There are eight teams remaining in the NFL playoff field that should provide some intrigue in the second round. The Divisional round is chock-full of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks, and then there’s the exception of Jaguars’ QB Blake Bortles. With some 2017 regular season rematches on set for the weekend, the action is an ideal blend of the familiar, yet has an equal amount of estranged matchups to make for an enticing slate of games. As you can imagine, there will be plenty of representation from the University of Miami alumni with four games taking place between Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.
Before we get into the previews, let’s pour one out for the ProCanes that didn’t make it to the next round.
Kansas City Chiefs (DE Allen Bailey)
Carolina Panthers (TE Greg Olsen and CB LaDarius Gunter)
Buffalo Bills (T Seantrel Henderson)
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles 4:35PM EDT Saturday
Four weeks ago, this game would have seen the Eagles be the overwhelming favorites to win and advance to the next round. With a season-ending ACL injury to QB Carson Wentz, there was a seismic shift in the NFC in regards to which team had the best odds to punch their ticket to a Super Bowl berth.
The Eagles still pose a dynamic rushing tandem of running backs in Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount who rushed for a combined 1,174 yards. TE Zach Ertz came into his own with eight touchdown receptions and 824 receiving yards, which is complemented by WR Alshon Jeffery’s 789 receiving yards, 13.8 yards-per-reception and nine touchdowns in the regular season. The burden, as it usually does, falls on quarterback Nick Foles, who needs to be his best self if the Eagles hope to make it to the Conference Championship next weekend. Since filling in after the Wentz injury, Foles has passed for 537 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. However, two of the three games that Foles started to end the regular season were against cellar dwellers in the Raiders and Giants.
The Falcons may have just inched their way into the playoffs, but appear to have picked up from where they left off in the 2016 postseason… well, until the second half of that Super Bowl game, at least. QB Matt Ryan was able to find Julio Jones in the red zone, which is a rare occurrence. RB Devonta Freeman appears to have fresh legs with the postseason getting underway, rushing for a touchdown last weekend. With the Falcons’ defense flying laterally against the Rams last weekend, the Eagles would be advised to try and outmuscle a defensive front-seven that has speed at every level, from DE Vic Beasley, LB Deion Jones, to CB Desmond Trufant.
This game should come down to which defense plays within their system, not falling behind the chains and forced to gamble in coverage.
For the lone ProCane, Falcons’ punter Matt Bosher, I’m sure the Falcons don’t want to call upon him for another five punts like they did against the Rams, yet his 51.6 yard-per-punt average is a welcoming sight. With field starting field position being so crucial at this time of the season, Bosher could help the Falcons fly back to the NFC Championship game with a solid outing.
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots 8:15PM EDT Saturday
The Titans weren’t supposed to be in the position. After slogging their way down the final stretch of the regular season, many a prediction had QB Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ offense being shown the door on the road against the Chiefs last week. Yet here we are, with Tennessee making it through to the Divisional round in another road game that plenty feel they don’t have a chance to win.
The game plan for New England’s defense is simple. After Titans’ RB Derrick Henry rushed for 156 rushing yards against Kansas City, New England will look to sell out at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. It will be up to Mariota, who put together a good (but not great) game, completing 19 of his 31 pass attempts for 205 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Look for the Patriots to force Mariota to make throws from the pocket after the QB struggled to do so last weekend.
Patriots’ QB Tom Brady thrives in the pocket. Heck, the man is a force in the playoff with 25 wins in the postseason alone—that’s five more wins than Mariota has accumulated in three seasons in the league. With his full complement of weapons at his disposal, including All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Dion Lewis and WR Brandin Cooks, it could be a matter of how much the Pats win by, instead of if they win at all.
For ProCane WR Phillip Dorsett, this will be his first postseason action in his three year career. The amount of snaps Dorsett will earn depends on the margin of victory for the Pats and the injury status of players ahead of him on the depth chart, such as wide receivers Chris Hogan and the aforementioned Cooks. While Dorsett may not be a focal point of the offense, it is nice to have UM alum on the roster again since the departure of NT Vince Wilfork. If Dorsett enters the game, look for him to make a living on passes down the field after coming a career-best 16.2 yards-per-reception during the regular season.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers 1:05PM EDT Sunday
There might be a more disruptive force on the defensive line this week than what we’re seeing from Jaguars’ DE Calais Campbell. While he was unable to sack Bills’ QB Tyrod Taylor last week, he did manage to force early pass attempts and was credited with six pressures (two QB hits and four QB hurries) as well as two defensive hits. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has been elusive at times during his 13 year career, but that’s not quite the case this season. The Steelers gave up the third-fewest amount of sacks in the regular season with 24.
However, in the week five meeting between the two clubs, the Jaguars forced five interceptions, locking up the Steelers on down field routes early and often. The game was so bad that there was a serious discussion, again, of Roethlisberger considering his football mortality. However, the Black and Gold overcame the 30–9 defeat, banding together to become one of the two best teams in the AFC. Will the Steelers be able to keep Campbell off his game, or will the Defensive Player of the Year candidate be able to add to the half sack he picked up in the regular season meeting?
While the Steelers’ offense has all the talent to be explosive on any given day, the Jaguars continue to plod their way to victory. Jags’ QB Blake Bortles was unable to get the passing game going, passing for an inept total of 87 yards against the Bills a weekend ago. Bortles tried to make up for his passing inefficiencies by gaining yards on the ground, diving headfirst for first downs and breaking tackles to keep the Jaguars alive in the playoffs.
If you’re Jaguars’ center Brandon Linder and WR Allen Hurns, you can only do so much to help the offense when a quarterback struggles as much as Bortles has. Both ProCanes can make their impact felt in a blocking aspect, as Jacksonville will need to have a balanced offense of run-and-pass to have a shot at winning again at Heinz Field. Hurns was unable to create significant separation on a passing route and came off the sideline for receivers Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee. For Linder, the challenge will be to establish a ground game against a Steelers’ defense that allowed a 105.8 rushing yard average in the regular season. RB Leonard Fournette rushed for 181 yards on 28 carries for two touchdowns, so for the Jaguars to visualize dominating the Steelers along the line, they don’t have to think too hard.
For the Steelers front-seven personnel such as ProCanes LB Anthony Chickillo and LB Sean Spence, the task will be similar, if not exactly the same, as what the Bills successfully did against Jacksonville in the wildcard round. They’re going to be crowding the line of scrimmage and limiting Jacksonville’s ground game. With LB Jame Harrison with the Patriots, look for Chickillo to rotate in on defense, looking to apply pressure to the vulnerable Bortles.
This should be the one game in the postseason that Steelers’ CB Artie Burns will need to be more concerned with tackling in this postseason game more than any other game before or after. It’s no secret that Burns has struggled wrapping up ball carriers this season. A 42.4 run defense grade by Pro Football Focus is a reflection of his liability against the run during the regular season. His coverage usually makes up for his missed tackles, ranking as one of the best cover corners in terms of yardage allowed to opponents with an 80 coverage grade. Yet, for Burns and the Steelers to achieve their lofty goals, they’ll need to secure the tackle as much as they secure coverage.
Burns suffered a midweek scare when he went down with a non-contact injury during Wednesday’s practice. It was revealed later on in the day that the second-year cornerback suffered no ligament damage in what was described as a hyperextended knee. Burns is probable for Sunday.
Crazy to think I’ll miss out on this— Burns Jr Artie (@_audi8) January 11, 2018
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings 4:40PM EDT Sunday
The Divisional round concludes with a battle between two of the hottest teams in the league. QB Drew Brees looked like his old self, slinging the ball all over the field in last week’s victory over the Panthers. The RB duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram remain one of the best tandems in the entire sport.
The Vikings have been playing at an elite level for the majority of the season. The question regarding their offense is whether this game will be too big for QB Case Keenum, who has led the team to success throughout the regular season. ProCanes guard Danny Isidora has filled in at left guard, playing in three games during the regular season for the Vikings. It is the makeshift offensive line that may be the biggest concern for Minnesota on Sunday, as the team has looked vulnerable with injuries to starting offensive linemen. It’s expected that Isidora will not get the start at guard, even with starter Nick Easton out for the season. Tackle Mike Remmers will move from right tackle to guard, and Rashod Hill will fill in at the right tackle spot. The situation could change as the game progresses.
After being a healthy scratch against the Panthers last week, expect to see DE Al-Quadin Muhammad in street clothes against the Vikings this week. The same fate will fall on Stacy Coley, who is riding quite a long inactive streak.
Ken Dorsey fired in Carolina
On Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers terminated the services of quarterback coach Ken Dorsey, as well as offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Dorsey was a casualty of the inconsistency of the quarterback play from former league MVP QB Cam Newton, who has regressed over the past two seasons since reaching the Super Bowl. Carolina ranked 28th in the NFL after the regular season in passing yards per game with 192.3 yards per game.
Dorsey is the scapegoat for the struggles on offense. Little is known about just how good or bad Dorsey’s prospects as a coordinator or coach are since his success was exclusive tied to the production of the quarterbacks under his tutelage. Starting out as a pro scout for the Panthers in 2011, Dorsey was eventually promoted to the team’s QB coach in 2013.
Could this pave the way for a return to college football for the Miami legend? Dorsey has been mentioned as a coordinator candidate over the past couple off-seasons.
- DT Kendrick Norton declared for the 2018 NFL Draft on Monday afternoon. Later in the week he signed to First Round Management and Marketing Co.
- DT RJ McIntosh declared for the 2018 NFL Draft on Monday as well
- Former Falcons’ and Bills’ WR Leonard Hankerson is coaching at UMASS as a WR coach.
- Bleacher Report’s Draft Analyst Matt Miller has Mark Walton currently listed as the 7th best RB in the 2018 draft
- Miller has TE Christopher Herndon ranked as the ninth best TE in the 2018 Draft
- Draft services sees T KC McDermott playing guard in the NFL
- In an interview with Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, Pauline described to Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson that should WR Braxton Berrios put together some good workouts, he could be a late-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U