The general belief is there are four contenders for the Super Bowl in the NFC, two in the AFC.
Let’s see if Tennessee or Jacksonville can prove that theory wrong this weekend.
Both AFC South representatives are significant underdogs, the Titans at New England on Saturday night, the Jaguars at Pittsburgh on Sunday. For weeks, it’s been presumed Steelers vs. Patriots will decide who goes to the Super Bowl from the conference.
The Titans and Jaguars want to have their say.
Tennessee at New England
All the numbers favor the Patriots extending their record of consecutive title games reached to seven. They are, by far, the more experienced side: 14 Patriots players have played at least 10 playoff games. That’s more such players than the 11 other 2017 playoff teams combined (13). Tom Brady has a 6-1 career record against the Titans, throwing for 13 TDs and one interception. He’s 11-2 in 13 divisional-round games since 2002 and has completed 316 of 509 passes for 3,700 yards and 28 TDs in those games.
Tennessee has lost six in a row to New England, but comes off a stirring second-half rally at Kansas City from 18 points down, the largest postseason comeback on the road in the Super Bowl era.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger had the worst game of his career in that October loss to the Jags. Pittsburgh lost only once after that, at home to the Patriots in a game that decided the AFC’s top seed.
While Roethlisberger probably will play far better than that, the biggest challenge for Jacksonville could be stopping Le’Veon Bell in the running game. The Jaguars ranked first stopping the pass, but 21st against the run.
Pittsburgh also gets back receiver Antonio Brown, like Bell an All-Pro this season.
Jacksonville needs far better passing from Blake Bortles. He gained more yards running than throwing vs. Buffalo in the wild-card round.
Atlanta at Philadelphia, Saturday
Although Philly is the No. 1 NFC seed, the Falcons are favored. Part of that owes to Atlanta’s impressive work in winning at the Los Angeles Rams last week. Part has to do with the Falcons nearly winning the Super Bowl last February.
And part has to do with Nick Foles being the Eagles’ quarterback instead of the injured Carson Wentz.
Foles, though, has had some success in Philadelphia.
By contrast, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has a passer rating of at least 100 in five straight postseason games, tied for the second-longest streak in league history. Only Joe Montana had a longer string with eight.
New Orleans at Minnesota, Sunday
Minnesota easily handled New Orleans in the season opener, eons ago in NFL terms. The Vikings had a different quarterback then in Sam Bradford. Case Keenum has put together a superb stretch of games since replacing the injured Bradford.
The Saints’ RB tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara wasn’t quite in place yet, either. And the New Orleans defense didn’t come to fruition until Week 3.