Let’s jump right into things.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots – Saturday, January 13th, 2018 – 7:15PM kickoff
Tony: On the AFC side of the equation, it’s two games that most people think are forgone conclusions. On Saturday evening, possibly the biggest laugher of the weekend will happen, when the Patriots take on the Titans, who came back to upset the Chiefs. The only way the Titans have a chance in this one is if the discord in New England isn’t only real, it’s worse than anyone imagined. That, or a freak injury to Tom Brady that even TB12 can’t overcome.
Andy: Yeah, put me on the same side of the people who say this won’t be much of a game. It’s basically a tuneup for the Patriots. They’re getting better. But they’re a ways off. Brady is the main reason. A little stat, courtesy of NFL Communications: This game pits the biggest age difference between starting QBs in playoff history, beating out the 1991 match-up between Kansas City’s Steve DeBerg and the Raiders’ Todd Marinovich. There are 16 years and a few months between Brady and Marcus Mariota. In the previous four highest age-difference games, the elder has beaten the youth each time. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Tony: First off, Todd Marinovich played in a playoff game? Secondly…I’m guessing that may have made its way to his pipe. And lastly…have I mentioned lately that the Patriots really need to bring the old Pat Patriot helmets & red jerseys back from mothballs?
Anyway…I suspect the only way the game stays at all interesting is if the Pats come out cold from the week off, and the Titans manage to put together a ground game to hold on to the ball. For at least 43 minutes of game time. I say Patriots 34, Titans 13.
Andy: I think you’re giving Tennessee too much credit. I don’t think it will be that close. The Titans started last week looking like they were more than happy to call it a season and say “we made the playoffs, isn’t this a great building point.” The only reason they stayed in that game was abysmal coaching by Kansas City, which, stunningly, forgot to involve Kareem Hunt in the game. That won’t happen with Bill Belichick. If running the ball is what it takes, he’ll do it. And he may take this as an opportunity to show the national media how unified his troops are (even though I do think there is a solid chance he retires at season’s end). This has a chance to be one of the most lopsided playoff games in history. Patriots 47, Titans 9.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers – Sunday, January 14th, 2018 – 12:05PM kickoff
Andy: The other AFC game is also seen by many as a mismatch. I’m not so sure. Since Ryan Shazier got hurt, Pittsburgh has been vulnerable to the run. And the Jaguars do have Leonard Fournette, who repeatedly gashed the Steelers earlier this season. I’m not suggesting Jacksonville wins in a blowout — far from it. I suspect the game plan will call for ball control and minimizing Blake Bortles rather than for scoring 50. But I do think the Jags make a contest out of this game.
Tony: The Jags also have that swarming defense, which could make life miserable for the Killer B’s–Ben, Bell and Brown. With Antonio Brown coming back from a serious calf injury (and battling some sort of illness at practice on Friday), the last thing they need is to face a secondary combination that ranks among the best in the league. Throw in an offensive line that didn’t grade out well as a unit (at least on ProFootballFocus.com), and maybe the Jaguars do have a fighting chance.
Tony: Of course, the Steelers do have the advantage of home field–not to mention plenty of recent playoff experience to fall back on, versus the Jaguars and their one ugly game against the Bills last week. And something tells me that the Steelers would like some payback from that embarrasing 30-9 beat down the Jaguars laid down in Pittsburgh in Week 5.
Andy: At a minimum, the Steelers won’t take the Jaguars lightly after that big week five loss. I do think Pittsburgh wins. They have playoff experience and that does mean something. But this game will be tighter than expected. I’ll go Steelers 20, Jaguars 16.
Tony: The weather in Pittsburgh is supposed to be plenty cold as well–not ideal conditions for Jacksonville. I expect it will be closer in score than it may actually feel, with Blake Bortles possibly adding some of his patented garbage time points. Pittsburgh 23, Jaguars 17.