Saturday, January 14, 2017

NFL PLAYOFFS - Divisional Round Preview

The NFL Playoffs move forward this weekend as the Divisional Round gets going today with the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Seattle Seahawks. Tonight, the Houston Texans take on the New England Patriots, the team that posted the NFL's best record this season.
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers travel to face the Dallas Cowboys, the top seed in the NFC while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs will do battle in Kansas City on Sunday night. The game was moved back from an early afternoon start because of severe ice storms sweeping across the Midwest.

The following offers a closer look at the four games on tap with the Heftyinfo picks following afterward.

Saturday, January 14

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons - These two teams met back in Week Six in Seattle (Seahawks won 26-24) and this time the game is in Atlanta, where the Falcons went 5-3 in the regular season.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan will be looking to improve upon a 1-4 record as a starter in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title under his belt.
The key to the game will be the Seahawks defense, one of the best in the NFL once again this season, limiting the Falcons offense. Atlanta had the highest scoring offense in the NFL this season.
Seattle will need to have a big day from the running game again this week. Last week, RB Thomas Rawls went off against the Detroit Lions to help the 'Hawks advance. Atlanta's defense is suspect at best.
The Falcons will look to jump ahead of the Seahawks as Ryan has multiple weapons to spread the ball around to. Wide receiver Julio Jones is among the best wide receivers in the league. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are a two-headed monster for the Falcons.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots - The Patriots are a huge favorite in the game tonight at Gillette Stadium. Look for QB Tom Brady (pictured right) and company to get a quick lead and let the defense do the rest against a less than stellar Texans offense, led by QB Brock Osweiler, who suffered through a horrible regular season.
The New England defense allowed 250 points during the regular season and led the NFL in scoring defense, giving up an average of just under 16 points per game. In addition, the Pats shut out the Texans 27-0 back in Week Three with their third string QB Jacoby Brissett starting the game in place of suspended Tom Brady and injured backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
Meanwhile, the Texans bring the best overall defense in the league, led by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. They will look to slow down the Patriots offense, which was third best in the NFL in scoring this season.
The Patriots are without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, out for the season with injuries but haven't missed a beat. In fact, they finished the season on a seven-game winning streak to finish at 14-2 while earning the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
As long as they avoid any costly turnovers and the defense takes away Houston offensive weapons (running back) Lamar Miller and (wide receiver) DeAndre Hopkins, the Patriots should roll to a pretty easy win in  this one.

Sunday, January 15

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys - This one has the makings of a classic playoff game on paper with these high powered offensive teams going at it.
The Cowboys are led by a pair of rookies in QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing yardage (1,651 yards for a 5.1 ypc average and 15 rushing TD) while making a very strong case for the Rookie of the Year Award. Plus, the passing game has veterans tight end Jason Witten and WR Dez Bryant for Prescott to throw the ball to, along with WR Cole Beasley (75 receptions to lead the team) and Elliott, who made 32 receptions out of the backfield.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is the hottest NFL QB going.
Not to be outdone, the Packers offense is among the hottest in pro football, led by QB Aaron
Rodgers, who led the NFL with 40 TD passes (with only seven interceptions) in the regular season. He torched the New York Giants top flight defense for an impressive four scoring strikes last week in a 38-13 rout in the Wild Card game in Lambeau Field.
The Packers have won seven straight games and will look to continue to "run the table" as Rodgers said they could do back in November when the team was mired at 4-6 while going through a four-game losing streak. Since then, Rodgers and company have been averaging nearly 32 points per game.
One big negative for the Packers will be not having WR Jordy Nelson (97 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 TD in regular season) for the game. Nelson suffered fractured ribs injury in last week's win over the Giants. However, wide receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (three TD catches last week), along with TE Jared Cook, give Rodgers plenty of options in the green and gold attack.
Both of these teams' defenses have been doing an adequate job in the second half of the season and when they met back in October in Green Bay, Dallas won rather easily 30-16 when the Packers were struggling.
Don't expect the defenses to dominate this one as both offenses should light up the scoreboard. The final outcome could come down to which team has the ball last.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs - The game was moved back from an early afternoon start (12 PM CT) to a "prime time" game on Sunday night due to severe winter weather in the Midwest as ice storms have been wreaking havoc in many areas this weekend.
The Steelers will be looking to duplicate a 43-14 blowout win against the Chiefs (played in  Pittsburgh) back in early October.
Both teams are on a roll coming into this one as the Steelers have won eight in a row while the Chiefs have won five of their last six games to gain the number-two seed in the AFC playoffs.
Pittsburgh rates the edge on offense with their "Big Three" of QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown going off last weekend against Miami in a 30-12 win in the Wild Card game.
The Chiefs have a solid defense, but will have their hands full against the Steelers offense. They will need to limit Bell on the ground and get pressure on Roehtlisberger, who appeared to tweak his ankle late in the game against the Dolphins.
The Chiefs have shown they can score as well as they rang up 70 points in their final two games combined against Denver and San Diego (both wins) with multi-purpose player Tyreek Bell making big plays, including a 95-yard punt return for a score against the Chargers in the final game of the season.
Kansas City QB Alex Smith has always been labeled a "game manager" throughout his 12-year career and whether he deserves it or not, all he seems to do is win under Head Coach Andy Reid's system.
The Chiefs will look to Smith to spread the ball around against a resurgent Pittsburgh defense, which has been allowing just 16.5 points per game during their eight-game winning streak.
Tight End Travis Kelce (85 receptions in regular season) is the primary target for Kansas City, along with Hill (61 catches and six TD) and running back Spencer Ware (921 rushing yards) who will look to move the ball against the Steelers defense.
As long as the Chiefs can maintain a ball control style offense and keep the Steelers potent attack off the field, they can stay in the game for sure. If not, look for Big Ben and company to attack as they did in the prior meeting when he had five TD passes in the easy win.

The Heftyinfo predictions for the Divisional Playoffs  (Home teams are listed in bold)

Seattle over Atlanta
New England over Houston
Dallas over Green Bay
Pittsburgh over Kansas City

Last Week's Record:  3-1


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