Well, that Wild Card round was pretty disappointing. After a year when every single road team took care of business, this year was all about the home teams. Surprisingly, what should have been the most competitive game turned into the biggest blowout (Packers vs. Giants). So yeah, that was relatively boring, what I call the calm before the storm, because this weekend’s Divisional round games will be anything but calm.
We have it all in the Divisional round, from brand new to very experienced, from excellent defense to “probably a shootout,” the whole spectrum encapsulated in these remaining eight teams, in these scintillating four games.
Here are my picks for the Divisional round:
(3) Seattle @ (2) ATLANTA – I’ve really been trying to talk myself into believing that this one will be competitive, but two things stick out to me that are huge omens for this game. This isn’t the same Russell Wilson from previous years’ playoffs. There is no Earl Thomas. And those are just on the Seattle side. From the other side there’s the offensive MVP of the league (Matt Ryan), the most dominant running game (Freeman/Coleman), and the versatility to handle whatever the Seahawks throw at them. The Falcons are what the Seahawks have been in the past — versatile — and that can take them to the Super Bowl. Pick: ATLANTA.
(4) Houston @ (1) NEW ENGLAND – Now, this one I think will be competitive, regardless of what the other experts say, even though I see the end result being the same. The Texans come into this game with a chip on their shoulder and a defense that can smother Tom Brady. Sound familiar? Exactly. Just like that Denver team that took out Brady in the AFC Championship last season. Too much lip service is being paid to the Pats beating the Texans earlier this season, without Brady, but there is a blueprint for how to beat Brady. Get to him early and often, and Clowney & Co. can do that. The problem is that the Patriots can beat you other ways, and, well… Brock Osweiler. He was a good enough game manager last week, but he will need to do more here. He won’t. But it will be close. Pick: NEW ENGLAND.
(4) Green Bay @ (1) DALLAS – These Cowboys have never been in this position before, and that might be a positive or a negative. What makes the difference between the two options is the personnel and how the team ended the season. Sure, they only lost two meaningful games all season, but both of those losses to the Giants showed that they don’t play well from behind. And the Packers are playing well enough on offense that they will get up early and force the Cowboys to try and answer. The problem is that without having the playoff experience in key spots that answer will be disjointed and lead to mistakes. It was obvious in that last Giants game that Prescott was out of sorts, and you can be assured the Packers have gone to town on that tape. They go get theirs in the upset special. Pick: GREEN BAY.
(3) Pittsburgh @ (2) KANSAS CITY – Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain — none at all. And in this case the “little man” is the Steelers, who looked like world beaters last week. But that was the Miami Dolphins and this is a step up in weight class, regardless of what happened in the regular season meeting between these two teams. That is ancient history, and Andy Reid has learned from the encounter. Also, this game is at Arrowhead, and the Chiefs are well rested. They will stack the line to shut down Le’Veon Bell, and dare Big Ben to take his chances, and their defensive secondary is opportunistic enough to make the Steelers pay for it. This should be the closest game of the weekend, but Alex Smith and that defense will do enough to send Pittsburgh back home. Pick: KANSAS CITY.