The wild card teams have been quietly excused and the 8 remaining teams now slug it out in the division round. Now not only did all four home teams win but the 76-point total margin of victory was the largest in a playoff round since the playoff field was expanded to 12 teams in 1990. The talk of expanding the playoffs has come up again and I rail against it. The style of playoffs now is just about perfect. Knock the #2 seeds all you want but they earned their byes though both #2 seeds had to sweat out the last week of the season to get the week off but they earned it and have formidable home crowds to back them up.
In a bit of Irony, the games on Saturday are rematches of 2012 divisional round playoff games being played 5 years and 1 day from their last playoff meeting in the same venues. The Falcons may be playing their last game in their 25-year-old venue, meanwhile the Chiefs are hosting a playoff game in the same digs they have been playing in since 1972. In any case the Conference Semi Finals are here, they are still referred to as the archaic title of divisional playoffs and even though all the teams are division winners. It should be referred to as what it is the semifinals of the conference playoffs. The order of the games is correct and not a misprint. The Steelers-Chiefs divisional matchup has been rescheduled to 8:20 due to weather conditions that the NFL decided would not be safe for fans to travel to for an early game. I’ll bet the farm that the NFL will see the monster ratings for the late Sunday game and change the playoff game format to 4:30 and 8 for the wild card and divisional (conference semis) round games for Saturday AND Sunday soon. In any case, presented for your review and perusal are the picks for the heretofore named Divisional round playoff games. Odds are provided by Westgate sports via ESPN and are for entertainment and comparison purposes only. If you get took by the bookies betting these lines, that’s totally on you.
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND
Saturday, January 14
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
Seahawks (11-5-1, #3 Seed, NFC South Champions @ Falcons (#2 Seed 11-5, NFC South Champions)
Georgia Dome, Atlanta 4:30 (FOX)
Falcons by 5 ½
Playoff History Falcons defeated Seahawks 30-28 in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs
Last Week Seahawks defeated NFC #2 Wild Card Lions 26-6, Falcons had bye as NFC #2 seed
Fast Facts: SEA: ATL: QB Matt Ryan has gone 137 passes without an interception SEA: Russell Wilson threw for a playoff career high 385 yards in the 2012 divisional round loss.
It’s the irresistible force (Falcons 33.8 points per game) vs immovable object (Seahawks allow 18.3 points per game) you have to wonder if the Seahawks defense will be able to slow down the Falcons offense which is having a renaissance under rejuvenated QB Matty “Ice” Ryan who got his only playoff win in his career against these very same Seahawks who were led by Russell Wilson who was in his rookie year. The Seahawks have seemed to have found a new offensive weapon in Thomas Rawls who’s running against the Lions gave the Seahawks a much-needed balance. While the Falcons defense is pedestrian and their run defense may be a cause for concern it isn’t the doormat the Lions defense was and I’m just not trusting Thomas Rawls to run wild as he did last week. The Seahawks defense aint the same as the old-school Legion of Boom that terrorized the league in seasons past and I’m thinking that Ryan will pick on them early and often. The Georgia Dome isn’t a historic playoff venue, this will be only the 6th playoff game played here but they will send the soon to be closing venue (The Falcons will be moving up the street to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium) off in grand style with a solid win.
AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
Texans (10-7, #4 seed, AFC South Champions) @ Patriots (14-2, #1 seed, AFC East Champions)
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, MA 8:15 (CBS)
Patriots by 15 ½
Playoff History Patriots defeated Texans 41-28 in the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoffs
Last Week: Texans defeated AFC #1 Wild Card Raiders 27-14, Patriots had bye as AFC #1 seed
Fast Fact: HOU: has never beaten the Pats in Foxboro NE: Pats are 14-3 at home in the playoffs since Gillette Stadium hosted its first playoff game in 2003
The Texans talk a tough game, they say they’ve learned from their 27-0 whitewash they took in Foxboro in September. But the problem is that the Pats thumped them pillar to post without the irrepressible Tom Brady. How the heck do you think that things will be so much different in January with Brady playing like he’s mad at anyone not wearing Patriots gear? They won’t be. Give the Texans a cookie and pat on the head after beating a depleted, dispirited Raiders squad last week but they are not in the same ballpark as the Pats who are 14 win deep, rested and at home where they rarely lose in the playoffs. It’s going to be cold and the Texans are a bad team in cold weather. Do they have a punchers chance? Sure, any team can win on any given Sunday, but will it happen on this Saturday Night? Nope.
Pick- New England
Sunday, January 15
Sunday, January 15 – NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
Packers (11-6, #4 seed NFC North Champions) @ Cowboys (13-3, #1 Seed NFC East Champions)
AT&T Stadium; Arlington, TX 4:40 (FOX)
Cowboys by 5
Playoff History This is the 8th postseason meeting, The Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-27 in the 1966 NFL Championship, 21-17 in the 1967 NFL championship and 26-21 in the 2014 NFC Divisional round. The Cowboys defeated the Packers 37-26 in the 1982 NFC divisional round, 27-17 in 1993 NFC Divisional round, 35-9 in the 1994 NFC Divisional Round and 38-27 in the 1995 NFC Championship game
Last Week: Packers defeated NFC #1 Wild Card Giants 38-14, Cowboys had bye as NFC #1 Seed
Fast Facts: GB: Packers have scored 30 or more points in their last five games DAL: RB Zeke Elliott first Cowboys rushing champ since Emmitt Smith in 1993
This was supposed to be the marquee matchup and last game of the weekend but the weather 562 miles to the north dictates a schedule change. The Pack toyed with the G-Men before blowing them out late and have been one of the hottest team in the game. Aaron Rodgers has gotten his groove back and the Pack offense is humming. The Pokes have ridden the stellar play of rookies Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott to 13 wins in a breakout season. The Pack will be without Rodgers favorite target as Jordy Nelson is a likely no-go with busted ribs and that presents a big problem for the Pack offense. You better be prepared to put up points when facing the Pokes. I’m no big fan of the team in general but I like the unflappable Prescott and the redoubtable Elliott who can wear opposing defense down in hurry with his sledgehammer run then break off a big one to sap a defenses will. The Packs best bet is to keep this game low scoring, as they will get trampled in a shootout. But the feeling that I get is that the Pokes will have no rookie stage fright in the playoffs and win handily
AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
Steelers (12-5, #3 Seed, AFC North Champions) Chiefs (12-4, #2 seed, AFC West Champions)
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City 8:20 (NBC) The NFL rescheduled the game due to possible icy conditions over the weekend
Chiefs by 1
Playoff History The Chiefs defeated the Steelers 27-24 in OT in the 1993 AFC Wild Card Round
Last Week: Steelers defeated AFC #2 Wild Card Dolphins 30-12 Chiefs had bye as #2 seed
Fast Facts: PIT; LeVeon Bell set a franchise playoff record with 167 yards rushing against MIA. KC: Has lost their last 5 home playoff games, their last win against PIT in 1993
What was an already intriguing playoff matchup now has a primetime backdrop to it. The Steelers rolled over the Dolphins with an almost bored feel to it, they have a notch of confidence against a Chiefs squad that they decimated in October by 29 and that game wasn’t even close. But, that Chiefs team was a middling 2-2, this squad is brimming with confidence. Alex Smith is playing solid ball, Tyreek Hill has developed quickly into a solid receiving threat and their most electric return man since Dante Hall and the super underrated Travis Kelce will be a serious problem. The Steelers are, well the Steelers they are winning with their potent offense and their defense while not the intimidating group of years’ past are still enough of a force to be reckoned with. This is tossup to be sure, say what you want about the intimidating Arrowhead the Chiefs have not won a home playoff game in 23 years and have lost 6 home playoff games in a row all of them they were favored to win. I want the Chiefs to win, they have a good squad but I don’t trust their tendency to melt down in the playoffs and the Steelers are rolling.
Last Week 3-1