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NFL Divisional Round Preview - Can anyone stop the Patriots?

And is Dallas v Green Bay the biggest game of the weekend?

BY NOW YOU’VE read the stats, with a combined win total of 76 points for the home teams, last weekend was the most lopsided NFL Wild Card round since 1981.

To be fair, the previous year saw all four road teams win so it’s not like it’s a pattern or anything.

However, every NFL fan lives in hope that this weekend will provide a much closer slate of match-ups to make staying up until the early hours of the morning worth it.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (-5) – Saturday, 9.35pm

Richard Sherman v Julio Jones will be a must-watch battle. Source: Elaine Thompson/AP/Press Association Images

There is no more Jekyll and Hyde team left in the playoffs than Seattle. Averaging nearly 29 points at home this season –where they went 7-1 — they’re scoring 12 points fewer on the road.

The biggest problem for the Seahawks is their offensive line and, while it’s a cliché, it’s true that bad offensive lines don’t travel well and that’s reflected in both their record (3-4-1) and the fact they scored 10 points or fewer on the road four times this season.

Low-scoring would be an issue against any team, but it’s particularly troublesome this weekend as the Falcons lead the league in scoring with 540 points (the Saints were second with 469) and a whopping 63 touchdowns or nearly four per game.

The Seahawks may have beaten Atlanta way back in week six but that was with Earl Thomas in the side — and the help of a missed pass interference call — and it’s a very different defence travelling to Georgia this week, one that is giving up nearly 21 points a game since his absence (which includes only nine points to the Rams and Lions combined by the way).

Verdict: I’m sure you could talk yourself into the Seahawks this weekend. Playoff experience, a good run defence, Russell Wilson. But the Falcons will win comfortably. Atlanta by 8.

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (-15) – Sunday, 1.15am

Patriots Brissett Football Jacoby Brissett took care of the Texans, surely Tom Brady will do the same? Source: Elise Amendola/AP/Press Association Images

There are a number of ways the Houston Texans can win this game. There could be a mass outbreak of food poisoning in the New England camp. Tom Brady might trip up in his Ugg boots and take both back-up quarterbacks out with him. Bill Belichick, so focused on the AFC Championship Game, might forget to remind the team of the kick-off time resulting in a forfeit.

There’s certainly no way the Texans can win it on the pitch. Yes, the Texans are the league’s best defence in terms of yards given up per game but their strengths — pressure on the passer and turnovers on defence — play right into Patriots hands as Brady has one of the fastest releases in the NFL and threw just two interceptions all season.

Verdict: Will Jimmy Garoppolo get a snap in this game is a much more pertinent question than whether or not the Patriots can lose. New England by 20.

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) – Sunday 9.40pm

Cowboys Packers Football The Packers couldn't stop Ezekiel Elliott last time out. Source: Mike Roemer/AP/Press Association Images

The last time these two played, Zeke Elliott rushed for 157 yards as the Cowboys rolled into Lambeau and recorded a 30-16 victory back in week four. There’s very little evidence the Green Bay defence has improved a whole lot since that game ranking 22nd overall on that side of the ball this season.

It’ll be on the ground that Dallas will look to win this game behind the league’s third best offensive line (the Titans and Raiders are slightly ahead of the Cowboys). Interestingly, while ‘America’s Team’ rank third in time of possession (31.27) the Packers are right behind them in fourth (31.25) and, whoever wins that battle, could well win the game on Sunday night.

There are no superlatives left to describe Aaron Rodgers’ performances during the Packers’ current win streak and it’s worth pointing out that AT&T Stadium holds fond memories for the quarterback as it was the site of his only Super Bowl. Against a Cowboys defence that ranks first against the run, he’s going to have to be great again.

Verdict: I’ve gone back and forth over this game all week and I do worry that the Cowboys’ lack of playoff experience will come back to haunt them. However, Dallas by 3.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) – Monday, 1.20am

Chiefs Steelers Football Lev Bell will be crucial to any Steelers' success. Source: Jared Wickerham/AP/Press Association Images

This, more so that Green Bay at Dallas, is the most compelling game of the weekend and the news that the kick-off time would be moving only adds to the intrigue.

By now, you’re probably quite familiar with the fact that Andy Reid teams are good in the week following a bye. Good is an understatement. With an extra week to prepare for teams, Reid is 16-2 and he’s undefeated in the postseason following a bye.

And it’s not like he’s playing chumps in the playoffs either. In three playoff byes he’s beaten the Michael Vick-led Falcons, Brett Favre-led Packers and Randy Moss-led Minnesota Vikings, all top-10 offences in the year Reid’s teams took care of them.

The Steelers come into this game with one of the most potent attacks in the NFL thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell who put a hiding on the Dolphins last week.

However, even in that win, Big Ben’s penchant for throwing dangerous passes came to the fore and it’s worth nothing against a pick-hungry secondary like Kansas City’s that, per PFF, his 27 ‘turnover worthy passes’ was the sixth highest among all NFL quarterbacks this season.

Verdict: The Chiefs can struggle against the run, particularly if Justin Houston is hurt but will force turnovers and will win the game on the final drive. Kansas City by 2.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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