Watching an underdog team do the unthinkable and defeat a heavily favored opponent is one of the many reasons why sports are followed by millions of people all over the world. This is no different for the NFL.
Some of the greatest moments in the league’s history have come from games that featured a team proving everyone wrong and upsetting a so-called stronger opponent. People actually used to like Tom Brady and the New England Patriots back when they were the team that went into Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 and shocked the world with a win over a St. Louis Rams team that had only lost two of their previous 18 games.
Skip ahead to this coming weekend where the top-seeded Patriots will be facing the Tennessee Titans in one of the four matchups featured in this season’s divisional round of the playoffs. Along with the Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints will all be heading out on the road to attempt earning a win over their higher-seeded opponents.
Which of these four teams actually has the best chance to pull off an upset during this weekend’s divisional round matchups?
4. Tennessee Titans
Matchup: at New England Patriots
Point Spread: Patriots favored by 13.5 points
Coming out of New England with a win on Saturday is not only going to be extremely difficult for the Titans, it would be a monumental accomplishment if it were to actually happen.
Since Bill Belichick became their head coach, the Patriots are 10-1 in divisional round playoff games inside their home stadium. The last time New England lost a divisional round matchup at home was in 2011 when they were upset by the New York Jets.
As if Tennessee needed their game against the AFC’s top seed to be any more difficult, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Belichick will likely be looking to make a statement after the recent reports of alleged increasing turmoil between the two this season.
Saturday should be a fun night for the Titans, trying to stop an angry Brady. Seven touchdown passes from the New England quarterback this weekend really does not seem like a ludicrous thought to have.
3. New Orleans Saints
Matchup: at Minnesota Vikings
Point Spread: Vikings by 3.5 points
A week after holding off the pesky Carolina Panthers, the Saints will attempt to do something on Sunday that the franchise has never accomplished in its history: Win a divisional round playoff game on the road.
New Orleans has played in a total of three road matchups during the divisional round and have come up short in each of them. Their most recent loss came in 2014 when they fell, 23-15, to the Seattle Seahawks.
Not only have the Saints never won a divisional round game on the road, quarterback Drew Brees has not been very successful during road playoff matchups either. In five postseason road games since 2007, Brees has led New Orleans to just one win while throwing five interceptions and compiling an average quarterback rating of 86.82.
Chances don’t seem great for the Saints in a matchup against a Vikings team that has won 11 of their past 12 games and is home to the NFL’s best defenses this year. New Orleans’ best bet this weekend may be for Minnesota’s old playoff ghosts to come out of hiding and create a new entry in the Vikings’ painful postseason history.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Matchup: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Point Spread: Steelers by 7 points
One of the Jaguars’ defining moments of the 2017 season was in Week 5 when they straight up dominated the Steelers and walked out of Pittsburgh with a 30-9 win. Jacksonville forced Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw five interceptions and Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette led the offense with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Can Jacksonville go into Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and come out with another victory on Sunday? If the Jags play like they did in that first matchup, then yes — they absolutely can.
However, it does not seem likely that Roethlisberger will play as badly as he did in Week 5. In the 10 games since his horrible day against the Jaguars in October, the Steelers quarterback has thrown 22 touchdowns, just seven interceptions, and averaged 298 passing yards per matchup.
Pittsburgh is also 3-0 in divisional round games at home since they drafted Roethlisberger in 2004. On the other side, Jacksonville has only one win in three divisional round matchups on the road during the team’s history, with the last victory coming in 1997 over the top-seeded Denver Broncos.
If the Jaguars can cause havoc with their defense and avoid turning the ball over on offense (basically have Blake Bortles throw as little as possible), then they could be looking at a trip to their first AFC Championship since 1999.
1. Atlanta Falcons
Matchup: at Philadelphia Eagles
Point Spread: Falcons by 2.5 points
Considering they are favored by the oddsmakers to win, the Falcons defeating the Eagles on Saturday probably would not be looked at by many as an upset. But in terms of a lower seed knocking off the top seed in the NFC, it would still be considered an upset if Atlanta got a victory over Philadelphia this weekend.
While the Eagles’ talented defense is still intact, the offense will be led by quarterback Nick Foles, who was not exactly what one would call “impressive” to close out the regular season. During Philadelphia’s final two games of the year, Foles completed just 47 percent of his passes for a total of 202 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions (he played just one quarter in Week 17, but he still did not perform well at all).
The Eagles and their underwhelming signal-caller have a tough matchup on Saturday against a Falcons defense that has been playing quite well recently. Since Week 13, Atlanta is giving up an average of just 16.3 points per game and only one opposing running back (Jay Ajayi) during the entire 2017 season has rushed for 100 or more yards against the Falcons’ defense.
Oh, yeah — and Atlanta has an offense that features a number of explosive weapons including Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. It may actually be more of an upset this weekend if the Falcons don’t come out of Philadelphia with a win.