The first reaction to the Wild Card round of the playoffs is to roll with the “hot” team that has already played and started their momentum, but the teams to really watch out for are the top seeds coming in well-rested and at home. With that in mind, here is the break down of this weekend’s games, who the difference-makers are and what the end results will be.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons – Saturday 3:25 p.m.
While the experienced playoff team headed into the matchup is Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, the Falcons are the favorites in the Georgia Dome. The biggest statistic in this game is 15.5, which is how many sacks rookie edge-rusher Vick Beasley tallied in 2016 to lead the NFL. He will be coming up against an offensive line that allowed 42 sacks this season.
This is also a revenge game for Atlanta, after the Falcons fell to Seattle early in the season. The 26-24 final ended with a controversial no-call when Seahawks’ corner Richard Sherman got tied up with Falcons’ receiver Julio Jones in the final minute. Also in the Falcons’ favor is Head Coach Dan Quinn, who previously worked as a coordinator for Seattle, making him familiar with their system. Another advantage for the Falcons is going to come from their man under center, Matt Ryan. Ryan has played at an MVP level all season long, as his offense is the second-ranked total offense. The matchup against a banged up Seattle secondary will prove to be in Atlanta’s favor. Seattle rolls into town without their All-Pro safety, Earl Thomas, leaving the middle of the field exposed. On offense, the offensive-line not only does Wilson experience constant pressure, but their running game also bottomed out at 25th in the league with 99.4 yards a game.
With no Thomas, poor offensive-line play, and being on the road against a quarterback that threw for 4,944 yards is a bad mix for the Seahawks.
Prediction: Atlanta wins 31-21.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots – Saturday 7:25 p.m.
This will be the most lopsided game this weekend. The statistic of this game is the 27-0 week four win the Patriots had against the Texans, with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm. Even defensive end Jadeveon Clowney cannot save Houston, as they are going up against a rested New England team at home.
Let us also remember the Texans’ offense ranked 29th to finish out the season and Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has had a week to prepare for a team that they already shut out. If the Oakland Raiders’ Connor Cook can throw a pair of touchdowns on this Houston secondary after riding the bench all season long, then three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady will make short work of this squad.
Prediction: New England wins 44-17.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs – Sunday 12:05 p.m.
This will be the game of the weekend, even though Pittsburgh soundly defeated the Chiefs in week four, 43-14. Both rosters have grown healthier on the defensive line as Lawrence Timmons for the Steelers and Justin Houston for the Chiefs. While both defenses have made improvements, the statistic for this game is the 51 rushes over 10 yards that the Steelers have amassed over 2016.
The Steelers had problems covering kickoffs and punt returns last week against Miami, so the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill will have a big impact, but the three-headed monster of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be too much to handle for a defense that depends more on causing turnovers than stopping the buildup of yardage. In a shootout game, the Steelers are far more built to win a high-point game.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins 38-35.
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys – Sunday 3:40 p.m.
In the last six weeks of the regular season and last weekend against the New York Giants, Aaron Rodgers has looked like his old self in his ability to pick the opposition apart. The Cowboys are a different monster however, because not only will they not sit around and score only six points in the first half, they will also control the ball around 35 minutes on offense per game. That is the statistic of this game, because not only does that put far more pressure on Rodgers and company to make every drive count, it also helps keep the Dallas defense as fresh as possible.
Throw in the fact that Packers’ star wide receiver Jordy Nelson is a game-time decision, Cowboys’ Dez Bryant will face an injury-filled secondary, and with Dallas hosting at AT&T Stadium, this seems like an uphill struggle for the Cheese-Heads. Despite the lack of experience for rookie quarterback Dak Prescott in the spotlight, this will be the Dallas Show.
Prediction: Dallas wins 34-21.