Editor’s Note: This article was also written by Jake McDonnell and Tyler Feeser.
The wild card round has passed but to many fans disappointment, the games did not live up to the hype. This week should be more exciting though, as the contenders have been separated from the pretenders.
To break down this weeks games, all of our experts here at Charm City Bird Watch will provide an analysis of each game, followed by a prediction. Let’s see how much we agree, or disagree.
Saturday, January 14
NFC: Seattle (10-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) – 4:35 pm – Fox
Jake: These two teams squared off in week 6 in Seattle, where the Seahawks won in controversial fashion, 26-24.
With 1:39 to go in that game, the Falcons faced a 4th and 10 play and could not convert when Matt Ryan threw a deep pass to Julio Jones. On the play, Richard Sherman should have been flagged for pass interference, but there was nothing called and Seattle escaped with the win.
This time around, the two teams face off in what could be the last game at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks will be without safety Earl Thomas, who made a crucial interception in that week six game. Seattle will also be without receiver Tyler Lockett, who broke his leg on Christmas Eve. The Falcons are healthier, and have a solid two-running back attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but we all know Ryan’s track record in the playoffs; 1-4 with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions dating back to 2008.
This will be a different game than we saw in October. On the road this season, Seattle is 3-4-1 and scoring an average of just 16 points-per-game. The Falcons have the best offense in football, scoring 540 points, which is tied for the seventh-most of all time. I believe that will be the difference in this game, and Atlanta will advance to the NFC Championship.
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Seattle 21
Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are just two pieces of the explosive Flacons offense that averages over 33 points per game. Source: Matthew Emmons – USA Today
Nolan: The Seahawks took care of business last week against the Lions, proving once again that they are legitimate contenders for the super bowl. However, their opponent this week will be much tougher. Defeating the Falcons is a tall order on its own but Seattle will have to do it on the road, where they have not played their best football. Even though the Falcons had a fantastic season, the core of their team has yet to prove themselves in the playoff atmosphere. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a MVP candidate but his playoff resume is lacking. Like I said before in their matchup against Detroit, the Seahawks are a proven playoff team and that’s why I’m picking them over Atlanta.
Prediction: Seattle 28, Atlanta 20
Tyler: On paper this looks like a very intriguing matchup. I fully expect it to be. But if I had to pick a surprise game of the week this would be it. I would not be surprised at all if this ended up like the game in Green Bay did last week. Seattle has not been as good on the road and has not played well recently compared to early in the season. Atlanta on the other hand has been playing very well all season long. Some are considering the 2016 Atlanta offense to be one of the best units ever. They have a great balance of run and pass with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. Seattle’s defense is going to have their hands full trying to contain everyone. Atlanta’s defense is exploitable but Vic Beasley led the league in sacks this season (15.5). Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense will need to play one of their better games of the season to win this one. This is another game where a coach will be facing a former team. Dan Quinn, Falcon’s head coach, was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. Expect Atlanta to come out healthy and firing on all cylinders.
Prediction: Atlanta 38, Seattle 30
AFC: Houston (9-7) @ New England (14-2) – 8:15 pm – CBS
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a record of 22-9 in the playoffs. Source: Steven Senne – Associated Press
Jake: Like the rest of the match-ups in divisional weekend, the teams involved in this contest squared off earlier this season. In a week 3 Thursday Night Football game, the Tom Brady-less Patriots shut-out the Texans 27-0 in New England.
I think that naming the Texans as 17-point underdogs may be a little generous.
That’s right folks; be sure to make plans on Saturday night, because there is no way that you want to sit down and watch this game. If the Patriots were able to defeat the Texans 27-0 with a third string quarterback, I can only imagine what Tom Brady is going to do to them.
Yes, Houston may have the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards given up per game. Yes, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was on New England’s coaching staff from 2007-2011 and knows Brady & Belichick well. But guess what, it does not matter.
The Patriots have Brady, the best quarterback in NFL History. Brock Osweiler stands no chance against the minds of Brady and Belichick. Let me make myself clear when I say that the Texans have no chance of winning this game. If you think they do, you’re lying to yourself.
Prediction: New England 31, Houston 13
Nolan: This one is being laughed off by everyone. They say there is no way that Brady and Belichick lose to Houston at home. That’s fine, but why are we ignoring the fact that the Texans have the best defense in the league? I have confidence that Houston’s defense can force Brady into some mistakes. The question is, can Osweiler and the offense capitalize on these mistakes? This is where my confidence runs out. Brock Osweiler is going to hold Houston back on Saturday. At the end of the day I’m picking the Pats for obvious reasons but don’t ignore the Texans strengths.
Prediction: New England 29, Houston 14
Tyler: This is definitely the easiest game to pick this week, as the other three should be great games. These two teams met earlier this season with New England winning without Tom Brady. Most people will expect a blowout but don’t be so certain. Bill O’Brien used to coach under Bill Belichick and worked directly with Tom Brady for years. I guarantee that the Houston players will want to win this one to not only shut everyone up, but to help themselves in their quest for the first championship in franchise history, and to get O’Brien a huge win over his former employer. That being said, trying to win in New England in the playoffs is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Especially when Belichick is given two weeks to heal his team up and prepare. Look for the Patriots to look as good as they have all season.
Prediction: New England 38, Houston 17
Sunday January 15
AFC: Pittsburgh (11-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) – 1:05 pm – NBC
UPDATE: Game moved to 8:20 pm due to weather.
Jake: In week 4 the Steelers blew past the Chiefs 43-14 on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh. This time around the black & yellow will travel to perhaps the toughest place to play in the NFL – Arrowhead Stadium against a Chiefs team that has gone 22-4 since week 7 of the 2015 season.
Source: Robert Deutsch – USA Today
Here is another interesting statistic for you – in his years coaching the Eagles and Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid has gone 16-2 after a bye week, and 3-0 in playoff games where Reid’s team had an extra week to get ready. However, before last year, the last time that the Chiefs won a playoff game was 1993. Reid’s first playoff appearance with Kansas City was a loss; an away game in Indianapolis.
The Steelers are red-hot after blowing out the Dolphins 30-12 in Wild Card weekend; their eighth straight win. Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown is perhaps the best in football, and they are catching fire at the right time.
This game is very tough to predict. I think it will come down to who makes the most plays on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, I trust the Steelers to be able to do that. But, I would not be shocked if the Chiefs won in their home stadium on bye week rest.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Kansas City 24
Nolan: The Steelers are playing their best football of the year at the perfect time. Their three B’s to success (Ben, Brown, and Bell) continue to be the difference makers week after week. This Sunday they will be traveling into a hostile environment as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs. Earlier this year, the two teams played in Pittsburgh where the Steelers dominated for a 43-14 victory. If Alex smith can put together some long drives and keep the Steelers on the sideline they can win this one. The only problem is that the Steelers have shown they only need 50 – 60 seconds to put together a touchdown drive, thus making the time of possession somewhat irrelevant.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Kansas City 20
Tyler: If you like defensive battles this is the game for you. I believe this will be the lowest scoring game of the weekend. Kansas City has a very strong defense and an intimidating home field advantage. Pittsburgh WILL NOT back down though. I promise you that. Pittsburgh’s defense looked very strong last week in their win against Miami while their offense picked up where they left off in the regular season. I think it is very possible we see another long touchdown from Antonio Brown this week as well as a strong day from Le’Veon Bell. The ultimate downfall for Pittsburgh will be Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. Ben has not been very good this year away from Heinz Field and Kansas City’s defense is top notch. They WILL take advantage of any mistakes Ben may and will make. The slow and methodical nature of Kansas City’s offense will also keep Ben’s opportunities to a minimum.
Prediction: Kansas City 20, Pittsburgh 13
NFC: Green Bay (10-6) @ Dallas (13-3) – 4:40 pm – Fox
Jake: Back in week 6 at Lambeau Field the Cowboys defeated the Packers 30-16 during their 11-game winning streak. This time around, Aaron Rodgers returns to Jerry World, the same place where he won Super Bowl 45. On the other sideline, two Dallas Rookies will be making their first playoff appearances – quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Rodgers is playing out of his mind. In the Wild Card game last weekend against the Giants Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns, including a ridiculous hail mary at the end of the first half. Most of this was done without star receiver Jordy Nelson, who left the game early with a rib injury and spent the night in a local hospital. Nelson is likely to miss this game, but it should be noted that Dallas’s secondary is nothing to write home about.
When the Packers were 4-6, the national & local media was blasting Rodgers. That appears to be a long-forgotten memory, as Rodgers is again showing why he is the best thrower of the football that the NFL has ever seen.
I am intrigued to see how the two big rookies on the Cowboys play in their first playoff game. Prescott and Elliott have put together MVP-caliber seasons, but we will see how good they play in crunch time against a Packers team that has Rodgers at the helm.
I picked against Rodgers last week, and I learned my lesson. The Cowboys are a much better team than the Giants, but I cannot pick against Rodgers again.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 28
Nolan: Much like the Steelers, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers in particular are red hot right now. I’m viewing this game in the same light as the Seahawks and Falcons game. I praised Seattle for being a battle tested team and I can certainly say the same about Green Bay. The Cowboys had an amazing season and are by no means an underdog but I have trouble putting a lot of confidence in rookies like Prescott and Elliot when it comes to the playoffs. My only issue with Green Bay was their lackluster defense but they handled the Giants very well and are looking more like a complete team capable of a Super bowl run.
Prediction: Green Bay 35, Dallas 24
Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are being relied on to get Dallas to the NFC championship for the first time in 20 years. Source: CBS Sports
Tyler: In my opinion this is probably the toughest game to pick this weekend. Dallas has looked extremely good all season when playing their starters against any team not named the Giants. The Packers are on an extreme tear right now after completely dismantling the Giants last week in Green Bay. The Packers will most likely be playing without Jordy Nelson this week after he broke his ribs last week. The key for Dallas will definitely be establishing Zeke Elliott early. If they can control the clock and sustain long drives to keep Rodgers off the field they have a very good chance of winning. Green Bay has been very good against the run this year but I believe this stat to be misleading. I think they are at the top of league in this category because most teams don’t even try to run on them due to their subpar pass defense. Their pass defense has been much better as of late and I think it will be able to confuse the rookie Dak Prescott. They did a great job of this last week to Eli Manning. Rodgers will have another great game but I think the Packers defense will win them the game this week.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 30