Much was made during the College Football Playoff about how we wound up with an all-SEC final, and how regionalized the playoff had become. All four semifinal participants were, more or less, in the southwest quadrant of the country, and the two finalists were driving distance from the finals venue in Atlanta.
That's why it's kind of ironic and weird that the same thing sort of happened in last week's wild card round of the NFL playoffs. The four teams advancing all, strangely enough, reside in the collegiate SEC's footprint — the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons. However, unlike their college brethren who were able to keep the title in the area with Alabama and Georgia in Monday night's final, these four southern NFL teams now must travel north to try and keep their seasons alive.
The oddsmakers say that most of them won't. What do we think? Let's give you the picks for this weekend, and let's start with the two monster favorites in the AFC....
PATRIOTS -13 over Titans
The follow up chatter to last week's Seth Wickersham's ESPN.com piece on how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady essentially hate each other has kind of died down. All of the necessary parties inside the Patriots' building have denied the truth of the story. In a way, it shows you how weak the NFL is this season, that a story like that could circulate a week before their first playoff game, and the Patriots are still prohibitive favorites to win another Super Bowl. I realize it was a huge comeback for the Titans last Saturday. Neat. Good for them. This feels like a classic spot where Belichick has an extra week to prepare, the opposing QB has an obvious Achilles heel (ummm, he can't throw), and Brady is going to methodically put up about 42 points by the end of the third quarter. How this spread is staying below two touchdowns is beyond me, but I'm glad it is. Climb aboard.
STEELERS -7 over Jaguars
Last week, Blake Bortles ran for 88 yards and threw for 87 yards, and it was as butt ugly as that sentence indicates. Bortles floated fullback screens and threw torn up paper airplanes to wide open receivers. Those 88 yards rushing didn't feel like an athletic quarterback throwing fear into a defense, they felt like a desperate quarterback out of solutions involving his right arm. The Jags beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh earlier this season when Ben Roethlisberger threw five picks. Safe to say, that's not happening again. Antonio Brown is fully healthy, and have I mentioned that Blake Bortles is trash? (Yeah, I'm with you Clowney!) Another easy play on the better QB at home.
Saints +4 over VIKINGS
I want to take Case Keenum here. I really do. I like Case, despite what several triggered Coogs might say about the media having some sort of conspiracy against Keenum, one of a handful of phenomenal Keenum myths that make it hard to root for him sometimes (again, through ZERO fault of Case's). My favorite Keenum myth is how the Texans cut him and if they'd just kept him, they'd have their franchise QB, which ignores (a) the two seasons he played in between the Texans cutting him and 2017, and (b) the Texans re fine at QB, thank you. I think the Saints have a running game and defense that will travel well in this spot, and I'll take all four of the points Vegas wants to give me with a first time playoff starter at QB for the Vikings.
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Falcons -2.5 over EAGLES
It's pretty amazing that the Falcons, as the sixth seed, may have stumbled into a Super Bowl path in which they just need to get through Jared Goff, Nick Foles, and Keenum. There's a reason the sixth seed is favored here. Two, actually. First, the Falcons are second in yards per play differential between offense and defense, a HUGE metric in measuring team quality for gambling purposes. Second, Nick Foles is terrible.
Now that I look at all four games, this is a "do not overthink it" weekend — Brady vs Mariota, Big Ben vs Borltes, Brees vs Keenum, Ryan vs Foles. Just look at the names, and you know what to do.
LAST WEEK: 2-2
SEASON RECORD: 57-53-2 (51.8 percent)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.