• Under the spotlight: Foles and Mariota, the Falcons’ and Jaguars’ defenses, and a Patriots team sure to be playing with a chip on its shoulder
By Albert Breer
January 12, 2018

Now that the playoffs are here, we’ll count down five top storylines to watch in the weekend’s games, all the way up to Super Bowl 52. So here goes …

5. Let’s start on Saturday, and with the No. 1 seed in the NFC that no one seems to think is really No. 1-seed quality, the Philadelphia Eagles. And the reason why so many feel that way is simple. Carson Wentz is out and Nick Foles is in. So we’ve got how Foles plays against a fast-improving Falcons defense that slammed the brakes on the Rams last weekend. Foles was good in his first start, four weeks ago, and hasn’t been since.

4. Let’s stay with quarterbacks and turn our focus to Marcus Mariota, who showed his ability to take over late in the Titans’ win at Arrowhead. The challenge gets tougher this week with a trip to Foxboro. Mariota was uneven for much of his playoff debut last week, but if Tennessee’s going to have a chance, Mariota is going to have to flash some of that playmaking ability to loosen up a Patriots defense that’ll be geared up to stop Derrick Henry.

3. Can a playmaking Jacksonville defense take over again at Heinz Field? The Jags’ performance in October was their D’s coming-out party—their fearsome front terrorized Ben Roethlisberger, which led to Roethlisberger throwing five picks. Two of those were returned for touchdowns, which meant that the Jags’ defense outscored the Pittsburgh offense in a 30-9 win. And based on how the Jaguars’ offense played last week, it may take a similar type of effort for Jacksonville to advance. Also, Antonio Brown’s health should play into how that plays out.

2. The matchup of the weekend: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Mike Thomas taking on a fearsome Minnesota defense. Four months ago, before any of us knew how good the Saints were, Minnesota stopped what would become a powerful New Orleans run game and cruised to victory. How long ago was that? Adrian Peterson led the Saints with 18 rushing yards on that Monday night. We’ll see how much things have changed since Saints-Vikings in Week 1.

1. At number one we’ve got the Patriots, the favorites to win a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title, and it’s not so much any aspect of their game that I’ll be looking for as it is the edge the Patriots will come out with. It was a tumultuous bye in Foxboro, and things have been uncomfortable all season in the building. Historically, circumstances like this have brought out the best in the NFL’s premier modern-day dynasty. We’ll see if Bill Belichick, at 65, and Tom Brady, at 40, can harness this wagon one more time.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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