Falcons (11-6) at Eagles (13-3)
LINE: ATLANTA by 3
Sometimes, there is not a lot to figure out. Take this game for instance. The Eagles had a great year until QB Carson Wentz went down. Since then however, Philadelphia’s warts have been exposed and they are less than pretty. In just his second year, Wentz grew up very quickly in his inauguration as the Eagles’ quarterback as he matured into a confident MVP candidate with his ability to pass, scramble and utilize a clock. Backup Nick Foles is none of the above. Foles has had three starts in his return to Philadelphia after being an understudy in St. Louis, Kansas City and here for one year. While Philly’s record in Foles’ three games was 2-1, there wasn’t much to be excited about as the Eagles barely got by the lowly Giants, had no right beating the Raiders and then lost the season’s finale 6-0 to Dallas. Foles was 0-3 against the spread (ATS) in that set, taking him to a less than formidable 4-11 versus the points in his past 15 starts. Ability aside, the Eagles visibly lose their swagger with Foles at the helm. Many were hoping to grab the Falcons with some points once this matchup was determined. Fat chance. Bookmakers aren’t that careless. There’s good reason that this marks the first time that a No. 1 seed has been an underdog in this round of the post-season. Oddsmakers understand that Matt Ryan and his experienced club lays over Foles (one playoff start) and his group of playoff novices. Atlanta has played well recently, winning seven of nine with only losses to Vikes and Saints. They carried that momentum into Los Angeles last week and disposed of the league’s highest scoring club by allowing it just 13 points. Remember the Raiders a year ago after Derek Carr went down and they were smoked in first round of playoffs by Brock Osweiler’s Broncos? Yeah, we remember that also.
TAKING: FALCONS –3
Titans (10-7) at Patriots (13-3)
LINE: NEW ENGLAND by 13½
A hundred things had to go right for the Titans to defeat the Chiefs last week. Don’t expect the same good fortune in this one. Not against the disciplined Patriots and not with a Titans’ team that simply doesn’t have the offence to stay within range here. Even with the big pointspread, it will be challenging. Tennessee is the only team to make the post-season with a negative point differential. The Titans wound up -22 on the season after scoring a 19th ranked 334 points while allowing 356. By contrast, New England was +162 when racking up 458 points compared to the 296 it relinquished. QB Marcus Mariota somehow guided his team to the playoffs despite a season that saw him toss more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13). While Tennessee’s defence was respectable this season, it faces a big task here, particularly as it pertains to Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski. The Titans were inept at limiting tight ends this campaign, allowing opposing teams 76 receptions, 853 yards and five touchdowns to the position. Kansas City was in control of things last week when Tennessee couldn’t stop Travis Kelce who had 66 yards receiving on four receptions and a touchdown before exiting in the second quarter after getting dinged and placed in concussion protocol. The Pats won the Super Bowl without Gronk a year ago. You can bet that his presence will be felt on this day. The big number may deter some but historically, teams spotting seven or more in this round have fared well with a 45-37-3 ATS mark. The Pats were laying 16 last season at this time to the Texans before covering with a 34-16 win. New England found itself in some controversy this past week that suggested discord among the team. Because of their huge success, the Patriots would draw attention from boiling an egg. But as we’ve seen, this only inspires them to be at their best and if the same holds true here, the Titans are in for a long evening.
TAKING: PATRIOTS –13½
Jaguars (11-6) at Steelers (13-3)
LINE: PITTSBURGH -7½
Quickly now, who scored more points this season between the Steelers and Jaguars? If you said Steelers, and we’re pretty sure you did, you might be as surprised as us to know that Jacksonville actually outscored Pittsburgh this season by a few points. Not many would be shocked to know that the Jags also allowed fewer points (40 to be exact) than their host today after the Jaguars’ rugged defence finished first in passing yards allowed and second in both total yards and points allowed. Those that remember back to early October of this season can also recall Jacksonville defeating the mighty Steelers by a 30-9 count on this very field in one of Pittsburgh’s two home losses. Ignore it all if you choose to but we think you’re either being foolish or pigheaded to refuse the large allotment of points being offered here. We understand those that believe, “Pittsburgh will kill them”. After all, Pittsburgh is the sexier team with its huge fan base and multiple Super Bowl championships while Jacksonville is barely on the football map. The Steelers have Ben and LeVeon and Antonio Brown. The Jaguars have punchline Blake Bortles and receivers you’ve never heard of. But with such perception and stature comes a price tag. Let’s also not ignore that in most situations, defence trumps offence. Jacksonville was able to pick off Ben Roethlisberger five times in the first meeting. Expecting a repeat performance that bad is unreasonable but one or two turnovers (Jaguars 2nd overall with 33 takeaways) in this one will be enough for a Jacksonville cover. We also have our concerns with Pittsburgh’s defence as it’s been a suspect unit to begin with and the loss of leader and top defender Ryan Shazier heightens concerns. No matter how you cut it, Pittsburgh is being overvalued here. Since that loss to the Jaguars in Week 5, the Steelers have won just three of 11 games by more than five points. None were against a defence as good as this one. Win or lose, Jags are the prudent play here.
TAKING: JAGUARS +7½
Saints (12-5) at Vikings (13-3)
LINE: MINNESOTA by 4½
Good matchup to close out the Divisional Round as two of the NFC’s top teams will square off in order to obtain entry into the Conference Finals next Sunday. The Saints emerged from a very competitive NFC South division while the Vikings toppled their tattered NFC North foes. After losing its first two games, New Orleans turned things around by winning eight straight and establishing itself as a conference contender. One of those early losses was at this venue to Minnesota on opening day after the Vikes emerged with a 29-19 decision. While it is clear that things subsequently improved for the Saints from that point on, the Vikings continued to roll all season long with hardly a hiccup. After splitting its first four games, Minnesota went on to win 11 of 12 before capturing the NFC’s top seed and home field throughout these playoffs. If so lucky, the Vikings can become the first team to ever host the Super Bowl on its home field. There’s reason to believe they can do it. Mike Zimmer’s team plays outstanding defence. His squad ranked first in total yards and points allowed before finishing second in both rushing and passing yards allowed. This stingy squad gave up an average of just 12.5 points per game on this field. The most any visitor was able to tally was the 19 that the Saints earned in that opener. After that, no team reached 18 and that included the league’s top scoring Rams, who managed just seven points here. There are reservations discounting Drew Brees’ savvy and ability while he’s up against a first-time playoff quarterback in Case Keenum and refusing points with Brees who is 21-12 ATS when getting 3½ or more but we also cannot ignore that New Orleans was a sub .500 team on the road this season and have lost three straight away games entering this one. Minny is rested. Zimmer’s group has covered eight of 10 after extra rest. The Vikes are 25-8 past 33 as hosts. Too much points their way.
TAKING: MINNESOTA –4½
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies