As I mentioned before in my NFC Preview, the Divisional games are of a South vs. North flair. The NFC games however, many feel you will have two close games in Philadelphia and Minnesota with the Falcons and Saints respectively. The AFC? Well, many feel it maybe a foregone conclusion.
But is it?
The Patriots and the Steelers have been the class of the AFC all year long, beating teams throughout while the rest of the AFC has been, well flawed, including their respective opponents in Tennessee and Jacksonville. However, the Patriots and Steelers have been dealing with personal issues in the past week that has made people go “well, if this is the time to do it, it is now.”
We have heard reports of surprising drama in New England that Tom Brady pushed for Jimmy Garoppolo to be traded and was relieved when the Patriots did. Adding on, it is sounding like Bill Belichick is unhappy with Brady’s “entitlement” according to reports and may split for the Giants in the off-season. While it is reports (what feels like it is coming from TMZ-ESPN and they have nothing better to do anymore including calling sports), one wonders after Brady’s blow-up with Josh McDaniels if there is truth to some of the rumors.
As for the Steelers, while the talk of Ben Roethlisberger’s “heart” not being into it, Le’Veon Bell has now saying he would either sit out next season or retire if he is franchised next year. Bell couldn’t have picked a worse time to say it so there may be questions abound with him. So, it seems like those stories may be more of a headache for the home teams this week than the actual opponents…..perhaps.
TENNESSEE TITANS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, 8:15, SATURDAY: A true David vs. Goliath match here? Yeah. The Patriots are the establishment playoff team. They’ve been there before, won it before (2 of the last 3 years) and look to show they will do it again. You have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, who still can play at a high level. You have one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, who can just take a team’s weakness and kill them with it. On the flip-side, you have the young Titans squad who has not seen much of any playoff experience until last week in their win against Kansas City. You have a young quarterback still learning the ropes and a head coach who may have been fired had it not been for last week’s win.
TITANS WIN IF:
DERRICK HENRY HAS A BIG GAME: Henry had a great game last week in Kansas City and showed that Heisman-caliber play he had from Alabama. New England’s defense is very suspect this year and it could be a huge problem if they cannot stop the Titans monstrous running back. He can wear out the Patriots defense and also keep Brady on the sideline.
MARCUS MARIOTA MAKES NO MISTAKES: Mariota, after a small sluggish start in Kansas City, got going and played nearly a mistake-free game after that. He was pretty much doing it all for the Titans and the only way to beat New England is if you play a nearly flawless game at the quarterback position. He can do that, but it has to happen for Tennessee to win.
THE DEFENSE MAKES A FEW STOPS: The Titans defense won’t slow down New England’s offense. It just won’t happen. However, if they can make a few stops and have Henry make some big plays, they will be in this game.
PATRIOTS WIN IF:
THEY JUMP AHEAD EARLY ON TENNESSEE: Yes, the Titans came back from 21-3 against Kansas City, but that was the Chiefs and they lost Kelce before halftime. Another road game in probably a far colder environment is not what the Titans want.
ROB GRONKOWSKI HAS A BIG DAY: Say what you will on Gronk, but the man is nearly un-guard-able at TE. The Titans really struggled with Kelce until he went down. If Kelce hadn’t got injured, who knows what would have happened in the Chiefs game. I don’t see anybody on Tennessee doing anything to Gronkowski.
THEY AVOID ANY TENNESSEE RUN: While questions abound about Brady’s situation with the coaching staff, the last thing the Patriots need to do is to give up a small run by the Titans where they score anywhere from 10-17 points in a row. There may be finger-pointing among each other and that could be a concern and it could spiral outward.
MY TAKE: I don’t see the Patriots imploding and I think a lot is much ado about nothing. And if there was, it may take more than Tennessee to really show it to them. Yes, I don’t know if the Patriots have an answer for Derrick Henry to slow him down and that is a concern if you are a Patriots fan, but the Titans defense is nothing to write home about and unless Brady flat-out quits (which he won’t), the Patriots should move on to the AFC Championship for the 7th straight season. PATRIOTS 38, TITANS 14
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS, 1:05, SUNDAY: Just think it was just THIS season the Jaguars thumped the Steelers 30-9, in Pittsburgh, thanks to 2 Pick Sixes, 5 INT’s, and nearly 300 yards of rushing by the Jags. Now of course, that was relatively early on in the season (Week 5) and Pittsburgh has been much better since. However, the Jaguars really built off that game and became the talk of the league with their performance. While the Jags won it decisively, many don’t think it will be a repeat performance of that week.
JAGUARS WIN IF:
THEY FOLLOW THE SAME BLUEPRINT AS WEEK 5: Always easier said than done, and the run game really hit Pittsburgh hard while Roethlisberger may have had his worst game in his career that day. However, the Jags blitzed often thus not only taking Big Ben off his game but keeping Le’Veon Bell from doing much as he had to protect his quarterback. And the phrase “run the ball!” has to be the case for the Jags this week as the Steelers got bullied by Jacksonville and worn out by Leonard Fournette.
BLAKE BORTLES CAN HIT HIS SHORT PASSES: Last week was a debacle for Bortles in the air. Yes, his legs helped win the Jags the game, but if the Steelers jump on Jacksonville early and he has to pass, he needs to be far better than the mess he had last week. Pittsburgh won’t mind if they try to make Bortles beat them because well, he’s Blake Bortles.
THEY FRUSTRATE THE STEELER OFFENSE: It feels like Pittsburgh’s offense is combustible with the attitudes. An early lead and keeping Pittsburgh off the scoreboard will be HUGE for the Jaguars here. And it will start to perhaps get the Steelers players a little irritated, with the Jags and each other. And you cannot play that way in the playoffs, even at home.
STEELERS WIN IF:
GET A BIG LEAD IN THE FIRST HALF: The simplest thing to do is to get off to a 14-point lead by halftime and make the Jaguars throw the ball. Blake Bortles is not one that can engineer comebacks and if his accuracy is off and in being cold weather with possible wind issues, he will be more of a mess. The Steelers can really put this game to bed in the 2nd half early if they take a 2 touchdown lead at really any point.
THEY GIVE THE JAGUARS A HEAVY DOSAGE OF LE’VEON BELL: This is a game that is fit for Bell. It will take pressure off of Big Ben and the Steelers can move the ball on the ground on the Jags, but they cannot start passing right away. Pittsburgh has to keep the Jaguars defense honest and this is the way to off-set blitzes.
THEY STOP LEONARD FOURNETTE: Pittsburgh had issues dealing with him the first game. Another big game may put the Steelers to bed and put in questions about what to do with Roethlisberger, Bell, and others in the off-season. Fournette cannot control the game against the Steelers. That is pretty obvious.
MY TAKE: I doubt it will be a repeat of last game for these two. It will be colder and if Pittsburgh learned from their mistakes, they will make sure the running game gets going. I’m not sold on Bortles in cold weather and he may have just as much of a worse game as last week and I do think the Steelers will do a much better job against Fournette, though there is no Ryan Shazier in the lineup. So new season, new result. STEELERS 20, JAGUARS 3
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat