The best bets for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
It’s not often that a six-seed is favored over a one-seed, but that’s the case here, and it looks like the Falcons will make good on oddsmakers’ confidence.
Atlanta’s defense should be able to stifle Nick Foles and company. The Falcons’ run stoppers closed the regular season with a string of four straight games holding opponents under 100 yards rushing. They let Todd Gurley rush for 101 yards last week, but considering he’s in the MVP discussion, that’s an achievement.
Philadelphia has struggled to move the ball on the ground since Carson Wentz’s injury (85.3 YPG against the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys), as teams have been able to cheat up. Foles has shown he’s nothing for defenses to fear, as he’s passed for just 173 YPG in his three starts.
Atlanta’s offense is not what it was a year ago, but Matt Ryan and Julio Jones should be able to exploit the Eagles’ 17th-rated pass stoppers. Lay the points with the Falcons.
The pick: Falcons -2.5
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5)
The Titans have covered in six of their last seven, but backing the Patriots has been like printing money this season. New England is 9-1 ATS in their last 10 games and have covered in each of their last five at home.
Diving into the matchup, Tom Brady should have no problem airing it out against the Titans, as his second-ranked aerial attack meets the NFL’s 25th-ranked pass defenders. The Pats’ offense also holds significant advantages in the scoring, time of possession and yards per play departments.
New England’s defense can be bent but hasn’t broken too often, as they’re 29th in YPG allowed but fifth in scoring. Tennessee’s offense does not look like the kind that can push the Patriots around; Derrick Henry (and, health permitting, DeMarco Murray) can only carry the Titans so far. Sooner or later Marcus Mariota will have to match scores with Brady, and considering he had a negative TD-INT ratio this year, that is not something that should be counted on.
The pick: Patriots -13.5
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5)
“The Killer Bs” should propel the Steelers to another AFC Championship game appearance. Le’Veon Bell will get things started on the ground against the Jaguars’ 22nd-ranked run stoppers. And Ben Roethlisberger will have Antonio Brown to throw to once more as Brown should return to the lineup after a two-week absence.
The Jaguars have no such weapons in the passing game, as evidenced by last week’s sluggish performance against the Bills. Blake Bortles threw for just 75 yards in that 10-3 victory. Even if Leonard Fournette has a big game against the Steelers’ 10th-rated run stoppers, he can only do so much to keep his team in the game.
The Steelers should be able to work their will against the warm-weather Jaguars in Pittsburgh, where the forecast calls for sub-freezing temperatures.
The pick: Steelers -7.5
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-4)
The Saints have been trending downward, failing to cover in four of their last five games, and it could be argued that they were fortunate to escape with a win at home against Carolina. Minnesota’s offense presents a more dynamic challenge for the Saints’ 17th-ranked defense.
The Vikings have rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games, while Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs give Case Keenum options to stretch the field with. Not only are they potent, but they’re also smart, as they’re second in the league in time of possession.
The Minnesota defense is also much more resolute than Carolina’s, as they’re first in points allowed as well as yards allowed. Expect Drew Brees and company to struggle a little bit as the Vikings advance to the NFC Championship round.
The pick: Vikings -4