The NFL’s most exciting weekend of the season is upon us as the top seeds enter the play-off picture for the divisional round of matches. While the AFC’s top team, New England, look assured of progression, could the NFC’s No.1 side, the Philadelphia Eagles, fall at the first hurdle?
The in-form Atlanta Falcons head to Philly on Saturday night looking to continue their recent hot streak having snuffed out the LA Rams in wildcard weekend.
The Falcons demonstrated the improvements they have made on defence since their agonising Super Bowl defeat last season against the Rams, while the flexibility of their offence gives them a great chance of getting their hands on the Vince Lombardi trophy this year.
Despite being the road team, Atlanta are the 5/8 favourites to reach the NFC Championship game, with the Eagles becoming the first top seed in NFL history to be underdogs for their first play-off game, according to ESPN.
The reason Philly, who finished the regular season 13-3, are priced at 27/20 to win at home is due to the absence of quarter-back Carson Wentz, with the unreliable Nick Foles stepping in.
Given Foles’ inconsistency, the Eagles running backs are likely to be heavily leaned upon and will take some stopping. However, it is tough to look past the Falcons, who have the makings of being the first sixth seed since Green Bay in 2010 capable of winning the Super Bowl.
The other NFC divisional match-up looks extremely tough to call as Minnesota welcome New Orleans.
The Vikings beat the Saints when the teams met in week one of the regular season but so much has changed since then with New Orleans having improved on both sides of the ball.
The Saints were too good for Carolina last week but quarter-back Drew Brees will have it much tougher against the NFL’s top-ranked defence come Sunday.
Only four of Minnesota’s 16 opponents managed to score over 20 points during the regular season and with New Orleans having a decent defence themselves, under 46.5 total points at 10/11 could be the bet given how closely matched these teams are.
In the AFC, Jacksonville will be looking to repeat their Week 5 victory over the Steelers when they return to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Jaguars defence terrorised Pittsburgh quarter-back Ben Roethlisberger that day as he threw five interceptions and they should be able to restrict the Steelers offence once more, even with the home team’s star wide receiver Antonio Brown looking likely to play.
The Jags would be good value for the upset at 11/4 if it wasn’t for the small matter of their own quarter-back, Blake Bortles, who looked incredibly shaky in the win over Buffalo last week.
Bortles will cost Jacksonville this game but it will at least be a close one and the Jaguars to cover the seven point spread at 25/27 is tempting.
Finally we come to the defending Super Bowl champions New England, who should get the better of Tennessee.
All is not well behind the scenes with the Patriots if reports are to be believed but come game-time Tom Brady and co can at least put any issues to one side.
The Titans showed their toughness by coming from 21-3 down to beat Kansas City last week and should at least keep it relatively close with the visitors 50/59 to cover the spread at 13.5-points.
Look for monster running back Derrick Henry to have another big game too. He is 7/5 to score a touchdown anytime.
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