We’ve reached the divisional round of the NFL playoffs as now the four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that were off on their bye weeks will return to action. The underlying storyline will be quarterback experience as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan have plenty of it while Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles have combined for just three playoff starts. Here’s a closer look at the four matchups this weekend.
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
Odds: Falcons -2.5
It seems like the Eagles are a fading commodity as they are a 2.5-point home underdog even though they are the top seed in the NFC and are coming off a bye week. Obviously, the loss of MVP quarterback Carson Wentz has a lot to do with it. They have scored just 25 points in their last two games. Can a week of extra preparation help Nick Foles and the Eagles offense get going? If not, the defending NFC champions could earn a return trip to the NFC championship game.
The Falcons are fresh off a confidence-building 26-13 win on the road in Los Angeles, keeping the No. 1 offense in the NFL under wraps.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
Odds: Patriots -14
The Titans showed grit last week, coming back from a 21-3 deficit to upset the Kansas City Chiefs on the road. Now they’ll have an even taller task on the road at New England this week.
The Titans may have an opening as ESPN has reported a rift between head coach Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft. If true and the Titans perform like they did in the second half at Kansas City, maybe they’ll have a shot. They’re the biggest underdog of the week.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds: Steelers -7.5
The Steelers only lost three times in the regular season but the Jaguars handed them their worst loss by a count of 30-9. That was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s worst games as a pro as he tossed five interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Jaguars defense was ferocious all season long, finishing second overall in both yards and points allowed. They’ll need it again as quarterback Blake Bortles has been struggling. He has a total of 435 passing yards in his last three games.
The Steelers will get back All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who has been out for a month with a calf injury.
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings
Odds: Vikings -4
The Saints survived a late push from the Carolina Panthers to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs. Now they’ll face the Minnesota Vikings, who have been off and resting for a week. Home-field advantage could be a big factor in this spot as the Saints are 8-1 at home this season but are just 4-4 on the road. They have lost three straight road games. The key to their success is usually their ground game as they averaged 129.4 rushing yards per game – the fifth-most in the NFL. However, Minnesota allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game at just 83.6.