NFL – 2016 POST SEASON DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES 1 & 2

There are 8 teams left in the post season to fight it out for Conference Championships next week:

AFC

NFC

Texans (4) at Patriots (1)

Packers (4) at Cowboys (1)

Steelers (3) at Chiefs (2)

Seahawks (3) at Falcons (2)

In this column, I will predict which teams will win the first 2 games of the weekend.

Seahawks at Falcons (Sat, Jan 14 – 4:35pm ET)

I must be nuts for picking Seattle to win this game.  Their loss will wreck my perfect 4-0 playoff prediction record so far, but what the heck.  Let’s roll the dice…

Las Vegas thinks Seattle is the 6-point underdog in this game.

ESPNs FPI (Football Power Index) also gave them only a 27.1% of advancing this week.

And, most experts seem to agree that the Falcons will win this game.

It’s understandable to see why the picks overall are so lopsided towards Atlanta.

The Seahawks defense has not been the same without safety Earl Thomas and they will face the 2nd best offense in the league on Saturday for the right to go to the NFC Conference Championship game.

Seattle’s offense has also struggled this season and put up a below average 22.1 points per game versus the Falcons electric offense that has averaged a first place 33.8 points per game in contrast.

Seattle will also play this game in Atlanta.  The west coast team has not excelled on the road this season and historically do not play the same in the post season without their “12th man”.

Despite all of this, I think Seattle can win this game because issues that plagued their offense earlier in the season seem to be ironing themselves out:

  • QB Russell Wilson is healthier and the stats show he has performed better under duress as the season has worn on. He is also 8-11 in post season starts vs Falcons QB Matt Ryan’s 1-4 record.
  • Their running game is back. Wilson is obviously more mobile now, but they also have Marshawn Lynch’s replacement healthier again (Thomas Rawls) and putting up beastmode-like numbers this post season.
  • They may also see the return of 3R draft pick rookie RB CJ Prosise this game. (At the time of this article, his return was a reported 50-50). But even with limited plays, he gives the offense more depth.
  • The O-Line is performing better. Last week versus the Lions may have been their best game of the season.

As for the Seattle defense, they shut down the Falcon’s backfield tandem of Freeman & Coleman during Week 6’s game (when these 2 teams last met), who both accounted for 37%+ of Atlanta’s scrimmage yards during the regular season. And, Seattle held them to just 67 scrimmage yards on 21 touches.

The Seahawks pressure rate has also climbed from Week 13 to the 2nd best in the league.  And, other key personnel are back since that Week 6 game (Frank Clark & Michael Bennett).

Now, it is true that Atlanta’s offense was ranked 2nd overall in the regular season (3 – passing; 5 – rushing).  And, QB Matt Ryan has been terrific and probably will win the MVP Award for his performance.  They also have the dynamic playmaker in WR Julio Jones, but I like Richard Sherman to cover him (if they are matched up) and for the Seattle defense (ranked 5th overall) to quiet some of this Atlanta offense.

And, while Atlanta may have put up a lot of points this season, they haven’t played the hardest teams down the stretch (Since Week 13 – Lost to the Chiefs & Won against Rams, 49ers, Panthers & Saints.)

Still, for Seattle to win this game, their offense must truly play to their capability and put up more points than they did during the regular season.

Additionally, as much as the Seahawks defense will do their job and try to limit Atlanta’s offense, Seattle will also have to contend with All Pro edge rusher Vic Beasley.

In the end, Seattle’s defense must not allow Ryan and the Falcon’s offense to run the ball and eat up the clock, because it’ll give them more time to put up points. They must also limit the big play in the backfield. Meanwhile, Wilson and Co. must run the ball well and keep turnovers to a minimum in order to win this game.

I’m going out on a limb and against the grain for this choice.  I almost caved, but I’ll stay with it because I keep remembering what John Gruden said this week on ESPN: “This will be a good game, because the Seahawks won’t go quietly”.

Conclusion:  Seattle prevails.

Texans at Patriots (Sat, Jan 14 – 8:15pm ET)

Per www.nflpickwatch.com, not one high profile NFL expert has picked Houston to win this game.

This time, I’m not going against the majority.  I’m also scared of the spread consensus for this game (-15).  Whoa.

While I do see that DE Jadeveon Clowney and that #1 Houston defense will likely disrupt Patriots QB Tom Brady and limit their offense somewhat early on, I don’t see Houston’s QB Brock Osweiler and his offense able to keep pace & put up enough points to win out in Foxboro.

There’s not too much more that needs to be said about this game.  Tom Brady has been at this 17+ years and has seen everything.  He may be stymied a bit, but that Houston offense will be picked apart and probably turn the football over too many times.

Is there a chance for the Texans here?  Yes, absolutely.

I still have faith in Osweiler to be a decent QB.  He certainly showed his potential during last week’s game vs the Oakland Raiders when he went 14-of-25 for 168 yards and a TD, 0 turnovers.

And, he has been at the helm before when he started for the Broncos in 2015 and won in Foxboro.  That must give him some confidence that he can do it.

I just don’t think he and the Texans will be the ones to derail the 2016 Patriots locomotive from their track on the way to Super Bowl 51.

Conclusion:  New England prevails.

 

 

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