Atlanta Falcons vs Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday 13th January, 9:35pm (UK Time)
|Falcons vs Eagles||
The Falcons looked like they were back to their old ways in their 26-13 victory over the Rams on Wild Card weekend. The offence moved the ball effectively through both the air and ground, whilst the defence swarmed to it exceptionally quickly all game. They didn’t allow Goff or Gurley any time whatsoever, causing the opposing Rams offence to look noticeably drained at the end of the game. This team is loaded with playoff experience and that is going to be their biggest advantage against an Eagles team that does not.
Never has a number one seed in a conference been so doubted, and there is a good chance this is the first home number one seed in the history of NFL to be the bookies’ underdogs. If Carson Wentz was playing, the Eagles would be looking at a likely easy victory, but with Nick Foles at quarterback it’s anyone’s guess - will the QB who threw 27 TDs turn up or will it be the one who was benched for a rookie in week 17? Luckily, he has a seriously good defence to back him up, otherwise this could be a whitewash.
This game rests solely on the shoulders of the Eagles’ offence. Their defence is good enough to keep them in the game, but if they can’t get something working then this could be an embarrassment in front of their home fans, who have only just got over the week 17 shutout loss. The Falcons secondary matches up well with the Eagles pass catchers, with speed all over the field, so the power running game of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount must give Foles a hand in managing the clock and the game.
Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots
Sunday 14th January, 1:15am (UK Time)
|Titans v Patriots||
The Titans were easily the team of Wild Card weekend, with their comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Trailing 21-3, Mariota and the offence scored 19 unanswered second half points (including a touchdown pass to himself), proving how good their coaching staff is at noticing a problem, fixing it and playing lockdown football. Derrick Henry has taken to his position as lead running back exceptionally well, running the pall with power to the tune of 156 yards last week. If the Titans are going to win this week, they have to copy the exact formula that saw them come back last week; run the ball hard and get defensive pressure from the line of scrimmage.
The defending champs have been dealing with news reports of team disruption all week, so there is no doubt they will be excited to get on the field and put it all behind them. Key players are returning from injury on both the offence and defence, so there can be no doubt this team is in great shape. An extra week off has given the team time to prepare for an opposition they don’t face often and one that matches up to their weaknesses well.
To win, the Titans have to get behind Derrick Henry and hope the defensive line does what it did last week. Mariota will have to use his legs to keep drives alive on third down against a Patriots defensive line that is sketchy at best. On the other side, the Patriots need to make sure the offensive line is well disciplined, and if they play the brand of football they are capable of then this should be a walk in the park.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday 14th January, 6:05pm (UK Time)
|Jaguars v Steelers||
As predicted, the Jaguars’ game against the Bills was a defensive showcase which the Jaguars won 10-3. Blake Bortles didn’t have a clue what he was doing throwing the ball, instead making numerous plays with his feet. He was just lucky Jalen Ramsey was playing lights out and made the game-winning interception to seal it. If this team plays the way it did last week, it’s going to lose pretty easily against a much stronger Steelers team. The offence must step up and put points on the board because Pittsburgh definitely will, regardless of how well the corners play.
Despite it being the most likely match up, this is the one Pittsburgh didn’t want. They were embarrassed by the Jaguars 30-9 in week five in which Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. The team has progressed well since then, and the return of Antonio Brown will provide a huge boost to both locker room morale and the passing game performance. The defence doesn’t have to do much to contain the Jags offence except make sure that Leonard Fournette is accounted for on every play and Bortles isn’t allowed out the pocket.
To win, Big Ben just has to remember which team he is meant to throw the ball to. If he does that then the Steelers should be fine because they have too much fire power on offence for even the Jags’ solid defence. For the Jags to win, Bortles is going to have to put points on the board and have the game of his life, showing fans and players alike that he isn’t a bust.
New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings
Sunday 14th January, 9:40pm (UK Time)
|Saints v Vikings||
The Saints have got to the playoffs off the back of a strong running game, but it was the passing game that got them through last week. Drew Brees threw for 376 yards, which included an 80-yard bomb to Tedd Ginn for a touchdown early in the game. He showed he is still one of the game’s best and that this offence has more than one trick up its sleeve. The defence did enough to keep the Panthers at bay by applying constant defensive line pressure, but it will be a whole different kettle of fish this week against the Vikings, who are strong against both the pass and run.
The Vikings are the most well-rounded team in the NFL that do not have any significant weaknesses across the board. Case Keenum and Adam Thielen have both posted career years and their chemistry is noticeable in the passing game, seemingly able to find space when and where they want. If the Saints manage to take away Thielen, then Stefon Diggs is ready and waiting to burn them on the other side of the field. On the defence, Everson Griffin is going to get pressure from the line, then good luck passing on Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, even if your name is Drew Brees.
This is easily the game of the weekend that is going to be great to watch. There may not be many points, so look for small things like special teams and field position to play a huge role. It’s likely that whichever offence gets the most big plays in the passing game will take the win here.