DIVISIONAL MATCHUPS MAKE FOR SOME GREAT FOOTBALL

14Jan17

Last week, I decided to take the week off, since all four games were pretty much no-brainers. I didn’t expect four slaughters, but I did anticipate the four winners correctly.

This week, things won’t be so cut and dry. There is only one game that I feel warm and fuzzy making a projection about, and I think you all know which one that is. As far as the other three games, anything is possible.

Let’s take a look at all four divisional games.

NFL Football

Seattle at Atlanta.

This is the classic story of top offense against top defense, with a little twist. More times than not, when the playoffs come around, the nod goes to the best defense. But, this isn’t like most scenarios.

Seattle is banged up on both sides of the ball. The past few weeks, the Seahawks looked like they got their running game back, with the one-two punch of Rawls and Procise. However, with Procise out this week, it is now down to one. They will continue to utilize a fullback to make that work, which will take away a much-needed weapon in their passing game. If they don’t figure out a way to get Jimmy Graham into the mix, and rely solely on the magic of Doug Baldwin, Atlanta will shut them down.

Although they still have a formidable defense, they are missing a key component in Earl Thomas. The strong safety is one of the reasons Richard Sherman looks so good at corner. I’m not taking anything away from Sherman, the man is a stud, but having a guy like Thomas on the field makes his life a whole lot easier when playing against a powerful passing attack.

And does any team in the league have as powerful of a passing attack as the Falcons? Julio Jones averaged 101 yards per game this season, which basically means he is unstoppable. Sherman will hope to be able to contain him, but without Thomas’ presence on the field, odds are against that happening for four quarters.

And let’s not forget that the Falcons have that one-two punch at running back that Seattle no longer has. Regardless of how good the Seahawk defense is, the Falcons scoring machine will eventually do just that – score!

This one may remain close for the first three quarters, but the home team will pull away in the fourth quarter to earn a spot in the NFC championship game.

Final score – Atlanta 30, Seattle 20.

atlanta

Houston at New England.

Okay, here’s that warm and fuzzy game I was talking about. Nobody outside of a few homers in southern Texas are giving Houston any chance in this one. They are overmatched in every category, and it will become ugly before it finally ends.

First of all, the Patriots are well-rested, having last week off with a bye. They are relatively healthy and are playing in front of their home crowd with game time temperature predictions at just below freezing.

The Texans will be leaving home town temperatures of 75° to join the New England party, entering as 15-point underdogs. They will be hard pressed to keep the game that close.

The Patriots, once again, walked away with the AFC East division title. They began the season with Brady serving a four-game suspension, and finished that run at 3-1. Upon his return, they won eleven out of twelve games, finishing at 14-2.

Their running game is solid and they seem to include double digit players in every passing game plan, so focusing on one receiver does you no good. Their defense is not the best in the league, but it is solid and it doesn’t make mistakes.

Meanwhile, the Texans struggled to win what is quite possibly the worst division in football in the AFC South, finishing with a 9-7 record. They were very fortunate to have faced the Raiders in the Wild Card round last week, a team that came to town with a rookie third string quarterback making his first career start.

Well, Texan fans, I’m sorry to say the party is over. You are now entering the no-win zone, otherwise known as Foxboro in the playoffs. Strong, solid Super Bowl contenders rarely win in this environment. The Texans? Ughh! My advice would be to begin the tailgate party early, so you can at least enjoy some of the day.

Final Score – New England 34, Houston 13.

Patriots Helmet

Green Bay at Dallas.

This is the game everyone is talking about. Dallas is the best team in the league, many experts have been spouting. The Packers can’t win without Jordy Nelson, say several others. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. Enough already!

I guess we should all simply ignore the past six weeks of the season, where Green Bay dissected every team they played. Or we should forget that the Cowboys played a last place schedule?

I’m not taking away anything from the Cowboys success on the season, but I still believe, as I have stated many times over the past few weeks, that they are a young team and are relying on too many rookies for their success. That works in the regular season, when the competition level is down on most weeks. But now we’re talking playoffs against arguably the hottest team in the league.

And for those who believe that the Packers’ seven-game winning streak was purely a result of Jordy Nelson being on the field, you obviously haven’t been watching their games. Yes, Nelson is a superstar receiver, and he will be missed. But with Adams and Cobb healthy and strong, the receiving game is still well above average, as demonstrated against a very good Giants defense last week.

And they have a decent quarterback, too. What was his name? Oh yeah. Aaron Rogers, quite possibly the best, and definitely a top three, of the past decade, especially in the playoffs.

Now the Cowboys don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they will score. They have a top three running back and he will get his yards. But the real test for Dallas will be their rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott. He’s had a solid year, but as I’ve said many times, rookies in the playoffs rarely work out, especially at that position.

These teams met at Green Bay during the regular season, and the Cowboys came away with the 30-16 victory. But that was early in the season, and was the beginning of a stretch of games where the Packers went 1-5. This is not the same team that the Cowboys faced last time around.

This one will be close for most of the game, with a lot of offense from both teams. But when the fourth quarter begins, the Packers will put it into overdrive and pull away for the win.

Final Score – Green Bay 41, Dallas 27.

Packers Helmet

Pittsburgh at Kansas City.

This is the game that I have been looking forward to. And with the change in starting time for the game, it is now fittingly the final game of the weekend. Due to a predicted violent storm during the day, it has been moved up to a night time start.

How fitting that a storm is already impacting this game, since it is certain to be the most violent game of the weekend. These are two physical teams, defined by hard-hitting defense and opportunistic offense. They met in Pittsburgh during the season, and the Steelers destroyed them 43-14. But that was in week four, and it is now three months later.

The Chiefs have been relatively consistent this season. Not overpowering, but always in the game and usually finding a way to win. In fact, of their four losses this season, the only one-sided game was the loss to the Steelers. Ironically, in their other three losses, they gave up 19 points each time.

They don’t win games with an overpowering offense. In fact, they only scored more than 30 points in a game three times this season. But other than their loss to the Steelers, they have not allowed any team to score more than 28 points against them. This pretty much tells the story of how they must play in order to win this game. They cannot allow Pittsburgh to score a lot of points.

And therein lies the problem for the Chiefs. Is there a more potent offense in the league right now than the Steelers? Last week was the first time that the three B’s (Bell, Brown and Ben) played together in a playoff game. And it was over as soon as it began.

First, Ben to Brown stole the show with a 50-yard TD, followed by a 62-yard TD, before the Dolphins even knew what hit them. At that point, the Steelers didn’t need to continue with the passing attack, and turned things over to Bell to churn up yards and burn up the clock. They essentially turned off the scoring machine in the second quarter and still finished with 30 points (there’s that magic number)!

Now, the Chiefs will offer up a much better secondary than the Dolphins did, so don’t expect the same first quarter results as last week. But don’t be surprised if the Steelers score big either. And if they do, the Chiefs will not be able to stay with them.

The Chiefs’ only chance for a victory is to keep the scoring low. The stormy conditions may help, but it won’t be enough. The Steelers will leave town with the victory and a date in New England next week.

Final Score – Pittsburgh 27, Kansas City 20.

stelers

This should be a great week for football fans everywhere, even if your team is already on vacation. There will be three classic matchups (sorry Houston) with something for everyone. Whether you prefer great defense or powerful offense, it is all out there for you to enjoy.

So, stock up on the brewskies and get enough charcoal for the weekend. There’s no reason to leave home this weekend!

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