Week Two NFL Playoff Selections
4–0 last week straight up, 2–1 v. the spread. Also picked Bama to beat Georgia. How much longer can I ride the first verse of Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot!”
The four playoff games in the NFL this week are incredibly even matchups. I think northeastern weather may even play a factor in helping the underdog Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in what many feel are their herculean upset tasks.
Let’s look at who is going to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl next week.
1. Atlanta at Philadelphia
The Eagles looked primed to win their first NFL Title since 1960 before Carson Wentz went down. Nick Foles began by throwing four touchdown passes against the Giants, but in his final two games has not completed more than 50 percent of his passes or thrown for any significant yardage.
What happened to the player who had a 27–2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013?
But even if Foles can regain his lost magic, the Atlanta Falcons have won seven of nine. They have a better pass rush. They want to avenge their collapse of last year.
The Eagles can win a low scoring, grind it out game. The Falcons haven’t stopped the running game particularly well this season and Philadelphia has.
But since Wentz went down no Philadelphia running back has rushed for even 60 yards in a game.
2. Tennessee at New England
Do not think the Patriots are an automatic lock this week. Far from it. The Patriots’ defense isn’t particularly dominant, and frankly Derek Henry should be able to pick up yards against them.
A day in which the temperature could plummet by as many as 40 degrees through the day to wind up playing in extremely cold temperatures as low as 11 degrees might also help a team with a hot running back like Derek Henry.
But it’s not like the Patriots don’t have a hot running back in Dion Lewis or Rex Burkhead, who should return for the game.
But who would you rather have play quarterback, Marcus Mariota or Tom Brady. Mariota is scrappy, but Brady is pristine. It’s simply more likely Mariota will throw a fatal pick than Brady.
Internal turmoil won’t help the Patriots cause. But it’s not as if they haven’t been ripped by Bill Belichick before.
3. Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Forget Jaguars and Steelers. This is a matchup of the tortoise and the hare.
The Steelers- mouthy. The Jaguars- saying only “be careful what you wish for.”
The Steelers with so many weapons- Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown, Smith-Shuster.
The Jaguars, who must play ball control with Leonard Fournette to win.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are probably the most talented team in the NFL. However, they are only the second seed in the playoffs. What’s more is they seem to constantly have some sort of turmoil; today its Le’Veon Bell threatening to retire. Yesterday it was Ben Roethlisberger, who now says he’ll be back. There’s Mike Tomlin calling out an Army veteran for standing for the anthem. There’s the touchdown celebrations that would make even Butch Johnson blush. There’s James Harrison getting cut.
And though many feel it is exceedingly cynical to criticize victories for style points, the Steelers tend to play to the level of the opponent. Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Indianapolis were closer-than-expected victories, and the Steelers even lost to Chicago.
Jacksonville routed Pittsburgh 30–9 back in October by picking off five Ben Roethlisberger passes. Blake Bortles threw only 14 passes in the game. Fournette had a 90-yard touchdown run.
But Fournette has rushed for 100 yards in only one of his last six games.
Don’t laugh, but this might be the Steelers’ toughest test to get to the Super Bowl. Tomlin needs the victory for validation as a great coach, and the Steelers have to go back to the Super Bowl to protect their legacy as the franchise with the most Super Bowl victories.
For these reasons, it would seem that old Aesop’s Fable, is rather appropriate in choosing the victor in this game.
But the Steelers have defended the run well recently, even without Ryan Shazier.
Bortles beating Roethlisberger?
4. New Orleans at Minnesota
One last proud run for Drew Brees. But now he must play against one of the most stout defenses in the NFL.
To his advantage, the Saints offensive line has allowed only 20 sacks this year. The game will be played indoors, and these two teams are so different than when they met in week one and the Vikings won by 10.
The Saints aren’t trying to give the ball to Adrian Peterson anymore. The Vikings aren’t throwing with Sam Bradford, rather with Case Keenum.
Keenum has answered his critics this season, but also will have less time to throw than Brees. That will be the determining factor.
Marky Billson can be heard on Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Links to his show, archived or seen live, can be found here.