3-1 in the Wild Card is not a bad start to the playoffs. Four teams advance to take on the teams that were on first-round byes. Two more teams will be eliminated this weekend while two will advance to the next round.
Who will it be?
A common theme that surrounds these four games is that they are all rematches from regular season games. Only one is taking place at the same location as the first game; the Texans at Patriots game is happening in Foxboro as it was when they played in Week 4.
Times are MT
SEAHAWKS AT FALCONS, SATURDAY 2:30PM FOX
The first of the rematches occurs this afternoon in Atlanta. The two teams faced in Seattle in Week 6 when the Seahawks came away with a 26-24 win that was aided in part to the Falcons failing to convert a 4th and 10 with 1:30 remaining in the game. The Falcons believe that cornerback Richard Sherman interfered with receiver Julio Jones on that play and thus costing the team a victory in a difficult place to play.
Nevertheless, the Falcons ended up as the NFC 2-seed and the league’s top ranked offense with quarterback Matt Ryan, Jones, and the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The backs combined for almost 2,500 total yards and 24 total touchdowns. Jones is pretty good too himself having caught 83 passes out of 129 targets for 1,409 yards and 6 touchdowns including a 300-yard receiving day against Carolina.
Ryan is certainly in the talk of the MVP vote but will be facing Seattle’s vaunted secondary.
Seattle should be primed for the upset in this game. Last week against Detroit at home, running back Thomas Rawls rushed for a team playoff record 161 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ 26-6 victory. Seattle is 8-1 at home this season but is 3-4-1 on the road including a 14-5 loss at Tampa and a 38-10 defeat in Green Bay in Week 14. The Green Bay game is also when safety Earl Thomas was lost for the season due to a broken left tibia.
I expect Russell Wilson to make plays to keep the Seahawks in this game, but I see Atlanta getting their revenge and advancing to their first NFC Championship game in four years because of their offensive weapons.
FALCONS 35, SEAHAWKS 20
TEXANS AT PATRIOTS, SATURDAY 6PM CBS
In Week 3 on a Thursday night, the Patriots started a third-string quarterback and came away with a 27-0 victory over Houston.
The Texans played better than I expected but unfortunately, 1) it was against the Raiders who were not a full strength, and 2) they are running into a playoff buzzsaw in the Patriots. Yes, Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel are part of the Bill Belichick coaching tree but the Texans lack talent at the quarterback position in order to advance.
Two things about that
If Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was to throw an interception on each of his next 35 passes, he would still have a higher quarterback rating than Brock Osweiler.
The second thing is that over the course of the last seven weeks, the Patriots have faced starting quarterbacks with an average rating of 79.7. Osweiler’s 2016 rating was 72.2.
Can the Texans beat the Patriots? Of course, anything is possible…
PATRIOTS 31, TEXANS 6
PACKERS AT COWBOYS, SUNDAY 2:30PM
At 4-6 and in the midst of a 4-game losing streak the Packers looked done, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers reassured the fans that the team would run the table.
And they did to another NFC North title and a playoff victory that extended their win streak to 7 games.
Much of that is also due to having receiver Jordy Nelson during this stretch run. Even though he is out due to two fractured ribs, the Packers’ offense continued to roll especially against the Giants.
After the Hail Mary to close out the first half, Green Bay never looked back and their lead was never seriously threatened. Receiver Randall Cobb caught 3 receiving touchdowns, tying an NFL single playoff game record, in the Packers 38-13 win over the Giants. Expect Cobb to see a lot of balls thrown his way and ability to get open while Rodgers scrambles.
Who is the rookie of the year? The Cowboys certainly have two candidates: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott certainly put Cowboys fans fears of another lost season by throwing for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns vs. 4 interceptions, and leading the team to a 13-3 record. Elliot rushed for 1,631 yards, 15 touchdowns, and averages 5.06 yards per carry.
After the Cowboys second loss to the Giants, there were concerns that Prescott had hit the rookie wall and that it was time to bring in veteran Tony Romo who had recovered from a pre-season back injury and was cleared to play. Prescott put those concerns to rest with 32 completions, 279 passing yards, and a rushing touchdown in a 26-20 win over the Buccaneers at Jerry World.
While Prescott has reliable receivers in Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, his go-to has been Cole Beasley who led the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Certainly, the Cowboys have exceeded my expectations for the season. Dallas tied the franchise record for most wins in the regular season with 13. The two previous times was in 2007 – when the Cowboys were bounced out of the playoffs by eventual Super Bowl champion New York – and in 1992 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII.
The key to this game will be the Cowboys offensive line and how often they keep feeding Zeke. This is a different Packers team than the one that showed up at Lambeau back in October, but I believe that Dallas’ offensive line combined with the running game will keep Rodgers on the sideline and allow the Cowboys to advance.
COWBOYS 24, PACKERS 17
STEELERS AT CHIEFS, SUNDAY 6PM NBC
This is probably the best game of the weekend. The game was originally scheduled for the early window but weather concerns pushed the game into the evening window.
Pittsburgh’s 3 Bs dominated from start to finish. It was essentially over after the second Roethlisberger to Brown touchdown catch and run in the first quarter. I think many people turned the game off after halftime. In his first playoff game, Le’Veon Bell finished with 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Dolphins at Steelers game was sort of a template for the Chiefs at Steelers game earlier in the season. By the end of the first quarter, it was 22-0 Pittsburgh. At halftime 29-0. The Chiefs scored two touchdowns to… well… it was not a respectable result.
Since then though, the Chiefs have won 10 of 12 games. Their only two losses were identical 19-17 losses to the Buccaneers and Titans. Among their victories was a season sweep of the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, and a thrilling 29-28 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta that was highlighted by safety Eric Berry picking off Matt Ryan for a touchdown and intercepting Ryan on a two-point conversion for a return of two points (a pick-2 as the cool kids call it).
I do believe the Steelers will be tested in this game. They know it because this is an entirely different Chiefs team they faced when they played in Pittsburgh back in early October. The Steelers lead league in big plays (runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards) with 122 and limiting Ben Roethlisberger to 1.2 sacks per game – the lowest of his career. However, the game is in Kansas City. Roethlisberger at home has a 115.3 passer rating vs. a 78.4 passer rating on the road. And the Steelers last 8 opponents have a 52-77-1 combined record.
Meanwhile Andy Reid teams (Eagles and Chiefs) were 19-2 after the bye week, the best among 17 active coaches with 4 or more games. Guess when the Chiefs winning streak began?
In Week 6
After their bye week
If the Chiefs can contain the big plays as well as their opportunistic defense create turnovers, they should advance to their first AFC Championship game since the 1990s.
CHIEFS 23, STEELERS 20