A chronological look at this weekend’s divisional round, or what every other league calls the conference semifinals.
SATURDAY, 4:35 p.m.
Game: Atlanta (11-6) at Eagles (13-3)
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
NFC seeds: Falcons 6, Eagles 1.
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya).
Radio: 94WIP (Merrill Reese, Mike Quick, Howard Eskin).
Line: Falcons -3. Over-under: 41.5.
Falcons vs. spread: 8-9 overall, 3-6 on the road.
Eagles vs. spread: 10-6 overall, 5-3 at home. They’ve failed to cover four of the last five, which is a key reason why they are underdogs this week.
Weather.com: Dry, but with temperatures in the 30s and wind-chills in the 20s.
History lesson: The Eagles are 18-14-1 against Atlanta, including 2-1 in the postseason. They played here in Week 10 last season, a 24-15 Eagles win.
Referee: Bill Vinovich, who was a side judge for the 4th & 26 playoff win over the Packers after the 2003 season. The Eagles are 2-6 when Vinovich is the lead referee, including their last playoff game when they lost to the Saints four years ago. Vinovich reffed the Eagles earlier this year when they hammered the Cowboys in Dallas. Atlanta is 8-3 in games Vinovich has been the head ref, including the win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game last season and the win over Carolina in this year’s regular-season finale which got the Falcons into the playoffs.
>> READ MORE: Complete coverage previewing the Eagles-Falcons game
Three things to know: All of the talk about the Eagles feeling disrespected by opening as 2.5-point underdogs did not resonate with bettors, who kept putting enough early money on the Falcons to push the line to 3 points … The Falcons scored 187 fewer points this regular season than last, an average of 11.7 per game less … Wendell Smallwood’s 13 receptions is the fewest to lead Eagles running backs in the Super Bowl era. Atlanta has a huge advantage in being able to throw the ball to its RBs.
What’s next: If the Eagles win, they will host the NFC Championship Game next Sunday (6:40 p.m., Fox). If Atlanta wins, they will travel to play the winner of New Orleans/Minnesota.
The pick: Atlanta feels a lot like the 2010 Packers, who rode the sixth-seed to a Super Bowl title. That team also came through Philly, although in the wild-card round. Falcons, 24-17.
SATURDAY, 8:15 p.m.
Game: Tennessee (10-7) at New England (13-3)
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
AFC seeds: Titans 5, Patriots 1.
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson).
Radio: WPHT 1210-AM (Kevin Kugler, Jason Taylor, Hub Arkush). (updated)
Line: Patriots -13.5. Over-under: 47.
Titans vs. spread: 9-7-1 overall, just 3-6 on the road.
Patriots vs. spread: 11-5 overall, 5-3 at home — though they’ve covered their last five at Gillette Stadium.
Weather.com: Low temperature of 11 degrees with 5-10 mph wind.
History lesson: The Patriots lead the series, 24-16-1 with a split of their two postseason meetings — the most recent a New England win after the 2003 season in a game with a wind-chill of -10 degrees. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal to win it. That guy should be in the Hall of Fame.
Referee: Ronald Torbert has been a head ref since 2014. The Patriots are 2-0 with his crew. This will be the third time this season Torbert has had a Titans game. They’re 1-1 this season, 2-1 overall.
Three things to know: The Patriots are 17-3 at home in the playoffs in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Joe Flacco (twice) and Mark Sanchez were the opposing quarterbacks and those loses all came in the playoffs following the 2010-12 seasons … Tennessee’s defense allowed just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, fourth in the league … The Titans will again be without DeMarco Murray (knee). Backup Derrick Henry had a career high 156 rushing yards last week as Tennessee’s primary back.
What’s next: CBS is carrying the AFC Championship next weekend and quietly praying the Titans are not involved. In fact, they have to be rooting for a Steelers-Patriots rematch.
The pick: Tennessee lost at Miami, lost at Arizona and needed overtime to win at Cleveland (0-16). Can’t pick them to win in New England on a Saturday night in January. Patriots, 44-17.
SUNDAY, 1:05 p.m.
Game: Jacksonville (11-6) at Pittsburgh (13-3)
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
AFC seeds: Jaguars 3, Steelers 2.
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn).
Radio: 94WIP (Tom McCarthy, Ross Tucker, Steve Tasker).
Line: Steelers -7. Over-under: 41.
Jaguars vs. spread: 9-8 overall, 4-4 on the road. They have failed to cover three of their last four road games, the exception being a 19-7 win at Cleveland when they were favored by 7.
Steelers vs. spread: 7-9 overall, 3-5 at home. Pittsburgh is 0-4 ATS at home since Thanksgiving, including that meaningless game against Cleveland in Week 17 when the Steelers rested many of their top players.
Weather.com: Temperatures in the teens, but dry and not blustery.
History lesson: The Jaguars lead the series, 13-11, and won the only postseason meeting, a two-point heart-stopper after the 2007 season when David Garrard was the quarterback and Jack Del Rio the coach. More pertinent, the Jaguars cloobered the Steelers, 30-9, in Pittsburgh this season in Week 5.
Referee: Brad Allen has been a referee since 2014. Pittsburgh is 2-1 in Allen’s games — the loss was when the Eagles overwhelmed Pittsburgh in Week 3 in 2016. Jacksonville is 1-1 with Allen as the ref.
Three things to know: Lots of chatter this week out of the Jaguars who are still giddy over forcing Ben Roethlisberger into five interceptions in the Week 5 win. Two were returned for touchdowns … The Jaguars have scored 10 points in each of their last two games. In last week’s wild-card win over Buffalo, Jags quarterback Blake Bortles passed for 87 yards and ran for 88 … Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell is again slated to be a free agent after the season. Pittsburgh could use the franchise tag on him again.
— SimonAChester (@SimonAChester) January 9, 2018
What’s next: If the Steelers and Patriots each win, New England will host next Sunday’s AFC title game. Be prepared to see replays of that Jesse James touchdown catch that was ruled not a catch about a thousand times. If that touchdown counted, Pittsburgh would have hosted New England. It did not, so the game — if both win this weekend — would be in Foxborough.
The pick: Can’t trust Jacksonville’s quarterback. Like the under. Steelers, 21-10.
SUNDAY, 4:40 p.m.
Game: New Orleans (12-5) at Minnesota (13-3)
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
NFC seeds: New Orleans 3, Minnesota 2.
TV: Fox (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers).
Radio: 94WIP (Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Laura Okmin).
Line: Vikings -5. Over-under: 44.5.
Saints vs. spread: 9-8-1 overall, 3-4 on the road (played one game in London). New Orleans has failed to cover its last three away games.
Vikings vs. spread: 11-4-1 overall, 6-1-1 at home.
Weather.com: Minnesota plays in a dome.
History lesson: The Vikings lead the series, 21-11, which includes a home win in Week 1. Minnesota is 2-1 in the postseason against New Orleans, with the loss coming in the NFC title game after the 2009 season when a Brett Favre interception cost them a chance at a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. New Orleans won it in overtime.
Referee: Gene Steratore’s crew was on the field when Minnesota beat New Orleans in the opener. The Vikings are 5-5 in his games while the Saints are 6-7. More infamously, though, it was Steratore’s crew on the field for the game that inspired the “Calvin Johnson rule” and three years ago when Dez Bryant also got hosed out of a touchdown reception in a playoff loss at Green Bay.
Three things to know: The Vikings have won 10 of their last 11, just three of those 10 wins were against eventual playoff teams … Minnesota’s defense led the league in fewest points allowed, fewest total yards allowed and fewest touchdown passes allowed … The Saints lost starting left guard Andrus Peat to a broken fibula and will turn to Senio Kelemete, who started eight games this season.
What’s next: The winner will host the Jan. 21 NFC Championship if Atlanta beats the Eagles in the other NFC semifinal. It will come to Philadelphia if the Eagles beat Atlanta.
The pick: When in doubt, take the better quarterback — especially if he’s getting more than a field goal. Saints, 24-23.
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