We have reached the Divisional Round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs. With that, our writers once again give their predicitions for this weekend's games.
Seattle Seahawks - Atlanta Falcons
Christopher Jeter: Both teams should score a lot of points in this game. These teams met in week four in Seattle, with the Seahawks barely winning 26-24. Seattle’s pass defense gave up 310 yards to the Falcons. The unit known as “The Legion of Boom” must try to slow down Atlanta’s high powered aerial attack without safety Earl Thomas. On the other side, Atlanta gave up 261 yards through the air. Both secondaries face tough challenges in marquee quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.
I’ll pick Seattle to get the first road win of the playoffs. They have enough on offense to carve up Atlanta’s poor defense and they can get the ground game going against Atlanta’s poor run defense. The Georgia Dome is not a great home field advantage either, this is the same place where the team was caught pumping in fake crowd noise. Atlanta also has a long history of choking in the playoffs that they have to overcome.
Youssef Machkhas: Just when people thought the Seahawks’ offense was done for, they come out and play pretty well against the Detroit Lions. Next stop, a trip to Atlanta to face the Falcons. The main battle will be between the Falcons’ offense and Seahawks’ defense. Matt Ryan started the year looking like the MVP before falling off some later on. Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones are always threats to have monster games. But this Seahawks’ defense is nothing to mess with, and they will definitely put up a fight against the offensive powerhouse.
On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson and company are lucky that they will face yet another below average defense. Thomas Rawls will have to have a big game against a run defense that is right near the middle of the pack at stopping the run. Even more important is for the offensive line to give Wilson enough time to pick apart a bad secondary. However, the main problem for the Seahawks is the absence of Earl Thomas, perhaps the best safety in the league. As a result, Atlanta will score too much for them to keep up and will move on to the next round.
Norman Tall: This should be a great game with Atlanta’s high powered offense facing off against the stingy Seattle defense and the Legion of Boom. The last time these teams met early in the season the Seahawks won at home 26-24 after a controversial ending.
This time around I expect another close game but with a different result. Since then the Atlanta offense has become much more than just Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. Now with skilled playmakers like Tevon Coleman and Taylor Gabriel chipping in on offense the Falcons offense will be too much for this vaunted Seahawks defense. Also, playing at home in the dome shouldn’t hurt either.
Aidan Thomas: The Seahawks' Legion of Boom looked as good as ever in shutting down the Lions last Saturday, keeping Matthew Stafford and Co. out of the end zone. However, was a skidding Lions squad that ended the season on a 4-game losing streak the best preparation for a road test against Matty Ice and the Falcons? Time will tell. But the Seahawks have been here more frequently and more recently than the Falcons, at least in recent memory. Neither team has played particurarly tough schedules - only four games apiece against playoff teams, but the Falcons are only 2-2 in those games. They lost at home to the Chiefs to go with a road loss to these very Seahawks. The Seahawks' offense looked plenty capable against the Lions, with a breakout game from Thomas Rawls.
If they get various threats going against the Falcons, Atlanta is gonna be in a tough spot. The Falcons need a big game for Matt Ryan, and they need their mediocre defense to step up. Ultimately, Seattle's defense and better run game makes the difference in a game between two elite quarterbacks. Seattle goes to the NFC championship game, again.
Houston Texans - New England Patriots
Jeter: It’s Brock Osweiler versus a well rested Tom Brady in Foxborough. Gee, I wonder who’s gonna win. Houston ranked first in total yards allowed, but advanced metrics are not as bullish on the Texans D (seventh in DVOA per Football Outsiders). Conversely, Bill O’Brien’s offense ranked 30th in DVOA. The Texans feasted on a rookie third string quarterback in the Wild Card round, a luxury they won’t have on Saturday.
Tom Brady finished second in the NFL in total QBR behind Matt Ryan. Brady also ranked fifth in defense adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR), trailing only Ryan, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, and Dak Prescott. Brady should have plenty of receiving options to choose from between Danny Amendola, Martellus Bennett, and recent signee Michael Floyd. The Texans defense is good, but not good enough to slow down Brady and company. I pick the Patriots to win here. New England blew out Houston 27-0 in week three, while Brady served his four game suspension. I suspect the result will be the same on Saturday.
Machkhas: Watch out for the Texans, they can easily pull the upset in this one. Before you get mad at me, that was a joke. No amount of Texans’ fandom and bias in me can convince me that that statement is actually true. Is it possible? Of course, anything is possible; more improbable things have happened. But literally EVERYTHING will have to go right for the Texans’ to pull off the most incredible upset in playoff history.
First, they’d have to somehow throw Tom Brady off his game. He’s so good that he can pick apart the top ranked defense easily if given the opportunity. The rush will have to get to him quickly and the secondary will have to make sure they lock up the Patriots’ receivers like they did against Oakland. Then the linebackers will have to shut down LeGarette Blount, one of the strongest running backs in the league. On the other side of the ball, Brock Osweiler will have to play better than he’s ever played before, like literally the game of his life. And that’s against one of the better defenses in the league. Yeah, going to have to go with the Patriots on this one; wasn’t even really that hard of a choice.
Tall: Last week the Texans D sure did look mighty impressive. The only problem? That was against a third string quarterback making his first career start. This week the opponent will be a much greater challenge as the Texans will have the nearly impossible task of slowing down Tom Brady.
This game really will never be close and the Patriots should control this game from start to finish. This is a game the Patriots should, and will win with ease at home.
Thomas: It's hard to see the Texans pulling off a win in Foxborough, where they lost to the Patriots' 3rd-String rookie quarterback 27-0 in his first career start. However, the defense has been very stingy lately, and, because it's playoff football, I think Houston can keep it close. However, I'll take Tom Brady over Brock Osweiler any day. The Texans only got to this point due to the fact that they lucked out with a first-round matchup against an injury-plagued Oakland team that started a rookie in his first career start. That game, a home matchup for the Texans, does little to prepare them for a red-hot New England squad that they are 1-7 against all-time. Their lone playoff meeting was a 41-28 win for the Patriots, a game that seemed closer due to a couple late scores by the Texans.
Ultimately, I don't see the Texans defense, which did allow 14 points to Connor Cook, being able to shut down Brady enough to make up for a wildly inconsistent offense that hasn't scored more than 27 points in a game all season. They average 18 points a game and are facing a defense that may meet their match in New England. Meanwhile, if Jacoby Brissett can put up 27 points against this defense, I think Tom Brady can too.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Kansas City Chiefs
Jeter: Kansas City has a lot of talent all over the field. Tyreek Hill was sensational down the stretch for the Chiefs, whether running out of the backfield, lining up as a receiver or returning kicks. Tight end Travis Kelce and wideout Jeremy Maclin round out a talented Chiefs offense. KC’s defense was decent in 2016, but got a huge boost with the return of Justin Houston. Ultimately, Kansas City’s chances for advancing rest on the average arm of Alex Smith. The quintessential game manager won’t lose the game, but can he do more than throw checkdowns and avoid turnovers.
These two teams met in week week four. The Steelers destroyed K.C. at home 43-14. In that game, Ben Roethlisberger has a nearly perfect passer rating, throwing for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell also gashed them to the tune of 144 yards on the ground. I expect more of the same at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City has enough talent to keep it close at home. However, I think the Steelers have too much offense for Smith and company to keep up. Steelers win.
Machkhas: The game will be decided with what happens when the Steelers have the ball. They have three of the best players at their respective positions in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown; Bell especially has been on a tear as of late. The weakest link of the three is Big Ben, who is prone to mistakes sometimes. That is what the Chiefs’ defense will try to capitalize on, as they feast on opponents’ mistakes. They will try creating turnovers, giving their mostly mistake-free offense, several more shots at scoring.
There is nothing spectacular about the Chiefs’ defense other than how little mistakes they make. They’re good enough to win games behind the team’s strength which is the defense. Alex Smith will have a solid game with not much yardage, a touchdown or two and a high completion percentage. Still, this is against a stout Steelers’ defense that may stop them from going down the field. The Chiefs’ defense won’t create enough turnovers to compensate for their lack of an offense, and the Steelers will win in a close one.
Tall: This game should be quite exciting due to the big play threat on both offenses. Between Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown for the Steelers and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for the Chiefs I expect this game to turn into an offensive shootout.
While the Chiefs will have an incredible home field advantage, I see the Steelers taking this one in an extremely close game, possibly in overtime. The Steelers offense will be too much and the defense will do enough to slow down Alex Smith and that dynamic offense.
Thomas: This should be a highly anticipated matchup. The Chiefs are raring to get another chance to go at the Patriots, after falling in Foxborough in the playoffs last year. They get a chance to earn that matchup, but they have to withstand a challenge from the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. Riding an 8-game winning streak, the men from Steel City are fresh off a 30-12 whooping of the Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs look like the best team in the NFL at times, but they look lackluster at best at certain times. With Big Ben, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown healthy, I like Pittsburgh's chances to take a win on the road.
The Chiefs have won the only playoff game between these two teams, but Pittsburgh is 10-7 all-time in Kansas City. The Chiefs have proved vulnerable this year at home, especially in a late-season home loss to the Titans. If the Titans can come in and top the Chiefs, I think a red-hot Steelers' squad has a shot too. The Steelers also want a chance at the Patriots, who are one of the 4 teams they lost to during an ugly losing streak this season. Pittsburgh has avenged two of those losses...and this pick says they'll get a chance at avenging a third.
Green Bay Packers - Dallas Cowboys
Jeter: These teams met in October in Lambeau, with the Cowboys winning 30-16. Since then, Aaron Rodgers has flipped the switch, playing his way into the MVP race. Rodgers started slow against the Giants, but rebounded and led the Packers to a decisive win. This should be the game of the weekend. It may come down to who has the ball last.
I’ll take Green Bay for the upset. Rodgers has the hot hand and Dallas defense is not that good. The Cowboys mask it well by winning time of possession, but there are leaks in the Dallas D, particularly in the secondary. I think Rodgers takes advantage and carves the Cowboys up.
Machkhas: Do the Cowboys have it in them to beat a Packers’ team that has been absolutely amazing lately? On defense, they will have to stop Aaron Rodgers, a player that I believe should win MVP. Meanwhile, in the regular season, they allowed the 26th most passing yards. Not a good sign so far. Their run defense doesn’t really matter because Green Bay barely runs it anyways.
So it will be up to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to push Dallas on top. The Packers boasted one of the best run defenses in the league but one of the worst pass defenses. This doesn’t mean Elliott won’t be a factor, but that on top of the playoff nerves may affect his play. Also, as great as Prescott has been, he doesn’t have enough experience. This will be a high scoring affair, but the more experienced and poised Packers will move on and continue their winning streak.
Tall: Oh man is Aaron Rodgers hot right now! Coming off a four touchdown performance Rodgers and the Packers take their seven game win streak into Dallas to challenge the Cowboys. This should be a good game offensively as both teams have struggled playing consistent defense. The Cowboys will win this game by a slim margin.
With Jordy Nelson likely out for the Pack, the Cowboys defense will be able to do just enough to slow down Rodgers and company. The only chance the Packers have is if Dak Prescott finally hits that rookie wall in the most inopportune time.
Thomas: The Packers at Cowboys game might be the best game of the weekend. It features the sizzling Packers on a 7-game win streak against the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys, who haven't lost a game outside their division. But here's the rub for the Cowboys? Is a weak strength of schedule going to affect them as they forge into the playoffs with an offense spearheaded by two rookies? These guys have never seen the playoff speed, and having played only five games against playoff teams all year, they could be overwhelmed by the Pack. They did beat the Packers 30-16 earlier this year, but that was before the Packers ran the table to make the playoffs.
The Pack also looked mighty competent in dispatching the Giants 38-13. The Giants are the only team who beat Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot. Their only other loss came in the season finale with Mark Sanchez under center. The five games against playoff teams is slightly misleading for the Cowboys. They played the Redskins twice and, if not for a late-season choke, the Redskins would have been a playoff team. They played the Ravens and Buccaneers, who both narrowly missed the playoffs. Those four wins are undoubtedly spectacular wins, and when you add that to a win against the Steelers, their most impressive win of the year, you can definitely start to believe in the 'Boys here. Tentatively, this pick calls for the Cowboys, but a road victory by the Pack is definitely not out of the question.