After what was one of the most one-sided wild card rounds in recent memory, football fans around the land are now gearing up for what should hopefully be a cracking slate of games in this year’s divisional round. The 8 teams remaining are the 8 division winners, while their are familiar names in both conferences looking to snatch Superbowl 51 in Houston in 4 weeks time.
In the NFC, Seattle will travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons on Sunday morning (8:35am AEDT) in what will be a rematch of one of the best games from the 2016 season, while on Monday morning Aaron Rodgers and the surging Packers will travel to Arlington, Texas to try knock off the No. 1 seed Cowboys.
In the AFC, the Texans will return to Foxborough to try and cause what may be the upset of the century against a Patriot team which ahnialeted them 27-0 in week 3. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs will be out for redemption of their own, facing a white hot Pittsburgh team that smashed them 43-14 in week 4 at Heinz Field.
Here is a preview of what we may encounter on a fantastic weekend of do-or-die football. Remember, the big dance is just around the corner.
Sunday, Jan. 15th 8:35am (AEDT)
Having run all over a lacklustre and answer-less Detroit defense, Thomas Rawls and the Seattle Seahawks will travel to Atlanta with the aim of reaching the NFC title game for the first time since 2014. Atlanta, playing in what will likely be their final game in the Georgia Dome, will be hoping to ride their explosive offense to their first conference Championship game since 2012. The Falcons were the highest scoring offense this season, with a total of 540 points scored at an average of 33.8 a game. With all their offensive stars fight and firing, it could be tough ask for Seattle to keep up offensively, having only averaged 22.1 points per game themselves (tied for 18th in the league), though they have given up the 3rd fewest points this season (292). Ground and pound may not work if the Hawks find themselves behind, so look for Russell Wilson to attack a secondary that has given up the 5th most yards through the air this season (266.7 ypg) and is without their top CB in Desmond Trufant through injury.
Sunday, Jan. 15th 12:15pm (AEDT)
Oh boy. How are the Texans going to pull this off? Houston will look to make amends after a week 3 disaster to the Patriots, who pulled Houston’s pants down that night behind a 3rd string QB. Despite all the doom and gloom, the Texans should consider themselves a real chance, possessing the leagues best defense (301 ypg) and a QB in Brock Osweiler who was serviceable in their wild card win over the Raiders. If Clowney and Mercilus can cause chaos up front similar to what Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware did in the AFC Championship game lastyear, the Patriots have shown they can be vulnerable, particularly with Brady’s safety blanket (TE Rob Gronkowski) out through injury. For the Pats, if their underrated defense (top 12 in all major categories) can suffercate Houston’s offense as they did in week 3, the greatest QB of all time should be able to do the rest in front of a roaring home crowd at Gillette Stadium. Houston will be hoping for a defensive performance for the ages, Osweiler to play the best game of his young career, and Brady and his mates to have an off night. If all those unlikely happenings happen, the Texans could find themselves in their first AFC Championship game. Stranger things have happened.
Monday, Jan. 16th 5:05am (AEDT)
When these two teams met at Heinz Field in week 4, the Steelers smacked the Chiefs 43-14 and the game was over after 10 minutes. This is a different Kansas City team. KC have come on in leaps and bounds since that Sunday night thumping in the Steel City, and they possess two weapons that will give an inexperienced Pittsburgh secondary nightmares in rookie Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kalce. One thing’s for sure, if the Chiefs are to get revenge on the Steelers, they must do what Miami couldn’t and stop Le’Veon Bell. Easier said than done, especially with top inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson out with an Achilles injury. KC had the 26th best run defense this season, allowing a total 1,938 at 121 ypg, but if they can shut down Pittsburgh’s run game and force Big Ben to throw the ball, it could be a fun night for the Kansas City DB’s. Roethlesberger has had he’s issues with interceptions this season, throwing 2 picks last week against the Dolphins despite only throwing the ball 18 times. If Big Ben wants to take shots down the field this week, he must be careful, because there will be sharks circling. Oh, and if the Steelers wish to advance, it might be a good idea if Jordan Berry (Pittsburgh Punter) just kicks the ball out of bounds. Don’t even risk it.
Monday, Jan. 16th 8:40am (AEDT)
The best team in the NFC all season will take on the hottest team and QB in the NFL in the final game if the Divisional round. Despite owning the 8th best run defense this season (94.7 ypg), the Packers let Ezekiel Elliot run all over them in week 6 at Lameau Field to the tune of 157 yards on 28 attempts. Green Bay can expect another big dose of Zeke at Jerry’s World this week, as the Cowboys will look to run the ball and control the clock in order to keep the hottest QB in the business off the field. When he is on the field, however, Aaron Rodgers will need good protection from his offensive line for a second week in a row if he’s to find team mates free down field against a Dallas secondary that gives up plenty of yards through the air (260 ypg, 26th in the league). The achilles heal of this Dallas team is their defense, and despite good performances this year from players like Demarcus Lawrence, David Irving and Benson Mayowa, if they can’t get a consistent pass rush on the weekend, it could be a long day for the Cowboy secondary. Look for the Cowboys to do what they’ve done very well all season and run one of the best rookie RB’s we’ve seen in recent memory behind the best O-line in football. Do that, and Rodgers may simply not get the opportunities he needs to win the game for the Packers, as we all know he’s capable of doing.