NFL Divisional Round Playoffs Wagering Advice: Distractions to Avoid
After the four NFL Playoff games are played this weekend, we should have a much better idea of who is going to win the Super Bowl than we do now. Does New England really deserve to be the heavy favorites they are, or will their issues on and off the field catch up to them? Is Pittsburgh ready to shine, or will the Jaguars stun on the back of their stellar defense? Will the Eagles pick themselves up and show the pride to save their season, or will the experience of the Falcons be too much? And who wins the strongest and probably most important game of the week - on the field that will host the Super Bowl, no less?
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To help you get ready for all four games, here is a look at the biggest key that bettors need to find an answer for in each game and the biggest distraction they need to avoid sending too much time on in handicapping.
Tennessee at New England
Key factor: Derrick Henry is going to carry the bulk of the running duties for Tennessee. New England has not been particularly good against the run. They have an advantage here, though - they can sell out on defending the run, shut it down, and force Marcus Mariota to beat them with his arm. The key, then, is if Mariota can find some of the magic that has been missing for too long and make New England regret their decision to challenge him.
Distraction: You can't let the potential drama in New England's front office color your perception of this matchup. For starters, while the reporting was comprehensive and professional, people have really struggled to confirm the details of the story independently. That's not to say that it isn't true - just that we don't really know what is going on. And even if we assumed that it was all exactly as written, it would still be foolish to assume that a team this experienced, professional, and cold-blooded is going to let things like this knock them off their game.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Key factor: Pittsburgh is the better team, and they are at home. But they are facing a front seven that is strong, and they have a quarterback who is as mobile as your standard dining room table. Pittsburgh, then, needs to do a very good job of protecting their quarterback and creating opportunities for what is undoubtedly the better offense.
Distraction: Blake Bortles is far from the best QB in the league, and he had far from his best game last time out against Buffalo. But he is the quarterback that won 10 games for this team this year, and he is good enough and talented enough to win when his team has a good day around him. It will be tempting for many to discount the Jags because they don't trust Bortles. It's not as simple as that.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
Key factor: Obviously it's all about Nick Foles. He has been lousy, and his team has been lousy around him. He doesn't need to be better than Tom Brady this week - or even Matt Ryan. He just needs to be better than he has been - much better. He doesn't need to win this game alone. He just can't lose it for his team.
Distraction: I'm not a big Steve Sarkisian fan, and I don't think he has been a great fit as offensive coordinator with the Falcons, but there are too many chances for this to be a distraction. First, there was the reports that he was going to leave for the Seahawks - followed by Atlanta Head Coach Dan Quinn's insistence that there was zero chance of that happening. And while this is an offense that can't hold a candle to Kyle Shanahan's last year, it still won a lot of games this year, dominated their first playoff game against a top defense, and is competent enough in this spot. It also looks strong compared to the opposing defense at this point.
New Orleans at Minnesota
Key factor: Simply, the key is going to be scoring last. This should be a fun, offensive and exciting game, and it is not going to be the lowest-scoring game of the weekend by any means. It's being played in perfect conditions, so neither team has any excuses.
Distraction: There are a lot of questions being asked about Case Keenum's readiness here - especially because he is up against a Super Bowl winner and future hall of famer. Keenum doesn't have a lot of playoff experience, but he is not a raw rookie, and he is playing with tremendous confidence right now. Keenum doesn't have to be better than Brees. He just has to be good enough for his team.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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