NFL divisional round preview: Picks and predictions as the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles and more take the stage

Ben Burrows
The Independent
Tom Brady will lead the Patriots into the playoffs once again: Getty
Tom Brady will lead the Patriots into the playoffs once again: Getty

The NFL’s divisional round is here and with it, for the discerning American football fan, the best weekend of the year.

24 have been cast aside and only eight – the very best eight – teams remain. But only one will hold the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft in three weeks’ time. It’s time to decide who it will be.

This week sees eight become four. With everything to play for it's win or go home and it promises to be a wild one.

Here’s what to expect:

Falcons at Eagles (Saturday 21.35)

Matt Ryan saw off the high-powered Rams a week ago (Getty)
Matt Ryan saw off the high-powered Rams a week ago (Getty)

It was all supposed to be so different for the Eagles but here they are, Carson Wentz-less, and now have an on fire Falcons team to deal with on their home field. All is not lost though – Philly are number one seeds off the back of more than their MVP calibre QB – and they can still get a result if they can slow Matt Ryan and his plethora of weapons down.

Stopping the run should be priority one. Atlanta ran all over the Rams last week and will set up to do the same this weekend too. How much penetration Fletcher Cox and Co. get up front could decide the game. On the outside Julio Jones projects to be a big problem but if the Eagles can hold them to 20 points they could beat the odds and advance. But that’s a big if.

Pick: Falcons

Titans at Patriots (Sunday 01.15)

Look to the Patriots to feed Dion Lewis early and often (Getty)
Look to the Patriots to feed Dion Lewis early and often (Getty)

The fallout from Seth Wickersham’s explosive tell-all expose is still the talk of Foxborough but thankfully for the Brady bunch the focus will finally return to the football field this weekend. And as we have seen umpteen times before that’s where they are at their very best.

That said, Brady has thrown three times more picks in his last six games than in his first 10 combined and the pass rush has gone from a non-factor to a complete non-entity over the last month but that is by the by. I could give you a number of equally worthless reasons why the Titans might shock the world. But they won’t. The Patriots are angry and they are going to take it out on an out of their depth and overmatched Tennessee.

Pick: Pats

Jaguars at Steelers (Sunday 18.05)

Le'Veon Bell will need a big game against the Jags' fearsome defence (Getty)
Le'Veon Bell will need a big game against the Jags' fearsome defence (Getty)

The Jags walked and ran and stomped all over this week’s hosts back in week five in one of the shocks of the year and head to the Steel City with the confidence needed to knock off the No.2 seeds. And that confidence isn’t misplaced. They have the best D in football, a top tier running game and a special teams unit capable of breaking one at any time. What they don’t have, however, is a quarterback.

Blake Bortles imploded last weekend as Jacksonville squeaked by a Bills side who really had no business being in the postseason. Put simply, if he does so again this one will be over before it’s barely started. If he plays well – or even to a league average level – then the Jags can win. Antonio Brown is banged up and Ben Roethlisberger threw five picks the last time these two met meaning the Steelers may well lean on the shoulders of the last Killer B to get it done. This just feels like a Le’Veon Bell game. If he goes off – both on the ground and through the air – the Steelers will be in the title game.

Pick: Steelers

Saints at Vikings (Sunday 21.40)

Drew Brees was superb in defeating the Panthers a week ago (Getty)
Drew Brees was superb in defeating the Panthers a week ago (Getty)

The standout game of the week comes last and what a game it is. The best team in the NFC hosts the form team in the NFC in what could be a slobberknocker. Drew Brees was at his majestic, Hall of Fame best as the Saints saw off the Panthers last weekend and will have to be at that level or better again with a Vikings defence with playmakers on every level standing between him and the final four.

The game could well be decided on the other sides of the ball, however – how Case Keenum deals with his first taste of playoff football and conversely how much pressure the increasingly porous New Orleans D puts him under. Adam Thielen vs Marshon Lattimore could barely be more box office. The Saints’ league-leading running game against Everson Griffen is equally as good. One thing is for certain, U.S. Bank stadium will be LOUD. This one really is too close to call, but…

Pick: Vikes. Just

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