Ladies and gentlemen, we had ourselves a nice little Divisional Round. Nobody tell the IRS.
Now I’d love to sit back and dwell on the past, but we’ve still got some work to do. Hit it.
Green Bay Packers (+6) @ Atlanta Falcons OVER 60.5
Aaron Rodgers, so hot right now. Aaron Rodgers. His performance at the quarterback position over the past 10 weeks has been truly remarkable. Over the Packers 8-game winning streak, Rodgers has thrown for 21 TDs and only 1 INT. He’s carried this out with injuries to seemingly every skills position player on the team. WRs Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, and Jeff Janis are all listed on the injury report. The least accomplished of the four, Jeff Janis, was the only receiver that practiced this week. To make matters worse, RB Christine Michael was added to the injury report on Saturday morning.
Aaron Rodgers has been playing lights out even with all of these injuries over the past two months. All of the Packers receivers practice all positions (slot, wide, stack, etc), so they truly have a ‘next man up’ system in place. They found a budding star in Geronimo Allison while Randall Cobb and Jared Cook were banged up. Now that Jordy is banged up, Allison and company are looking to continue building their momentum without missing a step. The Packers have put up 30+ points in their past 6 games, and I expect them to follow suit this week.
For the Atlanta Falcons, they boast the best scoring offense in the league, as they’ve scored 30+ points in 13 out of their 17 games this year. I’m telling you to take the over of 60.5. The main concern for Atlanta is the health of star WR Julio Jones, but he a full participant in practice Friday and plans on taking a full workload on Sunday. Julio has been combatting a toe injury all year, which while sounding minor, it is actually crucial in making the swift cuts that he’s known for.
These high flying offenses met earlier this year in Week 8. Atlanta won 33-32 on a Mohamed Sanu TD with 31 seconds left in the game. Green Bay held Julio Jones to a 3-29-0 line using coverages similar to the ones they used on Odell Beckham Jr during the Wild Card Round. They forced Matt Ryan to beat them with their lesser receivers, and as we saw throughout the year, Matty Ice will gladly take that. The depth of the Atlanta Falcons at all their skills positions are unparalleled around the league. He’s thrown touchdown passes to 13 different receivers this year.
This game has all signs pointing towards a shootout, as Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance will have to go blow for blow with Matt Ryan picking apart the Packers’ depleted secondary. You can make a valid argument for either team to come away with the victory, but I think that a six point spread is way too large. This game may go down to who has the ball last, which could lead us to a very similar conclusion as their Week 8 matchup.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (-6)
Neither of these teams looked particularly good last week in the Divisional Round. The Steelers didn’t score a touchdown, and anybody watching the Patriots game would admit that the game seemed a LOT closer than it appeared. The difference between their games, however, is that the Steelers won on a questionable holding call on the late 2-point conversion attempt, and the Patriots won by 18 despite looking out of sync across the board. For the Pats, they relied on the fully healthy Dion Lewis to carry them to victory. Here’s an amazing stat regarding him:
A healthy Dion Lewis may be the greatest weapon that New England could have. His presence completely opens up the playbook. LeGarrette Blount doesn’t catch many passes while James White doesn’t have a true rushing upside. Get you a running back that can do both. That is Dion Lewis. The Patriots might have the best three headed monster at RB since the days of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw (Earth, Wind, & Fire) for the New York Giants.
Also trending upward for the Pats, WRs Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan intend on playing this week. Mitchell has become a pillar of the Pats’ passing offense, while Hogan is always a deep threat. That’ll keep the Steeler safeties out of the box, which in turn opens some gaps for Blount and Lewis.
If the Steelers want to keep this game close, they need to own the time of possession with Le’Veon Bell and win the Antonio Brown/Malcolm Butler matchup.
It’s only fitting that these two square off after both starring in a Papa John’s commercial together this year. In their first head to head matchup, Antonio Brown put up a 9-133-1 stat line. Brown put up a 7-106-0 line against Butler this year, but that was with Landry Jones playing QB. Butler also had an end zone INT against Jones. If Malcolm Butler can mitigate the damage of Antonio Brown, then I don’t see the Steelers making a lot of noise in this game.
The Patriots’ run D held Le’Veon Bell to 81 rushing yards this season, and hasn’t allowed a runner to gain 90 yards in TWENTY FOUR straight games. If they continue the streak to 25, then I think Pittsburgh is in big trouble.
Also worth noting, a number of Steelers players and coaches have been getting sick throughout the week. I don’t think this is as big of a deal as some people are making it out to be, but I’m sure that some players will be playing a little underweight and a little fatigued due to lack of sleep and just the inconvenience of going through a sickness.
This is the last weekend of multiple football games until August. Stay here. Stay here as long as you can. For the love of God, cherish it. CHERISH IT!