NFL Playoffs Round 2 Picks and Preview
It’s All About the Rematches in the Divisional Round
The 2016 NFL wild card round kicked off last Saturday with a dud and ended on a whimper. The favorites won all four matchups, beginning with injuries taking the Raiders out of contention against the Texans before the Giants lost, interestingly enough, not because of their quarterback’s erratic play but due to the sloppy play of his receivers. With the lowly-rated wild card games now behind us, this weekend’s divisional games all comprise rematches of games from earlier in the season, which we can either look into as predictive of this weekend’s games or dismiss as outliers due to when they occurred during the regular season. That being said, here are our picks for the NFL’s divisional round.
Seattle Seahawks (3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (2)
Falcons favored by 4.5*
The last time these teams met, the Seahawks needed a fourth quarter comeback and some luck from a controversially uncalled pass interference penalty to walk away with the victory. Going into the playoffs, Atlanta boasts one of the best offenses in the league thanks to dynamic plays from their position players led by Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, and the Seahawks’ secondary should have a difficult time trying to shutdown the aforementioned players with Earl Thomas’s season-ending injury from December 4th. On the other side of the ball, the young Falcons dense should run into trouble against an experienced — though banged up — Seahawks offense led by quarterback Russell Wilson. Expect a high-scoring game featuring highlights consisting of cornerback Richard Sherman in coverage against Jones.
Final Score: Seahawks 31, Falcons 27
All current betting lines as listed on ESPN Lines
Houston Texans (4) vs. New England Patriots (1)
Patriots favored by 15
When these two teams played each other back in Week 3, rookie third-string QB Jacoby Brissett led New England to a 27–0 shutout over Houston, aided by some special teams wizardry that kept the Texans from making their way to the Patriots’ side of the field. In this go-around, Tom Brady is back and Brock Osweiler should expect more of the same against a team ready to exploit the Houston quarterback’s downfield passing struggles with his no. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Don’t be surprised if backup Jimmy Garoppolo makes an appearance in the fourth quarter on mop-up duty.
Final Score: Patriots 34, Texans 14
Pittsburgh Steelers (2) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (2)
Chiefs Favored by 1.5
While the Chiefs found themselves embarrassed during their regular season matchup in Week 4, they should have a more competitive game in this rematch largely due to the emergence of the elusive rookie receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce finding his rhythm with the Chiefs offense. At the same time, the status of Chiefs top pass rusher Justin Houston’s health remains in question, which could prove problematic when trying to pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, the Steelers should generate a decent amount of offense thanks to the creative patience of Le’Veon Bell or from the highlight reel receiving style of Antonio Brown. Both coaches have brought the heat in high stakes situations in the form of memorable trick plays during the regular season, so the game could come down to whichever coach catches the other the most off guard.
Final Score: Chiefs 21, Steelers 20
Green Bay Packers (4) vs. Dallas Cowboys (1)
Cowboys Favored by 4.5
The final game of the divisional round pits the resurgent Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay against Dak Prescott of Dallas in the first playoff appearance of his nascent NFL career. During their game on October 16th, Rodgers had one of his worst games of the season, capped off by his fumble in the redzone when down by two scores during the third quarter. Obviously much has changed since then, with the Packers running the tables to end the season and Rodgers surgically dismantling the Giants’ vaunted secondary during the wild card game. Meanwhile, the Cowboys MVP-caliber offensive line should enable Dallas’s ground game and protect Prescott from making any costly mistakes against Green Bay’s banged up defensive backs. However, if the game devolves into a shootout, Prescott’s lack of a reliable deep ball could prove to be the Cowboys undoing should the Packers receiving core get the separation necessary to put big points on the board in spite of the absence of Jordy Nelson.
Final Score: Packers 35, Cowboys 30