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NFL Divisional Round Preview

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Seahawks vs Atlanta Falcons

Can the Seahawks continue their strong play away from the comforts of CenturyLink Field? Seattle had one of the largest home and away splits this season with an away record of 3-4-1, while boasting a record of 7-1 at home

The matchup to watch will be Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game against the elite Seattle secondary. Ryan should win the NFL MVP this season and will need another MVP performance for the Falcons to advance. These two teams faced off against each other in Week 6 with the Seahawks prevailing, 26-24. However, that game was in Seattle.

Atlanta’s secondary was poor this season, ranking 28th in passing yards by allowing 266.7 yards per game. The Falcons will need to neutralize Seattle running back Thomas Rawls, who had 161 yards last week, to give Atlanta’s secondary a chance. If the the Seahawks can run the ball and open up play action plays, that is bad news for Atlanta. The Falcons were average at stopping the run, ranking 17th and allowing 104.5 rushing yards per game.

Atlanta’s defense isn’t great, but should be good enough to hold Seattle to a respectable score. If the Falcons’ defense can’t, they have the offense to win a shootout as well.

Prediction: Falcons, 31-28

Houston Texans vs New England Patriots

This should be the least competitive game of the Divisional Round. The Texans won their Wild Card game, 27-14, however, it was against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders were forced to play their third string quarterback, Connor Cook. Given Cook’s inexperience and lower skill level than starter Derek Carr or even Matt McGloin, it’s not surprising that the Raiders’ offense struggled against a good Texans’ defense.

This time around the Texans have to face future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady instead. Houston will be starting either Brock Osweiler, who the Texans benched earlier in the year, or Tom Savage who is recovering from a concussion. Neither is a very good option to go against the Patriots elite defense. New England led the NFL in points allowed by only allowing 15.6 points per game. The Patriots running defense is very good, ranking third and only allowing 88.6 points per game.

Texans’ running back Lamar Miller only had 73 rushing yards on 31 carries against Oakland and won’t be very successful playing against the Patriots’ defense. If the Texans have to rely on the arm of Osweiler or Savage, the game could get ugly quick. There’s a reason the Patriots are a 15-point favorite.

Prediction: Patriots, 45-17

Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys

Similar to the Steelers, the Packers are coming into this game hot with a seven-game winning streak. The Cowboys were by far the most impressive team this season, losing only two games. Those two games were both to the hands of the New York Giants who the Packers just defeated in the Wild Card round.

This will be the first NFL postseason experience for both Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. On the other hand, both players have played this season as if both are seasoned veterans. The Cowboys will come into this game the healthiest they have been all season. Every active Cowboy practiced on Wednesday and everyone should be available for Sunday. The Packers will likely be without wide receiver Jordy Nelson, running back James Starks and cornerback Quinten Rollins.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense has been on fire the past two months and should put up points. Since Week 7, Rodgers is first in completions (150), passing yards (1591), and touchdowns (15). He also has not thrown an interception since then either. The key for the Cowboys will to win the time of possession game and limit the time Rodgers is on the field. Despite playing better recently, the Packers defense still has major holes. If Elliot has another good game, the Cowboys should win. If this is a shootout, the Packers should win. Elliot will continue his great play he had in the regular season into the playoffs.

Prediction: Cowboys, 28-21

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs

This game is one that is hard to gauge who the favorite should be. On one hand, the Steelers are coming into this game with an eight-game winning streak with their offense playing really well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown too many interceptions recently, six in the past four games, but is playing well overall. Also, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are playing really good football right now.

Then again, the game is in Kansas City and the Steelers will be playing a very

balanced Chiefs team. These two teams played each other towards the beginning of the season and the Steelers dominated the Chiefs 43-14. That was Week 4, however, and both teams are different than when that game was played. Similar to how the Falcons need to contain Rawls, the Chiefs need to contain Bell. In the previous matchup between these two teams, Bell ran for 144 yards and ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins last week.

The Chiefs’ ability to pressure the quarterback has not been good this season, ranking 28th in sacks this season. Against the Steelers offensive line that likely won’t change so the Chiefs will need to make the Steelers offense one dimensional. Roethlisberger has made mistakes in recent weeks and forcing him to win the game with his arm could lead to turnovers. The Chiefs are a very good team and this should be close, but the Steelers’ offense is too dynamic to lose this game

Prediction: Steelers, 24-21

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