Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game at Lincoln Financial Field.The Packers defeated the Eagles 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Playoffs 2017 look forward to the Divisional Round, where the top-four teams in the league will be making their postseason debuts. Let’s hope it’s more competitive than Wild Card Weekend.
As the Green Bay Packers closed out Wild Card weekend, I couldn’t help but hope for a more competitive Divisional Round. As the NFL Playoffs 2017 begin to shape up, fans now get a feeling for who they believe will ride into Houston for Super Bowl LI.
We saw dominance across the board this past weekend, with all four home teams coming out victorious. In total, the winning margin for the first round was 76 points. This stands as the highest winning margin in the Wild Card round since 1981.
Now, it’s time to see how the four teams that earned bye-weeks will perform with an extra week to prepare. As the Wild Card winners hit the road, as do we (in a sense). In other words, I’m trying to say that it’s time for predictions. You get the gist.
Next: Seattle vs. Atlanta
Oct 16, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) defends a pass intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Atlanta, 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle was stout at home yet again, now making it 10 playoff wins in a row at CenturyLink Field. The efficiency that the Seahawks can generate on offense was on display, as they rushed for 177 yards, and hit 224 yards in the air. Russell Wilson was smooth as always, connecting on 23 of his 30 attempts, adding two touchdowns to his sheet as well. Seattle attacked relentlessly against a middle-of-the-line Detroit defense. Second-year running back Thomas Rawls showed off both his strength and speed, beating the strong defensive line Detroit held, while also flying past their secondary. Rawls would convert from the Detroit four yard-line, basically going untouched. He had 27 carries for 161 yards. Receiver Paul Richardson had one of the best plays/catches we might see this postseason, and quite possibly ever.
Matt Ryan has led the Atlanta Falcons to hold the best offense in the league. Atlanta holds top-five rankings in points per game (33.8, 1st), passing yards per game (295.3, 3rd), rushing yards per game (120.5, 5th), and total yards per game (415.8, 2nd). “Dynamic” is an insult to this offense, as they are more along the lines of historic. The Falcons led the league in points scored (540), and are the eighth-highest scoring team in the NFL since 1990, per Sporting Charts. Ryan had an MVP-type year, finishing with 38 touchdowns and only 7 picks. Star receiver Julio Jones hit1,409 yards receiving on only 83 catches. He also had a 300-yard day this year, so that helps. Their backfield his amped-up with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both who were the top rushers on the team, and also among the top-five in receiving for Atlanta.
The Verdict: Atlanta wins, 31-26
The Battle of the Birds. Atlanta has scored 30 points or more 11 times this year, and have had to do so mostly because of their poorest defense. Also, they did this because they can. Given they play in a division that lacks true defenses, Atlanta has beaten teams to a pulse. Seattle did defeat the Falcons in the regular season, 26-24. But, this time around, both teams look different. In their first meeting, Christine Michael and Earl Thomas III had key plays for Seattle on both sides of the ball. This time around, Michael is in Green Bay playing for the Packers, and Earl Thomas is sidelined. Atlanta was also slowed due to a beaten-up backfield, but both Coleman and Freeman played, nonetheless. There was also a missed call on a hold that should’ve been on Richard Sherman that defined the game.
Seattle goes against another “meh” defense this week, and they will be able to carry momentum and score quite easily. But, momentum swings at the most pivotal times, and I believe that this will happen in Atlanta’s favor. The Carolina Panthers‘ offense last year was able to score 31 on a Seattle defense that was better last year, in the Divisional Round. I believe that this Matt Ryan-led offense is 10x better than last year’s Cam Newton’s. The Falcons beat Seattle in the 2013 Divisional Round at home, which will play a factor. History does repeat itself, and I believe that Ryan and his crew will make sure to do just that.
Next: Houston vs. New England
Sep 22, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs past Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson (25) for a touchdown during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Houston got away with an easy victory against a devastated Oakland Raiders team in the Wild Card round. Their top defense got to feast against a third-string rookie quarterback. It was obvious that their defense would lead them to a victory because their offense is absolutely pitiful. Brock Osweiler was alright, and that’s probably the best he’s played all year. 14-for-25 with 168 yards, one touchdown, and another on the ground. He did finally hit receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a go-route, which I wish he did this more with Hopkins during my fantasy season. Houston was also embarrassed by Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots on Thursday Night Football earlier this year, 27-0.
This is the paragraph I’d dedicate to a New England analysis, but there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said. They have one of the best quarterbacks of all time, along with a coach in Bill Belichick (should’ve stayed with the Jets, Bill. For me, at least). When Tom Brady was given a four-game suspension, fans around the league (other than Pats fans) were almost certain that this would stun them. Other teams would step up in his absence, and race towards the playoffs. Heck, people thought they’d lose the division, but this seems basically impossible if Brady was to play even a quarter of a season. New England went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. If that doesn’t scream “LEGACY!!!” to you, I don’t know what will.
The Verdict: New England wins, 37-13
If I told you that Osweiler of all people would beat the Patriots in the Divisional Round, would you believe me? Me neither. But, there’s some history here. Osweiler is equipped with the league’s best defense, as he was last year as well in Denver. Back in November of 2015, Osweiler led the Broncos to an OT victory against Brady. Not only did he beat Brady, but he also handed the Patriots their first loss of the season. The Broncos would go on to win the #1 seed in the AFC, and beat the Pats in the AFC Championship Round, behind Peyton Manning this time around.
Clearly, this season isn’t anything like the last. Osweiler has a different offense; one that is very little compared to that Denver offense in 2015. That offense scored 355 points all last season, compared to Houston’s 279 this year. For the Patriots, they are prolific. Brady is Brady. The guy has made a career making “nobodies” into “somebodies.” He’s going to do it again, and again, and again. To add, the Pats also have a tremendous defense. They are first in points allowed per game (15.6), eighth in yards allowed per game (326.4), 12th in passing yards per game (237.9), and fourth in rushing yards per game (88.6). Houston is 29th offensively in the first three categories and 8th in rushing yards per game (116.2). Easy money for New England.
Next: Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City
Oct 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) runs the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 43-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
It was Week 3 in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles had just beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. But, they didn’t just beat them. The Eagles manhandled the Steelers, 34-3. One of the most dangerous offenses in the league had only put up 3 points. The following week, Pittsburgh returned home to face the Kansas City Chiefs, and rolled over them, 43-14. What’s the point of this? Well, the Steelers have the Chiefs’ number. I was going to make a joke including a phone call, but it wasn’t funny. Coming off an easy Wild Card win against Miami, the Steelers look to impress those around the league with a victory in one of the toughest environments in the NFL, and in the sports world.
Kansas City has allowed 15.7 points to opponents when playing at Arrowhead Stadium. They’ve allowed more than 20 points just twice. In my opinion, the Chiefs stand as one of the most interesting teams in the league. They don’t have a quarterback who puts up monster stats. In fact, Alex Smith has been the leading passer in only three games this year and has surpassed the 300-yard mark just once. Kansas City doesn’t have a game-changing running back, but they do have one of the league’s best tight ends; Travis Kelce. Their defense isn’t the same as it was last year, as they rank in the bottom-half of the league in total yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed per game. With all of this, they are still ninth in the league in points allowed per game (19.4).
The Verdict: Pittsburgh wins, 27-16
Around The NFL reported that Big Ben (foot) isn’t expected to be limited going into the Divisional showdown with Kansas City. With this being said, the Steelers’ offense is just too much for any defense that isn’t the Week 3 Eagles, to handle. They’ve won eight games in a row including last week’s victory. Le’Veon Bell is virtually and literally unstoppable, along with Antonio Brown.
Kansas City has done so much these past two years. After starting 1-5 last season, they went on to win 10 in a row, and clinch their division. The Chiefs are truly a team filled with belief and heart. You can see it in every game they play, and all of the story lines that they possess. The one aspect that I see Kansas City controlling, is in special teams play. They have the league’s top special teams weapon in Tyreek Hill. Hill had 593 yards receiving (6 TD), 267 yards rushing (3 TD), two punt return touchdowns, and one kick return touchdown. If he can get some magic going, along with the rowdy Arrowhead Stadium crowd, the Chiefs could change the game and this prediction.
Next: Green Bay vs. Dallas
When Jordy Nelson went down, clearly with some injury to his rib area, I gasped. The broadcast grew solemn, and my friends and I did as well. You have to feel for Nelson, who missed the 2015 season and now would “take an incredible effort to play,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. As a matter of fact at the time of this, Nelson has officially been ruled out.
But, yet again, Aaron Rodgers proved to the world that it doesn’t matter. Although they didn’t do much for most of the first half, Rodgers found Davante Adams for a touchdown with a little under 4 minutes left. Like clockwork, he’d find Randall Cobb on a Hail Mary right before the half concluded. The Packers would go on to handle the Giants 38-13, and take care of the elite defense they possessed. Green Bay proved that they have an extraordinary offense, with or without their top receiver. Even their defense came to play, stopping Odell Beckham Jr. and company. Even though there were plenty of drops to go around; a couple for touchdowns; Green Bay played spectacularly. I want to make a boat/Miami joke, but those are becoming old pretty fast. If the Packers can continue to play like this, I can see them in the ‘ship.
The Dallas Cowboys accumulated the league’s best record at 13-3. Two losses came to the Giants, and luckily their kryptonite won’t be visiting them this week. Dallas has done this with rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The running back had 1,631 yards rushing and racked up 15 touchdowns in the process. He also had 363 yards receiving, and added another touchdown to his résumé. Prescott ended the regular season with superb numbers as well; 23 touchdowns in the air, four picks, and six touchdowns on the ground. The ball was spread around consistently, as four receivers eclipsed the 500-yard mark. Dallas’ defense, one that has been subpar throughout the recent years, went to the top. They are the best in stopping the run (83.5 a game), and fifth in points allowed (19.1).
The Verdict: Green Bay wins, 34-31
I’ve been telling everyone that I believe years of experience will always overcome inexperience. Most have laughed at this, with ‘most’ being fans of the Giants; the team I said would lose last week due to inexperience. Green Bay has won seven in a row including their win in the Wild Card round, and I see them doing the same in Jerry’s World. Dallas has had an unforgettable season, to say the least, but I don’t trust a core of a team that consists of rookie phenoms. Elliott will be fed, as he gets the luxury of working with the best offensive line in football. Green Bay couldn’t do anything to disrupt Eli Manning last week, and I don’t think they will get past the line Dallas possesses.
Both teams have what I call the “big play factor.” Rodgers showed it with his Hail Mary to conclude the first half, and give Green Bay momentum. Dallas showed this against Pittsburgh earlier in the year, as they stormed down the field with Elliott and won the game. Dallas has a lot of young players mixed with experienced players as well, as do Green Bay. Rodgers will go ahead and pick apart another top defense, and will add to his legacy with a thrilling win in Dallas.