This is the best weekend in professional football. The divisional round brings us games on both Saturday and Sunday, and Martin Luther King day is on Monday, meaning that you can say sayonara to the Sunday Scaries. The divisional round also boasts the top
8 7 teams in the NFL (looking at you, Houston), so the quality of the games is usually better than most. Coming off of a snoozefest of a Wild Card Weekend, lets hope that this weekend brings us something to get excited about.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (-4.5) OVER 51.5
The last time the Seattle Seahawks flew into the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Bryant kicked a go ahead FG and Julio Jones (yes, you read that correctly) sealed the game with an interception in the end zone. That was right as the Legion of Boom was fully healthy and making a name for themselves. This year, Seattle lost Earl Thomas to a leg injury in Week 13 and haven’t been the same since.
Since Thomas’ injury, the Seahawks have had the benefit of facing Cam Newton, Jared Goff, Colin Kaepernick, and an injured Matthew Stafford while only suffering losses to Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer. MVP frontrunner Matt Ryan will be the greatest test this secondary has faced since Earl Thomas went down.
This Atlanta Falcon team tied the 2002 St. Louis Rams for most points scored in a single season. They were able to do so with injuries to Julio Jones and Tevin Coleman. They scored 30 or more points in 11 of their games.
When these two teams squared off in Week 6, the Seattle Seahawks pulled off a 26-24 win in Seattle. In that game, Julio put up a 7-139-1 performance against a defense that was missing Kam Chancellor. You can expect an even bigger stat line this week, as Chancellor is a more of a hard hitter than a coverage guy like Thomas. For Seattle, they won on the back of current Green Bay RB Christine Michael. He ran for 64 yards and 2 TDs. Since his release, Seattle has had a frustrating run game with Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise, and Alex Collins. I think Rawls’ 161 yard performance last week against a defeated Detroit defense is an outlier and he will get nowhere close to that this week. CJ Prosise may return from injury this week, and his pass catching role will limit Rawls’ snaps.
I like the Atlanta Falcons to win this game in a shootout. They can score in the blink of an eye with playmakers in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, and Devonta Freeman. They are incredibly deep on offense, and even their bottom of the depth chart guys were able to get crucial game experience this year in Jones’ absence. Their defense is led by budding stars in DE Vic Beasley Jr and S Keanu Neal. Seattle’s offensive line is badddddd and the combination of Vic Beasley Jr and Dwight Freeney!!! may make this a long day for them.
The last team to do that before the NFC Divisional Game ended up representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Just some food for thought.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (-15.5)
The Patriots should elect to start Jacoby Brissett again against the Houston Texans. Brissett was able to dismantle Houston 27-0 in a Week 3 Thursday Night Football showdown in Foxboro. Now take away JJ Watt for Houston, add a QB controversy, and that is the current state of the Texans. For the Pats, Tom Brady is back at the helm, Dion Lewis is back, and Michael Floyd is now on the team.
Brock Osweiler looked decent last week, as he was able to finally connect with DeAndre Hopkins. However, Pats CB Logan Ryan has been DeAndre’s kryptonite. In their previous two meetings, Ryan has held Hopkins to 3-52-0 and 4-56-0 performances. Granted, the Pats usually have a safety over top as well, but Hopkins is the only real legitimate threat on this offense. The Patriots run defense has been quietly staunch this season, as they allow only 88 yards per game, as well as only 6 rushing TDs. The Houston Texans could very well not score in this game. I’d just keep an eye on Will Fuller V toasting Malcolm Butler down a sideline.
The New England Patriots have a multitude of weapons on offense with Tom Brady playing quarterback. Is there anything left to say? They might as well start studying Kansas City and Pittsburgh film.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+2) @ Kansas City Chiefs
We have to keep our eyes on this:
Schools are closed, roads are shut down, and grocery stores are empty. Ticket prices are plummeting and fans are all over the Internet claiming that they aren’t going to risk driving to the stadium. What that means for this game is that it will become a battle in the trenches. Pro Football Focus ranks the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line as 3rd best in the league, while Kansas City is ranked 14th. I also don’t need PFF to tell me that Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West can’t as much as sniff Le’Veon Bell’s jockstrap on the field.
Ben Roethlisberger has been in a walking boot since suffering a late game injury against Miami last week but isn’t listed on the injury report. Rumor has it that he actually plays better with an injury. The killer B’s were in full force last week as Ben, Bell, and Antonio Brown were responsible for 24 out of the 30 points scored for the Steelers. Brown took 2 early passes for 50 and 62 yard touchdowns while Bell razzled and dazzled for 167 yards and 2 scores on the ground. In their matchup in Week 4, Big Ben threw for 5 TDs, while Antonio caught 2 and Le’Veon ran for 144 yards. Since Kansas City doesn’t shadow receivers across the field, Roethlisberger will move AB around to find the match ups that he desires (away from Marcus Peters).
One stat worth noting is that Andy Reid coached teams are 16-2 off of a bye week, and 3-0 in the playoffs after a bye. He’s developed a bit of a reputation for his preparedness out of a bye, which almost makes up for his inability to manage a game clock and timeouts. The Chiefs are nearly at full health, and star LB Justin Houston has been looking better and better with each additional day of rest. He will have to be disruptive early to keep the Chiefs in this game. Ben Roethlisberger has been a bit turnover prone in his past 4 games with 6 INTs and threw some very questionable passes last week vs Miami. Houston, Marcus Peters, and Eric Berry have to wreak havoc early and often if they don’t want to be staring at #84 and #26 running free down the sidelines.
I like Pittsburgh in this game, especially if the weather pans out to be as bad as they’re saying it will be. The Steelers have the advantage in the trenches, and Big Ben is known to thrive in cold weather games. Alex Smith and the Chiefs have an average offensive line, an average run game but do have two excellent playmakers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce if the weather permits them to become factors. Tyreek Hill is an Olympic-caliber sprinter and somehow scores a touchdown a week despite only touching the ball about 7-8 times per game. Kelce has evolved from being nicknamed “Baby Gronk” and is now arguably the most dangerous TE in the NFL. Neither has been truly battle tested, while Big Ben has played in 18 career postseason games throughout his career. Experience may be the deciding factor in this game, so I like the Steelers in a bit of an upset.
Green Bay Packers (+5.5) @ Dallas Cowboys
Let’s try again. For the second week in a row, the Green Bay Packers close out a playoff weekend against an NFC East team in the Dallas Cowboys in what should be the game of the week.
I’ve got one of those “Ireland wins, but Viktor Krum gets the snitch.” feelings for this game. Dallas wins, but Green Bay covers. Dallas obviously has the top 2 offensive rookies in the league with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. While neither has any playoff experience, they’ve put on a 13-2 show and are behind the best offensive line in football. Dallas has three 50+ catch receivers in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley going up against a truly atrocious Packers secondary. Dez will also be looking forward to ensuring that every catch he makes is without question.
The Packers were lucky that Odell Beckham and the rest of the boat brigade had hands of stone early on as they coasted to victory. They were beat deep on numerous plays, but the Giants dropped the ball in more ways than one. Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams will be looking to exploit their mismatches all day.
The Packers will get Quentin Rollins back, while the Cowboys will get Morris Claiborne back from injury. Neither CB is a game breaker, but they are both suitable upgrades compared to their replacements. The Dallas Cowboys have a sneaky good secondary despite having any real standout players in their unit. However, Aaron Rodgers has been playing lights out football and didn’t miss a beat in the absence of Jordy Nelson. He isn’t expected to play at this time, although he hasn’t been ruled out, which will bring all attention to Davante Adams, Jared Cook, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison. If the Packers are smart, they’ll give Christine Michael some more carries in this game, too. Michael was a former Cowboy, and he showed some promise last week by hitting the hole hard against a formidable Giants defensive line.
The Cowboys like the keep it close, as 8 of their games this year have been decided by 6 or less points. I think that they’ll try to control the clock as much as possible to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands while they maintain a 3 point lead to victory.
Don’t call me The Chainsmokers because you’ll be able to afford that Rover after this weekend. Mamba out.