20
Vasilios: Tennessee had an impressive win last week against the Chiefs that almost no one saw coming. I still hold true to my take that the Titans are the weakest team talent-wise in the playoffs. Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota made it look easy in last week’s second half, but Tom Brady and the Patriots will surely crush the Titans. The Patriots are the most vulnerable they’ve been in years. The Titans will go step for step in the first quarter, but after that, it’s just a formality.
Pick: Patriots 27, Titans 17
Sunday, Jan. 14
Image Credit: Steel City Blitz
AFC: #3 Jacksonville Jaguars @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers – 1:05 pm – CBS
Jake: In October, the Jaguars picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times and handed the Steelers a 30-9 loss. What people forget about that game is how well the Steelers defense played against Jacksonville’s offense. Two of Jacksonville’s four touchdowns were scored on defense, and Leonard Fournette broke free for a 90-yard score in garbage time. If we took away that 90-yared run, Fournette was limited to 91 yards on 27 carries (3.37 yards-per-carry). Blake Bortles threw for just 95 yards on eight completions with an interception.
Jacksonville’s defense won that game for the Jags, plain and simple. Is their defense capable of doing that again? Sure, but that won’t happen in Pittsburgh in January. Yes, Antonio Brown will not be 100% coming back from that calf injury, but against Jalen Ramsey, how effective would he be anyway? Look for a Steelers win off a big day from Le’Veon Bell, as well as some help from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant.
Pick: Steelers 20, Jaguars 13
Nolan: The Jaguars escaped their Wild Card game against Buffalo with a 10-3 win thanks to a stout performance by their defense. Many are already counting them out against Pittsburgh but that is simply foolish. I am fully aware that Blake Bortles only collected 87 yards on Sunday but when the Jaguars laid the smackdown on the Steelers earlier this year, Bortles had just 95 yards and no touchdowns. An effective defense and heavy rushing attack was good enough to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 30-9. Bortles is just a few adjustments away from making this team complete in my opinion. I expect the Jags to walk into Pittsburgh on Sunday and play like they have nothing to lose.
Pick: Jaguars 27, Steelers 24
Tyler: Up until Sunday I had this game as a toss up. I was really considering picking the Jaguars. I thought they had the team to potentially knock off the Steelers and the Patriots. After watching the sad excuse for an offense that the Jaguars rolled out on Sunday I don’t think they have what it takes. Their defense is still championship-caliber and they will give the Steelers problems on Sunday.
One thing that the Steelers can learn from the Bills is that running the ball is the way to beat Jacksonville. The Bills were effective with a banged up LeSean McCoy on Sunday. The Steelers should be more effective with a fully healthy and rested Le’Veon Bell. When they do need to pass, Ben Roethlisberger is a much better option than Tyrod Taylor as well. I expect the Steelers defense to sell out, to stopping Leonard Fournette just like the Bills did. This will force Blake Bortles to beat them. I expect more than 13 points to be scored this week but I still expect a relatively low-scoring, defensive game.
Pick: Steelers 23 Jaguars 13
Vasilios: The Jaguars defense was very impressive last week as they held the Bills to a measly three points. Blake Bortles on the other hand, did all of his damage with his legs, as he compiled 88 rushing yards and only 87 passing yards. The Jaguars offense looked inept and the defense should and will be their saving grace in this playoff run. They beat the Steelers earlier this season and Big Ben threw 5 interceptions. I think they replicate that success, especially without Antonio Brown at full strength for Pittsburgh.
Pick: Jaguars 20, Steelers 17
Image Credit: Minnesota Vikings
NFC: #4 New Orleans Saints @ #2 Minnesota Vikings – 4:40 pm – FOX
Jake: From a football standpoint, this is clearly the best game on this weekend’s schedule. There are so many exciting young players on both teams that have made their units among the best in football.
Seeing the top-ranked Saints offense battle the #1-rated Vikings defense is going to be a treat. For New Orleans, running backs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara are the first running back duo in history to record 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season. Second-year receiver Michael Thomas ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,245). For Minnesota, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are some of the best in the business and were all named to the Pro Bowl.
Going back to the experience factor, it will be interesting to see how longtime journeyman quarterback Case Keenum fairs in his first career playoff start. Keenum has several receiving weapons in Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and Adam Thielen that will go up against the likes of stud rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
I know many people, including myself, want to see the Vikings be the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, but I have to go Saints here. Drew Brees plays particularly well indoors, and I think that him and Sean Payton will find a way to win. I see Keenum making a late-game mistake to seal it for New Orleans.
Pick: Saints 24, Vikings 21
Nolan: I had high hopes for the Vikings coming into the playoffs but the Saints are probably the last team they want to face in their first divisional game since 2009. These two teams opened up the season against each other and Minnesota came out on top 29-19. This rematch should be just as exciting since the Saints have a highly explosive offense and the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the league. If there is one team that can keep Drew Brees and New Orleans in check, it’s probably the Vikings. None the less, this game is hard to predict but I am rolling with Minnesota and their 7-1 home record.
Pick: Vikings 24, Saints 23
Tyler: On Sunday Minnesota will try to become the first Super Bowl-hosting team to make it to a conference championship game. The Saints looked good last week even with the inability to run the ball. Like I stated last week, Drew Brees still has it. If defenses key on the run game, Brees will just beat them through the air. This week will be a little different as Minnesota boasts a better defense than Carolina does and the Saints will be on the Road.
These two teams met all the way back in week one in Minnesota with the Vikings winning 29-19. They are much different than they were roughly 19 weeks ago. I think this game could be surprisingly high scoring even with the two stout defenses. The key to this game is going to be Case Keenum. If he can continue to play the way he has and not turn the ball over, the Vikings will be in good shape. If Keenum doesn’t protect the ball it’s game over and season over for the Vikings.
Pick: Saints 28 Vikings 24
Vasilios: These teams faced each other in week 1 and things couldn’t have looked more different back then. The Saints had a narrow victory against the Panthers last week in which the offense exploded. Defensively, rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore had his best game as a pro. This will be a tougher test. Vikings are at home, they have the best defense in the NFC this year and Case Keenum is playing lights-out football. Everyone is on the edge of their seat to wait and see if Keenum will revert back to the quarterback that bounced around to several different teams early in his career. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will be huge factors in this game. They are the best receiving tandem Atlanta will face in the playoffs.
Pick: Vikings 28, Saints 21