Each week, Monty Andrews breaks down some of the underlying betting mismatches on the National Football League slate, giving you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule and setting your daily fantasy lineup.
Falcons' turnover troubles vs. Eagles' ball-hawking defense
The Atlanta Falcons are two wins away from a Super Bowl return - and the quest for a second consecutive appearance in the NFL title game continues Saturday against a host Philadelphia Eagles team playing without its biggest weapon. Quarterback Carson Wentz is out for the season with a knee injury, leaving the fate of the Eagles’ season in the hands of backup Nick Foles. But it isn't all doom and gloom for Philadelphia, which has a significant advantage in the turnover department.
Atlanta did a lot of things right this season, and carried them over into last weekend's 26-13 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams in its wild-card encounter. But forcing turnovers has been an area of weakness for the Falcons, who were one of only four NFL teams to record single-digit fumble recoveries (eight) and interceptions (eight). Atlanta did well to take care of the ball during the regular season - losing just 18 turnovers for a minus-2 differential - but will need to be better if it hopes to get back to the Super Bowl.
Perhaps the Falcons will learn a thing or two from the Eagles, who received plenty of attention for their terrific offense but were also a force on the defensive end of the football, ranking fourth in the league in total turnovers forced with 31 (19 interceptions, 12 recovered fumbles). They also ranked fourth in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-11 - and in a game that's expected to be a close one, winning the turnover battle could be enough for the Eagles to end Atlanta's shot at an NFC title repeat.
Dynamic Derrick Henry vs. Patriots' putrid run defense
Between a spread of nearly two touchdowns and news of internal strife involving owner, head coach and franchise player, the New England Patriots might have to work a little harder to gain bettors' confidence ahead of this Saturday's divisional round encounter with the Tennessee Titans. And that isn't all the Patriots need to be concerned about, as they look to contain a Titans running game that could make this one a little too close for comfort despite the lofty spread.
People are still talking about Marcus Mariota's three-touchdown performance in last week's stunning 22-21 comeback victory over Kansas City, but it wouldn't have been possible without Henry, who carved through the Chiefs' defense for 156 rushing yards and a touchdown in the win.
In two games since taking over the lead role from injured DeMarco Murray, Henry has racked up 308 rushing and receiving yards and a pair of scores on a whopping 54 touches.
It's easy to ignore how poor the Patriots' run defense was, considering how well Tom Brady and Co. performed on offense. But bettors can't ignore the fact that New England surrendered a stunning 4.7 yards-per-carry average in the regular season; only the Los Angeles Chargers had a higher YPC mark against.
Granted, teams only ran the ball 38.2 percent of the time against the Pats, but if the Titans keep things close enough for Henry to remain a factor, the Titan's unlikely Super Bowl run might continue.
Jaguars' red-zone prowess vs. Steelers' downfield struggles
There was nothing pretty about Jacksonville's first postseason win in more than a decade, but the Jaguars will gladly accept last weekend's 10-3 wild-card triumph over the visiting Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars' trademark defense won the day, limiting Buffalo to 263 total yards while forcing a pair of turnovers. Jacksonville is a healthy underdog for this weekend's encounter at Heinz Field - but if red-zone play is any indication, the Jaguars should be able to keep pace with the host Steelers.
Most people suspected the Jaguars would boast an impressive defense - and those people certainly weren't disappointed. But getting this far requires a more than passable offense - and Jacksonville overcame some early-season inconsistency to boast the league's second-best red-zone touchdown rate at 64.7 percent. Couple that with the Jaguars limiting opponents to a 37.9-percent success rate inside their 20-yard line - second-best in the league - and no team dominates the red zone like Jacksonville.
The Steelers have home-field advantage and a pair of dangerous offensive weapons in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown - but none of that will matter if Pittsburgh can't make inroads in either red zone. The Steelers converted just 50.8 percent of their visits to the opponents' 20-yard line into six points - the 22nd-best rate in the league - and were even worse at defending the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 61.5 percent of opponent opportunities (28th). Big Ben has a big job ahead of him.
Saints' third-down woes vs. Vikings' very good 3D showing
Quarterback playoff experience - or a lack thereof - is the focal point of Sunday's NFC divisional encounter between Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints and Case Keenum's Minnesota Vikings.
Brees, a former Super Bowl champion, will be making the 12th career post-season appearance in his 17th NFL season; Keenum will be making his first-ever playoff start. But third-down play is a major equalizer here, with the host Vikings owning a significant edge on both sides of the ball.
New Orleans rode a sensational running game to the fourth-highest scoring average in the league (28 ppg) - but when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara weren't getting enough yardage on first and second down, the Saints struggled to score or extend drives.
New Orleans converted just 37.1 percent of its third-down opportunities, good for 20th overall. Things were even worse on the defensive end, with the Saints allowing teams to make good on 41.5 percent of third-down chances (27th overall).
That doesn't bode well at all for the visitors, as they face a Vikings unit that dominated third-down scenarios for nearly the entire season. It won't surprise anyone that Minnesota held foes to an absurd 25.2-percent success rate on third downs during the regular season - the best mark in the NFL.
But despite playing without their No. 1 quarterback and running back to start the season, the Vikings made good on better than 43.5 percent of third-down situations - and repeating the feat Sunday will likely mean a win.