What to watch for in NFL playoff divisional round

Traditionally, the most entertaining NFL playoff games take place on divisional weekend.

There’s still hope that this weekend’s four games can turn around a trend the NFL doesn’t need in this period of self examination.

Last weekend’s four games were uninspiring, for the most part. The New Orleans-Carolina game was worth watching, as was Tennessee’s second-half rally over Kansas City.

But the Buffalo-Jacksonville punt-a-thon was more boring than a Bill Belichick news conference, and the L.A. Rams-Atlanta game turned sour once the young Rams realized they weren’t up to conquering postseason pressure.

Those games continued a bad run for the NFL: eight of the 10 games leading up to the Super Bowl last season were decided by 13 points or more. Only Steelers-Chiefs and Packers-Cowboys were close before the Patriots’ memorable comeback over the Falcons in the Super Bowl made a lot of us forget the drab games leading up to the big one.

Maybe Falcons-Eagles, Titans-Patriots; Jaguars-Steelers and Saints-Vikings can reverse the trend:

Root for Titans, Giants fans

Big Blue fans who still believe Belichick could be coaching their team next season should root for the Titans to upset the reigning champion Patriots (no small task).

The Giants can’t wait forever to see what will happen in New England, so a Patriots’ loss would speed up their search for a new coach.

Of course, they must understand that if this fantasy is true, the Giants would have to package several high draft picks, including this year’s No. 2 overall, to satisfy New England as the game’s greatest coach walks away.

If the Giants select a coach, even one of the Patriots’ coordinators, when the Patriots are still playing it’s their way of saying Belichick is not interested or the Giants think the asking price is too high.

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Saban staying put?

League observers don’t place much stock in the idea that Nick Saban, who wants to atone for his two years of coaching the Dolphins, would be interested in the Giants’ job.

It doesn’t add up. The Giants would have to come up with a king’s ransom for Alabama to buy out his contract; Saban makes a lot more than any Giants coach, and he would want sole power over personnel moves.

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Plus he has a lot of business opportunities in Alabama, headed by his ownership of a Mercedes Benz dealership in Birmingham.

Young, old QB

Tom Brady at 40 is better than most, if not all, quarterbacks in their late 20s. He’s tied with Brett Favre for the most wins (13) by a 40-year-old QB, and he has totaled the most passing yards by a player at 40.

Don’t expect Brady to slow down when he’s two home wins away from another Super Bowl. He’s at his best when he’s motivated by controversies like the story that he went behind Belichick’s back to owner Robert Kraft and demanded the Patriots trade back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (which they did).

Happy Tom Coughlin

Tom Coughlin is too professional to gloat about the Jaguars being in the playoffs when the Giants are a mess. But in private moments he probably breaks out in a smile about what’s gone on.

He’s helped coach Doug Marrone put together a solid roster capable of being a Super Bowl contender. If only Eli Manning, not Blake Bortles, was their quarterback.

The Steelers don’t have to be reminded of how good Jacksonville is. They lost to the visiting Jags, 30-9, in Week 5.

Still, Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown 22 TD passes and seven interceptions in winning nine of 10 games since the loss to Jacksonville.
Thirteen of the last 14 Super Bowls have included Brady, Peyton Manning or Big Ben.

Home underdog

How much does Las Vegas not trust Nick Foles? Enough to make his Eagles home underdogs against the Falcons.

If the early line holds up, it will be the first time a No. 1 seed is a home dog to a sixth seed, according to Bookmaker.eu, since point spreads were commonly distributed in 1985.

Here’s why the Eagles are haunted by Carson Wentz’s season-ending knee injury: after some success against the Giants (does that count?), Foles has completed 23 of 49 passes for one TD and two interceptions.

Determined journeyman

Case Keenum must be pinching himself. The journeyman quarterback is two wins away from leading the Vikings to the Super Bowl, which is being played at their home field.
Sure, he’s heard all the speculation that he’ll revert to his old ways (24 TD passes in 26 games, going into this season) when the playoff pressure intensifies, but the Vikings are convinced he’s no fluke.

 

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