The New Year heralds the start of many sporting events and the promise of excitement throughout 2018, but in the NFL, it also means the start of the most exciting time of the season, the Playoffs. 12 teams out of the 32 competing make it into the playoffs each year with one team from the NFC and one team from the AFC progressing through their respective playoff tournament to meet in the Superbowl.
This year is Superbowl 52, which will be held in the Minnesota Vikings brand new indoor stadium on Sunday February 4th 2018.
Last weekend saw the top two seeds in each conference (Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC and the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC) enjoy a bye week as they qualify automatically for the Divisional Playoff round. Four other teams in each conference battled it out for a place in that round and a chance to take on one of the four seeds.
Last weekend’s games went as follows:
Tennessee Titans 22 Kansas City Chiefs 21
Drew Henry had a day to remember as he rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Marcus Mariota inspired a fine second half comeback from a 21-3 deficit as the Titans moved into their first Divisional Playoff final since 2003. It was a haunting day for the fourth seed Chiefs however as they blew an 18-point lead at home and failed to score a single point in the second half.
Atlanta Falcons 26 Los Angeles Rams 13
The Atlanta Falcons produced a superb performance at the home of the Los Angeles Rams to nullify the Rams potent offense and earn a deserved 26-13 victory. Matt Ryan was back to his best as the Atlanta Falcons offense, so quiet for most of the season, finally came to life just when it was needed. This is a bitter loss for the Rams, but the experience gained will stand this young team in good stead for next season.
Buffalo Bills 3 Jacksonville Jaguars 10
It took until Sunday for one of the higher seeds to win their game, but Jacksonville Jaguars did that against a strong Buffalo Bills defence in a game that saw both quarterbacks struggle. In the end the difference between the team was a single touchdown, and Blake Bortles ability to run with the ball when passing proved fruitless. A late interception after Tyrod Taylor was injured for Buffalo sealed the win for the Jags.
Carolina Panthers 26 New Orleans Saints 31
The two NFC South teams clashed for the third time this season and it was the home team Saints who came out on top thanks to an inspired performance by Drew Brees. Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton struggled with injuries at times in this game but still threw for over 300 yards, but it was Brees clinical nature in the Red Zone that proved to be the difference between these two well-matched teams.
The results of those games meant that the NFL Divisional Playoffs now shape up as follows:
NFL Divisional Playoffs – Saturday 13th January
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia’s season was going to perfection until just a couple of weeks ago when their outstanding young quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season ending ACL injury. Nick Foles has stepped up but the Eagles are nowhere near as potent on offense with Foles calling plays in the huddle and that is a worry against a Falcons side that seem to have peaked at just the right moment. Matt Ryan returns to his home town and could get his side into a second successive NFC Divisional Championship game with a win here. The Falcons have underperformed on offense this season but they showed real signs of life in their game with Los Angeles and look to be a real threat here.
- Current Spread – Atlanta Falcons (-3.0) @ Philadelphia Eagles – Falcons 19/20, Eagles 20/23
- Money Line – Atlanta Falcons (8/13) @ Philadelphia Eagles (27/20)
If the Eagles had been at full strength with Carson Wentz showing the form he had throughout the Regular Season, then I’d have backed the Eagles to win this one against a Falcons team that have stuttered throughout the season. However, without Wentz, I think Foles will struggle against a decent Atlanta defense and I think that Matt Ryan’s experience from last year will stand the Falcons in good stead. That said I expect this to be a very close game, so I think the Falcons at a handicap of -3.0 points is a bit of a hit for that bet, hence I’d take them at 8/13 on the Money Line option instead.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
The reward for the Titans comeback win at Kansas City is a trip to New England, to face a Patriots team that they have not beaten in any of their last six matches and who also put paid to their hopes back in 2003, when the Titans reached the same stage of the competition, only to lose 17-13. The Titans have suffered some big defeats in New England too, including a 59-0 mauling in 2009 which ranks as one of the lowest ever points for Titans fans. With home advantage, the weather likely to be to their liking, a much greater pedigree in the playoffs and as current Superbowl Champions, New England should win this at a canter as the bookies confirm.
- Current Spread – Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots (-13.5) – Titans 20/23, Eagles 19/20
- Money Line – Tennessee Titans (13/2) @ Philadelphia Eagles (1/10)
I’m a Titans fan and it’s been lean pickings for many years and while the playoff win last week was great, there’s no denying that the Titans are well out of their depth here. I’d love to make a case for them to cause an upset but with the weather likely to be freezing cold, home advantage against them and against the top ranked team in the AFC and the Superbowl holders, if the Titans won here it would be arguably the biggest upset in the NFL in years. Take the Patriots with the spread handicap of -13.5 points as I think they could win this one by considerably more.
NFL Divisional Playoffs – Sunday 14th January
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
These teams have already met in Pittsburgh this season with the Jaguars coming away with a hugely impressive 30-9 victory over the AFC second seed team. The Steelers were poor that day with Ben Roethlisberger intercepted five times and their defence unable to stop Leonard Fornette who ran for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. I think the Jags will adopt the same game plan here and they could well win it, if the Steelers offense doesn’t fire. That is a real concern with key players likely to be less than 100% fit for the game, including key receiver Antonio Brown a doubt for the game.
- Current Spread – Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5) – Jaguars 20/23, Steelers 19/20
- Money Line – Jacksonville Jaguars (14/5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2/7)
I’m stunned that the bookmakers have the Steelers at such a short price for this game. The Jags defence destroyed a full-strength Steelers offence earlier in the season and I think they can do the same again here. With the Steelers offense banged up and Roethlisberger’s tendency to hold onto the ball too long, I think the Jags defense will dominate. Take the Jags on the money line at a great value 14/5 here.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Can the Vikings outstanding defence nullify the New Orleans Saints offense and Drew Brees enough to allow their offense to score the points required to win the game. If the Vikings can do this, then their hopes of competing in the Superbowl in their home stadium can remain alive after this weekend. The problem the Vikings have is that they are very inexperienced as a team in the playoffs whereas Drew Brees and his squad have more experience and I think that will be crucial. They say defence wins championships, but for me, I think this is the one game where the offense may well the key factor in defining who wins.
- Current Spread – New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (-4.0) – Saints 10/11, Vikings 10/11
- Money Line – New Orleans Saints (17/10) @ Minnesota Vikings (1/2)
I’m not quite sure that the Vikings are 4 points better than the Saints at present so I am going to rule out the Spread bet option here as I don’t feel that this is a decent value bet. The Vikings defence is the key to this game, if they play to their best then they can win it if their offense manages to put points on the board against a hard working but limited Saints defense. However, I think Drew Brees is one of the few legitimate quarterbacks who can pick apart even the best defences and as such I think the Saints at 17/10 on the money line is the best option here.