NFL Division Round Preview

Although last week’s slate was (mostly) disappointing, this week’s schedule promises to be more entertaining

For close to two quarters, Green Bay/New York looked like it was about to redeem a disappointing weekend of playoff football. The Giants’ defense looked like it had figured out how to stop Aaron Rodgers, and both teams struggled to score early on.

We all know what happened next. Rodgers pulled off a now-trademarked Hail Mary, the Giants started to crumble, and the Packers pulled out a victory that seems almost easy in retrospect. While I would argue that this game was pretty competitive until the fourth quarter, there’s no arguing about the weekend as a whole — these games were pretty disappointing.

There’s one game that forecasts to be fairly disappointing this week, but each of the other three should be entertaining. Starting off…

Seattle at Atlanta: Atlanta

There are two reasons to pick the Seahawks in this game, and since I don’t think either is convincing I’ll get them out of the way at the beginning. Essentially, the Seahawks could win because of their playoff pedigree, and because the Falcons have had some disappointing playoff losses recently. While there is some modicum of truth to both of these arguments, they aren’t nearly as convincing as the more impressive reasons below.

As impressive as Seattle has been in the playoffs recently, the team they’re fielding this year is battered by injuries (and might be slightly overrated to begin with). The Falcons scored pretty easily the last time these two teams played, which featured a much healthier Seahawks secondary and was in Seattle. In the dome, the Falcons will be even harder to stop. And while there’s always the chance for a playoff collapse, it’s unfair to saddle this team (which has a much different roster) with the postseason failures of past teams.

Upsets are always possible, but I feel pretty confident in Atlanta (fingers crossed).

Houston at New England: New England

I mentioned that there is one game this weekend that probably won’t be competitive. This is that game. Unlike most of these games, there are no reasonable arguments in support of the underdog. Houston can’t compete with New England on either side of the ball, and a blowout is the most likely option.

Last week, the Texans beat the Raiders in one of the most disappointing first-round matchups in recent history. Without the benefit of home field, and facing one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, Houston has almost no chance to win. I’m picking the Patriots, and I couldn’t be more confident.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City: Kansas City

This game is one of the more intriguing games of the weekend, and one of the more difficult choices I had to make. Pittsburgh has built the solid offense that everyone expected this season, but the Steelers haven’t been quite as dominant as they were projected to be. There are a few interesting facts to note:

Earlier this season, Pittsburgh dominated Kansas City. I don’t see this game as a predictor for Sunday’s matchup, though. If anything, it could give the Chiefs more motivation to put together a solid performance (but they should already be motivated anyways). That may be what ESPN is expecting, since their FPI gives KC a 63.9% chance to win as of this writing.

I trust Pittsburgh more, since this team has a history of playoff success and a very good quarterback. However, Kansas City had a better season, is playing at home, and is a little healthier than their opponent on Sunday. They are also well-rested, earning a first-round by largely by virtue of Derek Carr’s injury. Ultimately, that will be enough. I think the Chiefs’ defense will be strong enough to hold Pittsburgh back, and the offense will be able to generate just enough scoring to win.

Green Bay at Dallas: Green Bay

Easily the best game to end the weekend on, Packers vs. Cowboys has the potential to be an NFL playoff classic. I don’t think either defense has the tools to slow down Aaron Rodgers and Ezekiel Elliott, so if nothing else this game should be high-scoring.

As dominant as the Cowboys have been this season, they’re one of three teams that all look to have similarly close chances at winning the NFC. The Falcons have become a flaming juggernaut of offensive firepower, and with Rodgers’ resurgence the Packers have looked almost unbeatable. While Dallas’ home-field advantage gives this team a sizable advantage, their 14–2 record is somewhat offset by how well their opponents (particularly the Packers) have played recently.

To be fair, recency bias can be quite misleading, and just because the Packers have played well recently doesn’t mean that this game is a foregone conclusion. However, Green Bay has looked vastly different from its poor start over the past few weeks and their success look sustainable. I don’t expect Dak Prescott or Elliott to collapse on Sunday, but the Packers’ path to victory doesn’t depend on that. Rodgers looks like he can beat any team right now, and I expect him to do that on Sunday night.

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