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NFL divisional round preview

Can Matt Ryan and the Falcons finally deliver on their promise? (Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)
Roar Guru
10th January, 2018
10

This weekend we head into the divisional round in the NFL – it is officially do or die. Every team puts their season on the line. Who will come out in front?

Atlanta Falcons vs Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday at 8.35am AEDT
History: Eagles lead 18-14-1
Odds: Falcons – $1.68, Eagles – $2.25

It’s the first time in NFL playoff history that a number one seed is an underdog in its first playoff game.

The Eagles have had the week off but are missing star quarterback Carson Wentz for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Nick Foles has taken the reins in the last few weeks but he isn’t of the same standard.

They finished the season with a 13-3 record, but during that run they had only two wins over teams who made the playoffs. With Wentz at the helm they had no trouble scoring points, but their defence needs work. This will be exposed by the Falcons offence this week.

Running back LeGarrette Blount has found a new lease of life at the Eagles, rushing for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Look for him to have another big game.

On the receiving side of the ball, tight end Zack Ertz and wide receiver Nelson Agholor have combined for over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns and will have a big say in the results.

The Falcons have been here before. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl last season only to blow a 25-point lead. They have talent all over the park and showed last week they can beat anyone on their day.

Prediction: The Eagles are a different team under Nick Foles. Not as good. It’s a shame that Wentz isn’t playing, as they could go all the way with him at the helm. The Falcons will win this one. 24-10.

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(Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots
Sunday, 12.15pm AEDT
History: Patriots lead 24-16-1
Odds: Titans – $7, Patriots – $1.11

The Titans surprised most people by beating the Chiefs in the wild card round, but this game is a whole different story.

We saw last week they have a good leader in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has the ability to guide his team around the park when they need him most, and they’re coming off the back of some incredible runs from running back Derrick Henry, who averaged 3.8 yards after contact against the Chiefs last week.

Henry is helping to drive his team downfield late in the game, so look for big games from him and Mariota two if the Titans have any chance of producing an upset in Foxborough.

The Patriots are a class all on their own. There is nothing this team cannot do. It’s worth noting that they haven’t lost a game since 1 October. In a league with no perfect teams, they are the closest.

Quarterback Tom Brady has had an extra week to nurse his shoulder injury. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has never looked fitter this late in a season and will cause the Titans defence a lot of headaches.

Prediction: The Patriots have been here before and know exactly what it takes to win. They will win this game easily. Look for some players to be rested late in the game, ready for the AFC Championship game next week. Patriots win this 28-3.

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(Jeffrey Beall / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Monday, 5.05am AEDT
History: Jaguars lead 13-11
Odds: Jaguars – $3.70, Steelers – $1.30

The Jaguars are one of the best defensive teams in the NFL and will need all that and more to overcome the red-hot Steelers in this clash. These two teams met in week five of the regular season, with the Jags coming away with a 30-9 win.

Quarterback Blake Bortles hasn’t been at his best for the back half of the season and probably doesn’t have the ability to lead his team to such a resounding victory again.

The Key for the Jags is to play a long, grinding, low-scoring battle.

They will need to stop two of the best players in the NFL: Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who has rushed for nearly 1300 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and wide receiver Antonio Brown, with 1500 yards and nine touchdowns.

These two have led the Steelers offence from the front all season. They will play a huge part in this game and are the key to the Steelers moving on to the AFC Championship game.

We haven’t seen a lot from Jags running back Leonard Fournette in these playoffs, so look for him to have a huge impact if the Jags want to win this one.

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Prediction: This will be a step too far for the Jags. They have won nine games this season when holding teams under 10 points. They will not be able to stop the Steelers offence from running riot. Steelers to win 35-0.

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich, File)

New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings
Monday, 8.40am AEDT
History: Vikings lead 21-11
Odds: Saints – $2.67, Vikings – $1.50

What a great way to end the divisional round with this clash of two of the best teams in the NFC.

The Saints have their best team on paper since they won the Super Bowl in 2009. They lost to the Vikings in Week 1, but both teams have improved immensely since then.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the league and could turn this game on his own. Expect him to get a lot of the ball. It will be interesting to see if they run the ball much against the best defence in the country in the Vikings.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is an old head and has been here before. Experience counts for everything in the playoffs.

As mentioned earlier, the Vikings have the best defence in the league. They have held 14 of 16 opponents to less than 20 points. They will need to be at their very best to contain the Saints.

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This game will be the first playoff game for Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who took over in Week 2 of the regular season. The key for him is to continue to play the way he has all season on such a big occasion.

Prediction: This game will be tight. Not many points in it. Saints to win this one. Saints 17-14.