Divisional playoff weekend in the NFL this year looks to have revealed a truism about the league that is, nevertheless, true.
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It’s easy to forget how the Houston Texans gave the Patriots genuine problems in the divisional round last year in Foxborough. They forced three turnovers, including two interceptions from Tom Brady, and they might have won had they been anything better than utterly inept on offense.
The Titans aren’t quite like the 2016 Texans. Their pass rush isn’t as good, and it was the pass rush that harried Brady last year. Tennessee doesn’t have Jadeveon Clowney or Whitney Mercilus but it can stuff the run effectively and bring pressure through the middle. And with Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry, the Titans are also an offensive threat.
Still… even if the Patriots are at their absolute worst and the Titans play several tiers above themselves, it’s hard to see anything but a home victory here. Tennessee’s impressive season ends in Gillette Stadium; now they need to not do anything stupid and reactionary like firing Mike Mularkey.
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Imagine the Jaguars with a quarterback other than Blake Bortles and I’ll show you a team advancing to the AFC Championship game. Jacksonville’s defense bottled up Le’Veon Bell in a 30-9 win on October 8, a game in which Ben Roethlisberger threw 55 times. Five of those attempts ended in interceptions for the Jaguars’ ball-hawking defense.
Jacksonville got a monster game that day from Leonard Fournette. The rookie rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, covering up Bortles’ flaws. The Steelers aren’t going to let an aging, possibly declining Roethlisberger sling the ball around again. They will hand it to Bell to open up the play-action passing game for Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and the NFL’s third-best passing offense. For the Jaguars to win they are going to have to get ahead early, chew the clock with Fournette and force Roethlisberger to throw into the jaws of their elite secondary. If Bortles has to chase a game on the road, Jacksonville’s season ends here.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
best defense. If that fails—and there’s a good chance it will, since the Vikings allowed 83.6 rush yards per game during the regular season—then New Orleans can fall back on the arm of Drew Brees. The Saints have multiple ways of winning a football game this season.’ data-reactid=”42″>What should be the game of the weekend is up last. The Saints will run the terrifying hydra of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara into the maw of the NFL’s best defense. If that fails—and there’s a good chance it will, since the Vikings allowed 83.6 rush yards per game during the regular season—then New Orleans can fall back on the arm of Drew Brees. The Saints have multiple ways of winning a football game this season.
The result may come down to how well the Vikings can protect the surprisingly great Case Keenum from the Saints’ rejuvenated defense. Gone are the days when Brees would have to put up 30 points per game just to give his team a chance. The Saints are mean and hardened but the Vikings’ defense can rouse itself to even greater heights with the piquancy of the playoffs. This is almost impossible to call.