Jazz: So… yesterday. Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The bad news is that the Patriots won and it now falls to the winner of today’s AFC matchup to stop them from polluting the Super Bowl yet again. The good news is that, as much as it pained me to do so, I picked them to win, as well as calling the upset in the Eagles game. That 2-0 day brought me to 5-1 for the postseason, with five games to go. Today is going to be a little more dicey in terms of prognostication, but we’ll soldier on as best we can.
Ed: The good news for me is … um … there wasn’t much good news. I went 1-1, and the one game I was hoping to get wrong I got all too correct. The Titans started strong, scoring the first touchdown, but unfortunately, no one agreed to stop the game after one quarter. (I was certainly all right with it.) I’m now at 3-3 for the off-season and well on my way of fulfilling Jazz’ prediction of a split between the regular season and offseason Hot Air competition.
Jazz: Here’s the game many of us are either anticipating or dreading. I decided early on that I may as well root for the Steelers if the Jets didn’t make it to the dance and I still think they would be our best shot at stopping New England. And Pittsburgh comes into this game against Jacksonville (1:05 pm, CBS) as a seven-point favorite. On paper, they look to be an easy pick. But then there was that game in week 5 where the Jaguars absolutely humiliated them. Will that be lurking in the back of Big Ben’s mind today? I’m thinking (or at least hoping) not. The Steelers have averaged more than 31 points offensively over the past seven games and Roethlisberger has been putting up well over 300 yards and nearly three touchdowns every time. Bortles (the Jag’s QB) has admittedly been impressive and defied expectations, but he hasn’t shown himself to be a big play guy in the passing game. Jacksonville’s running game hasn’t been on fire either. They barely managed sixty yards on the ground against the Bills. But this is the playoffs and, as we’ve already seen, anything can and does happen. Still, I’m crossing my fingers and toes and taking the Steelers in a solid performance, 27-17.
Ed: The Steelers still seethe over their Week 5 humiliation to the Jaguars … and they should. They have lots of incentive to leave it all on the field today without looking forward to the possible matchup next week in Foxboro. Roethlisberger is one of the hottest QBs in the second half of the season, largely because Pittsburgh learned a lot of lessons from that drubbing. Still, Jacksonville has the #2 defense in the league, and Pittsburgh comes in at #5, so expect a low-scoring game and lots of frustrated offensive stars. They both have relatively high-ranking offenses too, but defenses will probably dictate the pace of the game. The Jags haven’t done too well on the road lately and barely scored against the Bills, while the Steelers’ O has had few problems putting points on the board. I’ll go with the Steelers in a 20-14 grinder in the cold of Pittsburgh.
Jazz: In the late game, the Vikings host the always unpredictable New Orleans Saints (4:40 pm, FOX). Minnesota has every reason in the world to be confident. They have the number one defense in the league, and as much as you hate to hear old people say it, defenses win championships. They’re playing at home, where they’ve only lost one game all season. Their D is almost impossible to rush against for many yards and their secondary has kept most red zone attempts from scoring a TD. But I still have to wonder how much Keenum’s lack of playoff experience under this sort of pressure will come into play. New Orleans, in case you didn’t notice, has been punching well above their weight class lately. The beating they gave the Panthers even when Carolina managed to shut down most of their rushing offense was a marvel. I think this game will be a lot closer than many observers believe and Drew Brees has what it takes to shock the world. I’m going to go out on a limb here and pick another 2018 upset. Give me New Orleans in a 17-14 nailbiter.
Ed: This comes down to both defense and home-field advantage. In their final three games of the season, the Vikings gave up 17 points total. Minnesota held the high-flying Rams to seven points in US Bank Stadium. This is the top-ranked defense in the league in points allowed, overall yards allowed and is #2 in rushing and passing yards allowed. New Orleans has the #2 offense in the league, but they’re only a .500 team on the road. They are just not the same team outside of the Superdome and have lost their last three road games, including what could have been a costly loss to the sub-.500 Buccaneers in the final game of the season in Tampa Bay. Minnesota has plenty of offense to put against New Orleans’ 17th-ranked defense, so expect the Vikings to set sail for Philly with a 28-17 win over the Saints.