NFL Divisional Playoff Round Preview
The NFL's final eight teams take center stage in the Divisional Playoffs this week. The NFL heads into the Divisional Playoffs with a slate of four make-or-break games on tap and a chance to advance to the conference championship games.
On Saturday, January 13, the Philadelphia Eagles (13-3), who won the NFC East and secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC, will host the Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Lincoln Financial Field to kick off the weekend (NBC, 4:35 PM ET). That night in primetime (CBS, 8:15 PM ET), the New England Patriots (13-3), who won the AFC East and own the No. 1 seed in the AFC, will host the Tennessee Titans (10-7) at Gillette Stadium.
On Sunday, January 14, the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3), the AFC North champions, will welcome the AFC South-champion Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) to Heinz Field (CBS, 1:05 PM ET) and the Minnesota Vikings (13-3), who won the NFC North, will host the New Orleans Saints (12-5) at U.S. Bank Stadium (FOX, 4:40 PM ET), the home of Super Bowl LII.
Among the eight remaining NFL playoff teams are the Eagles and Jaguars, who both completed "worst-to-first" turnarounds. At least one team has won its division the season after finishing in or tied for last place in 14 of the past 15 seasons. Half of the remaining eight teams -- Eagles, Vikings, Saints and Jaguars -- finished in either third or fourth place in their divisions last year. And, with the addition of the Titans, five of the final eight clubs are new teams in this year's playoff field.
Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
(Saturday, NBC, 4:35 PM ET)
This is the fourth postseason meeting between the teams and the first since 2004 when the Eagles defeated the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game 27-10 (January 23, 2005) to advance to Super Bowl XXXIX. The Eagles lead the all-time series 18-14-1, including the postseason. Philadelphia won the last meeting 24-15 in Week 10, 2016 (November 13).
The Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 last week to advance to the Divisional Playoffs. Quarterback MATT RYAN threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver JULIO JONES and posted a 101.8 passer rating. Ryan has registered a passer rating of at least 100 in five consecutive playoff games, tied for the second-longest streak in the Super Bowl era. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (eight) owns a longer streak.
Ryan has a 102.4 career postseason passer rating, the third-best mark in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts). Only Pro Football Hall of Famers BART STARR (104.8) and KURT WARNER (102.8) have a higher mark.
Atlanta had two players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: wide receiver Jones and center ALEX MACK.
The Eagles tied a franchise record with 13 wins (2004) and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the fourth time since 2002. Philadelphia had six players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: guard BRANDON BROOKS, defensive tackle FLETCHER COX, tight end ZACH ERTZ, safety MALCOLM JENKINS, tackle LANE JOHNSON and quarterback CARSON WENTZ.
Three Eagles had at least eight touchdown receptions this season: wide receivers ALSHON JEFFERY (nine) and NELSON AGHOLOR (eight) and tight end Ertz (eight).
The Eagles were soaring and appeared destined for Super Bowl 52 while the Falcons seemed to still be dazed by last year's stunning defeat to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51.
However, since Carson Wentz's seasoning-ending injury against during the Eagles' Week 15 victory over the Rams, the Eagles have had lackluster victories over the Giants and Raiders, compounded by a 6-0 home loss to the Cowboys during the final week of the regular season. Without their franchise QB, the Eagles have had to rely on Nick Foles, who had only one decent performance against three mediocre opponents.
Meanwhile, the Falcons of late have been playing well. Their wild-card road win over the Los Angeles Rams last week wasn't stellar, but it's an indication that the Falcons may have what it takes to advance to the NFC Championship. And when it's playoff time; it's "Matty Ice" time.
Prediction: Falcons 24 Eagles 10
Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3)
(Saturday, CBS, 8:15 PM ET)
This is the third postseason meeting between the teams and the first since the 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff (January 10, 2004) which New England won 17-14. The Patriots lead the all-time series 24-16-1, including the playoffs, and have won six in a row. The teams last met in Week 15, 2015 (December 20) with the Patriots coming out on top with a 33-16 victory.
The Titans earned their first postseason win since 2003 (January 3, 2004 at Baltimore in the Wild Card round) with last week's 22-21 come-from-behind win at Kansas City. Tennessee erased a 21-3 halftime deficit and joined the 1957 Detroit Lions as the only teams to overcome an 18+ point deficit to win a road playoff game.
Quarterback MARCUS MARIOTA threw two touchdown passes in the Wild Card victory, including a six-yard touchdown pass to himself. He is the only player in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass to himself in a postseason game. Running back DERRICK HENRY rushed for 156 yards, including a 35-yard TD, against the Chiefs and joined EDDIE GEORGE (162 yards on January 16, 2000) as the only players in club history to rush for at least 150 yards in a playoff game.
Tennessee had three players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: defensive tackle JURRELL CASEY, punter BRETT KERN and tackle TAYLOR LEWAN.
New England won its ninth consecutive division title, the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots are the only team to win 14 division titles in a 15-year span. New England has won at least 12 games in eight consecutive seasons, the longest streak in league annals.
Quarterback TOM BRADY, who led the NFL with 4,577 passing yards this season, has 25 career playoff wins, the most in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL postseason leader in career completions (831), attempts (1,325), passing yards (9,094) and touchdown passes (63).
The Patriots had four players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: quarterback Brady, fullback JAMES DEVELIN, tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI and special teamer MATTHEW SLATER.
Despite the inner turmoil between the Brady-Brady-Belichick-Kraft troika, the Patriots should win these game easily. Expect the Titans to keep it close during the first half.
Prediction: Patriots 35 Titans 14
Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
(Sunday, CBS, 1:05 PM ET)
This is the second postseason meeting between the teams. The Jaguars defeated the Steelers 31-29 in the 2007 AFC Wild Card Playoffs (January 5, 2008). Jacksonville leads the all-time series 13-11, including the postseason, and defeated Pittsburgh earlier this season, knocking off the Steelers 30-9 in Week 5 (October 8) at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars defeated Buffalo 10-3 last week as the team earned its first home playoff win since 1999 (January 15, 2000 vs. Miami in the Divisional round). Quarterback BLAKE BORTLES connected with tight end BEN KOYACK for the game's only touchdown.
In Jacksonville's Week 5 win at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars recorded five interceptions -- returning two for touchdowns -- and rookie running back LEONARD FOURNETTE rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The Jaguars had four players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: cornerbacks A.J. BOUYE and JALEN RAMSEY, defensive end CALAIS CAMPBELL and defensive tackle MALIK JACKSON.
Pittsburgh won the AFC North for the second consecutive year, the team's eighth division title since realignment in 2002. The Steelers have 36 postseason victories, the most in NFL history.
Steelers wide receiver ANTONIO BROWN led the league with 1,533 receiving yards and is the only player in franchise history to lead the NFL in receiving yards multiple times. Brown has 582 receptions and 7,848 receiving yards over the past five seasons, the most in NFL history over any five-year span for both categories.
The Steelers had an NFL-best eight players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: running back LE'VEON BELL, kicker CHRIS BOSWELL, wide receiver Brown, guard DAVID DE CASTRO, center MAURKICE POUNCEY, quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER, linebacker RYAN SHAZIER and tackle ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA.
Give credit to the Jaguars for their 30-9 home win over the Steelers, but there's no way the Steelers or Ben Roethlisberger to have the same dismal performance again. They have a score to settle with the Patriots in the AFC Championship,
Prediction: Steelers 27 Jaguars 3
New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
(Sunday, FOX, 4:40 PM ET)
The teams will meet in the playoffs for the fourth time with Minnesota holding a 2-1 advantage. In their last postseason meeting, the Saints defeated the Vikings 31-28 in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game (January 24, 2010) en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV. Minnesota, which leads the all-time series 21-11 (including the playoffs), defeated New Orleans earlier this season, knocking off the Saints 29-19 on Kickoff Weekend (September 11).
The Saints recorded a 31-26 victory over the Carolina Panthers in last week's Wild Card showdown, the team's first playoff win since 2013 (January 4, 2014 at Philadelphia in the Wild Card round). Quarterback DREW BREES passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns and wide receivers MICHAEL THOMAS (131 yards) and TED GINN, JR. (115) each recorded 100 yards.
Brees has seven career 300-yard passing games in the postseason, the third-most in NFL history. He has passed for at least 300 yards in seven of his 12 career playoff games.
New Orleans had six players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: quarterback Brees, running backs MARK INGRAM and ALVIN KAMARA, defensive end CAMERON JORDAN, cornerback MARSHON LATTIMORE and wide receiver Thomas.
Minnesota captured the NFC North for the second time in the past three seasons and earned a first-round bye for the first time since 2009. The team's 13 regular-season wins are the most since 1998 when the club went 15-1.
Quarterback CASE KEENUM, who played in 15 games and made 14 starts, set career-highs in attempts (481), completions (325), completion percentage (67.6), yards (3,547), touchdowns (22) and passer rating (98.3). Keenum posted a passer rating of at least 100 in eight games this season and the Vikings were a perfect 8-0 in those contests.
The Vikings had four players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl: linebacker ANTHONY BARR, defensive end EVERSON GRIFFEN, cornerback XAVIER RHODES and wide receiver ADAM THIELEN.
Lets see ... Vikings 7-1 at home; Vikings first team to have a chance of playing in the Super Bowl in their home Stadium; Drew Brees at quarterback for the Saints; and a Saints offense built for the playoffs.
You'd hate to see it happen, unless your a Saints fan, but this one has upset written all over it.
Prediction: Saints 24 Vikings 21
What To Look For
From "Worst To First"
The Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars both advanced to the Divisional Playoffs after completing "worst-to-first" turnarounds this season. At least one team has won its division the season after finishing in or tied for last place in 14 of the past 15 seasons.
In the previous 14 seasons, four teams that went from "worst-to-first" in their divisions have advanced to the conference championship game and two earned Super Bowl berths -- the 2003 Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl XXXVIII) and the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who won Super Bowl XLIV.
Five of the remaining eight playoff teams -- the Eagles, Saints and Vikings in the NFC and the Jaguars and Titans in the AFC -- missed the postseason in 2016, marking the fifth time since 1990 -- and the first since 2000 -- that five teams advanced to the Divisional Playoffs after missing the postseason in the previous year.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has appeared in 36 postseason games as a head coach and has 26 career playoff wins, the most wins all-time by a head coach.
Belichick, who coaches against Tennessee on Saturday night, will surpass Pro Football Hall of Famers TOM LANDRY (36) and DON SHULA (36) for the most postseason games as a head coach in league history.
When It Counts
New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY has 25 career postseason victories, the most playoff wins all-time by a starting quarterback, while Pittsburgh quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER is tied for sixth with 13 career postseason wins.
Roethlisberger, who plays against Jacksonville on Sunday, can tie Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRY BRADSHAW and JOHN ELWAY and PEYTON MANNING for the third-most playoff victories by a starting quarterback in NFL history. Brady can also extend his NFL record on Saturday.
Age Is Just A Number
New England's TOM BRADY (40 years, 163 days old on Saturday) and Tennessee's MARCUS MARIOTA (24 years, 75 days old) will face off in the Divisional Playoffs on Saturday.
Brady and Mariota have an age difference of 16 years and 88 days, the largest age difference between opposing starting quarterbacks in a playoff game in NFL history.
Matty Ice In The Postseason
Atlanta quarterback MATT RYAN completed 21 of 30 passes (70 percent) for 218 yards and a touchdown for a 101.8 passer rating in the Falcons' 26-13 win at the Los Angeles Rams on Wild Card Weekend.
Ryan, who plays at Philadelphia on Saturday, has recorded a passer rating of at least 100 in five consecutive postseason games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (eight) has a longer such streak.
Ryan has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in five consecutive postseason games and can tie Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN (six) for the longest streak in postseason annals.
New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns for a 115.2 passer rating in the Saints' 31-26 Wild Card Weekend win over Carolina.
Brees, who plays at Minnesota on Sunday, has thrown for at least 375 yards in four career postseason games and can tie PEYTON MANNING (five) for the most such games in NFL history.
Tennessee running back DERRICK HENRY rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown in the Titans' 22-21 win at Kansas City on Wild Card Weekend. Henry, who will appear in his second career postseason game on Saturday, can join some elite company with another strong performance.
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