O’Neil: The Bitterman’s NFL Playoff Preview, Divisional Round
How much do quarterbacks really matter in the NFL?
We’re about to find out because there is a pretty clear-cut quarterbacking disparity in each of this weekend’s four Divisional Playoff games.
Drew Brees vs. Case Keenum? Matt Ryan vs. Nick Foles?
Those are mismatches even if the better quarterbacks are both playing on the road. It’s even more lopsided in the AFC where Tom Brady is at home against the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Mariota while Ben Roethlisberger will host Jacksonville and it’s amazing mystery meat Blake Bortles, who had more yards rushing than passing last week in a game the Jaguars somehow won.
Not that we’re bitter here in Seattle. OK. Yeah, we are, weighing the benefits of a zone-blocking advocate as offensive line coach versus someone more well-versed in traditional man-blocking. So here’s your second installment of The Official Bitterman’s Guide to the Playoffs:
Falcons at Eagles, Saturday, 1:35 p.m.
We need a playoff selection committee for the NFL like we have for March Madness. Someone to interject and say that while the Eagles may have had the best record in the NFC, they are not the top seed. Not with Nick Foles at quarterback.
In fact, Foles should be Chip Kelly’s coaching trump card. He should walk into any interview, and point to the 2013 season when Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and was intercepted just twice as evidence that he’s a true visionary. Yep. That actually happened. How? Anyone got a clue? Because I’ve watched Foles play first in college and subsequently in the NFL, and I never thought there’s a guy who will have three times as many TD passes as interceptions let alone 13 times as many TD passes as picks.
What happened to Foles since then? Could be water finding its own level or perhaps reversion to the mean or regression, but since Kelly is in UCLA, not Philadelphia, the Eagles are in trouble.
Pick: Falcons 24, Eagles 16
Titans at Patriots, Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
The most underrated part of the Patriots dynasty? The division they play in. Because after surviving that veritable murderer’s row of Jay Cutler, Tyrod Taylor and whichever McCown was quarterbacking the Jets this year, the Patriots have to stand up to a Titans team whose tight end Delanie Walker applauded Marcus Mariota’s ability to overcome the coaches. Yep. He actually said something like that, which seems weird until you realize the coach’s name is literally Mularkey.
Bill Belichick could let Tom Brady’s wacky nutritional “expert” call the plays this week and the Titans still wouldn’t win.
Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 10
Jaguars at Steelers, Sunday, 10 a.m.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be Tommie Frazier watching an NFL game right now? He was the best option quarterback I’ve ever seen. He led Nebraska to consecutive national titles in the mid-‘90s, and last week he could have watched Blake Bortles not only start a playoff game, but win it, while rushing for more yards than he threw for.
Frazier was faster than Bortles. He threw the ball better than Bortles, too.
And while Frazier’s pro prospects were affected by his health, which included a history of blood clots, the idea that he has to sit and watch guys like Bortles win playoff games in a league where he was considered an iffy prospect has got be either hilarious or maddening.
Maybe Tommie’s even rooting for Bortles now. Rooting for the Jags to turn this league and its quarterback elitism on its ear. Well, it’s not happening again. The Steelers are going to whup the Jaguars and their questionable quarterback.
Pick: Steelers 19, Jaguars 6
Saints at Vikings, Sunday 1:40 p.m.
Sorry. I can’t buy into Case Keenum. I just can’t. I know his completion percentage was extraordinary, and he’s earned the right to stay in this position, but man, he’s still Case Keenum, and that’s Drew Brees on the other side and if the roof on Minnesota’s new stadium actually opened then the Vikings should crank that thing as wide as possible to turn the game into a meat locker.
The fewer points the better for Minnesota.
If the Vikings need 20 points to win, they’re in trouble. They won’t need 20 points in this game, their defense is that solid. The best in the league. And a New Orleans is going to run into trouble. Wait. That’s not quite right. The Saints aren’t going to be running anywhere.
Pick: Vikings 17, Saints 13