No. 6 Atlanta Falcons at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, Jan. 13: 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
First and foremost, this game would be completely different with Carson Wentz as the gunslinger for the Eagles. That injury is the sole reason why Vegas has made the #1 seed in the NFC underdogs at home, which shows the true impact of the loss. Nevertheless, the Eagles still have a very formidable team and will need to adjust their gameplan to suit what Foles does best: hand the ball off and throw the ball only to wide open receivers. The problem for the Eagles is that Foles is abysmal under pressure, and everyone knows it. Foles passer rating drops from 107.8 when kept clean to 23.8 under pressure. YIKES. Quick advice: figure out creative run schemes to get chunk plays on the ground with your stable of running backs and then hit the Falcons with deep play action passes.
The Falcons, on the other hand, looked great against the Rams who many predicted could run the table to the Super Bowl. Their offense is clicking at the right time heading into this matchup which does not bode well for the Eagles. The Eagles have a great defense this year, but the plethora of weapons that the Falcons possess may be too much to handle with the offense lacking. Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu…who do you key on? Do you load up the box to try to make them one-dimensional and make Julio beat you? (He will). Do you play a lot of Nickel and Dime to limit Jones/Sanu? (They will run it down your throat).
I expect this to be a better game than some people may think because all of Philly will be fired up (potentially starting fights), but expect the Falcons to beat the Eagles 27-20.
No. 5 Tennessee Titans at No. 1 New England Patriots
Saturday, Jan. 13: 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
If they were coached by anyone else or had any other quarterback, then I would say that the Patriots might overlook the Titans looking ahead to a potential rematch with the Steelers and lose this game. Well, that is not happening folks. Belichick will have the Patriots with the mindset that this game needs to be over by halftime, and it very well could be. Very few expected the Titans to go into Kansas City and beat the Chiefs, so I have to tip my cap to them for playing hard and pulling it off. The reason that I am a bit hesitant to give them more credit is that it would have been a much different game if Travis Kelce doesn’t get hurt.
As good as Gronk is, Kelce means more to their offense simply due to Alex Smith relying on his ability to win his matchups and bail them out when they need it. Belichick saw what Derrick Henry did to the Chiefs and will absolutely shut him down because that is what he does best. He recognizes your greatest asset and makes sure you have to figure out another way to beat them. He will make Marcus Mariota air it out to win and I can’t see that happening, but Mariota could do some damage scrambling which is why they should try to keep him moving outside the pocket consistently.
The Patriots are simply too talented, too well coached, and too experienced to let the Titans beat them at home. Patriots win 31-17.
No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, Jan. 14: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
The Jaguars beat the Steelers in their first matchup earlier in the year which should give the Jags a lot of confidence heading into this game. They have proven that they can rattle Big Ben and force him into mistakes, which is very difficult to do in Pittsburgh. Not only that, but they just held the Bills to only 3 points last week in a playoff game. The Jags have arguably the best defense in the entire NFL, but the bad news is that the Steelers arguably have the best offense and they won’t make the same mistake they did last time.
Last game, Todd Haley took his crazy pills and decided to try to throw the ball all over the yard against the best pass defense in the NFL….in the rain….when they have Le’Veon Bell. I expect Le’Veon to have 25+ touches in this game and over 150 yards combined because running the ball is how you beat Sacksonville. They are 1st in the league against the pass, but only 21st against the run, it’s science! (Ron Burgundy voice). They will use Le’Veon to suck up the linebackers and make the corners play press with little safety help in order to stop the run, and that’s when the receivers will gash them. You want to double Antonio Brown? Well, they have JuJu biking his way into the middle of the field and getting open. Martavis Bryant is also running down the other sideline and you can’t even see him because he is creating his own smokescreen with a joint. The Steelers are just too tough to keep in check over four quarters when you have Blake Bortles trying to keep up.
Speaking of Blake “The Snake” Bortles, this is the game where he will have to throw the ball to win the game. I know what you’re thinking, “Trey, you’re expecting the guy who looks like he is trying to throw a spiral with a water balloon to air it out? That won’t work out well!” and THAT IS CORRECT. Bortles will have a tough day against the Steelers who will continue to come after him, making people remember that “oh yeah, almost forgot Bortles was awful”. Steelers beat the Jags 24-13.
No. 4 New Orleans Saints at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, Jan. 14: 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox
Saving the best game of the weekend for last. The Saints were able to win a tough game against the Panthers which came down to the wire and seem to have the momentum coming into Sunday. Historically, there is typically always one wild-card team that makes a run and I believe it will be the Saints this year. It is scary to think about, but this offense has the most weapons surrounding Drew Brees then he ever has before. Couple that with the best offensive line in the league this year, and watch out. Brees not only has one, but two Pro Bowl running backs at his disposal taking some of the weight off of his shoulders.
There isn’t a more electrifying player in the league with the ball in his hands than Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram has been playing well, so you know the Vikings will be keying on stopping the running game. The Saints offense against the Vikings defense is an incredible matchup because both have been dominant all year, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Xavier Rhodes has the ability to shut down Michael Thomas like he has done with nearly every receiver this year so the Saints will have to get creative offensively with their play-action and screen games.
On the other side of the ball, Case Keenum has been playing lights out this year as well. The emergence of Adam Thielen and that run game have certainly helped, but credit where credit is due. Marshon Lattimore will be keying on Thielen the entire game with a double team over the top so Keenum will have to depend on his backs in space as well as Kyle Rudolph to create mismatches. I predict that this will be a great game with the winner of this game representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. With that said, I like the Saints to pull out the victory over the Vikings 24-17.