The second round of the NFL playoffs is upon us, and perhaps the best match-up of the four games features the New Orleans Saints traveling to Minnesota to play the Vikings.
This a great match-up featuring an outstanding defense (Minnesota) against one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses (New Orleans).
But one guy who won’t be attending this big game is Louisiana Lt. Gov. Bill Nungesser, who is boycotting the NFL over players protesting the National Anthem.
“I have not been to a game since the protesting,” Nungesser told NOLA.com. “I wish [the Saints] well, but I’m not going to the games.”
Nungesser believes the protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to the military.
“I’m very close to a lot of people that lost loved ones in the war,” Nungesser said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a son.”
But for those interested in this weekend’s action, here is preview of the four contests:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are the first #1 seed to enter a playoff game as an underdog.
This angers their starting defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
“It just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder and just adds fuel to the fire, and that’s what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year,” Cox said, “people doubting us every week. We just want to go out and shut those doubters up.”
But it makes sense for the Eagles to be three-point underdogs since they lost their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, to a season-ending knee-injury late in the season. And his replacement, Nick Foles, finished the regular season with two bad outings.
Last week, in their upset of the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons did a great job running the football and controlling the clock. Look for them to try to do the same this week, but it could be more difficult, since the Eagles have the NFL’s #1 run defense.
But if they can’t run the football, the Falcons should be able to throw on an average Philadelphia secondary which could have a hard time covering all the Falcon’s passing game weapons, including wide receiver Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu along with tight end Austin Hooper.
The Falcons are 11-0 when scoring 20 or more points this season.
Expect them to make it 12-0 behind quarterback Matt Ryan, a Philadelphia-native.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
The NFL is a QB-driven league, so it could be hard for the Titans to keep up on the scoreboard with the Patriots.
The gap between Titans QB Marcus Mariota and Patriots QB Tom Brady is significant. This past regular season, Mariota threw just 13 touchdowns and Brady threw 32. Mariota threw 15 interceptions, and Brady just eight.
Also, the Titans’ pass defense is suspect, and they could have a difficult time covering the Patriots’ myriad weapons, like wide receivers Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt, along with all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Also, the Patriots like to throw to running backs like Dion Lewis and James White quite a bit, and the Titans are lousy at covering runners out of the backfield.
On top of all this, when you give Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff two weeks to prepare, they should have the mother of all game plans.
The Patriots should have little trouble winning this game.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
On October 8, the Jaguars blew out the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh.
In this game, the Jaguars intercepted Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger five times.
Also in that game, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette ran for 181 yards.
It was just one of those days for the Steelers – Murphy’s Law to the nth degree – nothing went right.
Expect a much better performance from the Steelers this time around.
The Jaguars beat the offensively-challenged Buffalo Bills last week 10-3 in the first round of the playoffs. In that game, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles ran for more yards (88) than he threw for (87). That usually isn’t a winning formula in playoff football.
Bortles running kind of caught the Bills by surprise last week. The Steelers will be much better prepared for it, and should display sounder gap-integrity.
All signs point to the Steelers winning this game.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
This should be a great game.
The Saints have their most balanced team in years. Unlike previous recent seasons, the Saints aren’t just relying on Drew Brees’ talented right arm to lead them to victories. This year, they not only have a strong passing attack, but are a great running team and play stout defense.
The Saints’ offense, even with their new-found balance, will face a tough challenge in Minnesota, because the Saints’ defense is equally proficient at stopping the pass and the run, ranked second in both categories.
And the Vikings are very tough to beat in the brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium, where they lost only one time this season.
Aside from their top-shelf defense, the Vikings are getting terrific play from their quarterback, Case Keenum, who started the season as the #3 signal-caller, but took over as the starter in Week Three due to injuries, and played on a high level, throwing 22 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He is a very efficient quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over often.
This game is a toss-up.