‘sup, it’s ur Boy Benny… keeping it strictly Athletic
It’s the Divisional Round and we here at HTTA are here to break it all down for you. Sometimes you struggle to write these openings and other times the storylines write themselves. This weekend, every single game features a matchup between a QB who has at least made it to a Super Bowl and a QB making either their 1st or 2nd career playoff start. We’ll spill gallons of cyber ink in these write ups, but really everything you need to know about these games comes down to which set of QB’s live up to their reputations. It’s the “best weekend of football”, LETS GOOOOOOOO!
Falcons @ Eagles 4:35pm
The Story: Last years NFC Champs are BACK!? This year’s favorites are HURT!
Keys to the Game: The Eagles were storming through the NFL with the best record and a #1 or #2 overall DVOA ranking. Then Carson Wentz got hurt and they had to turn Nick Foles. So, basically throw out everything we thought we knew about the Eagles offense. Foles is obviously a downgrade from Wentz. But is he so bad that he can’t win a home playoff game with what for most of the season was viewed as the NFL’s deepest and most balanced roster? This set up would seem to say that the Eagles should look to run the ball, rely on their DVOA 5th ranked DEF and protect Foles. However in weeks 15-17 PHI ranked only 27th in rushing DVOA (they were 16th in weeks 1-14), as it appears that teams stacked the Box and dared Foles to beat them. Also they ranked 29th in offensive pressure rate allowed on their QB’s for the season. Complimenting their slumping running game and protection issues is the fact that PHI was one of only 2 teams in the NFL to have 3 different receivers with at least 7 drops (Smith, Ertz, Agholor). So, uhhhh how about that 5th ranked DEF?
The Falcons discovered ball control offense as the key to their upset win over the Rams. However what ATL wants to do plays right into particular strengths of Eagles DEF. The zone blocking scheme Falcons were tied for the lowest shotgun formation usage in the league. The Eagles led the league in DEF DVOA against non-shot gun formations and only gave up 3 yards per carry on zone scheme plays. And the Eagles were the best team at stopping runs up the middle, which should neutralize ATL’s hope of running behind Center Alex Mack, their best O-lineman. So what should they do? Maybe spread things out and get the ball to Julio Jones. He’s averaging 104.7 receiving yards in seven career playoff games, the highest average of any player in NFL history. Or one of your other playmakers, the Eagles actually were pretty good at stopping #1 or #2 receivers, but were ranked 22nd against all “other” receivers.
Numbers for Nerds: 28-3 is the stuff of ATL’s nightmares but they do have a real second half problem. ATL ranked third in offensive DVOA and 14th in defensive DVOA before halftime this year; 17th and 25th after halftime.
The Eagles are the rare home dog in the divisional round, but 4 out of the last 5 have won their games.
Mohamed Sanu. Already covered the potential for “other receivers to thrive against the PHI DEF. Sanu brings the added bonus of of running some QB Gadget plays so give him some rushing yards and maybe a passing TD too.
LeGarrette Blount. He’s done it before in the playoffs and clearly the Eagles should want to run the ball to limit Foles. Maybe Blount’s bruising style can take advantage of a Falcons DEF that is small.
The Pick: You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to Foles ’em… ATL 24 PHI 17. A game effort from a motivated and disrespected Eagles team but ATL’s got too many ways to attack them and Nick Foles makes too many mistakes.
Titans @ Patriots 8:15pm
The Story: A Dynasty Divided, Distracted… and Defeated?
Keys to the Game: The Pats are heavy favorites for this game, but that undersells a few trouble spots that the Titans can definitely exploit. Any team looking to pull an upset would do well to want to run the ball and control the clock. Good News, that’s the extent of the Titans offensive philosophy all the time. Even Better news for TEN ? The Pats had the 30th ranked rushing DVOA for the season. TEN’s ranked 8th in DVOA rushing offense, and that’s probably even a little low, since that includes many carries that went to an older and slower Demarco Murray (out with an injury) instead of the younger, bigger, faster Derrick Henry. With Henry now the feature back he could really pound NE. Henry finished with a top-10 broken tackle rate among all running backs with more than 150 carries, while the Pats were a bottom five defense in broken tackle rate. To the extent the Titans even ask QB Marcus Mariota to make any plays, he probably won’t have to face his biggest weakness. TEN averaged 2.6 yards per attempt against blitzes with six or more rushers but the Pat’s only did that on 2 percent of their snaps, tied for the lowest rate in the league. If he’s comfortable in the pocket, then maybe he can find TE Delanie Walker (74 catches, 807 yards) the team’s only receiver of note.
Here are the only 2 things you need to know about the situation when the Pats have the ball. TEN allowed the most receptions per game to tight ends, and they were 24th in defensive DVOA against that position. Also the Titans ranked dead last in defensive DVOA against running backs in the passing game. The Pats employ Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White (both Burkhead and White are listed as questionable) to catch passes from Tom Brady. If TEN sells out to fix these season long problems, then maybe the return of Chris Hogan gets and outside the numbers passing game going?
Also one other match up to highlight. Bill Belichick is coaching against Mike Mularkey and Dick Lebeau. The Titans coaching philosophy on both sides of the ball is a line ’em up, do what we do and do it well type of team. That type of stuff has never worked against the Patriots. Belichick’s strength is building an opponent specific game plan that takes away what the other team wants to do. The Pats are also coming off a bye giving them some extra time to heal and game plan.
Numbers for Nerds: 0:00… thats the amount of time the Pats have trailed in their last 4 home playoff games. A fast start will be important for both teams.
2.53… that’s the number of yards after contact averaged by Derrick Henry, 3rd out of 47 RB’s. All signs point to Henry having a good game, he’s a HTTA recommended play in DFS leagues.
Jurrell Casey… while I think Henry puts up numbers, you beat the Pats by pressuring Brady and “getting him off his spot”. The real key is an interior rusher, like Casey, who prevents Brady from stepping up in the pocket. Not saying he puts up a ton of sacks, but if Tenn is going to win, Casey needs to get that push.
Danny Amendola… has a track record of stepping up big in the playoffs. With the Titans needing the double cover Gronk and deal with the RB’s and Cooks slumping and Hogan possibly looking rusty, Brady could look to his most trusted WR early and often.
The Pick: These Titans Clash but ultimately fall to the GOAT… Pats 30 Titans 17… Last week the Titans got all the breaks and still had to stage an epic comeback and only won by 1. You don’t get those type of breaks against the Pats, who are just flat out better.