First of all, I’m very glad to be writing for the NFL column again, as I have enjoyed writing these throughout the season and I’m truly excited to be bringing them to you in the playoffs. Second, the Wildcard weekend was far from chalk, contrary to expectation. As we head into the Divisional Round this Sunday, here’s a quick recap of everything that happened last weekend.
Tennessee Titans Stun The Kansas City Chiefs 22-21
The Titans showed little to no reason for anyone to take them over any of the playoff teams because the Titans were not exceptional in any key aspects. However, Derrick Henry shined in the playoff spotlight, rushing for 156 yards and a score on 23 carries. The workhorse back out of Alabama was able to get the max reps with starter DeMarco Murray.
This was clearly the right move, as Henry proceeded to bowl over Kansas defenders, putting the Titans on his back as the Titans stormed back for the victory. Headed into the playoffs, the Titans were bland at everything, but with Henry as the go-to back, the running game is terrifying.
Atlanta Falcons Sore Past Los Angeles Rams 26-13
A lot went into this game and the Falcons looked great in several specific categories, but they were all vibrantly apparent for the same reason: The Falcons were clearly the playoff weathered team.
The Rams looked shell shocked early, following the two fumbles on special teams by Pharoh Cooper. Despite a solid defensive showing in the first half, the Rams looked young and thrown out of whack from the very beginning. The Falcons tightened up on defense by tackling well and kept players like running back Todd Gurley from getting yards on screens or sneaking out of the backfield. They also got the ball to Julio Jones plenty this game as Jones finished with 94 yards and a score. The Falcons did what a veteran playoff team should do: Get back to their strengths and force mistakes.
Jacksonville Jaguars Wins Slugfest With Buffalo Bills 10-3
This was a game that featured two less than impressive offense pitting themselves against great defenses. This game boiled down to the Bills offense being more mistake prone than the Jaguars, as the Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles looked absolutely terrified to throw the ball. This lead to him running for 88 yards and leading the team since Buffalo was selling out to stop running back Leonard Fournette.
While it does not seem like the Jaguars can beat man to man coverage at all, their corners are studs. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey may be the best cornerback duo in the playoffs (yeah, I said it Vikings fans) while also having a savvy veteran in Barry Church makes them only more intimidating as a secondary. Two turnovers, a pair of sacks, six tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries is plenty of disruption to win a messy game.
New Orleans Saints Survive Carolina Panthers 31-26
The Saints have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. It is that simple. When the running game stalled up, the defense missed tackles and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton willed his team back into the game, Drew Brees turned up the heat.
In a season that watched Brees take a backseat to the running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Brees was not as heralded in the narrative that went with the Saints. However, Brees reminded us of the caliber player he is by throwing for 376 yards and two scores. This makes the offense of the Saints even scarier.
Predictions for the Divisional Round:
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots: Patriots win 37-24
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Falcons win 28-17
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers win 24-16
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings: Saints win 35-31