NFL Divisional Weekend Breakdown

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Breakdown

The NFL playoffs officially begin this weekend with the Wild Card Round. Four games make up Wild Card Weekend. 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. 6

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs

Image Credit: KC Kingdom 

AFC: #5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ #4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – 4:35 pm – ESPN/ABC

Jake: The AFC Wild Card round is really underwhelming. All four teams in the AFC playing this weekend don’t pose any legitimate threats against the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, its nice to see some new teams in the AFC Wild Card slots. The Titans limped their way into the playoffs and have been up-and-down all season. The Chiefs started off as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but then proceeded to lose six of their next seven games. They did end the season 4-0, and I believe that trend will continue on Saturday. Neither team has a game-changing unit, but I believe the playoff experience of Alex Smith and Andy Reid outmatches the inexperience of Marcus Mariota and the Titans.

This week, the Jon Gruden Raiders rumors added another element to this game. Despite publicly stating that he will likely become the next head coach of the Raiders, Gruden will call this game. Some have criticized Gruden for holding the Raiders up, but Gruden had prior commitments to calling this game and he wants to honor them. Enjoy what will probably be Gruden’s last game in the booth for a long time.

Pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 20

Nolan: Andy Reid’s Chiefs got off to an extremely hot start by winning five games in a row while averaging over 32 points a game. They followed this up with an abysmal stretch before pulling themselves together for a strong finish and a division title. Because their season was such a rollercoaster, it’s difficult to get a read on the Chiefs but they are certainly favored over the visiting Titans. Tennessee is just not a threatening team. They dropped three of their last four but still got into the playoff mix with a win this past Sunday. The Chiefs have the coaching and enough playoff experience to pick up a Wild Card win over a Tennessee team that has been very shaky on the road.

Pick: Chiefs 27, Titans 19

Tyler: When Tennessee travels to Kansas City they will be making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and will look for their first playoff win since 2003. Kansas City, on the other hand, has been in the playoffs the past two seasons and three of the last four. Kansas City will come in hot, winners of their last four games. Tennessee comes in winning their last game of the season, but they dropped the previous three games. The Titans don’t look like a traditional playoff team and quite frankly were aided by a weak AFC. I don’t expect this to be a lopsided game but the Titans will be overmatched. The loss of Eric Berry will lead to a big game for Delanie Walker but a subpar offensive line and too many offensive weapons for Kansas City will lead to the demise of Tennessee.

Pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 13

Vasilios : The Tenessee Titans limp into the AFC playoffs being the weakest team to make it in. If the Titans had lost the final game of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars (who are also in the playoffs), head coach Mike Mularkey and his patented “Exotic Smashmouth” offense would’ve been out the door without much of a thought.

The Kansas City Chiefs have something to prove, showing that they are one of the more tenacious teams in the league with a slate of impressive wins this season to show for it. Head Coach  Andy Reid may have found his QB of the future in rookie Patrick Mahomes who is just waiting for seasoned veteran Alex Smith to make a mistake.

Pick: Chiefs 28, Titans 10

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Image Credit: SITNews

NFC: #6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ #3 Los Angeles Rams (11-5) – 8:15 pm – NBC

Jake: If you listened to the latest episode of the Ebony Bird Podcast this week, you’ll know that I originally picked the Rams to win this game. I’m going to change that pick and go with Atlanta. I did not realize that the Rams went 4-4 at home this season. That’s concerning. The Falcons also have one of the fastest defenses in the NFL that I believe can contain Jared Goff. Todd Gurley may take off for 100+ yards in this game, but the Falcons should be able to limit Goff.

Matt Ryan and the Flacons have not forgotten their 28-3 blown lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. They are still angry about it. Their road to the Super Bowl will have to take place all on the road, but the Falcons are much more battle-tested than the Rams. In my book, the experience of Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones will outmatch whatever Sean McCoy and the Rams draw up.

Pick: Falcons 34, Rams 30

Nolan: At just 23 years of age, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have helped the Rams win their first division title since 2003. They are one of the more inexperienced teams in this year’s playoff pool but their resume is still strong. The Rams averaged a league high 29.9 points a game this season but do they have the poise to hold off a Falcons team with a chip on their shoulder? Atlanta managed to claw their way into the postseason and we all know they want to do nothing but avenge their loss in last year’s Super Bowl. I can see this one being a shootout but I am going with the Falcons. They know what is at stake here and their experience can give them an edge over a younger Rams team.

Pick: Falcons 35, Rams 31

Tyler: The defending NFC champs snuck their way into the playoffs with a week 17 win and look to return to the Super Bowl. If they do they would be the first NFC team to repeat since the 2013-2014 Seahawks. It wont be an easy feat though. The NFC is very tough this year and is anyone’s conference to win. The Falcons start their playoff run in Los Angeles this week against the Rams. The Rams will be playing their first home playoff game in L.A. since 1986. The key for Atlanta is going to be stopping Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. The Falcons defense will need to play like it did during their 2016 Super Bowl run in order to beat the Rams’ high-powered offense. The Rams have too many offensive weapons and have the defense to shut down Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. I do think that the Falcons will be able to keep pace for a while but the Rams will pull out a win in the end.

Pick: Rams 31, Falcons 23

Vasilios: Atlanta is one of the very few teams to make it back to the playoffs after partaking in the Super Bowl last season but they have a glaring Kyle Shanahan-shaped hole in their organization. Quarterback Matt Ryan has regressed slightly this season, and once again Julio Jones turns into Houdini in big spots. The Super Bowl hangover is still lingering for this squad.

What can I possibly say about the LA Rams that hasn’t been said already? Sean McVay looks like the next great NFL head coach after tapping into the seemingly bottomless talent of quarterback Jared Goff and serious MVP candidate – running back Todd Gurley. The addition of Wade Philips as a defensive coordiantor will go down as one of the best hires in recent history. Rams to the Super Bowl, calling it now.

Pick: Rams 35, Falcons 21

Sunday, Jan. 7

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Image Credit: Bleacher Report 

AFC: #6 Buffalo Bills (9-7) @ #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: I’m changing another pick.

I would like to start by saying that I think this game will be a lot closer than most people think. I know this is the first playoff experience for the Jaguars in 10 years, but the Bills’ playoff drought was much longer. They also have one of the most passionate fanbases in the NFL, where the Jaguars have one of the least passionate fanbases. This could turn into a favorable crowd for the Bills before the game even begins.

I know that the Bills’ offense does not match up well against the Jaguars defense, but let’s not forget how bad Blake Bortles looked the past two weeks against Tennessee and San Francisco. The Bills have the 29th-ranked run defense in the NFL this season. All the Jaguars need to do is feed Leonard Fournette the ball and they will win the game. Keep the ball out of Bortles’ hands. The loss of LeSean McCoy is a killer for the Bills. He practiced on Thursday, but a sprained ankle for a running back is not promising. I expect Shady to be very limited. That will put more pressure on Tyrod Taylor and Buffalo’s limited receiving core, and the Bills’ playoff resurgence will collapse quickly.

Pick: Jaguars 24, Bills 13

Nolan: If you’re someone who is getting tired of same NFL playoff scenarios every year, this is the matchup for you. Both The Bills and Jaguars managed to make the playoffs this year, breaking two of the longest active playoff droughts. Jacksonville has spent the last decade outside the postseason while Buffalo has waited 17 years. The Jaguars may have backed into the postseason and they lack playoff experience, but they have the pieces to be a legitimate threat in the coming weeks. Leonard Fournette helped the Jags average a league-high 141 rushing yards per game and the defense was arguably the best in the AFC.

Pick: Jaguars 23, Bills 17

Tyler: The Bills and the Jaguars will both break long playoff droughts when they meet this weekend in Jacksonville. Buffalo will make its first playoff appearance since 1999 (haven’t won a playoff game since 1995). Jacksonville will be making its first playoff appearance since 2007, the year of their last playoff win. The Bills, like the Titans, were aided by a weak AFC. They don’t look like a playoff team and on paper this matchup looks like a complete mismatch. Buffalo has the league’s fourth worst rush defense while Jacksonville leads the league in offensive rushing yards per game. I fully expect the Jags to run the ball all afternoon. The Jaguars coaching staff knows that they can’t win a Super Bowl by relying on Blake Bortles. They have to establish the running game early and rely on their stout defense. That will start this weekend. From Buffalo’s perspective it will come down to LeSean McCoy’s health. If he is able to play I think they can make a few plays but still not enough to squeak out a win. If McCoy can’t go, this could get ugly.

Pick: Jaguars 31, Bills 10

Vasilios: Man, I have had a few Bills fans rub in my face that they took the Ravens spot in the playoffs. But despite all of that, I like Tyrod Taylor and think the Bills are a solid team. But not solid enough to take on the likes of Jacksonville. Especially not when running back LeSean McCoy, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week, isn’t at 100%. #BillsMafia’s excitement will be very short lived.

The Jags had a tough ending to the season, losing to the San Francisco Garoppolos (49ers) in week 16 and the Titans in week 17. This will be the week for their defense to reassert their dominance and put Jacksonville back on the map for the first time since Mark Brunell threw passes to Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith.

Pick: Jaguars 17, Bills 0

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Image Credit: Where Y’at Magazine 

 

NFC: #5 Carolina Panthers (11-5) @ #4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: Both of the NFC games are much more compelling than the AFC Slate. The Panthers, despite losing to the Saints twice this season, finished with the same record as the Saints and had a chance (albeit a small one) to clinch a bye last week. Even though that did not happen, they are back in the playoffs after missing them last season. New Orleans is back after a three-year playoff drought.

Both defenses present nothing special, so I think this game comes down to who has the better weapons. To me, that’s easily the Saints. I love Cam Newton, but Christian McCaffery is not Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram, and Greg Olsen is not Michael Thomas. At this stage of their careers, Newton may be a better quarterback than Drew Brees, but Brees has more to work with, and that will be the reason why the Saints win this game and beat the Panthers for the third time this season.

Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 27

Nolan: Wild Card weekend will conclude with a high-profile matchup between two NFC South teams. Both of these teams entered the postseason with 11-5 records, but New Orleans took the division title after taking down Carolina in both meetings this season. It’s extremely difficult to defeat a team three times in one season but the Saints are certainly capable of this with their high octane offense. Drew Brees and company have put up 34 and 31 points against the Panthers this year and I think they can reach this again with home field advantage on Sunday.

Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 27

Tyler: The Saints are back in the post season for the first time since 2013 and have a legitimate shot at representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. New Orleans has the best quarterback of all the NFC QBs, they have one of the best running games in the NFC, and they have once of the top three defenses in the NFC. Teams will need to choose if they want to get beat by Drew Brees or by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Minnesota may be the only team that can defend both. But when we talk about this week’s matchup I do expect it to be competitive…for the first half. This is the third meeting between these division rivals this season, with the Saints winning both of the previous matchups. The Super Dome will be loud and the Saints defense will feed off of the atmosphere. Cam Newton will make a few mistakes and I expect him to unravel in the second half. The Panthers just don’t have the defense to defend the balanced Saints offense.

Pick: Saints 34, Panthers 17

Vasilios: Carolina is one of those teams that flew under the radar for most of the season and quietly compiled an 11-5 record despite trading away their #1 receiver in Kelvin Benjamin at midseason. Cam Newton has yet to regain his dominant 2015 form, but the play of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey has been admirable. Also, having a defense with a backbone always helps.

Speaking of defenses with backbones, the Saints have finally found theirs thanks to rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The Saints are one of the feel-good stories of the season, with quarterback Drew Brees approaching the twilight of his career, the pieces around him are stepping up. The Saints have a plethora of weapons at Brees’s disposal,  like wide receiver Michael Thomas, and running backs
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Brees deserves to go out with another ring for all that he’s done for this Saints team that was irrelevant before his arrival.

Pick: Saints 27, Panthers 24

 

Podcast: The McDonnell brothers dissect the NFL playoff picture, week 17 matchups

Welcome to this special Christmas episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On this episode, Joey McDonnell, brother of Charm City Bird Watch founder Jake McDonnell, joined the show to break down the NFL playoff picture following week 17.

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Leave a 5-star review on iTunes, we may read it on a future episode! happy Holidays!

Podcast: Initial Reaction to Super Bowl 51

In case you have been living under a rock, there was a fairly significant football game played last night as the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-38 in overtime to become five time Super Bowl champions. Despite being down by 21 and 25 points at different points in the game, the Patriots scored 31 unanswered points and took down a Falcons team that set offensive records this season. After such a crazy game, what did the Charm City Bird Watch crew think of the outcome? Hear Jake, Nolan and Tyler’s full conversation by listening to our initial reaction podcast to Super Bowl 51. Please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Patriots Overcome Improbable Deficit to Defeat Falcons in Super Bowl 51

Original post found on BUnow.

For the fifth time in the past 16 years, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions.

Despite being down 21 and 25 points at different parts of the game, the Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to mount the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime 34-28.

This was the first time that a Super Bowl has gone into overtime.

Even though this was a high-scoring affair, no points were scored in the first quarter. However, it was all Atlanta in the second quarter. The Patriots had the ball to begin the second period on their own 38-yard line, but running back LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball and Falcons corner-back Robert Alford recovered it. From there, the Falcons ran five plays and got on the scoreboard first with a five-yard run by Devonta Freeman.

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Falcons corner-back Robert Alford runs back an interception 82 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Credit: Newsday

Following a New England punt, the Falcons scored again in five plays, this time with a 19-yard catch by tight end Austin Hooper from quarterback Matt Ryan. Just a few minutes later, Atlanta would extend their lead even further when Alford intercepted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at the Falcons’ 18-yard line. Alford ran the ball all the way back for a pick-six, giving the Falcons a 21-point lead. The Patriots would kick a field goal to make the score 21-3 at halftime, but had lots of work to do in the second half to make it a competitive game.

Following a series of punts to open up the second half, the Falcons got things going again. Ryan found receiver Taylor Gabriel for gains of 17 and 35 yards, setting up Atlanta in New England territory. The Falcons were facing a 3rd-and-four play at the Patriots’ nine-yard line, and picked up a first down off of a pass interference call on Patriots corner-back Malcolm Butler. That gave the Falcons a first down at the Patriots’ six-yard line, and running back Tevin Coleman scored on a six-yard reception from Ryan.

Now being down 28-3, the Patriots had even more of a hole to dig themselves out of. They did answer the call on a 13 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to running back James White. Despite the boost in confidence with the touchdown, kicker Stephen Gostowski missed the extra point. With 2:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Falcons seemed to be firmly in control with a 28-9 lead.

To put it nicely, the fourth quarter and beyond featured the Atlanta Falcons getting spanked by the greatest coach & quarterback of all time – Bill Belichick and Brady. The Patriots scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, and held the Falcons to absolutely nothing to tie the game. Those 19 points came via field goal, and two touchdowns that were both followed up with a successful two-point conversion.

On the Falcons’ drive before the Patriots tied the game, the Falcons arguably could have put the game away if they had scored even a field goal. With 4:40 left to play, the Falcons had a 1st-and-10 on the Patriots’ 22-yard line. From there, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss, and a 10-yard holding penalty pushed the ball all the way back to the New England 45-yard line. Atlanta ended up punting, squandering their chance to take an 11-point lead with three and a half minutes to play.

The Patriots tied the game with 57 seconds to go, and Atlanta had to timeouts to work with. Following the New England kickoff, the Falcons got the ball at their own 11-yard line. They ended up punting with just a few ticks left, and the game was sent into overtime. New England won the coin toss, and went right down the field to score the winning touchdown.

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Patriots running back James White scores the winning touchdown in overtime. Credit: Newsday

On the winning drive, Brady completed passes of 14, 18, and 15 yards before the Patriots had a 1st-and-goal on Atlanta’s two-yard line. White scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard run, and the confetti immediately dropped.

The win gives Belichick and Brady their fifth Super Bowl win together. They are 5-2 overall in Super Bowl appearances. Brady won his fourth career Super Bowl MVP, and the Lombardi Trophy was handed to the Patriots by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Of course, Goodell suspended Brady for the first four-games of the season for his involvement with “deflategate,” making the exchange a bit awkward.

Just to put into perspective how dominant Brady was in the game, look at his final line. Brady finished the game with 466 passing yards – 246 of those came after the third quarter. He threw a touchdown pass and converted a two-point conversion through the air during the big comeback, and led the team down the field in each scoring drive. Anyone who says that he is not the greatest quarterback ever is wrong. What’s perhaps the most impressive thing about Brady is that he continues to pull this off at 39-years old. And it does not look like he will be done anytime soon.

Before Super Bowl 51, no team had ever come back from a deficit above 10 points. The Patriots shattered that record, making this both the greatest comeback of all time by the Patriots and the greatest choke in NFL history by the Falcons. Some are already dubbing this as the greatest Super Bowl of all time, but one thing is for sure – the New England Patriots are quickly becoming the greatest NFL dynasty ever.

Super Bowl 51 Preview and Predictions

Super Bowl week is here. What do we think will happen, and who do we think will walk out of Houston with the Lombardi Trophy? Here are our game previews and picks:

dsc_0322-2Jake: It’s what the entire 2016-17 season all comes down to – Super Bowl 51.

On the AFC side stand the New England Patriots, who enter their seventh Super Bowl appearance under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Perhaps the greatest head coach / quarterback duo in history, Brady and Belichick sport a 4-2 record in their Super Bowl appearances, and look to claim an unprecedented fifth ring.

On the NFC side stand the Atlanta Falcons, who are making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999 and look to win the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. Head coach Dan Quinn is coaching in his third Super Bowl in four seasons, as he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator when Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48 and lost to New England the year after. The Falcons offense made history this season, scoring the eighth most points of all time.

Here are the keys to what I believe each unit will need in order to be successful on Sunday.

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Tom Brady will be making his seventh start in the Super Bowl this weekend. Credit: USA Today.

Patriots Offense: I think the key for the Patriots is to stop Vic Beasley. After a disappointing rookie season, Beasley was the 2016 sack leader with 15.5 at the end of the regular season. However, Beasley has yet to sack the quarterback in Atlanta’s two playoff games. Tom Brady is not a mobile quarterback, so keeping him in the pocket will be big for New England. I think the Patriots will be able to do this, as Atlanta’s defense is nothing to write home about.

Falcons Offense: Balance & Spread. This season the Falcons combined for the fifth-best rushing attack and the third-ranked passing attack. 13 different receivers scored touchdowns for the Falcons, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed for just under 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. If Matt Ryan can keep spreading the ball around, that will open up the running game. Also keep in mind that the “nerve” factor will likely be higher for the Falcons than it will be for the Patriots. Playing mistake-free football will be a more daunting task for Ryan than it will be for Brady, making this another crucial point of emphasis for the Falcons offense.

Patriots Defense: I would say that the key for the Patriots defense would be to stop Julio Jones, but the Falcons just simply have too many other weapons for New England to worry about. Limiting Jones is still crucial, and I believe that Belichick will try to do that. With Jones not being 100%, the Patriots will still be able to limit him. Along with containing Jones, New England should stack the box to try to prevent Freeman and Coleman from busting out a big gain. Ryan will still have other weapons like Muhamad Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Austin Hooper to throw the ball to, but if you take away the biggest weapons Atlanta has, that puts more pressure on the players that have made smaller contributions to step up. Unlike a lot of experts out there, I don’t think the Patriots need to double team Jones; I think Malcolm Butler is more than capable of limiting Jones on his own. Simply put, the Patriots will not be able to completely stop this Atlanta offense, but they can limit them by limiting their best play-makers.

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Second-year man Vic Beasley Jr. leads the NFL with 15.5 sacks in the regular season. Credit: Athlon Sports.

Falcons Defense: Put pressure on Brady, plain and simple. There really is no gameplan that can completely prevent what the Patriots throw at their opponents every week. If Atlanta takes away the middle of the field, then Brady will find ways to throw deep passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. If you limit the Patriots’ deep passing attack, Brady will burn you in the middle of the field with Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan (Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh). Brady and Belichick are the best in the business at picking apart a defense, and they will have success again against this Atlanta defense that ranked 25th in the NFL in terms of yardage given up during the regular season. Atlanta was able to limit Green Bay’s offense in the NFC Championship, but they did so by sacking Aaron Rodgers twice and hitting him eight times. Simply put, the Falcons HAVE to hit Brady and hit him often. Atlanta has several players capable of doing this – Beasley, Dwight Freeney, Courtney Upshaw, De’Vondre Campbell, and others. Nobody thought that Rodgers could be stopped, and the Falcons proved them wrong. Can they do it again this Sunday?

I think we are in for a good game on Sunday. The playoffs have been pretty mediocre because of how many lopsided games we have seen, but I think this game will be close. It will be a high-scoring affair, and just like we predicted to weeks ago, the winner will be the team that has the most stops on defense. With that being said, I believe that the Patriots will have more stops than the Falcons. Not only do the Patriots have the better defense, but I think Tom Brady will make less mistakes than Matt Ryan. Being at their seventh Super Bowl, I think Brady will outplay Ryan and Belichick will out-coach Quinn.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 27 pats.png

nolanNolan: Super Bowl Sunday is finally approaching and there a handful of storylines surrounding this year’s big game. No matter what happens on Sunday, I’m just hoping for a close game. So far the playoffs have been far from exciting with many games ending in blowouts. Hopefully the final game of the 2016-17 season is a good one because it’s going to be a long wait before we see real NFL football again.

The big story-line for me is going to be the Falcons offense vs the Patriots defense.  I have doubted the New England defense in the past, specifically in the AFC championship game, but they have since impressed me. They are not flashy but they have been getting the job done so far in the postseason. Analysts are commending them for their ability to take the opponent’s best player out of the equation. This week they will face their toughest challenge yet.

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Matt Ryan went from being ranked #20 in QBR in 2015 to #1 in ’16. Credit: Zimbio.

Atlanta probably has the most high powered offense in the league. With the ability to eat up the clock on long drives or score in a matter of seconds, they are incredibly hard to game plan for.  Perhaps the Patriots defense will be able to contain a player like Devonta Freeman or even Julio Jones, but there are just too many other play-makers for Atlanta to stop the entire machine.  I will be very surprised if Matt Ryan and company don’t reach the end-zone at least four times on Sunday.

If the Atlanta offense continues to dominate, the game will come down to the shoulders of Tom Brady. When it comes to the Super Bowl, Brady is probably the most relaxed man on the field.  He has been here time and time again. With the game on the line I would be a fool to doubt him. My only question is, can he keep up with Ryan in a shootout? This is the difference maker for me.

I like Falcons in the big game. Their offense is just too powerful for me to pick against them.  Brady has the experience but there is only so much he can do, especially if he is playing from behind.  The Patriots defense is going to have to step up big time if they want to compete come Sunday and I don’t know if any defense can contain Atlanta this year.

Prediction: Falcons 31, Patriots 26 Atlanta_Falcons_logo..png

careerfileTyler: I am going to take a slightly different approach with my write-up this week. Instead of focusing on my keys to the game, I will focus on some of the key stats that are swaying my prediction. About halfway through this list of stats, if not earlier, you will know whom I am picking.

  1. 11 out of the last 12 Super Bowl winners have worn white
  2. In the previous five Super Bowls that featured the number one offense vs the number one defense, the defense won four out of five
  3. Matt Ryan is 0/2 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots in his career
  4. The Patriots are 7-2 in games officiated by Carl Cheffers in the past 10 seasons
  5. This will be Dan Quinn’s first career game as a head coach against Bill Belichick. Head coaches are 3-22 in their first career game against Belichick since 2010.
  6. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons roster (6 to 5) (Credit: CBS Sports)

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Bill Belichick did not seem impressed with being named the AFC Champion for the seventh time in his tenure with New England. Credit: USA Today.

As you have probably figured out I am picking the Patriots. The biggest factor is the major advantage that the Patriots have in Super Bowl experience. Yes, Dan Quinn will be coaching in his third Super Bowl in four years but coaching experience will only get the falcons so far. The lack of player experience on the Falcons sideline could be an issue. Do not be confused though. The Falcons are an extremely talented team that is more than capable of winning a championship. It wouldn’t shock me at all. But in a game like this I like to stick with history repeating itself and the Patriots have proven they are tough to beat in the Super Bowl. At the time of writing this article the Falcons have NOT traded for Eli Manning so the Patriots should be happy about that.

Prediction: Patriots 26, Falcons 21 pats

Podcast: The guys look back at Championship Weekend and discuss Super Bowl 51

The NFL Conference Championships are over, which means that we now know who will be playing in Super Bowl 51 from Houston, Texas. With the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots advancing to the big game, what did Jake, Nolan, and Tyler think about their victories on Sunday? Hear that and more as the guys also give their initial thoughts about the match-up we will see at Super Bowl 51.

Thanks for listening! Be sure to subscribe to the podcast and give us a review on iTunes!