We’re back again this week to preview the Divisional match ups, starting with the NFC:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles – Saturday, January 13th, 2018 – 3:35PM kickoff
Andy: About six weeks ago I would not have expected this game to happen. The Eagles were rolling everyone and the Falcons were sleepwalking through the first two-thirds of the season. But then Carson Wentz got hurt and Atlanta went 5-2 to finish the season, with both losses coming to the teams playing in the NFC’s Sunday game. I have some nagging doubts that I’m being rope-a-doped into my prediction for this one — that all of a sudden the Nick Foles of 2013 with the 27-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio is going to show up and take Phillly on a run. But that’s too much of a story book story line to really come true. Isn’t it?
Tony: The bigger of the surprises to me six weeks ago may have been that the Falcons were in the playoffs at all–this is a team that has seemingly struggled all year to play good football, much less consistent football–yet they pretty much whipped the Rams last weekend. And did so with the offense still not really firing on all cylinders–Devonta Freeman only had 66 yards and a touchdown, and Julio Jones 94 yards and a touchdown. If you’d told me those stats pregame, I would have pegged it as a field goal type game, not a Falcons double up.
Andy: I think we’re both saying the same thing, at least about the Falcons. This team appeared to be on auto-pilot most of the season. On the Philadelphia side, you almost have to feel sorry for their fans … almost … well, okay, not quite. Not really at all. But they were getting excited about a team that appeared dominant when Carson Wentz was healthy, only to see Foles come and, basically, sleepwalk through the last few games. I do think Atlanta roles in this one. That’s for all the reasons we’ve already mentioned and, also, because “Nature Boy” Ric Flair says the Eagles are going to lose.
Tony: Well, if Nature Boy says it, it must be true. I’m not as convinced as many that that the Falcons will walk all over the Eagles, just because Carson Wentz isn’t there. The Falcons are an indoor team, from the south–they haven’t had a late season, outdoors, colder weather game since 2014 (a Monday night loss in Green Bay in early December, 33 degrees at game time), and hasn’t won in those conditions since an overtime win in Seattle in 2010 (a game that was actually 45 degrees). Weather for Saturday? The temps are supposed to drop again, after a warm up this week, which could make for interesting playing conditions.
Andy: I don’t think it’s going to be an easy win for the Falcons. The Eagles defense is pretty solid. And Atlanta still isn’t playing anywhere near as fluidly on offense as they did last season under the watchful eye of Kyle Shanahan. My problem with Philadelphia is that since Wentz went down, the offense has been just plain bad. The Falcons’ up-and-coming defense will see to making sure that continues. Atlanta 20 Philadelphia 10.
Tony: Whoever wins, I don’t think it will be a double digit margin of victory. Two solid defenses, less than ideal weather conditions, and two offenses that have not been in stride. I’ll go out seemingly on a limb and call it Philadelphia 20, Atlanta 17. With the weather, I’ll give the Eagles ability to grind it out on the ground the key to the victory.
Andy: In the immortal words of our president, “Wrong. Wrong.”
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings – Sunday, January 14th, 2018 – 3:40PM kickoff
Tony: In the other NFC game, the Minnesota Vikings seek revenge for the 2009 NFC Championship Game, aka Bountygate. Speaking of which, I heard a funny thing last week during the Saints victory over the Panthers–apparently Drew Brees was hit a little late on a play, and the crowd sounded none to pleased. How ironic.
This time around, the Vikings host the Saints, and instead of featuring a geriatric Quarterback they lulled out his 4th retirement, they feature a record setting defense that is ranked top in the league for yardage allowed and points allowed–which may make for a long afternoon for Drew Brees.
Andy: I liked a post I read this week about how Vikings fans are sort of walking around like abused puppies this week, hoping for the win but protecting themselves from another brutal loss. The nice thing for them heading into a game against New Orleans this time, besides home field, is they are the ones with the top-notch defense. The Saints have improved immensely throughout the season, but Minnesota’s among the league’s elite. And Mike Zimmer has put the kibosh on some of the league’s best QBs the last two seasons. Drew Brees won’t see much he hasn’t seen before, but he’s still going to face a brutal pass rush, a shutdown corner and some of the best schemes around. The question becomes can Case Keenum keep it up? Can he put up the offense necessary to complement the Vikings’ best defense since the mid-1970s. I cautiously think he can.
Tony: So you’re asking if Case Keenum and his big balls can keep it up? I’m not sure if it’s that I’m hanging out in new places online this year, or what, but I’ve actually felt an electricity around the Vikings that I don’t remember from 2009 or 1998–maybe I’m just paying more attention to it, but I’ve heard more people in the last two weeks seemingly talk about it being the Vikings destiny to make the Super Bowl that you wonder if they realize the team has a couple of tough games to win first. As you mentioned, the defense isn’t really the question, for the Vikings–it’s the offense. Not just Keenum, either–will the line hold up, is Kyle Rudolph finally healthy again, and can Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen get back to making the big plays, which seemed to disappear the last few weeks of the season. On the positive side, while the Saints defense improved this year, they are a bit beat up.
Andy: Yeah, one of the things that concerns me about the Vikings is they haven’t really been tested in a difficult game since they lost to Carolina. The last three games were pretty much against teams who had shut down. The Saints were in playoff mode right up until the last game. That could either help New Orleans stay sharp or they could suffer from a bit of a burnout effect. I think anyone who is talking about the Vikings as a team of destiny is begging to be let down … or they weren’t alive for 75, 87, 98, 09, etc. That said, I do think Minnesota does just enough to squeek by in the most interesting game of the best weekend of the season. In spite of Kai Forbath, Vikings 20, Saints 17.
Tony: Yeah, I’m by no means thinking destiny. In fact, in true Viking fan form, I’ll pick the Saints–you just brought up possibly the biggest achilles heal on the Vikings team, Kai Forbath. Saints 21, Vikings 20. I heard Blair Walsh might be looking for a job this spring…