The first week of the playoffs are in the books and as expected, every one of the teams that limped into the playoffs were weeded out swiftly and without prejudice–every home team advanced with an average margin of victory of 19 points. This week’s slate of games look to be a lot more watchable, with the exception of Texans at Patriots.
After going 3-1 last week in my predictions, I have now chosen which teams I believe will move on to their respective Conference Championship games.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
Let’s face it–the Houston Texans do not stand a chance against the New England Patriots this weekend. While the Texans did well against the Oakland Raiders and their 3rd string quarterback last week, it was against New England’s 3rd string quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) in Week 3 that the Texans were blown out 27-0.
After much back-and-forth in the court system, the Deflategate saga was concluded this year when Tom Brady was forced to finally serve his four game suspension, missing the first four games of the 2016 season. During that stretch, the Patriots went 3-1 with their only loss to the division rival Buffalo Bills. Since Tom Brady’s return to the field, the New England Patriots have been on fire, only losing 31-24 to the Seattle Seahawks in a Game of the Year contender.
There is no doubt that this year’s defense for the Texans is impressive, having managed to be ranked #1 in total defense without their star defensive end, J.J. Watt. However, if they couldn’t muster a single point against Jacoby Brissett, what hope do they have against arguably the best quarterback in the history of the league?
There is almost no real competition for the Patriots this postseason and although the Texans will finally get on the scoreboard in this time around, they won’t ever look capable of winning this game.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Despite having one of the loudest crowds in the league and Arrowhead Stadium being a nightmare for opposing teams, the Kansas City Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, when they defeated (you guessed it) the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a matter of fact, that victory over the Steelers was their next recent playoff victory after last year’s 30-0 shutout of the Houston Texans. Needless to say, the Chiefs haven’t had much success on the big stage over the past two decades.
Just as with the other three match-ups this weekend, these two teams went head-to-head earlier this year, with the Pittsburgh Steelers dominating at home, winning 43-14. With this weekend’s match-up now being in Kansas City, look for the gap to close a bit.
Interestingly enough, the last three match-ups between these two teams have seen the home team come out the victor. Could that mean that Kansas City is poised to secure its first home playoff win in over 20 years?
Pittsburgh didn’t prove anything by putting a 30-12 beating on Matt Moore and the Miami Dolphins last week and although they finished the regular season on a 7 game winning streak, only one of those teams had a winning record: the New York Giants.
Even factoring in the change of venue, do we really trust Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs to make up 29 points? Although I do think there’s a chance that the Chiefs win a squeaker here, the idea of Alex Smith defeating a Hall of Fame quarterback in the playoffs doesn’t hold water. It’ll be a little closer the second time around, but the result will be the same, with Pittsburgh moving on to the AFC title game against the Patriots.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
It hasn’t been easy for Seahawks fans this year. Going into the home playoff game last week against the Detroit Lions, many Seattle faithful were apprehensive to say the least when it came to their Hawks and rightfully so. Although the Lions had been on a bad losing streak, the Seahawks had been wildly inconsistent to finish off the year, losing every other game since their 3-game winning streak mid-season that included a victory over the New England Patriots.
After a 26-6 victory over Detroit, the Seahawks look to be back to their former selves, picking up their second win in a row. However, we have seen similar efforts at the end of the season with a 38-10 loss to the Packers sandwiched between a 40-7 victory over the Panthers and a 24-3 victory over the Rams.
I draw a lot of similarities between the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons and although the Seahawks did beat the Falcons earlier this season in controversial fashion, they first tied the Cardinals before losing on a last second field goal just a few weeks ago. Seattle wasn’t good enough to beat Arizona once this year–are they good enough to beat the Falcons twice?
If there’s one team that earns the Rodney Dangerfield Award this season, it has to be the Atlanta Falcons. Despite having an MVP caliber performance from Matt Ryan this year, they have been given no respect. In the discussion of NFC favorites, the talk has been mostly about the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks.
Atlanta did lose to Seattle 26-24 in Week 6, but some point to a controversial no-call on a what should have been pass interference late in the game as the reason the Seahawks came out on top. We could also point out that Earl Thomas was on the field for that game and won’t be this weekend, but Seattle was also without a big time safety in Week 6 with Kam Chancellor out with a groin injury.
The Falcons finished off the season with a 4-game winning streak, but their opponents in that stretch combined for a record of 19-45. Atlanta’s last big test was Week 13 in a home game against the Chiefs, a game that they lost 29-28.
With the controversy surrounding the first match-up between these teams and the fact that Russell Wilson’s first playoff loss was in his rookie year in Atlanta, this game will prove to be the most interesting from a storyline perspective. Factoring in the absence of a different safety and the game being played in Atlanta this time, the outcome likely won’t change much from the last game. Seattle’s defense might be worse than it was in Week 6, but it’s offense has improved.
Look for this game to come down to a last second field goal, with Seattle kicker, Steven Hauschka, finally having his chance at redemption after what has been a shaky year.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
Things looked bleak at the start of the game, but after a couple fortunate bounces of the ball in the favor of the Packers at the end of the first half, it was all downhill after that for New York as the Giants fell to Green Bay (38-13) in the biggest loss of the playoffs so far. For 3 quarters of football, Aaron Rodgers and The Pack looked unstoppable on offense even after injuries to both Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery.
Now, the Packers reward for their victory over the Giants is a matchup with the #1 seed in the NFC in a city that they have not won a road playoff game in since 1967 (nearly one year before the infamous Ice Bowl). Going against a team that beat them in Lambeau Field 30-16 earlier this season, it won’t be an easy task for the Packers to come out of Dallas this weekend with victory.
Cowboys vs. Packers has the potential to become the highest scoring game of the weekend, with both teams ranking in the top 5 in total points scored this season. Looking at the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys look to have the advantage, only giving up 19.1 points per game, while the Packers defense averages 24.2.
The media really wants to make drama out of the Dak Prescott/Tony Romo situation and the question remains if we could see the plug pulled on the rookie quarterback if he has a sub par first half. Since the merger, only a small number of rookie quarterbacks have ever started in a Conference Championship game (none coming from the NFC) while no rookie has ever started at quarterback in a Super Bowl. Dak Prescott will be out to make history.
It’s no secret that Green Bay has struggled in the running game this year and this weekend, they will be going against the #1 rushing defense with a wide receiver as a running back. While Green Bay has a formidable run defense in their own right, they will have to face the league’s leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott.
The one intangible in this weekend’s Packers/Cowboys game is experience. Two of the Cowboys’s top offensive stars are rookies while Aaron Rodgers and a number of the current Green Bay Packers have a Super Bowl ring. While Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the 2016 Dallas Cowboys have been impressive to watch, inexperience rears it’s ugly head this weekend as they struggle on the big stage against a veteran team.
Should these prediction hold true, we would be set for Steelers at Patriots and Packers at Seahawks in the Conference Championship games.
Please comment below with your picks for the playoffs in the Divisional Round.