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It’s possible this statistic foreshadows a weekend of tough, defensive football. However, the playoffs are already off to a crazy start with two wild-card upsets, a game featuring just one touchdown and a shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, so anything goes at this point.
Here’s a look at the divisional-round schedule as well as a look at three players to watch this weekend. All spreads and over/under totals are via OddsShark.
Saturday, January 13, at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC: Atlanta Falcons (-3, 41 O/U) at Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5, 47.5 O/U)
Sunday, January 14, at 1:05 p.m. ET on CBS: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5, 41 O/U)
Sunday, January 14, at 4:40 p.m. ET on Fox: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-5, 46.5 O/U)
Sunday, January 21, at 3 p.m. ET: AFC Championship Game on CBS (Lowest-seeded AFC team at highest-seeded AFC team)
Sunday, January 21, at 6:30 p.m. ET: NFC Championship Game on Fox (Lowest-seeded NFC team at highest-seeded NFC team)
Super Bowl LII
Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET: AFC champion vs. NFC champion on NBC (game will be played in Minneapolis)
Falcons 27, Eagles 13
Patriots 42, Titans 17
Steelers 20, Jaguars 10
Vikings 24, Saints 16
Three Players To Watch
Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman
In the wild-card matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman amassed 17 touches (14 carries, three receptions). It was a surprising usage bump considering he only accumulated an average of 10.75 touches in his final four regular-season games.
The former Indiana Hoosier has surpassed that touch mark three times this season, but all three occasions occurred because he was the starting tailback in place of Devonta Freeman, who suffered a concussion midseason.
Was Coleman’s increased usage (and timeshare with Freeman, who had 19 touches) a sign of things to come for the playoffs, or will Freeman take back control of the backfield?
The answer partially depends on game flow. If the Falcons jump out to an early advantage and the rushing attack proves to be effective, they may stick with the ground game as they control the time of possession and protect their lead.
On the other hand, if the Eagles start out on top, we may see more of the Falcons’ aerial attack.
Regardless, it should be interesting to see how much Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian utilizes Coleman on Saturday.
Tennessee Titans WR Corey Davis
At some point, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis is going to have a breakout game that reminds everyone why he was the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Although the odds are stacked against Davis and his team winning on Saturday when they face the New England Patriots, perhaps the divisional round is where the rookie breaks through.
The former Western Michigan star has struggled in part due to preseason and regular-season injuries that slowed his development as an NFL wideout. For the year, Davis hauled in 34 passes (on 65 targets) for 375 yards in 11 games. Notably, he did not catch a touchdown pass, and his catch rate was low (52.3 percent).
While his 2017 campaign was not one for the record books, Davis did see an average of 6.67 targets per game (according to Pro Football Reference) when he wasn’t playing the Jacksonville Jaguars’ shutdown pass defense.
That number may spike on Saturday, as it’s conceivable the Pats (13.5-point favorites, per OddsShark) jump out to a big lead, forcing the Titans to go to the air much more often than they’d like. That means more action for Davis, who could parlay his extra chances into a big game.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
These are Pittsburgh Steelers wideout JuJu Smith Schuster’s stats over his final seven regular-season games, per Pro Football Reference: 41 receptions, 686 yards, four touchdowns and a 77.4 percent catch rate.
These would be Smith-Schuster’s stats if you extended that rate over the course of a full 16-game campaign: 94 catches, 1,568 yards and nine touchdowns.
Those numbers would place him first on the 2017 receiving yards list, tied for third among wideouts in touchdowns and seventh among all pass-catchers in receiving yards. He would also stand alone with the best wide receiver catch rate in the NFL.
Smith-Schuster was further down the depth chart in the first half of the season, but his midseason emergence could be the X-factor toward a Super Bowl title.
It’s not a coincidence that the Steelers’ second-half offensive resurgence coincided with Smith-Schuster’s play, and the team went 10-1 to close the year following a 3-2 start.
The former USC Trojan, who turned just 21 years old on November 22, faces the toughest possible test for any pass-catcher when the Jaguars roll into town.
Thanks to an excellent pass rush and strong secondary, the Jags have only allowed 4.8 net yards gained per pass attempt, per Pro Football Reference. That mark ranks first in the league (no other team finished under five).
However, Smith-Schuster fared well when he faced the Jags in Week 5, catching four passes for 58 yards on six targets. As tough a matchup as it is for him, it’s an equally tough draw for the Jags defense. How will Smith-Schuster’s battles with the Jags secondary unfold?