[This weekend is pivotal. You must clear the calendar. It is time for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. We have four great games, including a key match up at Kansas City’s iconic, noise-filled Arrowhead Stadium as two of the most storied franchises in professional football take to the field.
Ezra Troy not only weighs in on the Steelers-Chiefs game, but all of the contests filling the television calendar this weekend. If you have weekend classes or homework, you need to get it finished, clear the decks and get ready for some great football. You can start early with a great analysis of the keys to each game from Ezra.]
I. Seattle at Atlanta:
In the highly anticipated matchup between the league’s second-best offense and its fifth best defense, Richard Sherman and co. come into the Georgia dome to face MVP candidate Matt Ryan and his star receiver, Julio Jones. Coming off a big home win against the Lions, the Seahawks go into Atlanta having won three of their last four. The Falcons meanwhile, are coming off a surprise 11-5 campaign that gained them the two seed in the NFC. The question is wheather the Earl Thomas-less Seahawks defense can defeat the high powered offense of Atlanta.
- Richard Sherman vs Julio Jones: This one is a no-brainer. Both players are easily top five at their positions, with Jones racking up over 1400 yards this season, including a 300-reciving yard performance vs the Panthers. Sherman on the other hand, has 13 passes defended and 4 interceptions. Sherman also has 2 interceptions in 11 games of playoff experience. Jones has only played in three playoff games, and while his first two games he didn’t play so well, he had 2 touchdowns and 182 receiving yards in his last playoff appearance, a 28-24 loss to the 49ers in 2012.
- Seahawks D-Line vs Falcons O-line: The Seahawks have one of the best d-lines in the league, led by Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet, but the Falcons O-line is pretty good too. Ranked number four by pro-football focus, this line is one of the reasons for the Falcons great offensive success. If they can stop the Seahawks D-line, they can not only open up the passing game for Matty Ice, they can also open up the running game for star RB Davonte Freeman.
- Falcon’s Front Seven vs Seahawks O-line and Thomas Rawls: Unlike the Falcons, the Seahawks line is cobbled together and is rated 30th in the league by pro football focus. Running back Thomas Rawls has had an up and down, injury plagued season (I should know, I drafted him in fantasy), but shone against the Lions on Saturday night with 161 yards and a touchdown. They need to repeat that performance against a poor Atlanta defense (ranked 25th), but one ranked in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed per game (104.5), in order to open up a passing game ranking tenth in the NFL in yards per game.
Conclusion: The game should be a good one, with a good offense and a good defense meeting on one side, but a bad defense and an average offense meeting on the other. I feel the Legion of Boom, despite missing Earl Thomas, shuts down the Falcons super offense and wins itself an invitation to the NFC Championship game.
Final Score: Seahawks 17, Falcons 10
II. Houston at New England
Houston, after beating the 12-4 Raiders 27-14 on a strong defensive performance, especially by former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. The Patriots host them with the leagues number eight defense and the number one offense led by MVP candidate Tom Brady. The Texans not only need to shut down Tom Brady, but they also need to have a great performance on offense by the likes of Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and Deandre Hopkins.
- Malcolm Butler vs Deandre Hopkins: Hopkins had a very up and down season this year following an incredible 2015 campaign. Butler emerged as an undrafted rookie when he intercepted Russel Wilson at the one yard line to seal the Patriots victory in Super Bowl 49. Since then he has emerged as one of the league’s best ball hawking corners. He has 4 interceptions, including one against Ben Roethlisberger while covering Antonio Brown, the league’s best receiver. The question is wheather Hopkins can return to his 2015 form as one of the league’s best receivers, or whether he will play as he played often this year, mediocrely.
- Texans Defense vs Tom Brady: The Texans Defense is coming off holding the Raiders offense with their vaunted o-line and star receivers to just 14 points with 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. The problem was the Raiders were starting a rookie in his first NFL game at quarterback and half of their offensive line hurt. Even though they are missing JJ Watt, they still have stars Kareem Jackson, Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney, among others. Brady has lit up defenses this year and even though he is missing his best target, Rob Gronkowski, he has passed for 28 touchdowns to only two interceptions and over 3500 yards despite playing only 12 games. Can the Texans do what most other defenses haven’t been able to do and shut down Tom Brady?
- Brock Osweiler vs Brock Osweiler: Brock Osweiler was drafted by the Broncos to play backup quarterback to Peyton Manning. When Manning was injured last year, he played 8 games and led the Broncos to the playoffs. He signed a 17 million dollar contract in the offseason with the Texans to be their quarterback. He threw more touchdowns then interceptions and got benched in weeks 16 and 17. He started this week in the playoffs and played well. Will playoff Osweiler show up, or will benched Osweiler show up?
Conclusion: Can anybody really stop Tom Brady? He has destroyed much better defenses than the Texans and he will destroy them also. Osweiler has played poorly all season and will continue to do so against the stout Patriots defense. Brady throws for four touchdowns and 300 yards while Osweiler is picked off three times and the Patriots continue on the road to another Super Bowl berth.
Final Score: Patriots 31, Texans 7
III. Steelers vs Chiefs
The number three Steelers, fresh off a convincing victory against the Dolphins, come to Arrowhead stadium to visit the Chiefs, who they beat earlier this year by a convincing score of 43-14. Since then, the Chiefs and their league leading point differential of +17 have gone 10-2 and stole the division from right under the Raiders nose. They need to slow the Steelers powerful offensive machine that put up 43 points against them and averaged 25 points per game this season.
- Chiefs Defense vs Steelers Big Three: The Steelers triplets, Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell are one of the best, if not the best, QB-RB-WR group in the league. Bell and Brown combined for over 2500 yards 19 touchdowns, while Roethlisberger passed for 3800 yards and 29 touchdowns. The Chiefs on the other hand, have generated 33 takeaways on defense this year, most in the league, but they give up the 25th most yards per game. Not only do they have to generate takeaways, but they also need to limit Bell and Brown and not let them combine for almost 300 yards and 4 touchdowns, like the Dolphins did last week.
- Steelers Special Teams vs Tyreek Hill: Tyreek Hill, a rookie, exploded onto the scene with 12 total touchdowns, including three on special teams. While the Steelers defense needs to limit his explosiveness, it is imperative the Steelers special teams stops him, because special teams scores can be a tremendous momentum swing and swing the game the Chiefs way.
- Travis Kelce vs Steelers Coverage: Along with Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have another matchup nightmare, Travis Kelce. Too big to be covered by a corner and too fast for a linebacker, Kelce had over 1100 yards receiving on 85 receptions this season, good for over 13 yards per catch. The Steelers, not known for their secondary, do have some fine coverage linebackers and have allowed 956 yards receiving and six touchdowns to opposing tight ends, somewhere in the middle of the league.
Conclusion: The Big Three are just too much of a matchup nightmare and Kansas City’s offense just isn’t good enough and relies too much on great field position given to them by the takeaways of their defense (they rank 5th in average starting field position on offense). The Steelers should pull this one out and move on to face the Patriots.
Final Score: Steelers 20, Chiefs 17
IV. Packers vs Cowboys
The Packers come into Dallas having won 7 straight on the back of MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and his 4400 yards and 40 TD’s, but come into Dallas very banged up (most notably star receiver Jordy Nelson is injured). They played earlier in the year, with the Cowboys winning 30-16. The Cowboys are led by rookies Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot and the best offensive line in the NFL (three all pros). With two of the best offenses in the league coming into Dallas, this promises to be a shootout.
- Cowboys Offensive Line and Ezekiel Elliot vs the Packers Front 7: Rookie running back and MVP candidate rushed for over 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns behind the Cowboys offensive line that is the best in the league. The Packers have allowed less than 100 rushing yards a game and are led by Clay Mathews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels. When the two faced off in week 6, Elliot rushed for 157 yards. The game may very well may hinge on the performance of Elliot and wheather he can have a similar performance to what he did in Week 6.
- Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley vs Packers Secondary: When the two teams met in week six, Beasley had 58 yards and 2 touchdowns, but Bryant was injured. On the season, the two combined for over 1600 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Packers gave up 269 yards per game in the air on the season and many of their best corners are injured. The Packers need to contain the Cowboys receivers and not let the Cowboys get too many points on offense.
- Aaron Rodgers and his Band of Receivers (minus Jordy Nelson) vs Cowboys Secondary: Aaron Rodgers is the hottest quarterback in the league and has put up together an MVP campaign. He is going to be missing his number one receiver, Jordy Nelson, due to injury, but that hasn’t stopped him before. Nelson was injured all of last year and Rodgers led the Packers to a playoff berth and a win, before losing to the number two seed Cardinals in OT by no fault of Rodgers. He threw two hail marys to tie the game and send it to overtime at the end of the fourth quarter to Jeff Janis, a no-name receiver. Rodgers has done it all and many times by making no-name receivers stars. He torched a very good Giants secondary for 362 yards and four touchdowns last week and goes into Dallas facing a very bad Cowboys secondary that is allowing 260 yards a game.
Conclusion: This game promises to be a shootout, and Aaron Rodgers will always win those, especially against a rookie quarterback ranked 12th at his position by pro football focus with no playoff experience. Rodgers is ranked fourth and has had 14 games of playoff experience with a QB rating of over 100 in these games. Unless the poor cowboys secondary can do something against the league’s hottest quarterback, Dallas will get outshot by the Packers and lose their 4th game of the year to end their season.
Final Score: Packers 35, Cowboys 24
Four great games. I am sure not everyone agrees with my selections (including Powers). Let’s hear your thinking in the Comment Section.