Predicting studs and duds for the NFL Divisional Playoffs

By Rachel Wold

With the Wild Card round in the rear-view mirror, eight final teams are left to compete in the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs. However, not all playoff teams are created equal — a couple of these upcoming matchups almost seem unfair to the underdogs.

For one, the Tennessee Titans will head to chilly Boston to play a rested New England Patriots squad. But, it might not turn out so bad considering the staggering amount of yards the Patriots gave up in 2017.

In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons — who continue to defy odds — play the first place Philadelphia Eagles. Unfortunately for Philly, the team is rolling with its backup quarterback plan.

Just like last week’s slate of Wild Card games demonstrated, fans should expect the unexpected. Here are our stud and dud predictions for the upcoming Divisional Playoffs.

Stud: Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

The Titans may not be favored to win this AFC Divisional battle against the Patriots, but that doesn’t mean Mariota won’t pull out all the stops. Surely, the Titans will have to fight for points, which is why Mariota should easily rack up tons of yardage. He has a spectacular chance to do so against New England’s defense, which gave up the fourth-most total yards (366) on average per tilt in 2017. The Patriots gave up a ton of yards, both through the air and on the ground, which suits Mariota’s dual-threat abilities perfectly.

Dud: Devonta Freeman, running back, Atlanta Falcons

Most games, Freeman rises to the top and leads his team in rushing yards and scores. But the fourth-year running back stands to be challenged pitted up against the Philadelphia Eagles’ front seven. In 2017, the Eagles surrendered the fewest rushing yards (79.2) per game and allowed just six running back rushing touchdowns. Unfortunately, this forecast does nothing to suggest Freeman is going to have one of his magical 100-plus rushing yard performances.

Stud: Kyle Rudolph, tight end, Minnesota Vikings

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph and the Vikings host the New Orleans Saints, whose defense was one of the better against opposing tight ends in 2017. But, based on Carolina Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen’s 107-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Saints in the Wild Card round, we are going to predict Rudolph strikes gold, too. Rudolph is a big-bodied guy similar to Olsen who caught 70.4 percent of his targets and scored eight touchdowns in 2017. He definitely stands to gain if he and quarterback Case Keenum can get into sync.

Dud: Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

The last time Big Ben hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was pure disaster. We are not suggesting that the Jags pick off Roethlisberger another five times as they did in Week 5, but things could still get ugly. At least one interception is probable. And “Sacksonville” might easily strike on Roethlisberger — a quarterback it sacked twice last game around. We must also keep in mind quarterbacks facing the Jaguars in 2017 averaged a league-low 68.5 quarterback rating.

Stud: Keanu Neal, safety, Atlanta Falcons

Neal and the Falcons have to remain on a roll and create tons of chaos to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. Watch for “The Matrix” to continue to build on the eight total tackles he managed against the Los Angeles Rams facing an Eagles unit missing its starting quarterback. We can guess that Neal will be tasked with defending tight end Zach Ertz, who will likely be the target of some misfires by quarterback Nick Foles. Good luck in advance to the Eagles staving off Neal.

Dud: Eric Decker, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans

For the Titans to stand a chance against the Patriots, the team needs get Decker more involved in the passing game. After all, he is a vet with the most career playoff experience under his belt. But the Patriots should have Decker’s number dialed in. He has a seven-game history against the Patriots with only 275 yards and two touchdowns to show for it. Don’t look for Decker to swoop in and make a game-winning touchdown catch like he did in the Wild Card Game last week.

Stud: Ken Crawley, cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Crawley was major thorn in the side of the Carolina Panthers last game tallying seven total tackles and one defended pass. Now, he will take his talents to Minnesota against the Vikings. The second-year corner is hot, fired up and should remain that way against a Vikings offense and a quarterback with zero playoff experience. The real nerves might kick in for Keenum, and a young offense that has very little postseason experience. Crawley stands to benefit here.

Dud: Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Borltes was a hot mess when it came to his passing game in the Wild Card Playoffs against the Buffalo Bills. He managed a pathetic 87 yards, completing just 52.2 percent of his passes. Now in the Divisional Playoffs, Bortles will face a Steelers pass defense that is even stouter than that of the Bills. In 2017, opposing quarterbacks completed just 59.9 percent of their passes against Pittsburgh. If Bortles even comes close, that would be an improvement from his last game. With that said, we do not have a lot of faith in Bortles suddenly performing like Drew Brees.

Stud: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, New England Patriots

Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks

This is one of those matchups that favors a grand performance from Cooks. The speedster should blaze through a Titans defense that gave up 87 yards and seven catches to Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill in its last game. Plus, the Titans struggled against the pass in general in 2017, allowing 239 yards on average per game as well as 27 passing scores. We can bet that quarterback Tom Brady will find ways to get Cooks the ball when he roams free.

Dud: Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Many probably thought this prediction was coming. Foles is not equipped to deal with a Falcons defense that handily shut down Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the Wild Card Round. Goff passed for just one touchdown and achieved a lowly 77.9 quarterback rating. There is simply little chance that Foles exceeds expectations and pulls magical rabbits out of his hat on Saturday. He is on record for completing only 57-of-101 passing attempts and five touchdowns in seven games this season.

Stud: Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags defense is stocked to the brim with elite talent. Going up against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Ramsey should continue to steamroll. In Week 5, Ramsey defended a season-high four passes against Pittsburgh. Do we think Roethlisberger is going to even throw anything Ramsey’s way on Sunday? He will likely avoid this trap. This means Ramsey will have done his job well in limiting wide receiver Antonio Brown’s productivity. What an exciting matchup this will be.

Dud: Adam Thielen, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Speaking of wideouts that might be challenged this playoff round, Theilen springs to mind. The Saints’ defensive backs are brutal to work against and New Orleans has given up only two wide receiving touchdowns in its last five games. It is also worth noting that Thielen’s numbers declined at the end of the season. He finished 2017 tallying no more 61 yards per game in his final three matchups of the year. Thielen also failed to score once in this stretch.

Stud: Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles

With question marks surrounding the EaglesĀ offense minus Carson Wentz, Cox and the defense will need to step up against the Falcons. The positive here for Cox is that the Falcons do fall prone to costly turnovers. Pressuring quarterback Matt Ryan and squashing Atlanta’s running backs will be the task at hand. Fortunately for Cox, he is facing Devonta Freeman who led the league’s running backs with four fumbles last season. Look for Cox to give Mr. Butter Fingers a bit of trouble on Saturday.

Dud: Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans Saints

Saints running back Alvin Kamara against the Buffalo Bills in NFL Week 10

Kamara had a surprisingly quiet performance when Brees went old school and passed for 376 yards in last week’s Wild Card win. More crickets might be coming from Kamara this week when he faces a tough Minnesota Vikings run defense. The Vikings finished 2017 giving up only seven running back rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. If the Saints fall behind, or choose to jump start their deep passing game, Kamara may once again see limited touches.

Stud: Sean Davis, safety, Pittsburgh Steelers

Davis only got better in his second season as a Steeler. He led his team with 92 combined tackles and tied for a team-best three interceptions. Now, he gets to set his sights on stopping an uninspiring Jaguars offense. This doesn’t sound like too tough of a task considering how sloppily Bortles and Co. played last week. And, with the Steelers offense potentially struggling against Jacksonville’s defense, Davis could be one of the team’s players that makes the most difference this game.

Dud: Dion Lewis, running back, New England Patriots

How can this be? Well, running back Rex Burkhead looks to be on course to join Lewis against the Titans on Saturday evening. This matchup also favors a big Tom Brady passing game. In 2017, the Titans gave up the eighth-most passing yards versus the fourth-fewest rushing yards. This could definitely throw a monkey wrench into Lewis’ stats. Worth noting is the Titans just held Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt to 47 combined yards on 14 touches. Lewis might disappoint with an unusually poor performance.