Not a banner week for the Blowhard in the Divisional Round. Let’s see what we can come up with for the Conference Championship games:
Jacksonville at New England (-7.5)
This one opened up with a spread of 9 or 9.5, depending on who you may pay attention to. Now it’s 7.5. Maybe it goes lower by kickoff. Why? Tom Brady’s hand of course! No one knows how bad the thing is. He missed a couple of practices. He goes around with gloves on. He says “we’ll see” when asked if he will suit up on Sunday. No one on New England is going to give us any insight of course. But you know what I say?
Please. Brady ain’t missing this game, regardless of the condition of his hand. Well, if it was cut off, he may be forced to miss the game. But short of that, he’s playing. Make no mistake about that.
Furthermore, make no mistake that the Pats are still going to win this game handily, even with some sort of injured Brady under center. I’m going to stop short at this time of saying they would still win with backup Brian Hoyer at the helm. But I would still feel pretty confident. And don’t get me going on how the Pats should still have Jimmy Garoppolo…
In any event, I cannot believe how many people think that Jacksonville is some sort of elite team. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Has anyone looked at their schedule? 6 games against powerhouses Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston. Additional tilts against the Jets, Cardinals, Bengals and Browns. An early season trouncing of the Ravens…when Baltimore was atrocious. I am simply not impressed.
The defense? Sure, they are pretty good. They have some names. They had 4 or 5 Pro Bowlers and/or All-Pros. But they apparently also had half their season’s sacks in 4 games against the Texans and Colts. They also gave up 44 to a certainly rejuvenated San Francisco team with two weeks left in the regular season, but also a Niner team that does not have a ton of weapons. Not to mention the Jags had something to play for still at 10-4 and in the mix for even the top seed at that point. Then they gave up 42 to a certainly talented (offensively) Pittsburgh team last week. But 42 nonetheless.
The Jag offense? 45 points last week. But against a Steeler defense that was horrendous this year, especially down the stretch. Plus, oh yeah, the Steelers didn’t actually prepare for the Jags I don’t think. They did think they were automatically coming to Foxborough this week, after all. Let’s not forget that the Jags scored a mere 10 points, at home, against the vaunted Buffalo Bill defense the week before in the wild card round. I think the Jags offense is closer to the one from the Bills game than the one from the Steelers game.
Going back to the Jags D…the one concern I would have is their defensive line against the Patriots’ offensive line. But the stud corners (A.J. Bouye & Jalen Ramsey)? Not concerned. Why? No Patriot wide receiver, other than perhaps Danny Amendola, will make an impact in this game. It will all be the running backs and tight ends. Gronk, Dion Lewis, James White and I’m guessing Rex Burkhead will be the main focus in this game. Those corners can take away Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan all they want. Who cares?
Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the Pats will shut down Leonard Fournette and make Blake Bortles beat them. Which has absolutely zero chance of happening. Brady’s bum hand or not.
New England 31, Jacksonville 13.
Minnesota (-3.5) at Philadelphia
This one is a little tougher to predict. I know, Captain Obvious.
When Carson Wentz went down, it appears that most people wrote the Eagles off for the year. Especially after replacement Nick Foles threw in a couple of clunkers down the stretch. Hell, the Blowhard had them losing to Atlanta last week. We absolutely wrote them off.
You know what though? I’m reconsidering my stance.
Especially since Case Keenum is on the other side.
Sure, Keenum has had a pretty good year. Maybe made himself some good money in the upcoming offseason. But the fact remains that the Vikings should be home playing golf this weekend. That prayer at the end of the New Orleans game has kept them in the tournament. But, speaking of prayers, Keenum threw up a couple of ill-advised (to be kind) passes in that game that could have taken the Vikes out of it even earlier. He didn’t exactly look like a “playoff QB” in that tilt. Not to mention that Coach Mike Zimmer seemingly has been looking for a reason to put Sam Bradford back in the mix for quite some time. But he’s been forced to ride Keenum’s hot run out. I don’t blame Zimmer for that. He’s kind of had to. But it seems like he doesn’t have a whole lot of confidence in Case himself.
Yup, Foles is no gimme either. But I think he plays things a little closer to the vest. I think he does anyway. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, being a little conservative should be a benefit in this game.
The defenses should both be stout. The QB’s should both be average. The running games should both be busy and decent. Philly being at home should have some sort of advantage.
This game is probably going to be low scoring and could very well be decided by a simple mistake. Who’s more likely to make that mistake, Keenum or Foles? I think you already know my answer. But don’t hold it against me if somehow Bradford finds his way into the game and changes the Vikings fortunes. I have to assume he won’t be going in.
And for whatever it’s worth…I still don’t think the Vikes will be the first team to play in their home stadium in a Super Bowl. Just a gut feeling there.
Philadelphia 20, Minnesota 17.
Week (against the spread): 1-3
Week (straight up): 2-2
Season (against the spread): 141-123
Season (straight up): 178-86
Picks, nothing but picks to see here…
Atlanta (-2.5) at Philadelphia
Boy, it sure looks like the Eagles’ season sure went down the crapper quickly, eh? A comeback win in Week 15 against the lowly New York Giants, followed by uninspiring efforts in two home games against the Oakland Raiders (win) and Dallas Cowboys (loss) to wrap up the regular season surely can’t inspire confidence in the Philly faithful. To be fair, the Eagles rested several key players against the ‘Boys. Also, to be more than fair, this kind of thing can happen when your franchise QB, who is playing at an MVP level, goes down for the year. Of course, we are talking about Carson Wentz.
That all being said, one would think Nick Foles would be capable enough to take over the controls and still lead the team to victories. Especially if the rest of the team remained intact. He SHOULD, right? I mean, he has had flashes of brilliance in the past, even though he has mostly performed as well as…well, a backup QB. But still…
The Falcons are no juggernaut, but they did (as the Blowhard correctly predicted) knock off a good Los Angeles Ram team last week. At this point, it really wouldn’t surprise me if Atlanta ended right back up in the Super Bowl this year. One thing is for sure I would say…their defense has stepped it up in recent weeks.
Atlanta is now 6-3 on the road this season. I don’t know if the bye week helped Philadelphia, but it would seem the team is a little deflated. I am probably wrong to count them out, but…
Atlanta 23, Philadelphia 17.
Tennessee at New England (-13.5)
Nice win for the Titans last week, but the reality is the Kansas City Chiefs did more to lose the game than the Titans did to win. I mean, Travis Kelce is one of the top tight ends in the game. But once he was concussed and done for the day, the team fell apart? What happened to Kareem Hunt? What happened to, well…everyone? Blown 21-3 lead. Andy Reid once again folks!
So I will say once again this week that Tennessee isn’t really very good. The weather will be to the Patriots’ liking Saturday night. New England had their entire roster at practice this week. Now, that doesn’t mean they are all 100% healthy. But there will be options. Theoretically, plenty of them. I cannot in any way see how the Titans stay in this game from the jump. There is really no sense in even talking about it anymore.
New England 37, Tennessee 14.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (-7.5)
I said this last week also…Jacksonville isn’t as good as people think they are. And then they went out and proved it last week by barely beating the atrocious Buffalo Bills 10-3. 10-3??! Blake Bortles RAN for more yards than he THREW for. And what he threw for…again, against the Buffalo Bills…was not even measured in three digits, but instead two. How is that possible?
Pittsburgh has won a lot of close games against bad teams all year long. And yup, the Jags buried the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in Week Five to the tune of 30 to 9. It won’t happen again.
The world wants a New England/Pittsburgh AFC Championship Game and that’s what the world will get.
Pittsburgh 27, Jacksonville 13.
New Orleans at Minnesota (-4.5)
The NFC games seem to be more intriguing than the AFC ones, no? This one should be a good one to cap off the weekend. These clubs met in Week One, resulting in a 29-19 Viking win. But that was eons ago. Sam Bradford was the Viking QB and the Vikes also had Dalvin Cook at RB. The Saints were attempting to shoehorn Adrian Peterson into their backfield, Colby Fleener led the team in receiving that day and New Orleans had no idea what they were doing on defense back then. None of the above will be a factor in this game, well, other than the improved Saint defense.
The Minny D? For real for sure. And Case Keenum has taken the reins after Bradford got hurt (again) and performed much better than the Case Keenum we have always seen in the past. The Saints have relied on the running game more this year than as far back as I can remember…but I have to imagine the Vikings will shut that down a bit. So the Saints will have to go back to relying on Drew Brees primarily…not necessarily a bad thing.
Maybe if I keep writing I won’t have to make a pick? I’m torn on this one. I kind of want to take New Orleans here. Keenum against Brees is no contest…despite Keenum’s solid year. Minny’s D is better, but Drew could find a way to beat them. I also feel like the Vikings will NOT be the first team to play at their home stadium in the Super Bowl. But I’m going to take a stab and say that we all will have at least one more week to see if that happens.
Minnesota 23, New Orleans 20.
Week (against the spread): 2-2
Week (straight up): 3-1
Season (against the spread): 140-120
Season (straight up): 176-84
Slacking in this space lately, but at least we are still pushing out the picks!
Tennessee at Kansas City (-8.5)
The Chiefs seemed to have regained their early season mojo down the stretch. The Titans stink and shouldn’t even be here. Seems like an easy one.
Kansas City 34, Tennessee 17.
Atlanta at Los Angeles Rams (-5.5)
All the home teams are favored by pretty healthy amounts this weekend, as they should be. This tilt features the smallest spread. And I think also the greatest potential for an upset. The Rams have been a great story this year, no doubt about it. But did the success come too fast?
Listen, I am no Falcon fan. But after their collapse in the Super Bowl last year, they did in fact make it back to the playoffs this season. Many thought that wouldn’t happen. They have the experience. The Rams do not. The Rams rested their key guys last week…hard to say if that is a good thing or not. It works for some teams, but not necessarily for others. (Avoiding injuries is of course a good thing, but you know what I mean…did their rhythm get stunted? Etc.).
Did you know that LA is only 4-4 at home? Atlanta is 5-3 on the road. The Falcons were also in arguably the toughest division this year, with three teams making the playoffs out of the NFC South.
Now I am not saying Atlanta will return to the Super Bowl, but…
Atlanta 27, Los Angeles Rams 24.
Buffalo at Jacksonville (-8.5)
The Bills return to the playoffs after 18 years. Yay. These guys stink too. Nice choke job by the Ravens to get the Bills in there. The Jags played their starters last week when they didn’t even have to and put in a clunker against the Titans. A week after giving up 44 to the 49ers. Yeah, I know, Jimmy G, blah, blah, blah. But people have been jumping on Jacksonville’s bandwagon all year long…great defense and all that. Has anyone looked at their division? Woeful. And their schedule overall? Weak. Nice win at Pittsburgh in Week 5, but other than that? Not much.
Sssssssoooo…the Jags aren’t really any good either. And…Blake Bortles. ‘Nuff said. Should be enough for this week, since it’s Buffalo. And if Buffalo doesn’t have LeSean McCoy then it could get pretty ugly out there. Then moving forward I expect the Steelers to return the favor to the Jags next week in the Divisional Round. We will cross that bridge if we get there however.
Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 13.
Carolina at New Orleans (-6.5)
This one has the makings to be a good one, even though the Saints handled the Panthers pretty well in both matchups this season. But you know how the saying goes…”tough to beat a team 3 times in one season”. Both teams played poorly last week with the division on the line, so that really doesn’t inspire much confidence. Maybe I just have high hopes for this one as it’s the final game of the weekend. I will say that this Alvin Kamara kid is exciting to watch. That’s all.
New Orleans 30, Carolina 24.
Week (against the spread): 10-6
Week (straight up): 10-6
Season (against the spread): 138-118
Season (straight up): 173-83