Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; The Green Bay Packers celebrates with kicker Mason Crosby (2) after beating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The 2017 NFL Playoffs 2017 head to the third round, as fans and players prepare for championship weekend. With this, comes the annual predictions article, some bad humor, and football.
Alrighty, folks. The football season is quickly coming towards an end, at least in my world. Wild Card weekend proved to be flimsy, but luckily fans were given a more exciting Divisional Round weekend. If there’s a trend in the 2017 NFL Playoffs, it will be unmasked after this weekend’s slate of games. Will we get another slew of blowouts? Or, will we be rewarded with more competitive games that won’t be turned off by halftime?
The four remaining quarterbacks in this year’s playoffs have all been chosen in the first round of their respected draft classes, except one. Some may know the guy named Tom Brady. As a New York Jets fan, we have known him for far too long, and are kind of responsible for his upbringing. You’re welcome, NFL. Anyway, we now have an elite group of offenses, as well as a mix of high-level defenses, in the final four.
Let’s hit the predictions.
Next: Green Bay vs. Atlanta
Green Bay has done some of the most unthinkable, bizarre, and godly things I’ve ever seen in the playoffs, and we are only halfway through. However you want to word the magic they’ve created thus far, it’s safe to say that viewers are in for more, correct? Aaron Rodgers has undoubtedly been the best quarterback in the playoffs and was the same in the regular season. The ability to escape the pocket towards your lesser-dominant side and throw a bullet in the perfect spot 30+ yards away is jaw-dropping.
But, I could do that too. Just kidding. I probably couldn’t even do that in my dreams. I’ll stop now. The dominance of his offensive line in the trenches, along with a newfound consistency in the run-game, breeds a new monster for Green Bay. The Packers have carved top defenses in the Cowboys and Giants, both without their star receiver Jordy Nelson (for the most part).
The Atlanta Falcons came off their first-round bye and sent the Seahawks flying back to Seattle with their wings clipped. Matt Ryan torched the Legion of Boom for three touchdowns and gave the media impressions of the Seattle dynasty coming to an end. Alongside Ryan, were his duo of running backs and high-caliber receiving corps. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman led the team in rushing yards and receiving yards. Julio Jones harassed cornerback Richard Sherman throughout the night, although his six receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown don’t speak it. The speedy Taylor Gabriel, alongside fellow speedster Mohamed Sanu, combined for eight catches, 114 yards, and a score. Atlanta’s defense was superior, sacking Russell Wilson three times, and hitting him a combined seven. The secondary also racked up two interceptions.
The Verdict: Atlanta wins, 37-35
Trust me, I can’t believe I picked against Rodgers, either. Ultimately, this comes down to just how healthy DaVante Adams is for the Packers. Jordy Nelson has been in the mix of conversations concerning his playing status. Even if he does play, I can’t see any impact being brought from a guy who just broke a couple ribs a few weeks ago.
This has been a Cinderella run for Green Bay, to say the least. Unfortunately, they are running into a team equally as hot as them, who led the league in scoring, and are also playing at home. The Packers’ defense has played well. Not great, but good enough to still win games. Their inability to make big plays in the fourth quarter last week stood out to me the most. A 15 point lead going into the fourth led to a needed game-winning field goal.
Going off of this, Ryan has picked apart subpar defenses all year long. Green Bay is no exception. Jones briefly limped off of the field last weekend, as he aggravated his toe; an issue that’s been apparent for a good part of this season. Regardless, Ryan has weapons all around him. Rodgers’ weapon arsenal empties its shells week after week. He’s great at making lesser-known players great, but I can’t see this being showcased this weekend. The Falcons’ defense is full of holes just like the Packers’ (get it? They are cheese). It’s as if it’s opposite day week after week for the secondary, as they give up yards in the air like it’s their real job. But, this defense holds the league’s sack leader in linebacker Vic Beasley. If he can disrupt the offensive line of Green Bay, this game can quickly go in Atlanta’s favor.
Next: Pittsburgh vs. New England
Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The big story for Pittsburgh has been the Facebook Live video posted by Antonio Brown that was streamed post-game last week. Head coach Mike Tomlin has spoken on behalf of the issue, and Brown apologized on Twitter for his actions, yada yada. I’m concerned about this Pittsburgh Steelers team, and the disciplinary issues that seem to show every week. Whether it’s an instance that was displayed by Brown, or a bonehead play that is committed on the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh shows flaws. I’m not saying every team is flawless, but Pittsburgh plays more roughly and dangerously than any team I’ve seen. Their performance against Kansas City was utterly disappointing. I understand it’s in Arrowhead, but to not score a single touchdown with THAT offense? Come on. Le’Veon Bell even added 170 on the ground. You can’t win games against the Patriots like this.
New England was challenged offensively here and there last week against the Texans. This was to be expected, as Houston held the top defense in the league. But, the Patriots have that guy Tom Brady. Even without Rob Gronkowski, he still gets it done. New England outscored Houston 61-16 this season in their two meetings, including a shutout. Julian Edelman seems to do whatever he wants on the field, as he turns third-and-eight into 20-yard gains with ease. Also, although it wasn’t on display last week, New England obtains a dominating running game. Ranking seventh in the league in rushing yards per game, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White serve as a trio that proves to be obsolete. Defensively, New England has it all put together. This team never seems to be subpar in any category anymore.
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The Verdict: New England wins, 33-23
The Patriots are already insanely difficult to pick against at home, even with backup quarterbacks playing. Now it’s January, and Conference Round weekend. Brady is going to be Brady. Although the Steelers have a defense that has vastly improved this year, it’s still not nearly as dominant as the Polamalu-led defense that was years back. They were able to shut down a subpar offense in Kansas City last week. What was impressive, though, is that they didn’t let star tight end Travis Kelce get hot. It also is clear that linebacker James Harrison doesn’t age. New England, already without tight end Rob Gronkowski, are looking like they will have to deal with a banged-up Martellus Bennett. Bennett isn’t the only key injury to the Patriots offense, as Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola are all on the pregame injury report. This could go in Pittsburgh favor defensively, but much like Rodgers, Brady has the ability to make no-names, stars for a weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger has one of the best receivers in the league alongside him, with Antonio Brown. In the backfield, is Le’Veon Bell, who most argue is the best in the league at running back. Unfortunately for them both, they face the great defensive line and secondary that New England possesses. The Patriots are one of the best defenses in the league. Although playmakers will make plays, I can’t see Big Ben and company doing enough to take down Brady and his empire in Foxboro.