The 2018 NFL Playoffs continue with this weekend’s Divisional Round. After a heart-pounding finish in the Superdome last week against Carolina, the New Orleans Saints are thankfully moving on in these playoffs. Now, arguably their greatest challenge awaits in the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota is widely considered to be the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC and they field the NFL’s top-ranked defensive unit. Should the Saints leave Minnesota with a victory, their Super Bowl dreams may actually become a reality.
Let’s take a look at this marquee matchup as well as the other three games this Divisional playoff weekend!
Last week I went 2-2
I told you so: Saints over Panthers!
What do I know: Rams over Falcons?
NFC - #6 Atlanta Falcons at #1 Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, January 13th - 3:35pm CST - NBC
You will no doubt see an obvious thread in this week’s picks, and that thread is the importance of the quarterback position as the playoffs progress. The disparity in this Divisional Playoff’s quarterback matchups is astounding and arguably unprecedented. The AFC home teams quarterbacks combine for 54 playoff games, 38 playoff wins, 10 AFC titles, and 7 Super Bowl titles. The AFC road teams quarterbacks combine for 2 playoff games and 2 playoff wins. The NFC road teams quarterbacks combine for 21 playoff games, 11 playoff wins, 2 NFC titles, and 1 Super Bowl title (Brees). The NFC home teams quarterbacks combine for 1 playoff appearance (Foles) and 0 playoff wins. These are extremely significant facts. I will be repeating myself in these picks to underline the significance.
Philadelphia enters the playoffs as the first-ever underdog #1 seed. As good as they are defensively, Philly cannot compete with Atlanta in the quarterback matchup. That is the position where playoff games are truly won and lost. When the Eagles lost Carson Wentz, they didn't just lose an MVP caliber quarterback, they lost their heart and soul, the motor that makes them go, and the leader that gave them their confidence and swagger. This is why they’re underdogs, despite their great defense. In playoff games, a great defense needs a quarterback on the other side that can rise to their level as well.
Nick Foles can't be trusted to keep his offense up with the Matt Ryan and Julio Jones combination. Playoff games ultimately come down to the quarterback position, and the current advantage goes to Atlanta. It would prove wise to go with the better quarterback. Atlanta wins 21-17.
AFC - #5 Tennessee Titans at #1 New England Patriots
Saturday, January 13th - 7:15pm CST - CBS
Tennessee had an amazing comeback win in the Wild Card round at Kansas City last week. While it was thrilling and surprising, it was effectively the end of their playoff run. That victory earned them a date with the Patriots in Foxboro. Tennessee is flat-out overmatched in this game. The Patriots will do what they always do to overmatched teams in the Divisional round. The Titans obviously face a monumental deficit at the most important position on the field in this game.
Marcus Mariota just won't be able to keep his offense up with Tom Brady and New England’s top-rated offense. Playoff games ultimately come down to the quarterback position, and the overwhelming advantage goes to New England. It would be foolish not to go with the championship quarterback. With this win, New England will reach their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game. New England wins 35-14.
AFC - #3 Jacksonville Jaguars at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, January 14th - 12:05pm CST - CBS
It’s been almost a given all season that the Steelers and Patriots will undoubtedly meet in the AFC Championship Game, but there is a large contingency that believes the Jaguars are just the team to derail that matchup. Many point back to Jacksonville’s dominant performance in Pittsburgh earlier this season, but you have to remember that came all the way back in August when the stakes were much lower, as were the expectations, and the pressure. It may as well have taken place a season ago.
Pittsburgh simply isn't that same team that took that tough loss all those months ago. They are a better team, and they are better prepared to make the adjustments to cast aside the memories of that ultimately irrelevant first meeting. Jacksonville may cling to that early meeting and claim it is proof they are the better team, but it is a foolishly hopeful sentiment. They are hopelessly outclassed at the most important position on the field.
Blake Bortles simply can't be trusted to keep his offense up with Ben Roethisberger and Pittsburgh’s third-ranked offense. As stated before, playoff games ultimately come down to the quarterback position, and the overwhelming advantage goes to Pittsburgh. It would be foolish not to go with the championship quarterback. Pittsburgh wins 30-17.
NFC - #4 New Orleans Saints at #2 Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, January 14th - 3:40pm CST - FOX
If you’ve read the picks above, you can clearly see where I align going into this game. I’m putting my faith and trust in Super Bowl Champion and first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Yes, even against the famous Minnesota Vikings defense, and yes, against young journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, making his first career NFL playoff start. To say this is a big spot for a quarterback who has played for three teams in five years and has never taken a snap from center in a NFL playoff game is an extreme understatement.
In their Week 1 meeting, Vikings starters Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook torched the Saints defense featuring starters Alex Anzalone, AJ Klein, Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro, and the unforgettable De’Vante Harris, who as the single worst player on the field that night and was abused mercilessly by Bradford as the game wore on. Strangely enough, not a single player mentioned in that sentence will take the field at US Bank Stadium this Sunday, and in the case of Harris, that is an absolute blessing. Who will take the field this Sunday are likely Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara, and likely Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore, both who are infinitely better than they were the night they made their first career NFL starts in Minnesota. These options are infinitely better than Adrian Peterson and the aforementioned Harris. Experience goes a long way, and they’ve gained that experience.
Should the Vikings win this game? Of course; they are the second seed as opposed to the Saints’ fourth seed, they won the Week 1 meeting all those months ago, for whatever that’s worth, and they have homefield advantage in what should be an unbearably loud environment. Despite the top-rated defense, the underrated receivers, and the home crowd, do you have complete trust they will beat these Saints? Are the Saints not arguably the most well-equipped team to go into Minnesota and leave with a massive victory? Of course they are.
Case Keenum honestly can't be trusted to match his play with Drew Brees and New Orleans’ second-ranked offense. As we are clearly aware, playoff games ultimately come down to the quarterback position, and the overwhelming advantage goes to the Saints. It would be foolish not to go with the championship quarterback. The Saints will once again be in the biggest, most tightly contested game of the playoff weekend. Hold on to your hats, folks. This is gonna be one to remember. Saints win 24-23.
We move one week closer to arguably the most exciting day in sports, NFL Conference Championship Sunday. Which of these teams will represent the NFL’s final four? We’ll just have to wait and see. The most important thing is that the Saints become one of those teams! Leave us your picks, comments, and insight below!