Saturday, January 14, 2017

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

Some good matchups this weekend. All times EST

Saturday's Games (1/14/17)
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) (4:35 PM)
Spread:  ATL -6.5

The Seahawks won the regular-season matchup 26-24 on October 16th. But that was in Seattle, and this game is one of the last to take place in the soon-to-be-defunct Georgia Dome (because no municipality can resist the temptation of gulling taxpayers to destroy an "ancient" but serviceable structure, and spend a billion or so on a monument with all the current bells and whistles). Ahem.

The Falcons won five of their last six games (four of those by at least 17 points), and earned a rest last week with their #2 playoff seed. They are top five in the major offensive categories, including their league-leading average of 33.8 points per game. This has helped them make up for their lousy defense, which is in the bottom quartile in points allowed (27th), total yards allowed (25th), and passing yards allowed (28th).

Seattle should be able to exploit that defense to some degree, with all-pro TE Jimmy Graham healthy at the right time, but the Seahawks' offense is way too banged up everywhere else to maintain effectiveness. Their rushing attack has rotated through injuries all year, and their offensive line is shot (which is why RB Marshawn Lynch chose to retire rather than return to the team).

Falcons WR Julio Jones is having a career season, and he and Seahawks star CB Richard Sherman seem to genuinely hate each other. Jones and Sherman should be the key matchup here, and don't be surprised if they eventually scrap and one or both of them get tossed.

Predicted Score:  Falcons 38, Seahawks 21.

Houston Texans (10-7) at New England Patriots (14-2) (8:15 PM)
Spread:  NE -16.0

I hate to say it, but short of the Texans' league-leading defense (1st in total yards allowed, 2nd in passing yards) snapping Tommy Tuck Rule in the first quarter, this is probably going to be a blowout. Despite losing Brady for the first four games of the season, the Patsies have been their usual selves -- systematic, grimly efficient, compiling the league's best record and the easy odds-on favorite to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in Brady's career.

That New England manages their high level of play with no real superstars besides Brady makes it all the more impressive/annoying. All-world TE Rob Gronkowski has been injured more often than not, and was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 4. Despite that, the Patsies are top five in points, total yards, and passing yards, and their defense is top ten in most categories. With third-string QB Jacoby Brissett subbing for Brady back in Week 3, New England hammered Houston 27-0.

The Texans seem to know that they over-achieved this year, essentially overpaying for QB Brock Osweiler and backing into the top slot in one of the worst divisions in the league, capping that string with a wild-card game against a Raiders team that was worthless without QB Derek Carr. Houston's luck is going to run out today, and they probably won't even beat the spread.

Predicted Score:  Patriots 35, Texans 9.

Sunday's Games (1/15/17)
Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)(4:40 PM)
Spread: Dallas -5

The Packers overcame a 5-5 start to run the table to win their division and get a wild-card home game against a Giants team whose receivers should have spent more time preparing for the game, and less time on their party yacht in Miami. The Cowboys, behind rookies QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, have dropped only three games -- two to the aforementioned Giants (by a total of four points) and a meaningless season-ender that allowed Dallas to rest their stars.

One of Dallas' victories was at Green Bay, a 30-16 smackdown on October 16th. But the Packers seem to have found their mojo at the opportune time, and QB Aaron Rodgers, even without injured #1 wideout Jordy Nelson, is an experienced playoff winner. Both teams' defenses are miserable against the pass (Green Bay is 31st in yards allowed, Dallas is 26th), but the Cowboys are first against the rush and fifth in points allowed. If the Cowboys can contain Rodgers' scrambling and improve skills, they have a pretty good shot at moving to the conference championship round.

Predicted Score: Cowboys 34, Packers 30.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) (8:20 PM)
Spread:  KC -1.0

This was originally scheduled as the early Sunday game, but game time has been moved back for this one, due to the ice storms in the Midwest. The Steelers blew up the Chefs 43-14 back on October 2nd in Pittsburgh, but Kansas City is strong at home, and their offense has found a groove with the development of TE Travis Kelce (who inexplicably has his own Bachelor-type reality show, because if there's one thing most NFL players have difficulty with, it's getting pussy) and the explosive play of rookie WR/PR/scatback Tyreek Hill, who has been shredding defenses and special teams throughout the season.

The Steelers have excellent playmakers of their own, with RB LeVeon Bell and WR Antonio Brown having outstanding seasons. Kansas City all-star DBs Marcus Peters and Eric Berry will have their hands full trying to cover Brown, and QB Ben Roethlisberger seems to be coming back from injuries slowly but surely.

Both teams have solid, upper-quartile offenses and defenses, so what this may come down to is playoff experience and quarterback play. Alex Smith has thrived under coach Andy Reid, but Roethlisberger already has two Super Bowl victories under his belt, and is fearless at launching the deep ball to Brown, who runs routes as rapidly and well as any receiver in the league. This should be a close, well-played game between two evenly-matched opponents.

Predicted Score:  Steelers 21, Chiefs 17.

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