Seattle at Atlanta. Why have so many people already written off the visiting teams in the NFC playoffs? The Falcons were finally able to finish out the season after a promising start. Matt Ryan was awesome and guys like Taylor Gabriel and Mohammed Sanu stepped up when Julio Jones was either injured or contained. Even the run game was consistent with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both valuable. Vic Beasley was a stud this year and the run game that was so effective last week for the Seahawks will want to avoid going in that direction.
Seattle does have a lot going for them. Thomas Rawls is coming off a big performance and Russell Wilson got a huge outing from Doug Baldwin. Just think how potent this offense could be if Jimmy Graham gets going along with one of the other young receivers (Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Jermaine Kearse). The biggest focus may be on the play of the defense and whether they will be able to bottle up this exciting offense from the Falcons. Richard Sherman really needs to step it up against Jones while getting some pressure on Ryan will ease the burden on the rest of the secondary. Seahawks 27, Falcons 24
Houston at New England. Not sure there could be a more boring game possible. But that’s basically what we said about the Texans game last week and they still managed to play decently. The Texans should have Lamar Miller healthy, along with a better version of Brock Osweiler than we’ve seen recently. That helps DeAndre Hopkins.
And while Jadeveon Clowney and friends have been great without all-world talent JJ Watt, they have their hands full against Tom Brady. With a week off after coasting to another great regular season, the Patriots will have home advantage against an offensively disadvantaged team. New England has been steady all season on the defensive side of the ball, though don’t look for any kind of dominating performance. They will give up points. But who is going to outscore this run game? Patriots 34, Texans 21
Green Bay at Dallas. Aaron Rodgers is good, but can they beat the Cowboys with no Jordy Nelson AND no run game? Perhaps they will get away with some read-option type stuff or at least some trips-type plays that will essentially be in place of runs. But can they be one-dimensional against a strong defense with a strong run game to back it up? They will need another strong showing from Randall Cobb and Davante Adams if they are to repeat last week’s result.
Dak Prescott might have the whole “rookie hex” to deal with, but he’s been nothing short of amazing so far and there’s no reason why he can’t continue it against a mediocre Packer defense with no pass rush to speak of (unless the ageless Julius Peppers really scares you). Would be nice to see a big game out of Dez Bryant to start off the playoffs for this squad. Cowboys 30, Packers 28
Pittsburgh at Kansas City. Who is supposed to be the favorite in this one? Will it matter? The Steelers were very good last week and with a healthy trio of Roethlisberger (no matter whether he’s got a boot on or not), Brown, and Bell this should be very interesting. Still, it’s the defense that’s really be the key down the stretch. And how they defend Travis Kelce may be the real key.
Alex Smith will be asked to make things happen much like he did the first time these two teams played in Week 4. He will need plenty of help from guys like Tyreek Hill and Jeremy Maclin. But they are likely to get some kind of big play from one of the other many x-factor type players they have at their disposal. Will mother nature let them get this game in? Chiefs 35, Steelers 24