Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at 11:16 AM
THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS - THE SATURDAY PREVIEWS AS FALCONS-EAGLES, TITANS-PATRIOTS CLASH
Hey, the NFL Playoffs are a whole new ball game on many fronts:
Note that in the final four weeks of 2017 NFL regular-season play, the league's Betting Favorites compiled a healthy 34-23-4 ATS (against the spread) mark with 3 Pick 'Em games tossed into the mix. Folks, that's a solid .596 winning rate for the chalk sides.
So, what happens last week in the NFL Wild Card Playoff Round?
Right, all four Underdogs grabbed the cash with both 8.5-point pup Tennessee and 6-point dog Atlanta winning their post-season games outright while one day later 8.5-point underdog Buffalo and 6.5-point pup Carolina both slipped under those Las Vegas price tags.
Want to know who is gonna bang out the pointspread winners this winter weekend?
On Saturday, it's …
ATLANTA (11-6) at PHILADELPHIA (13-3) - 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
The $64,000 question - of course - is can the NFC's top-seeded (and now 3-point underdog) Philadelphia Eagles survive-and-advance here and throughout this post-season without superstar QB Carson Wentz? The legit MVP candidate has been out since late in a Week 14 win at the Los Angeles Rams and - suffice to say - backup-turned-starting QB Nick Foles has not exactly light things up but our sources claim the Eagles won't be shy about making some downfield chucks here against an Atlanta secondary that tackles great in the open field but can be toasted in one-on-one situations. If the Eagles' offense is gonna "hold their own" here, then Foles likely has to make a handful of chunk plays in the passing game and then the Philly defense must batter Falcons' QB Matt Ryan and force him to make some red-zone mistakes. Remember that Ryan took a ton of hits in last Saturday night's 26-13 win at the LA Rams and he figures to face lots of exotic blitzes here - will RB Devonta Freeman pick up the oncoming blitzes and will WR Julio Jones (9 catches for 94 yards and a TD last weekend) carve up the Eagles' defense when he does get his mitts on the football? One final X-factor at work here: The Eagles were a plus 11 in the all-important turnover margin category as they forced 31 enemy turnovers; the Falcons were a minus 2.
Spread Notes - Philadelphia is a solid 10-6 against the odds this year but the Eagles are 16-21 spreadwise as underdog sides while dating back to the start of the 2012 campaign; Atlanta is 8-9 ATS overall this season and note the Falcons covered just three of their nine road games after going 7-2 ATS away last Super Bowl-losing season.
TENNESSEE (10-7) at NEW ENGLAND (13-3) - 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Is it possible that the print media/social media is what's finally gonna "take down" the New England Patriots' dynasty?
Okay, so maybe all this talk about a "rift" among Patriots owner Robert Kraft/head coach Bill Belichick/QB Tom Brady is much ado about nothing - or maybe it's a real problem that possibly has taken away some of the starch from this organization that's shooting for a sixth Super Bowl crown later this winter.
The proverbial bottom line is the Pats must steer away all that chatter and get ready for a more dangerous-than-you-think Tennessee Titans team that last week rallied from down 21-3 at halftime to stun the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 and keep in mind the Titans' defense didn't allow a single point following a mid-second quarter verbal "dress-down" from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Now, the nearly two-TD underdog Titans - who ranked first in the league in rushing defense (allowed 69 yards per game) and next-to-last in passing defense (yielded 256 yards a game through the air waves) - must batten down the hatches against Brady (4,577 yards passing with 32 TDs and 8 INTs) and Company and keep fingers crossed that this so-called controversy hamps the Pats' play.
Tell us right now if Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota/RB Derrick Henry (a combined 202 yards rushing against KayCee last weekend) are gonna rush for somewhere in the neighborhood of a buck-fifty between 'em and we'll tell you the Titans will cover this somewhat bloated price tag.
Spread Notes - New England roars into the post-season having covered nine of its last 10 games overall beginning with a Week 7 win/cover versus Atlanta. Overall, the '17 Patriots are 11-5 ATS and this AFC East club is a resounding 8-2 versus the vig when playing double-digit prices since the start of last season; On the flip side, Tennessee's 8-7-2 spreadwise this year and that includes a dead-even but vig-losing 2-2-1 mark as an underdog. For what it's worth, the Titans have closed out seven of their last 10 years with a pointspread loss.
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HERE ARE SUNDAY'S NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES - JAGS-STEELERS, SAINTS-VIKES COLLIDE
In case you were wondering, the last time there was an NFL playoff team that rock-n-rolled its way to the Super Bowl after winning three consecutive same-season/post-season games was way back in the 2012 season:
The Baltimore Ravens copped wins against Indianapolis/Denver/New England and then put the proverbial cherry on top with a Super Bowl 47 championship win against the San Francisco 49ers … remember?
So, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New Orleans Saints both head into Sunday's playoff road games - at Pittsburgh and Minnesota, respectively - with that thought in mind.
The Jags are fresh off a gruesomely ugly 10-3 non-cover win against Buffalo last Sunday; the Saints also failed to cover the number while holding off Carolina 31-26 last Sunday afternoon/evening.
Can either/both keep the winnin' playoff beat going this weekend?
JACKSONVILLE (11-6) at PITTSBURGH (13-3) - 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
There's more than just a little drama surrounding this AFC Divisional Playoff clash from Heinz Field - for starters, there's Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger looking to avenge his five-INT outing back in Week 5 when Jacksonville lambasted TD favorite Pittsburgh 30-9 plus now here's "Big Ben" stating he's glad to get another shot at the Jags. Okay.
Then you flip the script and look at J'ville QB Blake Bortles who last weekend famously rushed for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) versus the Bills - Bortles was high-and-wide with a slew of his passing attempts and was widely mocked on both social media and among mass media folks.
Suffice to say, the Jags should not expect to survive-and-advance this playoff round with a similar showing (but note Bortles threw for only 95 yards and had a sickly QB Rating of 48.2 the last time these clubs collided) and so maybe it'll take another couple of "pick sixes" for the Jags to steal this road duel.
The Steelers say all-world WR Antonio Brown (101 receptions for 1,533 yards with 9 TDs) is a "go" here after injuring his calf late in the year - if Brown somehow duplicates his 10-catch/157-yard game against Jacksonville from back on Oct. 8th, then it's Pittsburgh that figures to be charging forward in this post-season.
Spread Notes - Jacksonville is 9-8 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and that includes outright underdog wins at Houston and Pittsburgh and in London versus the Baltimore Ravens. The Jags, however, stagger into this playoff round off back-to-back-to-back pointspread setbacks. Pittsburgh's just 7-9 odds-wise this 2017 season and the Steelers have failed to cover their last four in a row at home.
NEW ORLEANS (12-5) at MINNESOTA (13-3) - 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox
Gotta go all the way back to the 2009 season to find the last time the Minnesota Vikings won a playoff game - and that just so happens to be the last time the Vikes made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game where they were beaten 31-28 in a very controversial overtime affair in New Orleans.
Now, Minnesota's got the home field for this NFC Divisional Playoff clash - and the Vikes have been "taking the money" too as this Las Vegas price has gone up from - 3.5 points to - 5 points in most locales.
The big question here is will Minnesota's uber-stingy defense (a unit that held 11 foes to 17 points or less this year) have the answers for a well-balanced/well-oiled New Orleans offense starring QB Drew Brees (see 376 yards passing and two TDs last week versus the Panthers) and a one-two backfield punch of RBs Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara (held to a combined 45 yards rushing last Sunday).
The Vikes' defense ranks first overall (3rd against the rush and 2nd against the pass) but there is some concern with sackmeister Everson Griffen (foot) who was limited in late-week practice. If Minnesota has to blitz more should Griffen (13 sacks on the year) not be 100 percent here, then we'll see if Viking DBs can cover the likes of speedy WR Ted Ginn in the vertical passing game that Brees loves so much.
One key to watch for with Minnesota's offense: Will born-again QB Case Keenum (3,547 yards passing with 22 TDs and 7 INTs) be able to spread the wealth to WRs Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and TE Kyle Rudolph (20 TDs among 'em) and thus keep this much-improved New Orleans secondary on its collective heels?
Spread Notes - Minnesota is an electric 11-4-1 against the odds this year and did you know the Vikings are 24-8-1 ATS at home under fourth-year boss Mike Zimmer? Note that New Orleans is 8-9 vig-wise overall this season and the Saints have failed to cover their last three consecutive road games.