(PhatzRadio Sports / AP) — What America saw last weekend from the Atlanta Falcons was similar to what the team showed for 2½ quarters of last year’s Super Bowl.
Can they keep it up as they head on the road again Saturday to Philadelphia?
The Falcons have that balanced offense — if Matt Ryan is efficient — to challenge any opponents. Where they made their mark against the Rams was on defense.
“We don’t have a (complicated) defense, but we are very detailed,” says defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, a former NFL player who got the job last February. “And the detail of expectations of understanding that they have to make our defense come to life, and they’re doing an awesome job at it.”
Philadelphia’s defense has been up and down recently, and it has dealt with a bunch of injuries. Depth has been a plus for Jim Schwartz’s unit.
The edge here belongs to Atlanta at quarterback — if Ryan is efficient — with backup Nick Foles running the offense for the Eagles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Foles fly. Or struggle.
The Falcons are 2-point favorites over the top-seeded Eagles, a highly unusual occurrence. But one that, with Carson Wentz on the sideline, makes enough sense.
Tennessee (plus 13) at New England, Saturday
The Patriots are rested. They’re supposedly ticked off. They’re pretty healthy.
And they are miles better than the Titans.
Still, let’s give Tennessee tremendous credit for how it rallied in Kansas City. The Titans showed resolve and an ability to come up with big plays on offense that few expected.
“You’ve got every team fighting to play for the next week,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty says. “Nobody’s going to go out there — and I don’t care if you’re down, if you’re up — like no one is going to quit. So, that’s something I think we always talk about, and obviously you could see it in that game against Kansas City.”
But this one is in New England. Yes, it’s gotten tiresome to travel (and travel, and travel) to Foxborough for playoff games. There’ll be another one up there next weekend.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 30-10
Jacksonville (plus 7½) at Pittsburgh, Sunday
One thing about the Steelers: They tend to play much closer games than they should. Based on talent alone, they probably are the NFL’s most skilled squad.
Here comes Jacksonville, following an offensive stinker in beating outmanned Buffalo. Logic says this should be a rout.
Forget logic and remember that Ben Roethlisberger was so victimized in a 30-9 Week 5 loss to the Jaguars that he had one of the worst games of his career.
There’s also the Antonio Brown factor: How healthy is the unanimous All-Pro receiver, who was injured in Week 15?
Jacksonville has a staunch defense with a terrific pass rush, too. Its secondary is among the league’s best.
OK, enough of that. We can’t make a case for Blake Bortles winning in Pittsburgh.
New Orleans (plus 4) at Minnesota, Sunday
What figures to be the best game of the divisional round, a redux of the Vikings’ 29-19 home victory in the season opener.
Both sides are balanced and have enough experience to handle the pressure. While the Saints have the Hall of Fame-level skills of Drew Brees at quarterback, Minnesota’s Case Keenum has been among the most pleasant surprises in the league.
Look for this one to come down to which defense asserts itself. Coach Mike Zimmer has built quite the unit in the Twin Cities.
“Well, you want to have pass rushers, you want to have guys that can cover,” he says. “Without giving away all my secrets, I like a certain body type with guys. You can kind of look at most of them and tell what we’re trying to get. Athleticism, guys who can think quickly on their feet, safeties that have versatility, corners who can cover.”
Sounds like a winner.
Last week: Against spread (2-2). Straight up (1-3)
Season Totals: Against spread (119-122-10). Straight up: (163-95)
Best Bet: 9-9 against spread, 10-8 straight up.
Upset special: 10-8 against spread, 9-9 straight up
TITANS (10-7) at PATRIOTS (13-3)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
OPENING LINE — Patriots by 13
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Titans 8-7-1, Patriots 11-5
SERIES RECORD — Patriots lead 24-16-1.
LAST MEETING — Patriots beat Titans 33-16, Dec. 20, 2015
LAST WEEK — Titans beat Chiefs 22-21; Patriots had bye
AP PRO32 RANKING — Titans No. 11, Patriots No. 1
TITANS OFFENSE – OVERALL (23), RUSH (15), PASS (23)
TITANS DEFENSE – OVERALL (13), RUSH (4), PASS (25)
PATRIOTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (3), RUSH (27), PASS (1)
PATRIOTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (10), PASS (7)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES —Patriots have won six straight against Titans. … This will be third playoff game between franchises who split first two postseason games. … Titans trying to reach AFC championship game for first time since January 2003. … Titans coming off first playoff win since January 2004. … Titans’ rally from 18-point halftime deficit against Chiefs is largest comeback on road in Super Bowl era and tied for second-largest playoff comeback by road team in NFL history. … Counting postseason, Tennessee is 7-1 in games decided by three or fewer points over past two seasons, tied with Pittsburgh for NFL’s best record in such games since start of 2016. … Titans had four sacks vs. Chiefs. … Titans ranked fifth in NFL in regular season in sacks. … Tennessee ranked fourth in NFL and first in AFC in run defense, allowing 88.8 yards per game. … Titans held NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt to 42 yards on 11 carries in wild-card game. … Titans tied for eighth in NFL allowing 5.02 yards per play this season. … QB Marcus Mariota has five of his nine winning drives this season, last coming in wild-card win over Chiefs. … RB Derrick Henry set franchise postseason record with 191 yards from scrimmage vs. Chiefs. Henry ran for career-high 156 yards. Titans ran for franchise-record 202 yards. … Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey is 0-5 against Patriots and 0-6 against Bill Belichick as head coach. … Titans S Kevin Byard tied for NFL lead with eight interceptions in regular season. Byard led league with 10 takeaways. … Titans second in NFL for fewest penalties during regular season with 85. … Patriots are seeking berth in seventh consecutive conference championship game, which would extend their current record NFL streak. … This marks eighth straight year Patriots are hosting divisional round game, adding to their NFL record. … QB Tom Brady is 11-2 in 13 divisional-round games since 2002. He has completed 316 of 509 passes for 3,700 yards passing and 28 TDs in those games. … New England has 41 players with postseason experience, most of 2017 playoff teams. Fourteen Patriots players have played at least 10 playoff games. That’s more such players than 11 other playoff teams combined (13). … TE Rob Gronkowski has nine TD catches in playoffs, most by tight end in NFL history. … Patriots’ defense allowing 18.5 points per game, ranked eighth in NFL. … Belichick has 9-7 career record against Tennessee. … Brady has 6-1 career record against Titans, throwing for 13 TDs and one interception.
NEW ORLEANS (12-5) at MINNESOTA (13-3)
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST, Fox
OPENING LINE — Vikings by 4
RECORD VS. SPREAD —New Orleans 8-8, Minnesota 11-4-1
SERIES RECORD — Vikings lead 21-11
LAST MEETING — Vikings beat Saints 29-19, Sept. 11, 2017
LAST WEEK — Saints beat Panthers 31-26; Vikings had first-round bye
AP PRO32 RANKING —Saints No. 6, Vikings No. 2
SAINTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (2), RUSH (5), PASS (5)
SAINTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (17), RUSH (16), PASS (15)
VIKINGS OFFENSE — OVERALL (11), RUSH (7), PASS (11)
VIKINGS DEFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (2), PASS (2)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Vikings have won two of three postseason matchups with Saints, 1987 wild-card game in New Orleans and 2000 divisional-round game in Minnesota. Saints won 2009 NFC championship game at home. … Vikings are 13-3 at home in history against Saints, including the one playoff victory. … Saints are 7-4 in six appearances in playoffs under coach Sean Payton. They’re 1-4 on road, excluding neutral-site win in Super Bowl 44. … Saints QB Drew Brees passed for 376 yards against Panthers, his second-highest total of season. … Saints rookie Alvin Kamara, who had second-most receptions (81) in league by RB in regular season, had only one catch against Panthers. … Saints FB Zach Line, who spent four seasons with Vikings, had TD run last week. … Saints, who ranked third in NFL in regular season with 20 interceptions and tied for ninth in league with 25 total takeaways, did not force turnover vs. Panthers. … Saints’ defense ranked eighth in NFL in sacks per pass attempt in regular season and sacked Panthers’ Cam Newton four times last week, including one by team leader Cameron Jordan. … Jordan had only sack for Saints in season-opening loss at Minnesota, when Sam Bradford was Vikings QB and passed for 346 yards and three TDs without turnover on 27 of 32 completions for career-high 143.0 rating. …. Vikings allowed 27 sacks in regular season, seventh fewest in league. … Jordan, who had career-high 13 sacks in regular season, is son of former Vikings TE Steve Jordan, who was six-time Pro Bowl pick and caught TD pass in 1987 win in playoffs against Saints. … Vikings’ record against spread in regular season was best in NFL. … Vikings had first-round bye for fourth time under current playoff format. They reached NFC championship game each of three previous instances. … Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is 0-1 in playoffs. … Payton and Zimmer were assistants on Cowboys staff together between 2003-05, with Payton running offense and Zimmer running defense. … This is Vikings QB Case Keenum’s first career start in playoffs and first playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016 and is site of next month’s Super Bowl. … Vikings WR Stefon Diggs had TD catch in each of last three games. He had two TDs and 93 yards in opener against Saints. … RB Latavius Murray had 745 yards and eight TDs in last 10 games of regular season. He had TD run last season in playoffs for Raiders against Texans. … Vikings FS Harrison Smith tied career high with five interceptions and was one of two players in league with 70 or more tackles, five or more interceptions and one or more sacks. … Vikings allowed only 20 runs of 10-plus yards in regular season, fewest in NFL since 49ers in 1995.
ATLANTA (11-6) vs. PHILADELPHIA (13-3)
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
OPENING LINE — Falcons by 2 1/2
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Atlanta 8-9, Philadelphia 10-5-1
SERIES RECORD — Eagles lead 18-14-1
LAST MEETING — Eagles beat Falcons 24-15, Nov. 13, 2016
LAST WEEK — Falcons beat Rams 26-13 in wild-card game; Eagles had bye
AP PRO32 RANKING — Falcons No. 9, Eagles No. 5
FALCONS OFFENSE — OVERALL (8), RUSH (13), PASS (8).
FALCONS DEFENSE — OVERALL (9), RUSH (9), PASS (12).
EAGLES OFFENSE — OVERALL (7), RUSH (3), PASS (13).
EAGLES DEFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (17), PASS (1).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Eagles are 2-1 vs. Falcons in playoffs, including 27-10 win in 2004 NFC championship game. … Falcons were NFL’s highest-scoring team last year, but their fewest points came in loss at Philly. … Falcons were 5-1 vs. common opponents while Eagles were 4-2. … Falcons averaged 22.1 points per game and allowed 19.7. … Atlanta averaged 364.8 yards per game and allowed 318.4. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan completed 64.6 percent of passes for 4,095 yards, 20 TDs, 12 picks and 91.4 passer rating. …Ryan has passer rating of at least 100 in five straight postseason games, tied for second-longest streak in league history. Only Joe Montana had longer streak with eight. … RB Devonta Freeman had 865 yards rushing and seven TDs. … WR Julio Jones caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards and three TDs. … DE Adrian Clayborn had 9 1/2 sacks. … LB Deion Jones had three picks. … K Matt Bryant made 34 of 39 field goals (87.2 percent) and all 35 extra-point tries. … Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson makes playoff debut as head coach. … Eagles tied franchise record with 13 wins. … Eagles finished with second-most points (463) in team history. … Eagles tied for first in NFL in point differential (plus 162), led league in rush defense (79.2 yards per game) and ranked first in NFC in turnover differential (plus 11). … Philadelphia averaged 28.6 points per game and allowed 18.4. … Eagles averaged 365.8 yards per game and allowed 306.5. … QB Nick Foles was 2-1 filling in for Carson Wentz. Foles completed 56.4 percent of passes for 537 yards, five TDs, two picks and 79.5 passer rating. … RB LeGarrette Blount had 766 yards rushing and two TDs. … RB Jay Ajayi had 873 yards rushing and one TD combined with Dolphins and Eagles. … TE Zach Ertz had 74 catches for 824 yards and eight TDs. … WR Alshon Jeffery had 57 catches for 789 yards and nine TDs. … DE Brandon Graham had 9 1/2 sacks. … CB Patrick Robinson had four picks. … K Jake Elliott made 26 of 31 field goals (83.8 percent) and 39 of 42 extra points.
JACKSONVILLE (11-6) at PITTSBURGH (13-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
OPENING LINE — Steelers by 6
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Jaguars 9-8, Steelers 7-9
SERIES RECORD — Jaguars lead 13-11
LAST MEETING — Jaguars beat Steelers 30-9, Oct. 8, 2017
LAST WEEK — Jaguars beat Bills 10-3; Steelers had bye
AP PRO32 RANKING — Jaguars No. 10, Steelers No. 2
JAGUARS OFFENSE – OVERALL (6), RUSH (1), PASS (17)
JAGUARS DEFENSE – OVERALL (2), RUSH (21), PASS (1)
STEELERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (3), RUSH (20), PASS (3)
STEELERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (5), RUSH (10), PASS (5)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Second postseason meeting between teams. Jacksonville stunned Pittsburgh 31-29 at Heinz Field in wild-card round of 2007 playoffs. … Steelers seeking second straight AFC title game appearance. Jaguars have reached AFC title game twice (1996, 1999). … Jaguars are 6-6 all-time in postseason. Steelers are 35-25. … Jacksonville dominated regular-season visit to Pittsburgh, picking off five Ben Roethlisberger passes, including pair of second-half pickp6s that turned 9-7 deficit into 20-9 lead. Five interceptions were franchise-record for single game. … Jaguars rookie RB Leonard Fournette ran for season-high 181 yards and two scores vs. Steelers in October. … Jaguars shut down Buffalo in 10-3 victory last week, limiting Bills to 263 yards. … Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles one of only three QBs in NFL history to run for more yards (88) than he passed (87) for in playoff victory, joining Michael Vick (2005) and Otto Graham (1950). … Jaguars have only won multiple playoff games in same postseason once (1996). … Forecast is temperature expected to be in teens. Jaguars are 1-8 all-time when temperature is 32 degrees or lower at kickoff. … Jacksonville dropped last three road games of regular season. … Steelers are 9-1 all-time after getting first-round bye. Only loss came in 1993 divisional round against Buffalo. … Pittsburgh led NFL with franchise-record 56 sacks. Jaguars finished second with 55. … Steelers are 8-4 in playoff games at Heinz Field, winning five of last six. … Pittsburgh playing in 61st playoff game, tied with Dallas for most in NFL history. … Steelers are 16-9 in divisional round, including 12-2 mark at home. … Steelers WR Antonio Brown expects to play. All-Pro missed final two games with left calf injury. … Brown only player in NFL history with five straight seasons with 100-plus receptions. … Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell averaged 109 yards rushing in three playoff games last season. … Roethlisberger is 13-7 in the playoffs. Win would tie him with Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw for most by QB in playoffs in team history. … Roethlisberger tied with Dan Marino for fifth-most playoff completions in NFL history (385). … Pittsburgh K Chris Boswell has made all 15 field goals in playoffs. … Steelers DE Cam Heyward’s 12 sacks most by Pittsburgh defensive lineman since Keith Willis had 12 in 1986.
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