It was a wild weekend of Wild Card action, and now we're down to the final eight in the National Football League. Now that college football has crowned its national champion, perhaps with a tinge of controversy, all eyes will be on the NFL, as they look for a legitimate champion in the Super Bowl. The Minnesota Vikings begin their quest this weekend to become the first team in the 52 years of the big game to also serve as host. They'll have a talented and hungry New Orleans Saints team standing in their way, however. The defending Super Bowl champs are also lurking on the AFC side. They'll look to get past the upstart Tennessee Titans, who are playing with house money after their rousing comeback win on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. Let's get started!
The Atlanta Falcons hit the practice field Tuesday, but star WR Julio Jones (ankle) was not with his teammates for the session. While head coach Dan Quinn is on record saying that there were no injury setbacks during the Wild Card win last weekend against the Los Angeles Rams, anyone with eyes watching the telecast could see him wincing in pain. Perhaps he didn't have any setbacks, but he appeared to be dealing with a moderate amount of pain and he doesn't look anything close to 100 percent. We've seen veterans get mid-week rest days on a regular basis in recent seasons, as teams preserve their brittle stars for the field time that counts.
While Jones is fully expected to be available for Saturday's NFC Divisional Round Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he is a rather risky play given his high DFS salary and health status. He'll be a tempting play, however, considering he has 24 receptions for 399 yards and three touchdowns on 32 targets across his past three meetings with the Eagles. Philly was also middle of the road against the pass this season, ranking 17th in the regular season with 227.3 yards per game allowed. The Eagles were tagged for 10 plays of 40 or more yards through the air, tied for second-most behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers among remaining playoff teams.
The Falcons also saw RB Devonta Freeman (knee) and WR Mohamed Sanu (knee) taking part in practice on a limited basis, although neither are considered question marks. Even QB Matt Ryan (rest) was given a rest day. You can expect all hands to be on deck for when the game kicks off Saturday afternoon. The Eagles also have a running back on their injury report, although RB Jay Ajayi (knee) was listed as a full participant in Tuesday's practice session. While the performance came in Week 6 when he was a member of the Miami Dolphins, Ajayi ripped the Falcons for 26 carries and 130 yards for one of his finest performances before being traded. At times the Falcons had their issues against the rush this season, yielding 104.1 yards per game on the ground. But they finished up strong and ended up ninth in the NFL against the run.
In Saturday's primetime game, Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans will be looking to send Tom Brady of the New England Patriots home packing. With Mariota at 24, and Brady at 40, it will be the largest age gap between starting quarterbacks in NFL postseason history. It could also be one of the more entertaining aerial displays, as the Patriots and Titans each had their issues against the pass in the regular season. Tennessee ranked 25th in the NFL, allowing 239.2 yards per game with 27 TDs and 37 pass plays of 20 or more yards. New England got off to a horrific start, but tightened up a bit down the stretch. Still, they ranked 30th overall against the pass, yielding 251.2 yards per game with 24 scores, 49 pass plays of 20 or more yards and 10 plays that were good for 40-plus yards.
Lower body issues
DeMarco Murray (knee) claimed that he felt he'd be able to play through a torn medial collateral ligament injury in his knee in the regular-season finale. That didn't happen. He felt he could play in the Wild Card round. That didn't happen. Now, he was on the sidelines for practice on Tuesday, and it's pretty unlikely he'll be able to go on Saturday in New England. The Patriots have to assume they'll be getting a heavy dose of Derrick Henry, who blasted the Chiefs for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown last weekend.
The other big question is how Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown (calf) will respond to his first action in a while. The last time we saw Brown was in Week 15 writhing around in the end zone against the Patriots. He suffered a calf injury, was taken to the hospital and then he missed the rest of the regular season (two games). That was Dec. 17, and apparently he is a quick healer, as he has been practicing in full and is reportedly at 100 percent. If he is healthy, and he should be well rested after his four-week layoff, he could be a handful for the Jaguars. He rolled for 10 receptions and 157 yards in the first matchup back in Week 5.
Quick Hits: With Matt Nagy moving on to take the head coaching job in Chicago, the Chiefs needed a new offensive coordinator. They stayed in house and promoted running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to fill the void. Not that many people were worried about it, but Kareem Hunt's fantasy appeal should continue to be sky high in 2018 with a familiar face running the offense. … Also in Chicago, veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will apparently be retained by Nagy. … The Los Angeles Chargers are expected to bring back defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, while former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine appears to be on his way to Green Bay to serve as the Packers DC. In other DC news, the Baltimore Ravens have bumped Don Martindale up from linebackers coach to their vacant DC job. So much for the Chuck Pagano reunion. ... The New York Jets will be keeping offensive coordinator John Morton. … In Oakland, they hired former Rams quarterbacks coach Greg Olson as their new OC. It's too bad he didn't land in Carolina, as they need a new offensive coordinator. That wouldn't be too confusing having Olson and Greg Olsen, would it? … Speaking of Carolina, veteran Norv Turner will be interviewed in Charlotte for their vacant OC job. Is there much of a difference between he and Mike Shula? … In Baltimore, head coach John Harbaugh would not commit to Alex Collins as his lead back heading into 2018. That's a shame for those in long-term fantasy leagues, as some clarity would be nice. Kenneth Dixon (knee) will be back, and Javorius Allen and Danny Woodhead are under contract, so it's a full boat in Charm City.