Will the Green Bay Packers eliminate the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round for the second time in three years?
They’ll have to do it on the road this time, and against a more talented Dallas team than the one narrowly beaten at Lambeau 24 long months ago.
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It was hardly a “wild” Wild Card Weekend, but at least I correctly predicted all four games. It’s a boost for my ego if nothing else. This weekend’s lineup looks far more appetizing: Atlanta hosts Seattle, Pittsburgh travels to Kansas City and New England takes on Houston. Admittedly, nobody will be watching Patriots-Texans beyond the first quarter. But the other games a poised to be thrillers.
Let’s dive in. Who is heading for the conference championships?
Green Bay at Dallas
This game is nearly impossible to call. Forget Week 6. Both teams have come a long way since then, particularly the red-hot Packers. There’s a few matchups that’ll determine the winner.
Can Green Bay do anything defensively or will Dom Capers’ unit be ploughed over as it was in October?
The same can be said the other way. Dallas’ pass rush hasn’t been up to par for much of the year, and you won’t find a better pass-protecting offensive line than the Packers’. Throw in Aaron Rodgers’ mobility and the Cowboys rushers could be chasing shadows all afternoon.
If Rodgers is consistently given time to throw, he’ll shred them, even if there’s no Jordy Nelson on the field. This has the makings of a shootout in Texas, and it’s hard to pick against the best quarterback in football.
Cowboys fans, feel free to call me a homer. Mmm… donuts.
Pick: Green Bay
Seattle at Atlanta
Atlanta might have the best offense in the NFL. Kyle Shanahan has done a fantastic job this year, making the most of a deep pool of talent. Seattle’s defense has struggled somewhat since Earl Thomas got hurt. Expect to see Julio Jones working the middle of the field, which spells bad news for the Seahawks.
The ‘Hawks need to stuff the run and take away the big play. It’s a tough ask against these Falcons, but if there’s a defense in the NFC capable of doing it, it’s Seattle’s.
Flipping it over, the Seahawks best have a gameplan for Vic Beasley, the NFL’s sack leader. The Falcons defense is hardly suffocating, but it wins with speed. Pete Carroll’s team will need to suck the air out of the Georgia Dome with a heavy dose of Thomas Rawls.
It should be a thriller, but I’m picking Dan Quinn to get one over on his former employer.
Houston at New England
This could get ugly in a hurry. Houston’s defense is exceptional, but can it stop Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxborough? It’s going to have to.
Brock Osweiler put together a nice game against Oakland, but this is a different ballgame now. This is when it gets serious. The Pats shut Osweiler and the Texans offense down when they met in Week 3. This one might not be a shutout as that game was, but it should be a comfortable Patriots win.
Pick: New England
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Everyone will talk about Ben Roethlisberger on the road. They’ll talk about the hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium, and how the Chiefs can make life difficult for New England in the title game should they advance. All of those statements are correct, but it won’t matter.
Let’s flip the narrative. How can Kansas City’s No. 26 ranked run defense stop Le’Veon Bell? Bell ran all over them in a 43-14 blowout Steelers win in Week 4, rushing for 144 yards. It was Bell’s first game back from a three-game suspension and torn MCL, and he’s got even better since.
It’s unlikely Roethlisberger throws five touchdowns on this Chiefs defense again, but he won’t need to. The trio of Ben, Antonio Brown and Bell overwhelms Kansas City in this one, setting up a mouthwatering AFC title game between Pittsburgh and New England.