NFL playoffs reset: Three of four divisional-round matchups confirmed

NFL playoffs reset: Three of four divisional-round matchups confirmed
From ESPN - January 7, 2018

Wild-card weekend is, in many ways, a setup for the best weekend of the NFL calendar.

We know 75 percent of the divisional-round schedule so far, when the league's top eight teams scramble to advance to the conference championships. We will know the fourth and final matchup once the Carolina Panthers-New Orleans Saints game ends on Sunday evening. But for now, let's reset the rest of the field.


No. 5 Tennessee Titans at No. 1 New England Patriots

Saturday, Jan. 13: 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ

Patriots lowdown: Some observers were rattled by a round of sub-Hall of Fame play from quarterback Tom Brady, who threw interceptions in five consecutive late-season games. But remember the big picture: In a league with no perfect teams, the Patriots have lost only once since Oct. 1. Brady has had an extra week to nurse shoulder and Achilles injuries, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is as healthy as he has ever been in January. It seems likely that the franchise is headed toward an offseason reset to some degree -- coordinators Josh McDaniel and Matt Patricia are receiving heavy interest as potential head coaches. But for now, the relatively weak state of the AFC bracket puts the Patriots in excellent position for a run at their eighth Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Bill Belichick era.

Titans lowdown: Tennessee has already advanced further than most thought after upsetting the Chiefs in the wild-card round. The Titans did, however, demonstrate a winning playoff formula: A reliance on the power running of tailback Derrick Henry and the improvisation of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Henry averaged 3.8 yards after first contact against Kansas City, which is precisely the kind of playmaking an underdog team would need to pull off a road playoff victory.

Bottom line: This is a game the Patriots should and almost certainly will win. An AFC Championship Game rematch looms against the Steelers.

No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday, Jan. 14: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ

Jaguars lowdown: After outlasting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Jaguars drew an interesting divisional-round matchup. They more than handled the Steelers in Week 5, intercepting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times in a 30-9 victory at Heinz Field. It was one of nine games in which the Jaguars entirely legitimate defense held an opponent to 10 or fewer points. Quarterback Blake Bortles, however, has regressed since an early- and midseason surge, and his play poses a massive obstacle to advancing further.

Steelers lowdown: Promising playoff paths have crashed for the Steelers because of injuries to one or more of their Big 3: Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back LeVeon Bell. So all eyes will be on Brown, whom the Steelers are hoping can return after missing the final three regular-season games with a calf injury. Like the Patriots, the Steelers were nearly unbeatable during the final three months of the season. They lost once -- to the Patriots -- after Oct. 8, but their worst day of the season was undoubtedly that Week 5 loss to the Jaguars.


No. 6 Atlanta Falcons at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles

TBD at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings


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