The NFL’s Wild Card weekend was disappointing; all home favorites won comfortably, each covering the point spread without much (or any) suspense. But don’t expect the same from this weekend’s Divisional Round, which features four rematches from the regular season. All eight teams remaining are also division winners, the third time that’s happened since the 2002 realignment.
Let’s start with the Saturday Games:
Atlanta Falcons (-5) vs. Seattle Seahawks: 4:35 p.m.
- Seattle hasn’t been the same on defense since Earl Thomas got hurt. With him on the field this season, they’ve only allowed seven passing touchdowns and a 77.8 passer rating, and intercepted 10 passes. But without Thomas, the Seahawks’ defense has allowed nine touchdowns and a 99.5 passer rating, while only intercepting one pass.
- Atlanta, on the other hand, boasts one of the best offenses we have seen in recent history. They’ve scored 40+ points five times this season (league record is six), and 30+ points 11 times (tied for fifth most in NFL History). This could be their last game in the Georgia Dome, and I expect their offense to come out hot.
- Matt Ryan’s only postseason win came at home against Seattle in 2012. Seattle has lost eight straight playoff games as a road underdog. Seattle has made the divisional round every year Russell Wilson has been starter, and are 2-0 at home, but 0-2 on the road.
- All signs for me point to an Atlanta win at home. I don’t think Seattle’s offense can keep up with Atlanta’s, and I fully expect the Falcons to win despite the experience and coaching Seattle has on their side.
New England Patriots (-15) vs. Houston Texans: 8:15 p.m.
- Patriots are the biggest playoff favorite since 1999, and I don’t expect any upsets here. The Texans are lucky to find themselves in the playoffs, and if the AFC South was just a LITTLE better, or if Derek Carr played for Oakland in the Wild Card round, they’d be sitting on the couch.
- Houston went 8-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer, and only have two wins against teams with winning records (the Lions, who are frauds, and against the Chiefs in week three).
- The Texans are tied for a league-low 10 offensive TDs away from home this season. Am I supposed to believe they will keep up with Tom Brady in Foxboro in the playoffs? On to the Sunday games…
Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs: 1:05 p.m.
- Everyone, including me, is ready for Dallas vs. Green Bay at 4:40. It should be outstanding. But this game could very well end up as the best of the weekend.
- The Chiefs are quietly one of the most complete teams in the NFL, and they got an extra week to prepare/rest with the first-round bye. That’s troubling for Pitt. Why? Andy Reid’s teams are 19-2 off the bye week, with a 3-0 record in the playoffs against three top-10 offenses.
- The Chiefs offense is better than in recent years: TE Travis Kelce is hitting his peak, while rookie Tyreek Hill creates a spark on both offense and special teams. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
- Furthermore, the Chiefs lead the league in turnover differential. Ben Roethlisberger, as good as he is, has been prone to throwing interceptions on the road this year. It’s simply not a good mix for Pittsburgh.
- So why should it be a good game? Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers’ RB is on a legendary run right now. In his last seven games, Bell has 1,265 yards from scrimmage, 180 yards per game. That production is good for fifth best in NFL history over a 7-game span. Why is this particularly bad for KC? The Chiefs weakness is their run defense. They allow 4.4 per carry, and are ranked 26th in the league in run defense.
- I expect the Chiefs to win at home, where they are very tough to beat.
Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) vs. Green Bay Packers: 4:40 p.m.
- The Cowboys are essentially coming off three weeks rest (sat starters early in a meaningless week 17 game, first-round bye), and they are completely healthy heading into the game.
- The Packers, on the other hand, are banged up. Jordy Nelson was just ruled out, and him and Rodgers have a connection that we rarely see in the league. But will it even matter?
- Rodgers is on absolute fire since saying the Packers can run the table. They haven’t lost since, and Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception since. In fact, in his last eight games, Rodgers boasts a 120.7 QB rating and has thrown 22 touchdowns (0 interceptions). He’s on fire right now, and even the Giants’ defense couldn’t stop him once he got going last weekend.
- The Cowboys are going to NEED to run the ball successfully to win this game. They have to keep Rodgers off the field, convert on third downs and have success in the red zone. The Giants dominated through 1.5 quarters last Sunday, but only had 6 points to show for it. You know the rest.
- I expect the Cowboys to win this game because Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have responded so well to everything thrown at them this year. It would be a big letdown for them to flop on the biggest stage, and I don’t expect it to happen, no matter who they are playing. They are healthy, rested, and seemingly ready to take on the best QB on the planet right now.