Divisional Round Game Picks: Who’s Moving On?

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Some people call this weekend the best weekend of the year.  Why?  Well, because usually, the divisional supplies us with some of the best football of the year.  While, yes, it seems we are guaranteed a blowout this time around, the divisional round has been very kind to us over the years.  It has given us things like the “Hail Mary” from Staubach to Pearson.  It has given us the great back and forth between the Niners and Saints that led to “The Catch Part 3”.  We saw the Dolphins come back with a hook and ladder play and Charger great Kellen Winslow fight through to deliver a 41-38 win.  We saw Joe Flacco improbably find Jacoby Jones for a 70 yard TD to tie the Broncos up and win in double overtime.  We saw Steve Smith break open double overtime against the Rams by taking a Jake Delhomme pass to the house.  And who can forget about the Immaculate Reception?  This is an excellent weekend, so let’s dive in.

Crazy Stats to Know

It’s not often you find crazy stats like these heading into the divisional round this season, but I did a little research on a couple of these and found some incredible things.

1. A rookie QB has never won a Super Bowl, much less started in one.

What does that mean?  Well, it means Dallas doesn’t have an easy road ahead of them, but we knew that.  Facing the Packers and either the Falcons or Seahawks is a tough task for a rookie.  But, on the other side, Dak can make history thanks to his excellent partner in crime Ezekiel Elliott and the fabulous Dallas offensive line.  If a rookie has had a better chance, find me it.

2. Head coaches are 13-0 against their disciples in the Super Bowl era.

Yes, this is completely true.  That record was stretched to 13-0 last Sunday with the Packers beating the Giants (Ben McAdoo was Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach under Mike McCarthy).  Now, you know that this stat wouldn’t be brought out if there weren’t matchups that had this during the divisional round.  This week, there are two such matchups with a  coach facing a disciple.  The first of these two features Pete Carroll’s Seahawks traveling to face the Falcons and head coach Dan Quinn, who was Carroll’s defensive coordinator not long ago.  The second matchup is on Saturday as well, with former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (now coach of the Houston Texans) heading up to Foxborough to face off against Bill Belichick and the Pats.  Will history continue to repeat itself?  Or will these disciples make a statement?

3. All home teams haven’t won in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds since the 1974-75 season.

Do you know what’s even crazier about this?  In that 1974-75 season, there wasn’t a wild card round!  Only four teams made the playoffs from each conference, meaning that the playoffs started in the divisional round.  What does this mean?  Well, with every home team coming out on top last weekend, it means a road team will win this week.  Who will it be?  Cases can be made for at least three of the teams to go into an opposing stadium and win this week.  Seattle has the playoff experience to upset the Falcons.  The Packers have been red hot and Dallas has a rookie quarterback.  Pittsburgh has also been hot, and they already have a win against Kansas City under their belt (plus, a dangerous trio finally healthy in the playoffs).  It will be nearly impossible for the Texans to pull off the upset (just being realistic), but we’ve seen crazier things.

Key Players in Each Matchup

Seattle at Atlanta

Deion Jones, Tevin Coleman (ATL); Doug Baldwin, Bobby Wagner (SEA)

For Atlanta, it will be up to Deion Jones at times to cover Jimmy Graham over the middle of the field and to also be a spy on Russell Wilson to make sure he doesn’t escape the pocket. Tevin Coleman is the lesser known of the two headed monster at running back, but his big play ability comes in the passing game.  Don’t be shocked if Atlanta has him out wide.  Doug Baldwin will be key on Seattle’s offense to create separation and make plays for Wilson.  On defense, Bobby Wagner will need to be stout in the run game and be able to drop into coverage and blanket Atlanta’s weapons.

Houston at New England

Jadeveon Clowney, AJ Bouye (HOU); Trey Flowers, Malcolm Mitchell (NE)

For Houston, it’s all about defense.  Clowney needs to be able to generate pressure on Tom Brady to throw off their rhythm early and often.  Edelman and company seem to always be a problem for teams, so AJ Bouye needs to step up big.  Trey Flowers isn’t a household name yet, but the talented edge rusher could have himself a coming out party Saturday night.  Malcolm Mitchell isn’t the receiver you think about in New England, but his speed could generate big plays down the field.

Green Bay at Dallas

Ty Montgomery, Morgan Burnett (GB); Cole Beasley, Sean Lee (DAL)

Ty Montgomery could be a factor on the ground and through the air on Sunday, especially with the absence of Jordy Nelson.  Morgan Burnett has been very impactful on all three levels of the defense this season, and needs to help the line against Elliott and limit big plays.  Cole Beasley will be Dak’s best friend Sunday, as Green Bay couldn’t cover him back in October.  Sean Lee is an animal at linebacker, and his big play impact won’t go unnoticed.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

Ryan Shazier, Eli Rogers (PIT); Jeremy Maclin, Dee Ford (KC)

Ryan Shazier is the key piece for Pittsburgh on defense, and his speed will help in coverage.  Eli Rogers will need to step up with Antonio Brown likely to draw Marcus Peters.  With the Steelers keying in on Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin has flown under the radar, which isn’t a good thing for Pittsburgh.  Dee Ford has played well all season, and has a chance to continue that Sunday by providing a big impact off the edge.

The Picks

Seattle at Atlanta

This should be an excellent game.  You know there won’t be defensive breakdowns this time around that leave Julio Jones wide open; he will be accounted for on every play.  With Seattle having the ability to provide constant pressure (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark), Atlanta will need to get the run game going with Freeman and Coleman.  Having both backs with dual threat ability makes them even more dangerous, and Seattle will need to be disciplined.  On the other side, it’s all about containing Russell Wilson.  Luckily, Dan Quinn knows all about Wilson.  Vic Beasley needs to provide constant pressure, and having Deion Jones as a spy on Wilson most of the game will diminish the probability of extended gains on his scrambles.  Seattle came alive in the run game last week with Thomas Rawls, but that Detroit team wasn’t that great.  This team can score at will on offense, so the Seahawks might need to get creative to keep up.  This could go either way, but Atlanta seems primed for revenge.

Falcons 27, Seahawks 24

Houston at New England

How do you beat this Patriots team?  With a good defense, specifically a pass rush and a solid secondary.  Luckily, the Texans have that.  Even without JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have done enough off the edge.  AJ Bouye has emerged at the corner position to help out Jonathan Joseph and company.  They need the defense firing on all cylinders to pull this off.  I think for the Texans to win, they need a couple turnovers.  A strip sack and a pick would go a long way to giving their offense help.  Lead by Brock Osweiler, there are a few things the Texans will need to do offensively.  They succeeded against Oakland not by going to Hopkins, but by attacking the middle of the field with their tight ends.  Fiedorowicz and Griffin will need to find holes on the second level to provide Osweiler with easy throws.  All this could happen and the Texans still might lose.  Why?  Because they are up against a mastermind coaching staff.  Belichick already knows they want to run the ball and attack the middle.  They will put Hopkins on an island an make sure Brock has no easy throws.  Plus, Tom Brady and that offense will move the ball. Plus, it’s in Foxborough (how did I not mention that?).  Game, set, match.

Patriots 31, Texans 10

Green Bay at Dallas

Aaron Rodgers has put up absurd numbers since the Washington loss on Sunday night.  He even put up real good numbers in that game.  His last 8 games?  22 TDs, no picks.  Yikes.  Yet, it isn’t the offense that the Packers should be worried about, even with no Jordy Nelson (you saw Cobb and Adams against the #2 Giants D right? Okay, good.).  A good balance should move the ball against the Cowboys, even if they don’t rush that many guys.  A four man rush would dare the Packers to run it, and I think they’ll take it all day.  Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael need to be ready.  Whoever starts the fastest will win, making their opponent play catch up.  Dallas really cannot fall behind in this game.  They need to be able to run the ball all game long with Elliott to bring more bodies into the box.  Even so, Elliott isn’t the biggest thing keeping the Packers catching staff up at night.  That’s right, it’s elusive slot receiver Cole Beasley.  They didn’t have an answer last time.  Their best option would be to either put Randall or Rollins on him.  Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett can’t deal with that kind of quickness.  This is the kind of offensive show you want to see from two storied franchises.  I could go either way with the pick, but I’ll stay with what I had from the beginning.

Packers 30, Cowboys 28

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

How about it?  We get another prime time Sunday night game thanks to the weather, and what a game it will be.  This isn’t the same game we saw way back in the beginning of the season.  First, the Chiefs are at home, and second, their offense is explosive and their defense has found its edge rushers even without Justin Houston.  Pittsburgh enters red hot, and finally has their trio healthy for a playoff run.  All three showed up big against Miami.  They will have to do it again.  Brown might have a tougher time this week against Marcus Peters, but the Chiefs run defense is their weakness.  Enter Le’Veon Bell, who is perhaps the hottest back in the league (sorry Zeke).  He will need to put the offense on his shoulders this week.  Kansas City finally has weapons to keep up, and Pittsburgh’s secondary might have their heads spinning after this one.  How do you contend with a dominating tight end over the middle (Kelce), a very solid possession receiver (Maclin), and a touchdown waiting to happen every single time he touches the ball (Hill)?  Don’t forget they can run the ball too.  This game will come down to defense and special teams.  Whoever can come up with a key turnover or even bring a kick or punt back could come out on top.  An excellent finish to divisional weekend, but I will go with the home team.

Chiefs 26, Steelers 23

Enjoy divisional weekend everybody!

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