The Divisional round brought us plenty of action, surprises, and upsets. The Patriots are still here, the Jags are still in it, the Vikings just hung on, and the Eagles are still hang tough. We had four quality matchups of old, experienced QBs, against younger, inexperienced guys. The young guns pulled through in 3 of the games to make this next round interesting. These playoffs are sure delivering the drama. I’m going to break down these two big games and make predictions for both!
Patriots vs Jaguars
This matchup was a bit surprising. So many people, including the Steelers were expecting a Pittsburgh vs New England rematch. On paper, The Steelers offense just looked like it was going to control the game and put up points while the defense got pressure on Bortles and kept the ball out of his hands. The Jaguars defense didn’t really slow Pittsburgh down but they made key stops and Pittsburgh just struggled to stop the Jaguars offense from moving down the field. Jacksonville came into Pittsburgh and pulled off the upset to head to Foxborough. New England had to get through the Titans. New England was expected by many to coast through this game comfortably and roll by the Titans without any hint of an upset. They certainly delivered at that expectation. The Titans couldn’t get the run going, so the offense couldn’t really move the ball much at all. The Patriots offense just put the ball in Brady’s hands and he did the rest as they rolled to an easy 3 score win. New England’s next test isn’t quite as easy. Tom Brady does so well when he has time and can get the ball out to Cooks, Hogan, and Gronk. Not many teams have enough personnel to match up with all those guys. The Titans certainly lacked the man power to double cover Gronk and still cover the receivers and running backs. Do the Jaguars have the guys to stop or at least slow down the Patriots? I say yes. The Steelers have just as many, if not more weapons than the Patriots and the defenses are similar in terms of skill and talent. Jacksonville has the quickness at linebacker to stick with Gronk, as well as the physical safeties over the top to maintain Gronk. They also have the very talented corners in Bouye and Ramsey to cover Hogan and Cooks. So who’s left to cover the running back? Leave that to Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, or Church. They certainly have the speed, athleticism, physicality, and manpower to slow down this offense. If they can pressure Brady throughout, they could very well punch their ticket to the big game so long as they keep the ball moving on offense. For the Patriots, they need to give Brady time and let the various receivers get the mismatches. Lewis or White could capitalize on a matchup with Posluszney or Jack with their sheer speed and quickness. Brady might need to rely on the quick check-downs and short cross routes to move the chains. If Brady can get time and move the chains, they might not even have to worry about what the Jacksonville offense does. Both teams have pretty solid chances of punching their tickets to Minnesota, but who is most likely to be able to put their winning game plan into action. I think it’s more likely that the Jags’ defense does their thing than the Pats’ defense. The Patriots defense isn’t quite as physical as the Steelers defense and don’t get near as much pressure on the pass rush. This will give Fournette better opportunities to bull his way down field and let Bortles have more time to move the chains. The Steelers offense also has just a bit more talent and firepower than New England so I can see the Jags matching up better on defense and making more stops. I just can really see Jacksonville forcing the Patriots into some tough spots then converting when they have the ball. The defense will make some key stops and Fournette will keep the chains moving and get into the end zone with Bortles. I like the Jaguars here.
JAX 24 NE 20
Vikings vs Eagles
The NFC matchup certainly is an interesting one! These quarterbacks are both players that have been repetitively counted out in their careers and been overlooked. Both quarterbacks weren’t even supposed to start this season and thanks to injuries and solid play, here they are. Keenum went undrafted when he entered the league and was never given much of a chance to succeed. He swooped in when Bradford went down and began making his name known. He ran a solid Vikings offense and helped make this team a viable threat. He helped compliment this rock solid defense, and just chalked up win after win. He’s stepped into this offense and helped make them a top 10 offense in the league. Keenum has played incredibly efficient football, helped make Thielen a star, and made the Vikings a winning juggernaut in the league.Foles was drafted back in 2012 in the 3rd round but never really stood out. He had a short time of playoff football but he never really got his feet off the ground. He was sent to St. Louis in 2015 where he went 4-7 as a starter and then got sent to the Chiefs the following year where he went 1-0 as a starter. After having one season of success followed by 4 mediocre seasons, Foles has taken over for the injured Wentz and has complimented this team wonderfully. He’s not the flashiest passer in the league, but he manages the game very well and moves the chains with ease. He makes the plays necessary to work the clock, get first downs, and win games. He is now at the helm of a very good team and might not need to do more than manage games. Will Keenum be able to step up and make plays if the running game gets stuffed? Can Foles do enough to overcome the leagues best defense? In this game I’m betting on Keenum and this great defense! Keenum has the knowledge and patience to make plays. The Eagles run defense is the best in the league and could very well stonewall Murray and McKinnon. When the rush struggles to do very much at all, Keenum will need to step up. The Vikings defense will stop the Eagles offense. They have the second best pass defense the second best run defense and they have allowed the fewest points in the league. Foles will certainly struggle to move the ball and this run game lead by Blount and Ajayi will be slowed down. They have shut down Jordan Howard, Kamara/Ingram, and Gurley this season and this game won’t be any different. The defense will give Keenum plenty of chances with the ball and I think he’ll do enough to reward the defense’s hard work and get the win.
MIN 16 PHI 10
The Vikings and Jaguars are my picks to make it to the Super Bowl. It’ll be a Super Bowl of firsts as the Vikings become the first team to play at home. The Jaguars make it to their first Super Bowl in team history. I can’t wait to watch these exciting games. These championship games will be must watch football.