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2017 NFL Playoff Preview – Divisional Weekend

2017 NFL Playoff Preview – Divisional Weekend

The first week of the NFL playoffs is out of the way and now we are looking forward to what is in store for the divisional round. These teams will be one step closer to their dream of reaching the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

AFC

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

Many football fans were shocked when they saw the Titans beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium last week, given that they didn’t have one of their starting running backs in the game (DeMarco Murray). However, they were able to stay in the game after the Chiefs had a significant injury of their own as Travis Kelce had to go out due to a concussion. Their offense became stagnant and gave the Titans a chance to get back in the game, and they finished with a 22-21 win to move on to face the New England Patriots. Coming off a bye week with a 13-3 record, the Patriots want to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards this season and was mainly responsible for the team being one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. This is partially a counter to their defense, who gives up a lot of yards. However, those yards given up don’t necessarily translate into points allowed, as they are top 5 in points allowed per game. The tandem of Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy have combined for 12 sacks this season but Van Noy will be dealing with a calf injury in this game against the Titans. They will need to come together with the rest of the front seven to stop the rushing attack led by Derrick Henry, who had 156 yards last week.

The Titan defense was very impressive in the Wild Card game against the Chiefs as they held NFL’s leading rusher Kareem Hunt to just 42 yards on 11 carries. They would like to duplicate that while also containing the multiple weapons that New England has, including Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, and Danny Amendola. Chris Hogan will be suited up for the game even though he has some issues with his shoulder. Tennessee was able to get four sacks on Alex Smith as well last week, and that was key to them coming back from a 21-3 deficit at halftime to get the win. They may be able to stay in the game at Gillette Stadium if they get pressure on Brady which could lead to sacks or turnovers.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

This game should have a lot of eyes on it as these two teams have played each other in the regular season, with Jacksonville getting the win 30-9 while having under 100 yards passing against the Steelers. They dominated on defense getting five interceptions with two of them being returned for touchdowns. With the way that they were able to swarm the Steelers offense on October 8th, they are coming into this game highly confident that they could do it again. It didn’t seem like that last week, as they got past the Buffalo Bills in a sloppy game that they won 10-3 and hardly getting anything done on offense. They will have to be much better to compete against a team that usually steps up come playoff time.

Pittsburgh has been dealing with a few stories off the field, as the talk of LeVeon Bell’s contract has been a hot topic over the past week. They will have to shrug that off in order to get to the AFC Championship Game as they are hopeful that the return of Antonio Brown from a calf injury will spark their offense on Sunday afternoon. In his absence, there has been key contributions coming from rookie receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant which will help against the Jaguar secondary led by AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Will Ben Roethlisberger have flashbacks of that five interception performance? If so, then that could spell trouble for the Steelers.

NFC

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

Coming off of their impressive win against the Los Angeles Rams, the Atlanta Falcons are going to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Philadelphia Eagles and see if they can keep that momentum going to get to the NFC Championship Game. Matt Ryan had a solid game against the Rams, as he did not turn the ball over and got the ball to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu when needed. They also rushed for over 100 yards as a team last week against one of the most aggressive defenses in the league. Now they will need to repeat that performance against an Eagles defense that allowed under 20 points per game and has the best rushing defense in the NFL. They have a stout defensive front with Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox at the defensive tackle spots, and Vinny Curry has contributed at the defensive end spot. Up to the time of this article being published, it is unknown if the other starting defensive end Brandon Graham will suit up for the game today. He has a high ankle sprain and it may be a last minute decision if he plays against the Falcons. They will need him against the running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Now on the other side, we will finally see if Nick Foles is able to step up in a big game atmosphere as he took over the quarterback duties from Carson Wentz who went down with an ACL tear against the Rams in Week 14. Wentz was well on his way to an MVP-caliber season before that injury, and now with Foles in there the Eagles faithful are uncertain if they can get to the Super Bowl with him at QB. They adopt a spread offense with three wide receivers and a tight end, and LeGarrette Blount will be alongside Foles to run the ball. Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson will be working with his offensive coordinator Frank Reich to have Foles making quick, but patient decisions behind center against a defense that will want to put pressure on Foles. In the Wild Card Game against the Rams, the Falcons were able to get three sacks on Jared Goff who was playing in his first playoff game. Now against the Eagles they are dealing with someone with more experience but has a lot of pressure to come through with a good performance for his team.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

In Week 1, these two teams faced each other with the Vikings getting the victory 29-19. However, the leading passer and leading rusher in that game are not available for this game as Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook are out with injuries. Case Keenum took over at quarterback and the Vikings were able to post a record of 13-3 with guys like Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon stepping up in the running back position and Adam Thielen being one of the best receivers in the NFL. Keenum had good numbers in the regular season, throwing for 22 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. As long as he is able to make the right play, the Vikings offense will be able to move the ball well against a defense that gives up over 300 yards per game. They have to take care of the ball, however, as the Saints are among the league leaders in interceptions.

Drew Brees had a pretty good game against the Panthers last week, but he will need help from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram against a defense that leads the NFL in least yards allowed and least points allowed per game. The Vikings defense is headlined by a secondary that has 13 of the team’s 14 interceptions and has been successful defending against some of the best receivers in the league. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith were named First Team All-Pro, and Trae Waynes along with Andrew Sendejo have made this defense hard to pass on. Up front, Everson Griffen is among the league leaders in sacks, and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the Vikings in tackles. Stongside linebacker Anthony Barr was named to the Pro Bowl because of his play on the field, and he will try to get at Brees in the backfield but also watch what Kamara and Ingram are doing. The Saints may have a challenge on their hands against this defense and also a crowd at US Bank Stadium who may be the loudest that Brees and company have dealt with all season.

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