Divisional Playoffs: Picks and Predictions
The Divisional Round. So many folks feel that this is the best
weekend of the entire NFL season.
There are several special storylines to get to, from Le’Veon
Bell’s recent tear … to Aaron Rodgers playing at a Hall of
Unbelievable level … to Julio vs. Sherman. Oh, and that Zeke guy,
too. Yet, at this juncture, the football games have been obscured by
the football news.
After 55 years, the Chargers are leaving San Diego.
While this isn’t the space where we would typically discuss this
kind of topic, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how hard this will be
on the fans in the San Diego area. As an NFL historian and purist (for
lack of a better word), I don’t love it, either. Franchise relocation
is generally not good for the perception of a sport — period. And as
someone who works in Los Angeles, I am not sure how the Chargers will
be received by the mixed stew of sports fans that live here. Much has
been made of all the things to do in L.A., and the failure of having
two teams here in the ’80s and ’90s. My fear is that the
difference between the organization’s needs and what city leaders in
San Diego were willing to offer will only lead to indifference from
The Chargers’ AFC West foe, the Chiefs, face their own challenge
with the Steelers coming to town. That early-Sunday matchup might be
the most enticing of the weekend. Your take on that beauty, or any of
the other games, is welcome:
Now, let’s get to it!
Seattle (10-5-1) at Atlanta(11-5)
Saturday, 3:30 FOX
Line: Falcons -5 / 51.5
You can count on one hand how many games since Y2K were better
than the 2012 Divisional Round matchup between these two teams.
That was Russell Wilson’s rookie year — and he will once again be
hugely important in this showdown.
More important than Thomas Rawls? Probably not.
If Rawls and the Seahawks play clockball to counter Atlanta’s
explosive offense, then the limited pitches for Matt Ryan will play
into Pete Carroll’s hands. More important might be Richard Sherman’s
ability to travel across the formation with Julio Jones, or else
limiting possessions could mean little. Sherman covered the Falcons
comet 25 times during their midseason meeting (a narrow Seahawks win),
including on one infamous pass play at the end.
Another key: Whether or not the remainder of Seattle’s secondary can
play up to snuff versus the Falcons other receivers — namely Taylor
Gabriel, who really came on late in the season. DeShawn Shead makes
Seahawks fans panic. He must hold down his side of the fort. Matt Ryan
played like an absolute stud this year, and will find the windows if
open. Methinks his pass protection will hold its own. If Ryan
struggles, though, it will be up to Alex Mack and company getting out
in space and neutralizing Bobby Wagner. Then Devonta Freeman gets
loose, and Atlanta heads to Dallas for the NFC Championship.
Pick: Falcons 24 Atlanta 20
Houston (9-7) at New England (10-5-1)
Saturday, 7:15 CBS
Line: Patriots -15 / 44.5
Interesting matchup — or call it an interesting anomaly —
between these two teams on Saturday night. Texans at Patriots marks
just the fifth time in postseason history that the NFL’s No. 1 scoring
defense meets the league’s No. 1 total defense. How about this for
historical analytics? The top scoring defense in such matchups has won
every time. Makes sense. Every coach I’ve ever spoken to on this
subject laments that the league still quantifies — rather, qualifies
— the premier defense by yards allowed, not points. Steve Mariucci’s
hair unparts when he gets fired up about it. Of course, New England
paced everyone in points allowed this season. I say “of course,” but
then wonder in the next breath how many people actually think of Matt
Patricia’s unit as being more effective than the groups in Denver,
Seattle or even Minnesota.
Houston’s defense must generate New England mistakes, despite the
fact that Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly. If Jadeveon Clowney
and Whitney Mercilus create disruption — not necessarily sacks, but
tipped balls and interceptions (Clowney’s thievery of Connor Cook) —
the Texans have a chance. That said, I fully expect LeGarrette Blount
to get 15 to 20 carries, keeping that Texans front honest. The
Patriots allowed 15.6 points per game this season, and I don’t see a
Brock Osweiler-engineered attack surpassing that mark.
Pick: Patriots 29 Houston 13
Green Bay (10-6) vs Dallas (13-3)
Sunday, 3:40 FOX
Line: -4.5 / 52.5
Amazingly enough, the all-time series between these two
franchises is knotted at 17 wins apiece. Included in those 34 games
are seven postseason affairs, of which the Cowboys are one up on the
Packers. The legacy of this matchup is incredible with this bout
simply adding on to what is a deep-dish slice of NFL history.
Also worth noting: The Cowboys walked into Lambeau earlier this
season, ran through the Packers defense and flew home. Both teams are
slightly different this time around: Green Bay is one of the hottest
teams in football, while Dallas played that Week 6 game with a
still-inexperienced Dak Prescott and no Dez Bryant.
OK, so let’s look forward. What matters Sunday? Much of what
counted in October. The Packers’ run defense better slow down
Ezekiel Elliott and that Cowboys ground attack. Green Bay came into
the first meeting allowing less than 3 yards per carry. Then
Dallas outrushed the cheeseheads 191-78. Being that successful means
the Cowboys control the clock, limiting Aaron Rodgers’ touches. If the
Packers go 0-fer — like on their first four drives versus the Giants
— they won’t get 8-10 more possessions to compensate. I like Rodgers
against the Dallas secondary, but Jordy Nelson’s probable absence sure
doesn’t help. Also, with Mo Claiborne back at corner and Dallas’ pass
rushers having rested legs — Hello, David Irving, who was a force in
the earlier meeting — can Rodgers get enough time (in terms of
protection and number of drives) to put up enough points? The guess
here is no, but that’s why they play the games.
Pick: Cowboys 30 Packers 26