Divisional Round Playoff Predictions
The Divisional Round of the playoffs offers us a little extra to pay attention to this year. All of these matchups have been previously played throughout the regular season. Now, it is especially intriguing to see these games again because the situation is win or go home. Things may end up playing out differently now that a run at a championship is on the line. Also, each of these games occurred within the first half of the regular season. These teams are vastly different now that we are in January. So, it is sure to be a weekend of thrillers, and here are my predictions.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
Matchup Recap: These two teams first met in Seattle for a suspenseful week 6 game, tallying a 26–24 victory for the Seahawks. This was the type of game that makes the NFL the most watched sport in America. I mean wow, seriously. It came down to the final play, a failed 4th and 10 bomb to Julio Jones with a minute and a half remaining. Personally, I agree with Dan Quinn and feel like that was an obvious missed pass interference call, essentially ending the game on that very play. Earl Thomas and the Seattle defensive line had a huge game disrupting Matt Ryan, causing one interception and four sacks. Atlanta took advantage of a few blown coverages, finding enough offensive success to keep them alive. The Seahawks came out on top, but remember, that was October.
The X-Factor: Earl Thomas and home field advantage. The Seahawks will be without their three-time all-pro free safety in this matchup. Although they will have Kam Chancellor this time around, Thomas is a different caliber of a playmaker and he will be sorely missed. Also, this time it will be held in the Georgia Dome with a loud Atlanta crowd. If this crowd can disrupt the signal callers for the Seahawks, and possibly give a surge to Vic Beasley and company on defense, maybe we shall see a different outcome. These two factors could prove to be heavy influences in the game Saturday afternoon.
My Prediction: I predict Atlanta coming out on top 30–27 in this offensive slugfest. I think MVP candidate Matt Ryan and company will do enough at home against a weakened Seattle secondary.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
Matchup Recap: Blowout. No, I’m sorry, shutout. Seriously, the Patriots slaughtered the Texans 27–0 in their week 3 meeting with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback. Once again, Bill Belichick proved to be the master head coach that every team would love to have a replica of, like his former apprentice, Bill O’Brian, the Texans head coach.
The X-Factor: Tom Brady and Brock Osweiler. It may sound kind of cliché to go with the two starting quarterbacks as the key components in a game, but hear me out. Tom Brady is having yet another fantastic season, but he will be facing the league’s top ranked defense. Along with that, no opposing coach is more familiar with Tom Brady than his former quarterback coach and play caller, Bill O’Brian. This connection may provide some insight to help the Texans as they face a serious up-hill battle. Brock Osweiler is the deciding factor of his team’s performance in the grand scheme of things. He can either be the quarterback they paid for, which he has shown small spurts of doing, or he can throw three interceptions and be wildly inaccurate.
My Prediction: With that, I’ll take the Patriots offensive efficiency and their playoff experience to comfortably cruise past the Texans 34–13.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Matchup Recap: Kansas City took a road trip to the Steel City week 4 of the regular season, only to suffer a devastating 43–14 loss. The Chiefs did not get on the scoreboard until the start of the 4th quarter. The Chiefs had no answer for the Killer B’s in this lopsided matchup. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 5 touchdowns, 2 of them being to Antonio Brown, while Le’veon Bell racked up 144 yards on the ground off 18 carries, giving him an astonishing 8.0 yards per carry. Alex Smith was forced out of his game managing style of play, amounting to 50 pass attempts. He threw one interception and was sacked 4 times. The Chiefs had plenty of dropped passes and blown coverages that allowed the Steelers to roll past them in their first matchup.
The X-Factor: Kansas City’s defense and Big Ben’s foot. The Chiefs need to find some way to slow down the Steeler’s explosive offense. Arrow Head Stadium will surely provide the noise, the Chiefs front seven needs to bring the pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and deliver hits on him early and often. The biggest key for Chiefs defense is to stay disciplined. The Steelers offensive weapons have shown the ability to exploit defenses that make mental errors in coverage an in-between the gaps. Last week during the Wild Card Round, Andy Reid and his team were home resting, while Ben Roethlisberger suffered a foot injury that caused him to be in a boot for a day. Throughout his career Big Ben has proven to be a warrior on the gridiron, but this nagging foot injury may prove to have some significance when the final whistle blows. The Chiefs will need to take advantage of every small weakness they can sniff out if they want to move on to the AFC Championship game.
My Prediction: I can’t envision the Chiefs keeping pace with the Steeler’s offense, and Ben Roethlisberger will show that he is a 2-time Super Bowl Champion, defeating the Chiefs 33–20.
Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Matchup Recap: In week 6, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot marched the Cowboys into Lambeau Field, leading to a convincing 30–16 win over the Green Bay Packers. During America’s Game of the week, for the most part, Dak Prescott put all the Tony Romo and who’s the starting quarterback questions to bed. However, he did have some help from the league’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliot, tallying 157 yards on the ground. The Dallas defense looked like they made Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket for once, forcing him to throw one interception, and amounting a team high 5 fumbles. Dez Bryant was inactive for this game, and the Packers secondary still had trouble handling the Cowboys receivers. Overall, the Cowboys maintained the lead for the whole game and made a statement in the NFC.
The X-Factor: Red-Hot Rodgers and Dak to Dez connection. Aaron Rodgers said his team would run the table, and yes, they did. Through this incredible run, their offense and Rodgers specifically have been playing at an elite level. With the official absence of Jordy Nelson in this crucial matchup, Rodgers must be at the top of his game and continue throwing the heat. The Cowboys have the league’s best rushing attack, along with a future Hall of Fame tight end that is a 3rd down machine. It is obvious that the Cowboys offense runs through Ezekiel Elliot, and the Packers will do their best to bottle him up, stacking the box. This makes Dez Bryant’s and other outside receivers one on one matchups critical every time they have the opportunity. The Packers are going to force Dak Prescott and the Cowboys air attack to beat them. He will be the key to the Cowboys success, and I think you might see him run the ball a bit more in this matchup than usual, as he is a dangerous threat on the ground. If the Packers play man coverage and don’t leave a spy on Dak Prescott, he may relieve the Cowboys passing game by converting enough first downs with his legs.
My Prediction: With the Cowboys fans painfully waiting for a chance to avenge themselves against the Packers in the playoffs, I imagine this battle being won by the home team. I think Dallas gets the ball last, and Dan Bailey lifts them past the Packers in and outstanding 34–31 victory.