NFL Divisional Round Preview: Time for a Changing of the Guard?

In what might be the most intriguing divisional rounds in a long time, it’s experience against youth playing out across the board.

Brady and his five rings takes on Mariota after one playoff start. And it’s the same story for Roethlisberger, who takes on a Bortles; and even Drew Brees and Matt Ryan who take on Case Keenum and Nick Foles. Are we finally going to see a changing of the guard in the NFL?

After going 2-2 in a wacky wild-card weekend, we’ve broken down all this week’s best action to prepare you for what never fails to be the most exciting round of the NFL playoffs!

Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles

Sat 13th Jan: 9.35pm Sky Sports Action

Can anyone remember a number-one seed, playing at home in the divisional round of the playoffs, being 3-point underdogs? No…

It seems crazy, but the December injury to quarterback Carson Wentz has left the Eagles in uncharted territory, and backup Nick Foles has been inconsistent at best in his three starts this year. They are also taking on a Falcons side full of confidence after upsetting the Rams on the road last week.

Most fans feel Philadelphia’s +3 point handicap seems too complimentary considering the circumstances. However, I’m inclined to agree with it, and feel the divisional round could well kick-off with an upset.

The Eagles are still one of the most talented rosters in the league, and their dominant defensive line has a good shot to shut down Atlanta’s running game, the cornerstone of their entire offense.

It also figures to be freezing cold in Philadelphia on Saturday, which plays right into the Eagles hands. A win is a longshot, but this game has all the hallmarks of a low-scoring slugfest, and I’ll take the Eagles – powered by rookie kicker Jake Elliott – to edge out a close one.

Tips:

Total Points under 41 10/11

Money Line – Philadelphia Eagles 13/10

 

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Sun 14th Jan: 1.15am Sky Sports Action

Tom Brady’s quest for his sixth Super Bowl title begins in earnest late Saturday night (early Sunday our time). And let’s be honest, there are only so many touchdowns Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota can throw to himself…

As unlikely and impressive as the Titans wild-card win against the Chiefs was, they realistically stand little chance in this one. They have their strengths – namely their power running game – but Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the master of forcing the opposition to ‘play left-handed’. It takes a very balanced team to beat the Patriots and the Titans simply aren’t that. They have a poor passing attack and are too reliant on turnovers on defence.

The Patriots should cruise their way into their rightful place in the AFC championship game.

Tips:

Rob Gronkowski to score 2 or more TD’s 11/4

New England Patriots total TD’s over 3.5  11/10

 

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Sun 14th Jan: 6.05pm Sky Sports Action

I really thought the Jaguars would be the most impressive team of the wild card weekend. Needless to say, I was wrong.

So called ‘Sacksonville’ lived up to their defensive billing, but quarterback Blake Bortles has regressed hugely over his last three games and was lucky to not throw multiple interceptions. He won’t have the same fortune on the road in Pittsburgh.

The Jaguars man-handled the Steelers so badly early in the season that it sparked the ‘is Ben Roethlisberger done?’ conversation. However, as I have said before, the playoffs are all about form and the Jaguars just aren’t clicking like they have at times this season. The Steelers also get star receiver Antonio Brown back, and rarely slip up at home.

It will be a close game due to the ineptitude of Jacksonville’s offense and strength of their defence, but I expect Brown to edge it at the end and the Steelers to win.

Tips:

JuJu Smith Schuster anytime touchdown scorer 6/4

Pittsburgh Steelers winning margin 1-6 points 3/1

Antonio Brown last touchdown scorer 6/1

 

New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

Sun 14th Jan: 9.40pm Sky Sports Action

In my early predictions I thought these two teams would meet each other in the NFC championship game. That’s obviously not the case, but I still believe these are the two best teams in the conference and that the winner of this game will play in the Super Bowl.

These teams met in week 1, resulting in a New Orleans loss, but both sides have changed beyond comprehension since then. They are both mind-blowingly balanced, with game changing talent across the field.

This is such a tough game to pick, but I’m going to put stock in what is often one of the most telling stats – 3rd down conversion rate. The Vikings have the third best 3rd down conversion rate in the league on offense, and a historically (I’m not joking, no-one’s ever come close to them) great rate of third down stops on defence. Compare this to the Saints who have an average (19th ranked) 3rd down conversion rate on offense, and the 27th ranked rate on defence.

Both these teams are great, but I can’t ignore that stat. I’ll take the Vikings to win by a surprising margin.

Tips:

Minnesota Vikings -5 point handicap  10/11

Stefon Diggs anytime touchdown scorer 6/5

 

Accumulator and Prop Bets

Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings all to win  3,69/1

QB underdogs foursome – most passing yards out of Keenum, Mariota, Foles, and Bortles: Nick Foles 11/4

Divisional round most receiving yards: Adam Thielen 6/1

*Odds were correct at time of publishing the article

William Brittain is a freelance sports writer covering rugby union and the NFL. Based in London, his work includes features for Sky Sports and Saracens Rugby Club.

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