The Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs was as exciting as watching the Cleveland Browns play the San Francisco 49ers. The first week of football’s postseason saw the home teams win every game, and the losing teams score no more than 14 points.
This weekend’s Divisional Round looks to differ from the dud that was last week’s matchups, as all top-four seeds have moved on to the second round and an upset is possible at any time.
Here’s a look at each match in the order they take place.
Seattle at Atlanta: 1/14 @ 1:35 p.m. on Fox
The battle of the birds boasts a battle between the third best defense in the league in points allowed (18.3 points per game) in the Seahawks, and the number one scoring offense (33.8 points per game)in the Falcons.
For the Falcons to continue scoring at such a high clip, Matt Ryan must continue to play at the MVP level he has demonstrated all season. Ryan has thrown just seven interceptions to 38 touchdowns, and was 56 yards shy of a 5,000-yard passing season.
While Seattle’s defense has been outstanding all season, creating turnovers has not been their strength. They have only forced 19 total takeaways, and will need to rely more on their ability to stop opposing offenses from gaining yards, to win the game. For the regular season, the Seahawks were fifth in the nation in yards-per-game, allowing only 318.7.
Ryan’s receiving core of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel accounted for 16 of his touchdown passes, with Jones gathering 1,409 receiving yards. The Seahawks secondary, led by Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, only allowed 16 touchdowns all season, and will need to play their best game to force the Falcons into running more.
However, running the ball is one of Atlanta’s strengths as well. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,599 yards and 19 touchdowns for the year. Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, who led the NFL in tackles, with 167, will be looked to to slow down Atlanta’s run game if the Seahawks are to pull off the upset.
For Seattle’s offense, the key to the game is to give Russell Wilson time to find his receivers. The quick-footed quarterback was sacked 42 times in the regular season, and will be faced with the NFL regular season sack leader, Vic Beasley, who got to opposing quarterbacks 15.5 times for the Falcons.
If the Seahawks can’t slow Atlanta’s offense, this game will quickly turn into a shootout, as the Falcons ranked near the bottom of the league defensively in points-per-game, giving up an average of 25.4.
Final score prediction:
Houston at New England: 1/14 @ 5:15 p.m. on CBS
This match is projected to mirror the excitement of the Wild Card round, as the Patriots have begun the week as 16 point favorites over the visiting Texans, a spread that has only been seen three times in the past 40 years.
This comes as no surprise, as New England defeated Houston in week 3 of the regular season, 27-0, with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm of the Patriots’ offense.
However, the Texans are playing much better football, especially on the defensive end of the ball. They finished the regular season as the league leader in yards allowed per game, with 301.3. Despite this, however, they ranked 11th in points-per-game, with 20.5.
They will be tested by Tom Brady, who was serving his four-game suspension during the first meeting, who threw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just two interceptions in only 12 games.
Houston’s defense only forced 11 interceptions (tied for 21st in the league), and defended 68 passes (tied for 20th). They also allowed 13 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and will have to find a way to stop LaGarrette Blount, who scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL, with 18, from finding the end zone.
New England’s defense played at the same proficient level as the offense, leading the league in points allowed, with 15.6. The Texans struggled to score all season, culminating in a paltry 17.4 points per game.
Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has earned back his starting position after being benched for Tom Savage in the 21-20 week 16 victory over Jacksonville, threw 16 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns, and will face a Patriot’s defense that forced 13 interceptions during the regular season.
The Patriot’s defense also only allowed 3.9 yards per rushing attempt to opposing running backs, which will challenge Houston’s Lamar Miller, who was 10th in the nation during the regular season in total yards, gaining 1,073.
Final score prediction:
New England: 34
Pittsburgh at Kansas City: 1/15 @ 10:05 a.m. on NBC
The game between the Steelers and the Chiefs could be the lowest scoring match of the weekend. Kansas City’s defense was seventh in the nation during the regular season in points allowed, with 19.4 per game, which Pittsburgh’s defense nearly matched, with 20.4 per game, good for 10th in the nation. How the two teams achieved these numbers, however, differs greatly.
Kansas City led all teams in turnovers forced, with 33, 18 of which came on interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Peters finished the year with six interceptions, second best in the NFL. Safety Eric Berry was not far behind, with four interceptions of his own, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
The Steelers’ defense stopped offenses with pure strength, amassing 1,031 total tackles (12th in the NFL), and 38 sacks (9th in the NFL). While no Pittsburgh player led in these categories, Lawrence Timmons led the team with 114 tackles, and James Harrison got to the quarterback more than any other Steelers player, with five sacks at age 38.
Offensively, both teams produced points at a very similar rate, 24.9 points for the Steelers to the Chiefs’ 24.3. However, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw 29 touchdowns to Alex Smith’s 15,
and has a top-tier wide receiver in Antonio Brown (1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns).
The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell is also regarded as one of the best running backs in the league, and ran for 1,268 yards for the season while averaging 105.7 yards per game. Kansas City’s running attack as a whole only averaged 109.3 yards per game.
The Chiefs’ saving grace on offense comes in the form of rookie Tyreek Hill, who scored six receiving touchdowns, three touchdowns, two punt return touchdowns, and one kickoff return touchdown. Hill’s blistering speed gives him big play potential every time he touches the ball, and may be what gives Kansas City the edge in a game where points will be at a premium,
Final score prediction:
Kansas City: 17
Green Bay at Dallas: 1/15 @ 1:40 p.m. on Fox
The NFL saved the best match for last in the Divisional Round, giving pundits time to ponder about whether Dallas’ rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot, will be ready to perform in the playoffs.
Both players were named to the pro bowl after stellar years that saw Prescott throw for 23 touchdowns to four interceptions, and Elliot lead the league in rushing yards, with 1,631, and score 14 touchdowns on the ground as well.
Prescott will enjoy little pressure from the Packers pass defense, as Green Bay has allowed a league-worst 8.1 yards per completion, as well as 32 total passing touchdowns during the regular season. They were, however, able to force 17 interceptions, good for fourth in the league.
Elliot will have a tougher time facing the eight best rushing defense in total yards, as Green Bay only allowed 1,515 rushing yards for the year. Their 11 total rushing touchdowns for the regular season brought them to a tie for 10th place in the NFL.
The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers will once again have to put the team on his shoulders, this time without the help of his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson, who will most likely miss the match due to fractured ribs suffered in the Green Bay’s 38-13 Wild Card win over the Giants.
Rodgers, who led the league in touchdowns during the regular season, with 40, will find little resistance from a Dallas defense that allowed 25 touchdowns to be thrown against them. They also rank near the bottom of the league in passing yards per game, with 260, a stat that Rodgers excelled at, throwing 277 yards per game.
The ground game for Green Bay, however, was essentially nonexistent. After starting running back Eddie Lacy was lost for the year, a carousel of rushers eventually led to once wide receiver Ty Montgomery taking the starting role.
This is why the Packers ranked 20th in both rushing yards (1,701) and rushing touchdowns (11) in the regular season. It will also make it easier for Dallas’ league-best rush defense to force Rodgers to be the only option for Green Bay to win the game.
Final score prediction:
Green Bay: 21