What America saw last weekend from the Atlanta Falcons was similar to what the team showed for 2+ quarters of last year’s Super Bowl.
Can they keep it up as they head on the road again Saturday to Philadelphia?
The Falcons have that balanced offense – if Matt Ryan is efficient – to challenge any opponents. Where they made their mark against the Rams was on defense.
”We don’t have a (complicated) defense Joseph Noteboom Color Rush Jersey , but we are very detailed,” says defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, a former NFL player who got the job last February. ”And the detail of expectations of understanding that they have to make our defense come to life, and they’re doing an awesome job at it.”
Philadelphia’s defense has been up and down recently, and it has dealt with a bunch of injuries. Depth has been a plus for Jim Schwartz’s unit.
The edge here belongs to Atlanta at quarterback – if Ryan is efficient – with backup Nick Foles running the offense for the Eagles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Foles fly. Or struggle.
The Falcons are 2-point favorites over the top-seeded Eagles, a highly unusual occurrence. But one that, with Carson Wentz on the sideline, makes enough sense.
Tennessee (plus 13) at New England, Saturday
The Patriots are rested. They’re supposedly ticked off. They’re pretty healthy.
And they are miles better than the Titans.
Still, let’s give Tennessee tremendous credit for how it rallied in Kansas City. The Titans showed resolve and an ability to come up with big plays on offense that few expected.
”You’ve got every team fighting to play for the next week Josh Jackson Color Rush Jersey ,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty says. ”Nobody’s going to go out there – and I don’t care if you’re down, if you’re up – like no one is going to quit. So, that’s something I think we always talk about, and obviously you could see it in that game against Kansas City.”
But this one is in New England. Yes, it’s gotten tiresome to travel (and travel, and travel) to Foxborough for playoff games. There’ll be another one up there next weekend.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 30-10
Jacksonville (plus 7+) at Pittsburgh, Sunday
One thing about the Steelers: They tend to play much closer games than they should. Based on talent alone, they probably are the NFL’s most skilled squad.
Here comes Jacksonville, following an offensive stinker in beating outmanned Buffalo. Logic says this should be a rout.
Forget logic and remember that Ben Roethlisberger was so victimized in a 30-9 Week 5 loss to the Jaguars that he had one of the worst games of his career.
There’s also the Antonio Brown factor: How healthy is the unanimous All-Pro receiver, who was injured in Week 15?
Jacksonville has a staunch defense with a terrific pass rush Lamar Jackson Color Rush Jersey , too. Its secondary is among the league’s best.
OK, enough of that. We can’t make a case for Blake Bortles winning in Pittsburgh.
New Orleans (plus 4) at Minnesota, Sunday
Both sides are balanced and have enough experience to handle the pressure. While the Saints have the Hall of Fame-level skills of Drew Brees at quarterback, Minnesota’s Case Keenum has been among the most pleasant surprises in the league.
Look for this one to come down to which defense asserts itself. Coach Mike Zimmer has built quite the unit in the Twin Cities.
”Well, you want to have pass rushers, you want to have guys that can cover,” he says. ”Without giving away all my secrets, I like a certain body type with guys. You can kind of look at most of them and tell what we’re trying to get. Athleticism, guys who can think quickly on their feet Authentic Olivier Rodrigue Jersey , safeties that have versatility, corners who can cover.”
Sounds like a winner.
Last week: Against spread (2-2). Straight up (1-3)
Season Totals: Against spread (119-122-10). Straight up: (163-95)
Best Bet: 9-9 against spread, 10-8 straight up.
Upset special: 10-8 against spread, 9-9 straight up
When Markelle Fultz spent two days in Boston last June visiting the Celtics during the pre-draft process, it felt like home.
He walked the streets downtown and later found himself soaking up the history that clings to the championship banners swaying above the TD Garden court.
”It almost feels like I belong here,” Fultz said at the time.
It turned out to be nothing more than a field trip when the Celtics surprised many and passed on selecting Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick. They instead traded it to the 76ers for the third pick, which they used to grab Jayson Tatum, and a future first-round pick.
Right now it looks like a good move for Boston.
The Celtics have a 1-0 lead over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Tatum has been a revelation on a team battered by injuries.
Tatum’s role first increased when Gordon Hayward went down with an ankle injury, then again following Kyrie Irving’s knee surgeries late in the season. Tatum has responded to every challenge, averaging 17 points Mike Hughes Color Rush Jersey , five rebounds and three assists in his first postseason.
”I enjoy it,” Tatum said. ”I dreamed of having big moments and having a big role. That obviously came a lot sooner than I thought. I’m just trying to prove that I belong here.”
Fultz is not having nearly as much fun.
He has been reduced to a spectator after a down regular season that saw him go through shooting issues and miss 68 games with a shoulder injury. And this after having his shot dissected during the season.
But he insisted that he hasn’t let any of it frustrate him.
”It didn’t bother me really,” he told The Associated Press. ”I was just happy with the team’s success. That’s all I’m about.”
He finally returned for some game action during the final 10 games of the regular season. But it wasn’t until the final night of the season that he provided his best example to date of the potential that the Sixers spent so much capital to draft.
Fultz looked at ease for the first time in months when at 19 he became the youngest NBA player to record a triple-double, registering 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over Milwaukee.
Yet, while Boston is embracing Tatum, Fultz is still looking to make a meaningful postseason impact.
After playing 24 minutes over the first three games of the first round, Fultz was inactive in the final two games of the Miami series and didn’t play in the opener against the Celtics.
He isn’t only playing behind Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, but Fultz is also watching T.J. McConnell get minutes.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said the decision to sit Fultz hasn’t come without some second-guessing. He left room for the former Washington Huskies guard to make an appearance in this series.
”It’s my decision to go with T.J.,” Brown said. ”There are times that you for sure think about it. But to say (Fultz is) dead and buried, that’s not true. But I got a decision to make. And I’ve made a decision.
”It doesn’t mean it’s etched in stone. It’s always something you review and think about. And the care for Markelle Fultz and his future is always on my mind.”
Fultz said he’s ready to contribute in whatever way he’s asked.
”Anything for the team Jaire Alexander Color Rush Jersey , I’m just here,” he said. ”Whenever I get an opportunity I’m just going out there and play my hardest.”
After the Celtics beat the Bucks in Game 7 to advance to the semifinals, Tatum was asked what he learned about himself playing in his first playoff series.
”I love what I do,” Tatum said. I love being out there. It’s fun.”
It’s a feeling that, for now at least, Fultz has only gotten in a small dose.
”For me, it’s all an opportunity,” Fultz said. ”When the coaches put me out there, that’s what I’m going to be ready for. Other than that, I’m on the sidelines cheering my teammates on.”