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January 11, 2018

Divisional round NFL playoff picks

For the gambling degenerates, here are my NFL divisional round playoffs picks. To note, the helmets indicate who I think will win the game, not cover the spread. At the end of the picks, I'll note a few teams that I like based on the spread.

Falcons (-2.5) at Eagles: Prior to the season, the definitive strength of Eagles' roster was the defensive line, until it became Carson Wentz. Now it's the D-line once again. If Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, and Beau Allen can control the line of scrimmage in the run game while consistently getting in the face of Matt Ryan in the passing game, they can create turnovers, making it easier on the offense.

Offensively, the Eagles' line is the clear strength. They need to find ways to open up running lanes against packed boxes while providing great protection for a quarterback who can't function without it.

Make no mistake, the Eagles are better in the trenches, and as such, they can win this game. Still, for me, I just can't get past the fact that heading into this matchup, the difference in quarterback play drastically favors the Falcons, and that's going to be very difficult to overcome.

Please don't harm my family.

Titans at Patriots (-13.5): The difference in quality in the playoffs in the NFC vs. the AFC this year is nuts. The Titans, Chiefs, Bills, and Jaguars are all inferior to the six playoff teams in the NFC. Meanwhile, this Patriots team isn't nearly as good as many of their other teams over the last two decades, and yet, they're the overwhelming favorite to win the Super Bowl, again. 

In the NFC, the Pats would have a very difficult road to the Super Bowl. In this craptastic pool of AFC playoff teams, not so much.

Jaguars at Steelers (-7): Back in early October, the Jaguars embarrassed the Steelers 30-9 in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger had one of the worst games of his career, as he threw two pick sixes. In that game, Pittsburgh threw it 55 times, vs. 20 rushes. That's when the Jaguars can be dangerous. On the season, they had 55 sacks and 7 defensive touchdowns. If they can make you one-dimensional, then their defense will get after the passer, and it becomes very difficult to avoid their rush.

I believe the Steelers learned some lessons that day, and it's going to be hard for the Jaguars to put them in that situation once again. The Jaguars' offense a week ago against Buffalo was (A) Blake Bortles scrambling for first downs, and (B) the running backs pounding the run for three or four yards at a time. In the passing game, Bortles was 8 of 14 for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was wildly inaccurate all day in windy conditions. Can they get a lead and make Pittsburgh have to throw the ball?

In Pittsburgh on Sunday, the weather forecast is calling for a high of 18 degrees. So who do I like here? A quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, who has played in 20 playoff games, the majority of which were in bad weather... orrrrrrrr, Blake Bortles, a Florida guy who went to UCF, has played in Jacksonville, and looked awful in kinda bad (but not horrible) conditions last week?

Hmmm, tough call there.

Saints at Vikings (-5.5): This is a fascinating round of the NFC playoffs, because of its interesting matchups of one team with a great quarterback, vs. another team with arguably a better overall roster otherwise. By that I mean, quarterbacks aside, the Eagles and Vikings have better rosters than the Falcons and Saints, respectively, but the Falcons and Saints have significant advantages at quarterback.

Call me simplistic, but I'm a sucker for the better quarterback. If the Vikings still played outside, I would love them in this matchup. In the dome, eh, I believe that works against them against this specific opponent, as Drew Brees will be unaffected by the conditions.

Clearly, the Vikings have an outstanding defense, and an offense capable of putting enough points on the board to win. But just like I noted above in the Steelers-Jaguars matchup, I'll take the team led by a Hall of Fame quarterback with 12 playoff games (and a Super Bowl win) under his belt over the quarterback playing in his first playoff game.

• Picks against the spread: Falcons (-2.5), Steelers (-7), Saints (+5.5).

• Eagles picks: 13-3
• 2017 season, straight up: 177-83 (0.681)
• 2017 season, ATS: 33-30-2 (0.523)
• 2016 season, straight up: 171-94-2 (0.644)
• 2016 season, ATS:  41-34 (0.547)
• 2015 season, straight up: 163-93 (0.637)
• 2015 season, ATS: 46-30-2 (0.605)

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