Divisional Round Predictions

Updated: January 12th 2019

Well, the road teams were the story of last weekend, covering the spread in all four games and winning three of them outright, culminating in an absolutely crazy finish to the Eagles-Bears game with a double doink missed/blocked FG as time expired (putting huge smiles on the faces of Matt and me). Here is how our writers performed last week (some 3-1 ATS and ML but nobody with the clean parlay):

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  7. Luke Patrick O’Connell: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -5): ML – 5 KC & 1 IND // ATS – 5 KC & 1 IND
  2. Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams (Line LAR -7): ML – 0 DAL & 6 LAR // ATS – 4 DAL & 2 LAR
  3. LA Chargers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -4): ML – 2 LAC & 4 NE // ATS – 4 LAC & 2 NE
  4. Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints (Line NO -8): ML – 2 PHI & 4 NO // ATS – 4 PHI & 2 NO

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) [Line: KC -5]

Stephen Wendell: Mahomes overpowers Luck as his legend continues to grow. Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 24.

Matt Papson: Andy Reid is dominant off a bye. Projected Score: Chiefs 35 – Colts 24.

Kyle English: Call it a homer pick if you want, but I think the Colts are the real deal.  I expect plenty of points to be scored, I just think the Colts offense has a larger advantage over the Chiefs defense than the Chiefs offense has against the slightly underrated Colts defense. Projected Score: Colts 31 – Chiefs 28.

Matt Goodwin: Color me impressed by how dominant Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack and the Colts were last weekend in Houston. I’m really impressed with the Colts’ offensive line and running the ball will be paramount to controlling clock and keeping the high-octane Chiefs offense off the field at raucous Arrowhead Stadium. With that said, I think Pat Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill are too much for the Colts defense to contend with and Kansas City has found ways to still get solid contributions out of their running backs as well.  Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 20.

Nick Andrews: There is only one factor that will determine the outcome of this game, Indy’s O-Line. If the Chiefs are unsuccessful at getting pressure on Andrew Luck the Colts defense should be able to hold of Pat Mahomes for a least enough drives to keep them under 28 points. If there is snow during the game this only helps the Colts who are better equipped to produce through their run game. Despite all this, I still think the Chiefs will come out the victor but the Colts will have a real shot at the end. Projected Score: Chiefs 27 – Colts 21.

Bernard Faller: This should be a shootout with two of the top passers in the NFL.  Andrew Luck is playing at a MVP level and second-year pro Patrick Mahomes likely wins the MVP.  Kansas City scored 30+ in all but four games this year and the Colts won 9 of their last 10. Questions remain as to how Mahomes will react in his first post-season start but the Chiefs offense is playing at a different level.  Projected Score: Chiefs 34 – Colts 28.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) @ Los Angeles Rams (13-3) [Line: LAR -7]

Stephen Wendell: Cowboys keep it really close but the Rams learn from last year and prevail. Projected Score: Rams 24 – Cowboys 20.

Matt Papson: I expect this to be a relatively close game. Despite being 13-3, the Rams seem vulnerable. Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 24.

Kyle English: I expect this to be a blowout with the Rams dominating the Cowboys across the board. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Cowboys 17.

Matt Goodwin: Dallas is 3-5 on the road this season and head to Los Angeles to face the Rams who have had several weeks to get Todd Gurley healthy and scheme for the Cowboys (since the Seahawks are in the Rams division, guessing the focus was on scheming for either Dallas or Chicago since the playoff bracket was announced). Anyways, while Dallas looks to run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott and get their defensive line pressuring Jared Goff into bad decisions, the Rams just have too much for Dallas to handle schematically on the road and if a team like the Colts can blow the Cowboys out, imagine what a more dynamic offense can do to them. Projected Score: Rams 34 – Cowboys 17.

Nick Andrews: All the talk this week with head coaches being hired has surprisingly focused on a coach who is already employed, Sean McVay. Every pundit and analyst is saying that X team needs to find their Sean McVay but can we pump the breaks until he’s won a playoff game at least. The Rams this season have looked superhuman, and then average around the 2/3rds marker, then back to great the final two weeks of the regular season against cupcake opponents. Whichever team shows up against the Cowboys this weekend is likely going to be the decider. Projected Score: Rams 24- Cowboys 20.

Bernard Faller: Dallas has the tools to bleed out the clock, keeping the ball away from the potent Los Angeles offense.  It will not happen this game.  Too much Aaron Donald.  Too much Rams passing attack.  Los Angeles learns from last post-season’s loss.  Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 20.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ New England Patriots (11-5) [Line: NE -4]

Stephen Wendell: Tom Brady in Foxboro in January. Enough said! Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Chargers 17. 

Matt Papson: I had more trouble picking the victor in this game than any other, but have to give the edge to BB & TB in the playoffs. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Chargers 23.

Kyle English: I’ll be cheering for the Chargers, but I don’t think they have enough to pull out another road upset. Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 17 

Matt Goodwin: While I don’t want to stake myself against the Patriots at home with all their playoff experience, this Chargers team is 8-1 on the road this season and with such a lack of home field advantage at Stubhub Center, you can argue they play on the road every week. 12-4 in the regular season and with the most balanced team they’ve had, this Chargers team is capable of going into Foxboro and beating a potentially “cooked” Patriots team and signaling a changing of the guard. While the Patriots like to run the ball when the playoffs come, I don’t think they have enough in the passing game (especially with Gronk seemingly all sorts of banged up) to fool the Chargers stalwart secondary. On the other side, I don’t think the Patriots can take away the best weapons the Chargers have and even if they do, the Chargers have secondary weapons like Mike Williams to deal with. It will be nice to see what Hunter Henry does in his return as well. I’m calling the upset here. Projected Score: Chargers 27 – Patriots 23

Nick Andrews: Can Philip Rivers finally give Brady a loss? Does the silly stat of Nick Saban and Bill Belichick alternating championships mean anything? The answer to both is no, probably, but a fun idea for people to debate about. The Patriots are 19-3 at home in the playoffs, 11-1 in Divisional games after a bye, and 2-0 against Rivers and the Chargers during the Brady-Belichick era. The Chargers are a great team and should be a better matchup than several of the previous years’ divisional opponents but making the AFC Championship is what the Patriots do.  Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 16.

Bernard Faller: Do I necessarily trust Phillip Rivers over Tom Brady? No.  I do believe the Chargers are the better, more balanced team on both sides of the ball.  Los Angeles basically played away games this whole season so they handle one more.  Projected Score:  Chargers 28 – Patriots 24.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ New Orleans Saints (13-3) [Line: NO -8]

Stephen Wendell: I projected Sir Nick to go 7-0 and win the SB when Wentz went down with injury. He has won four in a row since then and Sunday he will make it five. Projected Score: Eagles 35 – Saints 34.

Matt Papson: The Church of Nick Foles. Projected Score: Eagles 31 – Saints 21.

Kyle English: I’d love to see more Foles magic and he’ll probably have a good game, but I think the Saints offense will be too much for them. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 27.

Matt Goodwin: St. Nick struck again last week in Chicago and the Eagles seek revenge from an earlier in the season drubbing at New Orleans. The Saints are a different team at home and while a project a close shootout, I think the Saints move on to the NFC Championship behind Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees. Look for the Eagles to lose a close one, although nothing would surprise me. Projected Score: Saints 34 – Eagles 31.

Nick Andrews: A rematch of what should have been the NFC Championship game last year we will see if Nick Foles is really a football Messiah. The Saints obliterated the Eagles 48-7 in the regular season with Carson Wentz as the starting QB and there’s not much that would make me think that the outcome would be any different this time. Blowouts are hard to pull off so while the Saints should win again the likelihood of a 41 points spread is highly unlikely. If Nick Foles somehow upsets the Saints with the same roster Wentz had in week 11 he may really have a direct link to the man in the clouds. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

Bernard Faller: The key to this game is Philadelphia’s defensive front against New Orleans’ run game.  The Eagles have a chance if they can shut down Kamara and company.  The odds are against it.  New Orleans is too good in both the pass and run areas.  I also really like the Saints’ defensive backfield improvements to finish the year. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Super Bowl Projections

Updated: February 2nd 2018

Super Bowl Weekend is upon us! And for many of us who are diehard Eagles fans (remember RSO was literally born in the Eagles front office when Matt and I worked together there in 2010-2011), this weekend takes on even more importance. It is basically a David vs. Goliath scenario as Tom Brady is starting his 37th playoff game whereas Nick Foles has made 39 regular season NFL starts in his career. That being said, Foles looked like one of the best QBs in the league two weeks ago against a tough Vikings defense. The Patriots are certainly not the best they have ever been, but they have continued to find ways to win games throughout this season, and when the game is on the line in the 4th quarter, there is nobody better than Tom Brady. Everyone seems to think this is going to be a close one, and I tend to agree. Read below for our writer’s predictions and see how they have fared thus far throughout the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 1-1 ATS (8-2 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 2-0 ATS (7-3 ML & 8-2 ATS)
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 1-1 ATS (6-4 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 2-0 ATS (2-8 ML & 7-3 ATS)
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS (5-5 ML & 4-6 ATS)
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS (4-6 ML & 2-8 ATS)
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: No Picks (N/A)

#1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) vs. #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Matt and I will not have much to say on this game. It is impossible to take your own bias out of the equation. We would never even predict (much less bet) against our own team. Bottom line, Birds get it done some way somehow. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 20.

Matt Papson: See what Stephen said. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 23.

Robert Cowper: Much of the talk surrounding the Super Bowl will be about the big stars so I wanted to look in a different direction for interesting stats: Stephen Gostkowski.  Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski will be a huge part of the game but not just as a field goal kicker like one would assume.  Of course his leg will be valuable if drives are stalling near the red zone, he was a perfect 25-25 this season on field goals less than 40 yards, but he’s worth even more to the team than that.  I came across something intriguing that I expect to make a difference: the Patriots’ superior ability to force bad starting field position.  New England forced teams to start, on average, at their 24.3 yard line.  They were the only special teams unit to force the opposition inside the 25 yard line (i.e. where a touchback from a kickoff starts).  In 2016 they were also the league best with an even 25.0.  For comparison, the Eagles ranked a respectable 13th this season, forcing an average start of the 28.0 yard line for their opposition.  It may not sound like much but four yards could ultimately be the difference, especially when the team is on the verge of field goal range.  Do they decide to go for it on fourth down or punt or try a long field goal?  If the Patriots are starting their drives four yards further up field they’ll win the battle of attrition because more of those drives will convert.  According to the kickoff stats compiled by www.footballdb.com, Gostkowski has had 58 kickoffs returned this season.  The next closest kicker had 44 returned.  In 2015, less than a third of Gostkowski’s kickoffs were returned (i.e. when a touchback only brought the ball to the 20 yard line); in 2016 after the rule change, about 45% of his kickoffs were returned; in 2017, it was nearly 60%.  At first glance this feels counter-intuitive, but it seems that the Patriots have figured out that they can regularly cover kicks well enough to get better field position by letting the kickoffs be returned.  It should be mentioned here that the Eagles ranked 27th in the league this season, averaging just 19.7 yards per return.  Expect the Eagles to start a number of their drives inside the twenty.  The ability of Gostkowski to angle and pin returners in the corners will be key.  It sounds crazy but the Eagles best shot at a late game-winning drive may hinge on whether Gostkowski is willing to risk a kickoff out of bounds to make it even harder on the returner. Projected Score: Patriots 25 – Eagles 19

Matt Goodwin: This is a tough one for me as I’m not a huge fan of either fan base. With the exception of the RSO guys, I’ve barely met an Eagles fan I can tolerate. I’ve been wrong most of the playoffs (especially on the Eagles). As I mentioned on Twitter this week, I’m more excited about the shift to the NFL offseason because of RSO implications and the Alex Smith trade jump-started that for me. The Giants are the only blueprint for the Eagles to follow in terms of winning a Super Bowl against the Patriots. Luckily for the Eagles, their defensive front is built like the Giants and can have success if they get consistent, unrelenting pressure on Tom Brady. Unlike what Atlanta abandoned in the second half of last year’s Super Bowl, the Eagles will also have to commit deeply to the run in an attempt to control the clock. I think that the Eagles have a big enough stable of versatile, different-styled running backs to have success against the Patriots and the right mix in the passing game with guys like Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. As much as picking against Tom Brady seems counterintuitive to me, there’s something about this Patriots team that seems a little more awry than in year’s past. In the end, Matt and Stephen are belting “Fly Eagles Fly” at the top of their lungs as Jake Elliott’s leg is the difference, connecting on 4 field goals.  Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Patriots 17.

Nick Andrews: New England Super Bowls have a tendency to be tight contests, with late game dramatics and one crazy catch. Here are my predictions for what will happen in the big game. 1) The Patriots will score a point in the first quarter, something they haven’t done in their previous 7 under Belichick and Brady. 2) The Eagles will have 4+ sacks. 3) Rob Gronkowski makes a one-handed catch over linebacker Mychal Kendricks for a TD. 4) Patriots never trail in the fourth quarter. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Eagles 24.

Bernard Faller: Philadelphia possesses the tools for an upset of New England.  Philadelphia’s defensive and offensive lines are fully capable of dominating the line of scrimmage.  The Eagle’s defense has not allowed more than 10 points in any contest over the last four weeks.  Nick Foles played lights out in the NFC championship game.  I am still picking New England.  The Patriots’ O-line is playing well enough to produce in the run game and allow Tom Brady enough time for adjustments against whatever defensive scheme is thrown at them.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Eagles 24.

Dave SandersMaybe this is the Eagles fan in me talking, but I really think the birds have a chance on Sunday. I’d expect Ajayi and Blount to be heavily featured and combined for 35+ carries as the Eagles will try to control the clock and keep Brady and Co. off the field.  To counter the Eagles strong rotation of defensive lineman that have pressured QBs all year, I’d expect the Patriots run an extensive amount of no huddle and target Lewis, Burkhead and White frequently out of the backfield. If the Eagles can’t get pressure on Brady or Foles struggled, this could be over in a hurry. That said, I think it’s a close game and believe the Eagles will do just enough to pull it out. Projected Score: Eagles 27 – Patriots 24.

 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Divisional Round Predictions

Updated: January 12th 2018

Well, the underdogs were the story of last week, covering all four games, and winning two of them outright with the Titans pulling off a miracle at Arrowhead and the Falcons dominating the Rams. All in all, the games were highly entertaining save for the Jags/Bills game which was one of the worst games in the history of football in my unfettered hyperbolic opinion. Here is how our writers performed last week (only one of us with a winning record ATS 🙂 ): 

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS
  3. Bob Cowper: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS 
  5. Nick Andrews: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS 

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles (Line ATL -2.5): ML – 4 ATL & 3 PHI// ATS – 3 ATL & 4 PHI
  2. Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots (Line NE -13.5): ML – 0 TEN & 7 NE // ATS – 3 TEN & 4 NE
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Line PIT -7.5): ML – 1 JAX & 6 PIT // ATS – 4 JAX & 3 PIT
  4. New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (Line MIN -4.5): ML – 4 NO & 3 MIN // ATS – 7 NO & 0 MIN

#6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [Line: ATL -2.5]

Stephen Wendell: As a Birds fan, I am very nervous, but I think Foles and the defense do enough to get this one done, narrowly escaping defeat and setting up an exciting NFC Championship game at home hosting the Vikings featuring two backup quarterbacks!  Projected Score: Eagles 28 – Falcons 27.

Matt Papson: It’s a Falcons line but I can’t bring myself to pick against the Birds. It’s a home game. Nick Foles is capable of putting together two good games, which is enough to get them to the super bowl. Will he? I’ll bet on at least 1. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Falcons 23.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Eagles 25 – Falcons 19.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Falcons 23 – Eagles 20.

Nick AndrewsThe Eagles have been sliding down the power rankings ever since Carson Wentz was lost for the season. In their final three games, the Eagles looked on par with the 3-13 Giants and 6-10 Raiders and then were shutout by the Cowboys in week 17. There’s a reason why this will be the first time since the playoffs expanded that the #1 seed is an underdog in the Divisional Round. The Falcons flaunted their playoff experience against the Rams last week by taking the early lead and then holding strong throughout. I expect the same will occur this week. Projected Score: Falcons 27 – Eagles 16.

Bernard Faller: Philadelphia was in the conversation for most complete team in the NFL with Carson Wentz at quarterback.   The Eagles dominated in almost every aspect with no weaknesses.  Things change in a hurry.  Atlanta has not exactly been a “juggernaut” in any area this season but I will take Ryan almost every time in a Ryan vs. Foles matchup.  The improving Falcons defense does just enough. Projected Score: Falcons 21 – Eagles 17.

Dave SandersWhile Doug Peterson tries to return Nick Foles to somewhere between competent and his 2014 form, the Atlanta Falcons come to town as -2.5 point road FAVORITES.  I’d expect that Ajayi, Blount, and Clement will faced a stacked box as Dan Quinn will force Foles and company to attack their Cover-3 zone scheme, which has been very successful this year.  Foles will have to get the ball out quickly to counter Atlanta’s ability to pressure with only four rushers.  On the other hand, Atlanta’s offense hasn’t be great this season and likely will continue struggle against a stout Philadelphia defense.  All of that said, give me Ryan over Foles in a playoff game.  It’s as simple as that.  I’ll take Atlanta and lay the 2.5 points. Projected Score: Falcons 20 – Eagles 13.

#5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -13.5]

Stephen Wendell: The Titans cover but in a backdoor fashion. They will not compete on the road in one of the toughest places to win in January. Brady and a healthy Gronk dominate this game from start to finish. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Titans 14.

Matt Papson: All the drama surrounding the Pats isn’t nearly enough to create a chance they lose this one. Projected Score: Patriots 45 – Titans 13.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Patriots 33 – Titans 10.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Titans 10.

Nick AndrewsI called everything but the score in last week’s Titans/Chiefs game. The Chiefs did everything to lose that game by not relying more on Kareem Hunt in the second half. It will be interesting to see what happens to them in the offseason. As for the Titans current matchup, the Patriots are the opposite of the Chiefs in terms of offering opportunities to come back from a multi-score deficit. There are only two outcomes that this game can have. Either the Patriots are distracted from last week’s media storm and allow the Titans to pull out another sneaky win or they use the distraction as fuel to throttle the Titans out of playoffs. I expect the latter. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Titans 12.

Bernard Faller: The Titans move on to the second round after a historic collapse by the Kansas City Chiefs last week.  New England’s defense, one of the worst in the league this year, is certainly exploitable especially against the run.  That won’t matter as Tom Brady brutalizes the Tennessee defense.  The Kansas City offense forgot to play the second half last week.  New England’s will not.  Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Titans 24.

Dave SandersGive me Tennessee and the 13.5 points.  This isn’t about the drama between Brady, Belichick, and Kraft, which I believe to be overstated.  It’s simply too many points for New England to be laying against anyone in the divisional round.  Mariota and Henry should be able to do just enough to cover, while still losing a close game to the Pats. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Titans 24.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) [Line: PIT -7.5]

Stephen Wendell: Blake Bortles is awful, plain and simple. Big Ben threw 5 INTs, 2 of them were run back, and the Jags still only scored 30 points in the Week 5 defeat of the Steelers. Big Ben will protect the ball this time around and the Steelers offense will score enough to overcome a very very weak Jags offense. Projected Score: Steelers 24 – Jaguars 10. 

Matt Papson: Despite last week’s abysmal performance I think this is going to be closer than people are expecting.. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Jaguars 27.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Steelers 16 – Jaguars 9 

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score; Steelers 16 – Jaguars 10

Nick Andrews: Antonio Brown is expected to be back but how healthy will he be? These two teams met up in week 5 when Big Ben had five interceptions and the Jags got a rare win at Heinz Field. While I don’t think there will be five interceptions again I do suspect that the result will repeat itself. The Jags defense has shown that they can cover the best receivers in the league and can also get to the quarterback. Bortles was rather lackluster against the Bills but he surprisingly did enough on the ground to get a win last week. His performance will likely be the difference between a victory and defeat.  Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Steelers 17.

Bernard Faller: The Jaguars won an ugly contest in the wild card game against Buffalo featuring one of the worst cumulative performances by opposing quarterbacks in playoff history.  Jacksonville’s defense might be the best in the league and could keep the game close.  The Jaguars beat the Steelers earlier this season with a historically bad five interception game from likely future hall of famer Ben Roethlisberger.  It will not happen again.  One can not trust Blake Bortles against Ben Roethlisberger in a playoff matchup.  Projected Score:  Steelers 24 – Jaguars 13.

Dave SandersI can’t wait to watch the Steelers offense vs. the Jacksonville defense.  It’s the head-to-head matchup I’m most looking forward to watching, most especially if Antonio Brown has fully recovered from injury.  In what may become a defensive grind, I’ll take Jacksonville and the 7.5 points. Projected Score:  Steelers 23 – Jaguars 16.

#4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) @ #2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3) [Line: MIN -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Man this is the toughest game to predict of the weekend. I think the Vikings put together a FG drive late to win 17-16 and inch out the Saints, putting them one win in Philly away from hosting the Super Bowl! Projected Score: Vikings 17 – Saints 16.

Matt Papson: The Vikings have a more feasible path to a home super bowl than any team in recent memory. Case Keenum isn’t as good as Drew Brees, but the Vikings offense has been consistent and Pat Shurmur is going to put his mark on his final few games with the team Projected Score: Vikings 31 – Saints 27.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Vikings 24 – Saints 23.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 20.

Nick AndrewsThis is another regular season rematch but unlike my Jags prediction, I think this one will be a different outcome. In week 1 the Saints were trying to figure out what to do with Adrian Peterson, had yet to discover the awesome power of Alvin Kamara, and faced Sam Bradford instead of Case Keenum at QB. Marshon Lattimore has also developed into a shutdown corner which will limit the big plays of Stefon Diggs. If the Saints offense can continue to both stretch the field with Brees, Thomas and Ginn Jr. as well as pound the ball with Ingram and Kamara I see the Saints hosting the NFC Championship game next week. Projected Score: Saints 20 – Vikings 17.

Bernard FallerThis game is the highlight of the playoff weekend.  Two of the best overall teams in the league face off for the second time this season.  The Vikings won the first matchup on the strength of a 347 yard, 3 touchdown game by Sam Bradford.  Both teams are good on each side of the ball but the highlight will be two top-rated units squaring off in the New Orleans offense against the Minnesota defense.  In a common theme for my picks, I pick the team with the proven quarterback in Drew Brees going against playoff first-timer Case Keenum. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 20.

Dave SandersIn what most are calling the game of the week, New Orleans travels to Minnesota in a showcase of two of the best QBs in 2017….Drew Brees (makes sense) and Case Keenum (wait what?).  It’s true.  Maybe it’s the 2,500 virtual reality reps or just distance from Jeff Fisher, but Keenum has turned himself into a very good quarterback.  I still have this feeling in the back of my mind that he’s going to sink the Vikings with a dud of a game at some point.  I’ll bet on it being this game as Kamara, Ingram, Brees, and Thomas may be too much for the Vikings regardless. Give me the Saints and the 4.5 points. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 23.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell