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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019

Will rest result in rust and your Saturday Divisional Round preview

The defending champions are back in action after a week off.

Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles – Saturday, 9.35pm

Source: UPI/PA Images

How did they get here?

FOR THE EAGLES, this season was a case of combining a good defence with a sophomore quarterback taking an unexpectedly big step forward.

While many predicted Philly could take a run at the postseason, nobody could have imagined they’d do so as the NFC’s number one seed.

The Falcons have been in playoff mode for nearly a month now, having to win three of their last four regular season games to make the postseason and putting on a defensive effort against the LA Rams on Wildcard weekend to get a chance to face the number one seed.

How do the Falcons win? 

Source: Curtis Compton/PA Images

Bore the neutrals. Matt Ryan grew up not far from Philadelphia but has struggled in the City of Brotherly Love, winning just once in four visits in his career. Facing an Eagles defence with 31 takeaways this season, Ryan and his running backs need to be very careful with the football in this one.

However, considering the Falcons’ defence is giving up an average of just 16.3 points per game over the last six, the offence’s performance might not even matter.

How do the Eagles win?

Source: Chris Szagola/PA Images

Get to Matt Ryan. For the last couple of weeks, despite pulling out wins, the Atalanta quarterback has been protected by an offensive line with more holes in it than the plot of the last Indiana Jones movie.

The Eagles front seven is one of the NFL’s best and while Fletcher Cox is no Aaron Donald, the three-time Pro Bowler leads a defence that topped the league in run-stuffing (79.2 yards per game) and finished top five in points per game allowed (18.4).

Who will win? 

For the first since the NFL introduced the idea of home field advantage in 1975, a number one seed is an underdog in their first game of the playoffs. The Falcons are three-point favourites and it’s hard to look past the defending NFC Champions.

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots – Sunday, 1.15am

Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

How did they get here?

To absolutely nobody’s surprise the Patriots are back in the postseason for a ninth successive season (the 15th time since the turn of the millennium) and once again, all paths to the Super Bowl must go through Foxborough.

What is a surprise is the appearance of the Tennessee Titans. 21-3 down to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, the Titans’ one-point win saw Marcus Mariota throw a touchdown pass to himself and their defence not give up a single point in the second half.

In winning that game, the Titans became the first side in NFL history to win in the playoffs after entering the postseason with a negative point, yardage and turnover differential since the Denver Broncos with Tim Tebow. And who knocked that team out? Tom Brady of course.

How do the Titans win?

Source: John Sleezer/PA Images

King Henry. Some Tennessee fans have been calling for Derrick Henry to get the starting running back job for a while but the Titans’ hand was forced by the injury to DeMarco Murray in week 15.

Since then, the former Heisman Trophy winner has rushed for over 200 yards and this weekend gets an opportunity to run on the league’s third-worst ground defence in terms of Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

How do the Patriots win?

Source: UPI/PA Images

Doubling on Dion. You’d think the obvious answer here would the five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady but he has been relatively poor down the stretch for New England.

Dion Lewis — with 366 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games — has not and he will look to continue his impressive form against a Tennessee run defence giving up just 3.6 yards per attempt this season, the fourth fewest in the league.

Who will win? 

The 13.5-point spread is huge but, with the Titans such slow starters in games this season, this one really could be over at half-time, setting up the first half of what seems like an inevitable Patriots v Steelers AFC Championship match-up.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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