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Living in the Upside-down

The wildcard round of the NFL playoffs ended up as an eclectic mix of games, and pretty much all of them were fun to watch. Hopefully, that will continue this weekend. There are just eight teams left after all.

#6 Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday, 4:35 p.m.)

It’s rare to see the top-seeded team in a conference enter a playoff game as the underdogs, but that’s where the Eagles are at right now. Nick Foles is starting at quarterback for the rest of the season due to Carson Wentz‘s injury, and he’s looked extremely shaky since taking over. Heck, the Oakland Raiders secondary made him look bad on Christmas night. That’s not a good look.

Couple that with the fact that the Falcons defense is fairly balanced this year (9th against the run, 12th against the pass), and it seems like the Eagles could be outmatched.

To win, they’ll have to rely on the backfield duo of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount on offense. The top-ranked Eagles run defense should be capable of limiting Devonta Freeman, but their pass defense (17th overall) may have trouble slowing down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

#5 Tennessee Titans @ #1 New England Patriots (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.)

The Titans were able to pull off the comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs, and a big part of that was how they shut down the Chiefs high-powered offense in the second half. However, Travis Kelce leaving was a momentum shifter, and they can’t expect the same to happen to perhaps the one tight end in the league better than Kelce, Rob Gronkowski.

Plus, they’re facing Tom Brady, a presumably angry version at that (thanks, ESPN exposes). And while the Titans 4th ranked run defense can handle the Patriots endless supply of running backs, their 25th ranked pass defense will have a tough time trying to stop Angry Brady.

At least the Patriots defense is fairly weak (30th against the pass, 20th against the run), so Marcus Mariota may not have to complete passes to himself this time around. DeMarco Murray will be out again though, which will once again pin all of the Titans rushing attack on Derrick Henry.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1:05 p.m.)

The last time the Steelers played the Jaguars, they were thoroughly and utterly decimated. It was so bad that Ben Roethlisberger was talking retirement.

Since then, however? The Steelers have lost just one game, and only because of the much-maligned catch rules. Their offense is firing on all cylinders, and their defense has stabilized as well. Still, Antonio Brown‘s health will be a huge factor.

The Jaguars defense was fantastic as usual last Sunday, though that’s partially due to the Bills offense’s general mediocrity. Likewise, Jacksonville’s offense was smothered by a talented Bills defense, only gaining an advantage because of Blake Bortles discovering the act of scrambling.

Bortles now has a playoff victory against all odds. Can he continue that success, or will he revert to lame duck status?

#4 New Orleans Saints @ #2 Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 4:40 p.m.)

It seems like the Saints are trending in the right direction. Their defense gave Cam Newton a lot of trouble last week, and Drew Brees carried the offense on his back. Brees may be nearing the end of his career, and this could be his last realistic shot at a Super Bowl win.

They’ll have to get by the Vikings, who might be the most balanced team left in the postseason. Case Keenum has had Brees-like productivity at times this season, and their defense is 2nd in the league against both the run and pass.

These are two extremely similar squads that are viable contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. It should be an entertaining game come Sunday afternoon.

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