After Wildcard Weekend lived up to its name, the Divisional Round brings four more intriguing showdowns. The eight teams are just two wins from the Super Bowl, and hero status awaits. Saturday’s games feature the two teams that battled on the big stage last season, plus two teams that have had a rollercoaster of emotions over the past month.
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
It is easy to overact to one playoff game, but the Falcons looked a battle-tested group against the Los Angeles Rams. The high stakes did not faze them. The defense will make life tough for Nick Foles, and Matt Ryan is spoilt for choice with his weapons on offense. Is this the week that the Atlanta offense finally rips off a 35-point game? Much of that depends on whether they clean up their lacklustre red zone play.
There was little for the Eagles to gain down the stretch in giving away their gameplan with Foles at quarterback. At least, that’s the glass half-full assessment. The number one seed was in the bag, after all. Philadelphia floundered in the last two weeks of the season, meaning all the momentum sits with Atlanta. Dan Quinn’s men are road favourites in this one.
The Eagles are clearly not the same team without Carson Wentz under centre, but they are no pushovers. Write them off at your peril on home soil. They should get some pressure on Ryan, and both Jay Ajayi and LaGarrette Blount can hurt the Falcons in the running game. This will be a close one.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
The Titans came back from the brink last week in Kansas City and that plucky second half will have them believing another upset is possible. Derrick Henry’ size will likely be the biggest concern for New England after he steamrollered the Chiefs after half-time. DeMarco Murray may be back to share the workload, but Tennessee would be wise to keep faith with Henry. Marcus Mariota will have to take some big shots down the field, but his receivers are unlikely to create much separation.
In Tennessee’s favour is the fact that they have one of the NFL’s best run defenses, but when Tom Brady drops back there are going to be match-up nightmares. Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Cooks are primed for big nights. We can expect a heavy dose of Dion Lewis too, especially as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. With impressive performances down the stretch, Lewis emerged from New England’s crowded pack of running backs as the man to lead the ground attack.
Tennessee started slowly last week and they cannot afford to do so again. The Patriots will not let them back in the way that the Chiefs did. New England are double-digit favourites and it is hard to argue with that.