2017 NFL Playoffs Preview: Divisional Round

By  //  January 14, 2017

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ABOVE VIDEO: UNDISPUTED ON FS1 previews Packers at Cowboys.

And then there were eight.. After Wild Card Weekend of the NFL Playoffs, it is now the Divisional Playoff Round as eight teams square off in four games to clinch their spot in their respected NFL Conference Championship games.

Last week, the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions and New York Giants were sent home.

Space Coast Daily’s Zach Clark and Alan Zlotorzynski break down this week’s slate of compelling NFL matchups and their predictions.

Last week, both Clark and Zlotorzynski finished 3-1 in their predictions.

Seahawks at Falcons 

Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET FOX

ABOVE VIDEO: Seahawks at Falcons preview by ESPN’s First Take

Zach: These two teams have polar opposite results when it comes to playoffs. Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl champion who knows what it takes to get it done in the playoffs. Seattle is seeking to make its third Super Bowl appearance in the past four years. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has not gotten the job done when it matters most. The Falcons seem to always fall apart around this time. Can this finally be the year they get it done? Matchup to watch in this game will be Seattle’s CB Richard Sherman vs Atlanta’s WR Julio Jones. Both are gamers on their side of the ball and will be fun to watch with their season’s on the line.

Seahawks won this game in mid-October 26-24 in Seattle. This time it will be played in the Georgia Dome. Until Matt Ryan proves he can get the job done in the playoffs, I can’t pick Atlanta. Seattle Coach Pete Carroll is 9-4 in playoff games, make it 10-4 after Saturday.

Seahawks 27, Falcons 24

Alan: The Seattle Seahawks are back to being the Legion of Boom——NOT!.  They beat a Detroit team last week that entered the contest on a three-game losing streak that allowed nearly 375 yards and 33 points per game during that span. Lest we forget about Lions QB Matt Stafford playing with only four fingers on his throwing hand.

They face a Falcons offense that finished first in the league with 540 points and All-Pro QB Matt Ryan.  Seattle barely beat Atlanta at home 26-24 in Week 6 as Ryan passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan was sacked four times, twice by Cliff Avril and picked off once by Earl Thomas, who isn’t playing in this game—there is the difference in this contest—no Earl Thomas.

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With Thomas, teams had 391 dropbacks and attempted 42 passes of at least 20 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Teams had a 61.6 passer rating on those deep targets and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. Without Thomas, teams are more effective by just about every measure: Offenses have attempted 32 passes of at least 20 yards in 202 dropbacks. They’ve thrown four touchdowns, just one interception and have a passer rating of 112.

Against prototypical drop back passing teams like the Packers and Cardinals, the Seahawks allowed a season-high 38 points and 34 respectively. Atlanta’s offense will have their way with Seattle and nobody will care that the Falcons can’t stop anyone until they line-up to play in the NFC Championship game.

Atlanta 37 Seattle 24

Texans at Patriots

Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET CBS

ABOVE VIDEO: AFC Divisional Playoff Preview: Texans Vs. Patriots

Zach: This isn’t even fair, Tom Brady vs Brock Osweiler? Texans’ defense will give Brady trouble to start out but there is no chance for the Texans in this game. New England defeated the Texans back in the third week of the regular season 27-0 with Jacoby Brissett calling the signals because of the Brady suspension. Now the Patriots have Tom Brady, in the playoffs, at Gillette Stadium. Easy pick.

Patriots 38, Texans 10

Alan: A Texans win would easily be the biggest upset in the history of the NFL postseason. Yes—even bigger than the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III and the Patriots win over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. This is the bad side of parity in the NFL—The New England Patriots are 7-1 all-time, including the playoffs vs. Houston. The average margin of victory in those games is 18-points and the last two times the teams met, the Pats outscored them 54-6. Earlier this year N.E. shutout Houston 27-0 with a third string QB Jacoby Brissett. The question here is, will the Patriots cover the 13 to 15 point spread? The answer is a resounding YES.

Patriots 31 Houston 10

Packers at Cowboys

Sunday 4:40 p.m. ET FOX

ABOVE VIDEO: Preview of games on FOX this weekend.

Zach: This game is a tale of two different seasons. The Packers, a team that at one point in the season lost four out of five games, starting 4-7 in the face with a trip to Philadelphia waiting in the wings, Aaron Rodgers and Co. got a big victory over the Eagles that day and went on to win their next six games and clinch the NFC North. Green Bay got an impressive win last week to open up the playoffs by throttling the New York Giants 38-13. Despite a crippled secondary, decimated by injuries, and now with Aaron Rodgers’ go-to man WR Jordy Nelson out with an injury for this game, it’s just been one of those seasons for the Packers yet they have prevailed.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, have lived a season on the smooth and fast track. Behind the outstanding play of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliot, the Cowboys cruised to a 13-3 season, finishing first in the NFC and now own home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Dallas has two candidates for NFL Rookie of the Year, in Prescott and Elliot, thanks to the offensive line which has stayed relatively healthy all year. Too much fire power on offense for the Cowboys will be too much for the Packers.

Cowboys 31, Packers 20

Alan: Having an effective running game helps a team control the clock and tempo of the game. And it also helps keep the other team’s offense off the field. Not to take anything away from Green Bay’s current seven-game winning streak but the best RB they faced was Houston’s Lamar Miller and no RB rushed for more than 90 yards in a game against them during their current winning streak (Jordan Howard Bears). In their previous seven contests, prior, five of which the Packers lost, three RB’s Robert Kelly (Redskins) and DeMarco Murray each topped 100 rushing yards. The third back to doing so, gained the most yards on GB this season, Cowboys rookie sensation, Ezekiel Elliott.

In Dallas’ 30-16 win, Elliott rushed 28 times for 157 yards, the Cowboys gained 191 yards as a team. Despite losing the time of possession battle (By .20 seconds), the Cowboys controlled Green Bay’s offense making them one dimensional as Aaron passed for 294 yards and just one touchdown. The Cowboys defense bent but did not break in the first contest with Green Bay, holding the Pack to two early field goals after they drove deep into Dallas territory.

WR Jordy Nelson is listed as “out” and is as important to the Packers offense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s defense. During the current seven-game winning streak, Nelson has six receiving touchdowns and went over 100-yards receiving three times and 91 yards once.

The Cowboys are No.1 in the NFL vs. the rush and No.2 in the NFL running the ball on offense. A recipe for success in the playoffs.

Look for Dallas to keep GB one dimensional and even with a potential Hall of Fame QB, who’s missing his No.1 receiver, that’s not a good thing. The Cowboys offensive line will control the tempo and clock, allowing Elliott to do what he does best, run the ball while keeping Rodgers on the sidelines.

Cowboys 30 Packers 20

Steelers at Chiefs

Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET NBC

ABOVE VIDEO: AFC Divisional Playoff Preview: Steelers Vs. Chiefs

Zach: Due to weather concerns, the NFL and teams agreed to move this game from a 1 p.m. start to a night game at 8:20 p.m. Pittsburg is clicking on all cylinders and laid a beatdown on the Chiefs in week 4, 43-14 at Heinz Field in early October. The Steelers led the game 36-0 through three-quarters, that doesn’t happen by chance. Steelers matchup well with the Chiefs and QB Roethlisberger was on fire in that game, throwing for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Bell ran for 144 yards and Brown caught two touchdowns. Since that game, the Chiefs went on to win 10 of their last 12 games and clinching the No. 2 seed in the AFC. QB Alex Smith has been efficient and smart with the football ever since.

Pittsburg, winners of their last eight games, dismantled the Dolphins last week 30-12, in frigid temperatures at Heinz Field. This game will be another cold one. The three-headed monster of the Pittsburg Steelers (Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown) will be too much for Kansas City to overcome, as proven earlier this year.

Steelers 24, Chiefs 17

Alan: The Steelers showed why having the big three on the field at the same time is so crucial to their success. In the Steelers 30-12 thumping of Miami last week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 50 and 62 yards to wide receiver Antonio Brown in the Wild Card win and running back Le’Veon Bell rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns, the most rushing yards in a postseason game in club history.

The Chiefs are a complete team and while they don’t do any one thing great, they do a lot of things very-very well.

They take care of the ball (Smith has one interception in 186 attempts in his postseason career) —force teams into turning it over (plus-16 turnover differential this season, tied for NFL lead) —and play solid special teams (K Cairo Santos was 31 of 36 on FG attempts). While Alex Smith is no Big Ben, he is an underrated playoff QB having averaged 262 yards passing in five playoff games, three with Kansas City.

While Alex Smith is no Big Ben, he is an underrated playoff QB having averaged 262 yards passing in five playoff games, three with Kansas City. The weather could play a huge role in this one and Arrowhead is a as tough a place to play in as any in the league, I’ll tale the Chiefs in his week’s thriller.

Chiefs 19 Steelers 14