One weekend of January football down, and another one is coming up. And this time, my favorite team (and I’m assuming yours too, since you’re reading this at PatsPulpit.com) is playing in yet another home playoff game. Patriots versus Titans! AFC divisional round! Give me a minute while I channel my inner Tom Brady … hold on, I’ve been practicing this … LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
(Side note: if you didn’t get a chance to read about my thoughts on the Titans making a surprise trip to Foxboro this weekend, you can read it here. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait.)
Just to quickly reiterate a few thoughts from that piece: I thought it was going to be the Chiefs coming to New England on Saturday, which I would’ve been fairly excited about. It would’ve been fun to avenge that embarrassing Week 1 butt-whooping the Chiefs handed the Pats to kick off the season. I was also semi-prepared for the possibility of the Bills coming to Gillette Stadium for the divisional round. I mean, I thought the Jags would beat them (as they did), but would it have been the most stunning development in the world if Buffalo had pulled out that win? Not quite. So I thought about that matchup as well. But the Titans? The previously shaky Marcus Mariota, and head coach Mike Mularkey of all people, going into Arrowhead Stadium, pulling off an upset and earning a trip to New England? The thought didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t give the Titans a chance, but here we are.
As I’ll get to in a minute, I think the Titans are completely overmatched against the Pats, and if this game obeys the laws of reality, it should be a complete and total butt-kicking, somewhere along the lines of a 30-point blowout. But you never know with the NFL these days. I mean, after all, there’s a solid chance that the Vikings could be playing in Super Bowl 52 in their home stadium, with Case Keenum as their starting quarterback. So yeah, the NFL is a little messed up nowadays.
Anyway, here are my picks for Round Two …
Falcons (-3) over EAGLES
This bums me out. The Eagles are the top seed in the NFC, they were the most exciting team to watch all year long thanks to Carson Wentz, they were absolutely primed to make a run to the Super Bowl, and now here they are in the divisional round of the playoffs, all set to send Nick Foles out there under center while Wentz watches helplessly. This, along with the fact that the Rams’ offense completely wet the bed at home against Atlanta last week, has pretty much taken all the excitement out of the NFC playoffs, which I was really looking forward to all year.
Philly has officially become the first No. 1 seed to open the playoffs as an underdog. I’m not even an Eagles fan and this is depressing. When I look back on the 2017 NFL season, all I’m going to remember is that injuries wiped out the majority of the exciting players in the league – but none more exciting than Wentz, whose injury has more or less cleared the path for the Falcons to return to the NFC Championship game again.
Atlanta looked good in Los Angeles last week, with Matt Ryan going 21 of 30 for 218 yards and a touchdown. All they have to do this week is beat Nick Foles, and they’ll be one win away from going back to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. I don’t care what anyone tells me – I am not betting on Nick Foles in a playoff game. Not happening.
The King’s pick: Falcons 23, Eagles 10.
PATRIOTS (-13.5) over Titans
I hate sounding like an arrogant Patriots fan, but it’s hard not to when they are a two-touchdown favorite over a team that shouldn’t even be here. The Pats are 13-3, the top seed in the AFC, they grinded out win after win this season with a 40-year-old quarterback and a decimated offense (and defense, for that matter). No matter what injuries were thrown their way, they just kept winning.
Meanwhile, the Titans are 9-7, have a coach that was on the verge of getting fired prior to last week, couldn’t even win their division (which is the worst division in the league), were lucky to actually make the playoffs, and despite their quarterback playing the best game of his career in Kansas City last week, were lucky that the Chiefs choked away an 18-point lead. I can say this with as much confidence as I’ve ever had about anything related to sports: the Patriots will absolutely not be choking away an 18-point lead at home to the Titans. That will absolutely not happen. Not a chance.
I don’t like being this confident because I always worry about jinxing, even though I don’t technically believe in that stuff. But this week, I can’t help it. This has to be one of the most one-sided playoff games I’ve ever seen.
The King’s pick: Patriots 36, Titans 13.
STEELERS (-7) over Jaguars
I can’t bring myself to actually pick the Jags in this game, but there are a lot of interesting factors surrounding this matchup. Back on Oct. 8 at Heinz Field, Jacksonville bombarded the Steelers with a 30-9 shellacking on their home field, and their defense forced Ben Roethlisberger into throwing a career-worst five interceptions, two of those getting returned for touchdowns. Interesting to say the least, right?
But of course, since then, Pittsburgh went on to win 10 of its last 11 games, setting everything right with the world again. But if you’re a Steelers fan, that Oct. 8 game has to be gnawing away at the back of your mind. I’d be a little nervous.
Ultimately though, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The Jaguars barely survived the Bills at home last week, and the Bills only scored three points. Blake Bortles is still their quarterback, and he looked pretty below average against Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Steelers still have Roethlisberger, one of the best QBs in the league, a seasoned vet and two-time Super Bowl champ. They still have Le’Veon Bell, and it appears that Antonio Brown should be ready to go by Sunday. As interesting as that Oct. 8 game was, I can’t see Jacksonville actually delivering a repeat performance. Steelers all the way.
The King’s pick: Steelers 22, Jaguars 7.
Saints (+5) over VIKINGS
The Vikings are entering this game as 5-point favorites. At 13-3, they appear to be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL, and there’s a solid chance they literally might not have to travel at all during these playoffs – even if they reach the Super Bowl, which would conveniently be played in their home stadium. Their quarterback for the season, Case Keenum, came out of nowhere after replacing the injured Sam Bradford and had the best year of his career. He even cracked the MVP conversation.
Well done, Case. Congratulations. With Carson Wentz out of the playoff picture, we might as well pencil Minnesota in for the Super Bowl then, right? Sorry, I don’t care how well he played in the regular season. I’m not getting sucked into Case Keenum in the playoffs. We’ve seen it too many times before. Average quarterbacks get hot for a season, play the best football of their lives for a stretch of games, and then in the playoffs, they revert back to their normal, average selves.
Against a Saints team that is coming off a wild card win over the Panthers, in which Drew Brees threw for a whopping 376 yards with two touchdowns, you can bet on the Vikings at your own risk. If you want to do that, I’ll just quote Mickey Goldmill in “Rocky III”…
“Well, ya got him. But you fight him WITHOUT ME!”
The King’s pick: Saints 27, Vikings 21.