NFL NFC and AFC Divisional Round preview and predictions

Back-up quarterback Nick Foles has taken over the starting duties for the Eagles.
Back-up quarterback Nick Foles has taken over the starting duties for the Eagles. Photo credit: Getty Images

NFC Divisional Round playoff

Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) vs Atlanta Falcons (10-6) on Sunday, 10:35am (NZT)

The top team in the National Football Conference - the Philadelphia Eagles - host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Atlanta, who blew a 25-point lead in an overtime loss to New England at last year's Super Bowl, scored a 26-13 wildcard victory over NFC West champions Los Angeles Rams.

In a battle of two of the NFL's leading offences, Atlanta's defence stepped up to book their spot in the next round.

They nullified the Rams passing game, with star running-back Todd Gurley forced to make the most of his carries, as his ineffectiveness in the receiving game meant the league's highest-scoring team could only manage one touchdown against the Falcons.

The Eagles, who won the NFC East, but are missing injured quarterback Carson Wentz, hold an 18-14-1 all-time mark against the Falcons, with the last win coming in 2016.    

Back-up quarterback Nick Foles has taken over the starting duties and has been serviceable, with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his three starts.

The Eagles have split carries between their running-backs all season, with three notching up more than 300 yards.

Since being traded from the Miami Dolphins, Jay Ajayi has become the team's primary ball-carrier and is expected to get plenty more in Sunday's encounter, in an effort to lessen the workload of Foles.

The Eagles rank as one of the league's best defences, conceding fewer rushing yards than any other team, with defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan clogging up the middle.

In a game where Philadelphia's offence has every chance of misfiring without Wentz, their defence will once again need to be at its best to stop Julio Jones and co.

Philadelphia Eagles 28 Atlanta Falcons 24

AFC Divisional Round playoff

New England Patriots (13-3) vs Tennessee Titans (9-7) on Sunday, 2:15pm (NZT)

The New England Patriots begin their quest for a third Super Bowl title in four seasons on Sunday, when they meet the Tennessee Titans.

Champions in the 2014 and 2016 seasons, the Patriots are aiming for a sixth Super Bowl title, all with the now-40-year-old Tom Brady at quarterback.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Photo credit: Getty Images

Brady leads the NFL in passing yards during the regular season and ranks third in touchdowns, and looks set to win his third MVP award.

Having missed last season's playoffs, tight-end Rob Gronkowski makes a post-season return, and leads his team in receptions and receiving yards.

Despite their continuous turnover at the running-back position, New England rank 10th in rushing yards, with Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead sharing the load.

They will be big favourites in the American Football Conference (AFC) divisional round, having won their last six meetings with the Titans, including a 2015 game.

Tennessee, who have not won in New England since 1993, advanced to Sunday's game with a 22-21 wildcard victory over AFC West champions Kansas City Chiefs.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was at the forefront of their upset win, which included a touchdown catch off his own throw, a block, and two passing touchdowns in a heroic performance.

Regular starting running-back Demarco Murray has been ruled out of the game, a blow that has been softened by Derrick Henry's performance against the Chiefs a week ago, with more than 150 rushing yards and touchdown.

The Titans will need another strong performance from Henry and will like their chances, as they face a Patriots side that have struggled to contain the run all season.

New England Patriots 31 Tennessee Titans 13

AFC Divisional Round playoff

Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) vs Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) on Monday, 7:05am (NZT)

Divisional round games continue on Monday, with the AFC North champions Pittsburgh Steelers, who - like the Patriots and Eagles - had a first-round bye, hosting AFC South winners Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacksonville, who beat the Buffalo Bills 10-3 to set up a meeting with the Steelers, enjoy a surprising 13-11 all-time record over Pittsburgh, including a 30-9 victory in October.         

Antonio Brown.
Antonio Brown. Photo credit: Getty Images

Their key to success all season has been their defence and that was again the stand-out in their narrow win over Buffalo in the wild-card playoff.

They kept the Bills touchdown-less, as the league's best secondary caused Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman problems all game, registering an interception off each.

They will need to replicate their efforts against the Steelers, if they are to progress to the AFC Championship.

Pittsburgh have marched towards a 13-win season on the back of stellar performances from their offensive unit.

Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had another solid season in the NFL, helped by the numerous weapons at his disposal, throwing for more than 4000 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Star wide-receiver Antonio Brown leads the league in receiving yards with more than 1500, and rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster is a threat in both the pass and return game.

Add dual-threat running-back Le'Veon Bell to mix, with his 1291 rushing yards and 655 receiving yards on the season, and the Jaguars defence faces a monumental task.

Pittsburgh Steelers 21 Jacksonville Jaguars 13

NFC Divisional Round playoff

Minnesota Vikings (13-3) vs New Orleans Saints (11-5) on Monday, 10:40am (NZT)

NFC North winners Minnesota Vikings face NFC South champion New Orleans Saints in the final game of the divisional round.

New Orleans held off the Carolina Panthers for the third time this season on Monday, winning 31-26.

Harrison Smith.
Harrison Smith. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Saints were made to win without regular offensive weapons Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, as the NFL's best running-back duo were kept to just 68 total yards between them.

Instead, quarterback Drew Brees led the way for the Saints on offence, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide-receivers Michael Thomas and former Panther Ted Ginn racked up more than 100 receiving yards each to bail out the struggling Saints running-backs.

New Orleans would do well to see greater influence from Ingram and Kamara, as they prepare to face the NFL's best defence.

The Vikings are 21-11 all-time against the Saints, including a 29-19 regular-season victory in September.

Back-up quarterback Case Keenum has been a revelation in Minnesota, throwing for more than 3500 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Undrafted local Adam Thielen has been the main beneficiary of Keenum's surprise success under centre, with more than 1200 receiving yards.

But it's been their defence that's kept them to just three losses for the season, conceding fewer yards than any another team.

Safety Harrison Smith has been instrumental, playing several positions and leading the team in interceptions with five.

Combined with defensive-end Everson Griffen's 13 sacks on the year, the Saints offence will need an improved performance from last week, if they are to score on the Vikings defence.

New Orleans Saints 21 Minnesota Vikings 17

The divisional winners will meet on January 22 for conference titles, with the victors playing at the Super Bowl on February 5 in Minneapolis.