Jazz: I finished up last weekend on a positive note, getting both of the Sunday games correct for a post-season record of 3-1 so far. Of course, those games weren’t nearly as explosive as Saturday’s offerings and taking the favorites turned out to be the safe play. Today should split the difference in terms of predictability, so I’ll cross my fingers and try to hang on to my slimmer than slim lead.
Ed: I also finished 2-0 last Sunday, but that is (of course) because I picked the same way Jazz did. At least my post-season record has come back up to .500 so far at 2-2, and unfortunately only one of today’s games seems likely to be tough to call.
Jazz: The early game today should be a barn burner when the Atlanta Falcons travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles (4:35, NBC). One interesting historical note here is that Philly is the first number one seed team to go into their first playoff game of the season as an underdog. Atlanta is favored by three after their strong showing against the Rams last week, combined with doubts raised by a couple of poor showings by Nick Foles for the Eagles at the end of the season. But Atlanta won last week largely on the strength of their running game, giving them an ability to keep the Rams’ offense on the bench for much of the day. The Eagles had the fourth best run defense in the league this season and their front line is, er… tanned, rested and ready. Foles can pull off some magic when he’s hitting on all cylinders and I think he’ll be ready today. Plus, the Falcons’ options for switching to the passing game will be limited by predicted 32 degree, freezing temps combined with steady winds on the field in excess of 15 mph. I’m going with the upset and taking Philadelphia 24-20.
Ed: Let’s face it — if Carson Wentz was still healthy, Philly would win this game, although it still wouldn’t be easy. As it is, though, Nick Foles will be behind center for the Eagles, and while he’s a skilled backup, he’s no Carson Wentz. He’s played two full games in relief and chalked up wins against the Raiders and the Giants, but neither of those teams were the Falcons. He only got one TD against an Oakland defense rated 26th against the pass, ending up with a 59.4 rating off a 19-38, 163-yard performance. (He also held on for a win against the Rams in the game in which Wentz got injured, going completing six of ten attempts for 42 yards and no TDs.) Atlanta’s D ranks 12th against the pass and ninth against the rush, which means the Eagles are going to have to win this on defense alone against an Atlanta offense that scored 22 points a game. And without Wentz, the Philly offense has to lose at least a TD per game in output, which puts them right at Atlanta’s average. Even if Atlanta can’t run the ball well against Philly, the Eagles were only 17th against the pass this season, and the elements may not be bad enough to protect them from Matt Ryan.
I’ll take the visitors in this one, with Atlanta winning 23-17.
Jazz: The late game has the Tennessee Titans going to Foxborough to face the Patriots (8:15, CBS). I really wish there was more to hope for here than some sort of Any Given Sunday playoffs miracle but I’m not seeing it. As I wrote previously, my heart sort of sank when Tennessee won last week because I really didn’t think they were our best hope to knock out the Patriots. Their front line really doesn’t look large and strong enough to put the required pressure on Brady or really even shut down their running game. Passing may be limited in the sub-freezing, breezy conditions, but that hasn’t stopped New England thus far. Also, most of the Patriots’ starters have plenty of experience in this sort of high-pressure situation, while the Titans are more of the Cinderella team who are used to watching such affairs on TV. While I’d dearly love to see Tennesse pull this out somehow, I fear that it will be up to Pittsburgh to stop Brady and company next week. With a heavy heart, I’m taking the Patriots in a slightly lower than predicted scoring situation (owing to the weather tonight) 24-13.
Ed: While acknowledging that the Steelers will have a tough time tomorrow with Jacksonville, I’d love to see the next game after that played in Pittsburgh. The Titans are all that stand between an AFC final in New England, and… that’s not good. Tennessee is ranked 19th in points scored (20.9), while the Pats are second at 28.6. The Titans give up 22.3 points a game, while New England’s D is rated 5th at 18.5 points per game. Tennessee 24-year-old QB Marcus Mariota has a rating of 79.3, the lowest of his three-year career. New England’s 40-year-old QB has never had a rating that low in his full-time career, and has a 102.8 rating for 2017, only slightly off last year’s 112.2. (Fun fact: Mariota’s best single-season rating, 95.6, would only rank 10th place among Brady’s seasons in the NFL.)
I’m rooting for Tennessee today for obvious reasons, but … come on, man. Pats should win this easily, even with a little rust from the bye week, and even with the cold temperatures slowing down the Eternal QB. New England 31-14 over Tennessee.