2–2 last week with the picks, as the Seahawks and Steelers took care of business while the Raiders and Giants did not. The Giants caused some controversy in the loss because their receiving corps, led by Odell Beckham Jr., decided to fly down to Miami on their day off last week and party with Justin Bieber on a yacht. The group as a whole did not play well, dropping several passes in a 38–13 beat down by the Packers. Last week, all of the games lacked drama, with the closest finish being the Texans’ 27–14 win over the Raiders.
This week, three of the games could go either way in really intriguing matchups. The fourth game sees Houston as a 15.5 point underdog with little chance of winning. Because I absolutely will not be picking the Texans, none of these games can produce a result worthy of “upset of the week” status which is a recipe for great games and some unexpected outcomes.
Seattle 11–5–1 at Atlanta 11–5, Saturday 1:35 p.m.
After their resounding win over the Lions, the Seahawks travel to Atlanta to take on a rested Falcons team led by their former defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn. In his second season as the Falcons’ head coach, Quinn will look to lead his squad to the National Football Conference championship game for the first time since the 2012 playoffs where they defeated the Seahawks 30–28 in thrilling fashion during Russell Wilson’s rookie season. Since that campaign, Wilson and company have won one Super Bowl and have come within one yard and a Malcolm Butler interception of winning another. The Falcons haven’t since qualified for the playoffs until this season.
Quarterbacking Atlanta is Matt Ryan, who sports a 1–5 career playoff record. His chances of improving upon this record are quite good due to his MVP-calibre play this season and an array of weapons, which include talented dual threat running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well as the ever dangerous Julio Jones. The Seahawks finally established a running game last week with oft-injured running back Thomas Rawls rumbling for a Seahawks playoff game record 161 yards. They also have a skilled tight end in Jimmy Graham and a very underrated wide receiver in Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks’ defence is good, but not at the level it has played at in recent years. An interesting matchup will be between the always intense Richard Sherman in coverage against Jones.
I like the Falcons in this one, despite their weak team defensive rating, because of the presence of pass rusher Vic Beasley who led the league with 15.5 sacks. The Seahawks’ weakness is their offensive line and Beasley should be able to harangue Wilson enough to give his team the edge. Atlanta is always tough to beat in their home dome and will send the Seahawks to defeat in the divisional round for the second consecutive season.
Prediction: Falcons 31 Seahawks 26
Houston 10–7 at New England 14–2, Saturday 5:15 p.m.
This game also sees a former assistant coach returning as head coach against his old team. Texans coach Bill O’Brien resigned as Patriots’ offensive coordinator after the 2011 season to take the head coaching job at Penn State. He then moved to the Texans and now has the chance to defeat his former team on their field in what would be a miraculous victory.
The reason the Texans — despite having the number one defence in the league, a good running back (Lamar Miller), and an elite wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) — are such underdogs is due to their quarterback play. Yes, Brock Osweiler played a decent game last week against the Raiders, but overall his play this season has been, without being too disparaging, sub-par.
The Patriots have one of the best coaching staffs in professional sport and their defence led by coordinator and former engineer Matt Patricia devises a new game plan with different looks each week to take away the main strengths of their opponent. Of course, the Patriots’ key strength is quarterback Tom Brady who has played as well this season as at any point in his career, after serving the ridiculous four-game deflated balls suspension. Brady finished with 28 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In contrast, Osweiler respectfully had 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
The Patriots will take care of business in a fairly low-scoring game which will have a lot of defensive highlights.
Prediction: Patriots 24 Texans 9
Pittsburgh 12–5 at Kansas City 12–4, Sunday 10:05 a.m.
Most people who are sports fans and don’t have much experience playing or coaching at a high level cannot comprehend how, in a given season, a team can get blown out one week and then beat the team that destroyed them later on. This is the challenge which is facing a Kansas City team that got pummeled 43–14 by the Steelers in week four.
The Chiefs have a lot going for them since that defeat. They went 10–2 and saw the emergence of tight end Travis Kelce and receiver/return man Tyreek Hill. Kelce produced the best statistical season for a tight end this year and Hill is simply a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He is one of the most exciting players in the league and it will be a treat to watch him play on this stage.
The Chiefs also got healthier on defence as the season progressed, and have a unit with big play super stars such as Eric Berry, Justin Houston, and Tamba Hali. They are quarterbacked by the experienced and dependable Alex Smith. Smith does not put up gaudy numbers, but takes care of the football and has a knack for making key plays in clutch situations. Smith’s finest playoff moment came during the 2011 season when he was the 49ers’ quarterback and led his team to a victory in a seesaw shoot out with New Orleans.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is also extremely experienced and has produced good teams in Philadelphia and now Kansas City, which have won a lot of playoff games, but never a Super Bowl. They will also be buoyed by one of the best home field advantages and crowd noise in all of football.
The Steelers will be a formidable opponent. They have a young defence that has improved throughout the season and have three potential hall of famers on offence in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. Bell may be the best running back in football right now which doesn’t bode well for a Chiefs defence which struggles stopping the run. Roethlisberger with all his playoff and regular season experience has not played as well of late on the road as at home.
I like the Chiefs to keep it close throughout the game and avenge their early season loss on the basis of their superior special teams. Look for Tyreek Hill to return a kick for a touchdown as he demonstrates his greatness for the first time on a big time stage.
Prediction: Chiefs 27 Steelers 24
Game of the Week
Green Bay 11–6 at Dallas 13–3, Sunday 1:30 p.m.
These two teams also met in the divisional round in the 2015 playoffs with the Packers winning 26–21 led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers had 316 yards and three touchdowns in that victory which took place in Green Bay. This game will be played in Dallas with the teams similarly constructed to their matchup two years ago. Rodgers is the key factor in this game because he simply has been unstoppable during the Packers’ seven-game winning streak. With Rodgers in peak form, the Packers shredded an outstanding Giants defence last week to the tune of 38 points and 406 yards of offence. Unfortunately, star receiver Jordy Nelson sustained a rib injury and is questionable for this week’s game.
The Cowboys meanwhile are well-rested and will be at home with high expectations. Because of the mentality of owner/GM Jerry Jones and the fan base, it always seems to be Superbowl or bust in the big D. The question will be how these expectations and the pressure associated with them will affect rookie starting quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Both Prescott and Elliott had spectacular seasons, landing each in the Pro Bowl.
Overshadowed this season by the rookies, but not to be overlooked, is star receiver Dez Bryant who could have a very big game against a suspect Packers secondary that was lit up several times this year.
The reason the Cowboys have such a prolific offence is not because of their skill position players. Their offensive line is one of the best units in the league. The key question in this game is whether the Dallas offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and enable the unit to put together long time-consuming drives and keep Aaron Rodgers and company off the field. After watching what Rodgers did last week, the Cowboys will need to put up 40 points or more to beat Green Bay and even that might not be enough.
The Packers look like a team of destiny that can only be stopped right now by an incredible force of nature (or a certain AFC team coached by Bill Belichick). For those of you who love learning about football lore, the production crew for this week’s game is currently preparing footage of the 1967 NFL Championship game which was the last NFL title game before the Super Bowl era. That game will forever be known as the “Ice Bowl” because of the -26 degree Celsius conditions at Lambeau Field.
The clip you undoubtedly will see is Bart Starr’s last minute quarterback sneak, which gave the Packers the 21–17 victory over the Cowboys and the title. The Packers, like in 1967 and in the 2015 playoffs, will prevail over the Cowboys in a shootout.
Prediction: Packers 42 Cowboys 38