After a disappointing Wildcard Weekend, the NFL is now ready for the Divisional Round, which gives us some enticing matchups this year. All four division winners have made it through and will compete for spot in the AFC and NFC Championship game in a week’s time. American Football correspondent , Will Colahan, previews the four matches coming up this weekend.
National Football Conference:
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
This is a rematch of one of the best games of the season so far and a nail biting playoff game in 2013. The Seahawks may have won earlier in the season but they go into this game as underdogs as the Falcons have home field advantage and come off a bye week. They still have a very good chance of walking away with a spot in the NFC Championship game, the key for them will be on defence and their highly talented secondary. The Falcons have the highest ranked offense in scoring and overall yards, and stopping this will be crucial for Seattle. They showed last weekend why they’ve been a top 5 defence for the past 5 years, after holding the Lions to 6 points. They will need to find a way of plugging the hole in the middle of the field left by injured safety Earl Thomas. The Falcons will involve receivers Mo Sanu and Taylor Gabriel to draw coverage away from All-Pro receiver Julio Jones especially down the middle, exploiting the loss of Earl Thomas. Another key for Atlanta is their defence, they are currently ranked 27th in the league and if stars Vic Beasley and Keanu Seal can’t make it to the field, stopping Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls could be a struggle.
Prediction: History has shown that teams that rely on offense have come up short in the playoffs, this could be the case for the Falcons as well. Seahawks to win by less than a touchdown.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys go into this game as the No.1 seed in the NFC and their best shot a Superbowl since the 90s. They may have crushed the Packers earlier in the season at Lambeu but this is a different Packers team that has Aaron Rodgers playing at an extremely high level full of confidence. The Cowboys can win this by executing their game plan that has worked so effectively this season. Long offensive drives that are run heavy and feature short accurate passes, which chew the clock up as much possible and keep Rodgers of the field. The Packers could be without star wide receiver Jordy Nelson on Sunday, but Rodgers is playing at such a high level it doesn’t really matter who he’s throwing too. There are other weapons available Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have been outstanding and the Packers should utilise running back against a poor Cowboys run defence ranked 27th in the league.
Prediction: This game is pretty much a coin flip but I think the Cowboys will take it by a touchdown, and their underrated secondary will have a big role to play.
American Football Conference:
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
The Texans lost 27-0 to the Patriots without Tom Brady at quarterback in week 3. On Saturday night the Patriots will have Tom Brady at centre and I fully expect them to win. The Texans may have won their division but the gap in talent between them and the Patriots is enormous. More is not needed!
Prediction: Patriots win at a canter
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs
When these teams met in the regular season Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns but there is no way Andy Reid will let this well drilled Chiefs team make the same mistakes twice. The Chiefs have playmakers on both sides of the ball with Marcus Peters and Justin Houston ready to force turnovers and sacks for the defence. They also have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce capable of changing games for the offense. The one weak point for the Chiefs is at quarterback. Alex Smith is a very capable average NFL quarterback but he won’t do much more than that and refuses to take risks in tight situations. For the Steelers it will be about keeping their offensive trio on the field, Ben Roethlisberger is currently nursing a foot injury but fully expects to be playing come Sunday.
Prediction: Another coin flip but if Big Ben is not at 100% the Steelers offense could take a big step back. Chiefs to win by a field goal.
Divisional Round Schedule:
Saturday 14 January
9.35pm – Seattle Seahawks (3) at Atlanta Falcons (2)
1.15am – Houston Texans (4) at New England Patriots (1)
Sunday 15 January
6.05pm – Pittsburgh Steelers (3) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)
9.40pm – Green Bay Packers (4) at Dallas Cowboys (1)
(All times GMT)