NFL – 2016 POST SEASON DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES 3 & 4

I’m 5-1 in playoff picks heading into the 2nd round of the Divisional Playoff Games.  I had a snafu yesterday after picking Seattle to win, but how was I to know they would implode and make the mistakes they usually force their opponents to make?

Alas, the rest of the weekend games are tough to call.  I’ve wrestled with the choices and honestly, I think everyone can agree these 2 final games will be close and could go either way.

Packers at Cowboys (Sun, Jan 15 – 4:40pm ET)

Whew, is anyone confident about picking this game?

Two high-powered offenses (strong on opposite sides of the both), excellent offensive lines, good defenses.

Aaron Rodgers is on top of his game for the Packers and running the table, as he predicted (7 straight victories).

Rookies Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott are making history for the Cowboys.

But, as I will do for tonight’s game, I’m going with the higher powered, more well-rounded offense in the Cowboys to win this game.

Dallas’ offense is good, mark that – excellent, in the red zone. Ranked #3, they score 66.67% of the time vs. Green Bay’s 61.43% (which is no slouch either).

They are also thriving on chemistry via QB Dak Prescott  (See my column on why I think he deserves the MVP Award this season) which makes WR Dez Bryant more important for this win.

And, of course – Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas running game is superb.

If they go out there and keep scoring as well as they have all season, Dallas will put up big points in this game.

At the same time, the Cowboys must also stop Aaron Rodgers from being himself.  This is the key to this football game.

So, let’s assume Dallas puts up the points needed to win.  Meanwhile, they must disrupt Rodgers who is one of the most efficient, accurate QBs in the league.

Take the NFL Video showing highlights of the Packers vs Giants Wild Card game. I counted at least twice when Rodgers had 8 seconds to decide where he wanted to throw the football.

Now, count 8 seconds to yourself quietly….

That’s a lot of time!

I counted another occasion during this same game when Rodgers had 6 seconds.

Dallas cannot give Rodgers that kind of time today and allow him to throw it down field and especially, must limit his famous hail mary throws.

And, even if they can’t get in his face and limit the completions, then the Dallas D must stop TDs in the red zone.  Rodgers leads the league in red zone TDs this season.

Still, even if Rodgers is allowed to get many completions and TDs, it may not be enough to match the Cowboys offense.

Would it surprise me if Green Bay wins this game?  No way.  This is the toughest one of the weekend to predict.

Conclusion: Dallas prevails.

Steelers at Chiefs (Sun, Jan 15 – 8:20pm ET)

On paper, the Steelers outranked the Chiefs in almost every important statistical category during the regular season in 2016:

Category

PIT KC

Pass Offense

T-5

19

Run Offense

14

15

Pass Defense

16 18

Run Defense

13 26
Total Offense 7

20

Total Defense 12

24

PTS/Game 10 (24.9)

13 (24.3)

However, KC has succeeded in other ways which are the reason they finished the year 12-4.

One includes “Takeaways” or essentially: turnovers.  The Chiefs were the best team in combined take-away interceptions and fumbles (33).

Also, on offense, KC was efficient, with only 17 “giveaways” in 2016, which combined for the best differential in the league (16).

What this means is that the Chiefs have been good all year in controlling the football by limiting turnovers on offense & creating turnovers on defense.  This could be the key for this football game and the reason I wavered on picking Pittsburgh to win this game.

Yes, Big Ben tends to throw errant balls and KC has been great with the takeaways.  But, I can’t pick KC on what could possibly happen.  I’m going with the Steelers big offensive machine.

Fact is, Pittsburgh has an excellent red zone scoring offense (59.62% in 2016; 80% in Last 3 games) compared with KC who ranked 30th in this area (45.45%) and (42.86% in Last 3 games).

Steelers also have the “Big 3” on offense (Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown) and who looked terrific last week vs Miami.  They are also going to be helped by one of the best offensive lines in the league.

As for defense, the Steelers D has also been good and surging as of late (in the last 8 games, they have allowed 20 or fewer points 5 times).

Meanwhile, KC’s offense has been good with their own version of the big three: Travis Kelce (TE), Spencer Ware (RB) and Tyreek Hill (RT/WR).  If Pittsburgh is going to win, they must control these 3 guys and stop them from being explosive, which they all have the potential to be.

This is another tough pick and I’m not at all confident about it.

Arrowhead stadium is going to be loud and raucous.

I don’t like the fact that Big Ben walked out of last week’s game in a boot.

I feel uncomfortable choosing against a team that has a player like Chiefs LB Eric Berry who has been a disrupter on the field and chemistry builder in the locker room.

And, then there’s Kansas City’s consistent success following bye weeks.

Ugh.  But I must choose one team and I’m going with the one that will put up the most points and are the most well-rounded of the two.

Sure, KC can win this by doing what they do best.  This is the playoffs and anything can happen.

It’s going to be close and Vegas thinks so too: The spread for PIT was just +1 via Bovada last I checked.

Conclusion:  Pittsburgh prevails.

 

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