#3 Seattle Seahawks at #2 Atlanta Falcons
Saturday (1/14): 4:35 ET
The divisional round this year is filled with tantalizing matchups featuring stingy defenses facing off against high-powered offenses. The Seahawks have been atop defensive leaderboards for nearly all of Pete Carroll’s time there, while the Atlanta Falcons feature the #1 offense in the league, led by the favorite to win the MVP trophy, Matt Ryan. Seattle hasn’t looked great in their past few outings, and aren’t nearly as tough on the road as they are defending CenturyLink field, but Russell Wilson will give them a chance and their defense always has the capability to be great.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was Matt Ryan’s last playoff win – a 30-28 Falcons victory in 2012. To give you a better idea of just how long ago that was, Michael Turner and Roddy White were Atlanta’s leading rusher and receiver in the game. This one should be tightly contested throughout, but Ryan knows his legacy is on the line here, and finds a way to squeak out a win with the help of his talented stable of running backs.
Prediction: 21-17 Falcons
#4 Houston Texans at #1 New England Patriots
Saturday (1/14): 8:15 ET
New England has been rolling ever since Brady has taken over, but have suffered their only two losses of the season at Foxboro where the game will be played. The Patriots open as 16-point favorites, making it on paper one of the most lopsided matchups in playoff history.
Not so fast though. This Texans defense is legitimate and filled with stars at every position. In the past, teams have given New England trouble when they have a fierce pass rush and a talented secondary. The Giants did it twice, the Ed Reed and Ray Lewis-led Ravens did it and the Seahawks pushed them to the brink in Super Bowl IL. Jadeveon Clowney is a freak of nature, and Whitney Mercilus, A.J. Bouye and Jonathan Joseph are all playing like All Pros.
Brock Osweiler will have to play a second straight week of mistake-free football, and DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller will have to play the best game of their careers if Houston wants to make a monumental upset. Houston’s defense will eventually break from being on the field for too long, and the Patriots almost never lose games in which they’re heavily favored.
Prediction: 27-14 Patriots
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers at #2 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday (1/15): 1:05 ET
An ailing Ben Roethlisberger leads the Steelers and their star-studded offense into Kansas City to face off against the most opportunistic defense in the league. Pittsburgh will need to get Bell going early, as Arrowhead is expecting a high of 34 degrees on Sunday, making it difficult for both teams to throw the ball down the field. Bell has been the best running back in the league over the past few weeks, and will have to be on top of his game if he wants to break through the stingy Chiefs front seven. Waiting for him is arguably the best secondary in the league, led by Pro Bowlers Eric Berry and Marcus Peters.
Offensively, the Chiefs have been steady over the past two months and are relishing the chance to avenge the 43-14 thrashing at the hands of the Steelers in Week 4 earlier this season. Alex Smith can put a lot of critics to rest with a win here, as a loss with the amount of quality offensive weapons on the Chiefs could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Star power reigns supreme here though, reminding opponents that the Bell-Antonio Brown duo is one no one wants to face right now.
Prediction: 28-24 Steelers
#4 Green Bay Packers at #1 Dallas Cowboys
Sunday (1/15): 4:40 ET
The marquee matchup of the week is fittingly the last game as the Packers travel to JerryWorld to face off against the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys. People have been waiting and waiting for rookie Dak Prescott to finally crack under the pressure of Tony Romo breathing down his neck, but he continues to post great performances through it all. Dallas’ defense will have their hands full with a red-hot Aaron Rodgers – albeit down a Jordy Nelson – as analysts have been waiting for this group to be tested by a great offense. Green Bay’s running game has been up and down, but they seemed to have found an answer last week with Seattle castoff Christine Michael.
Dallas will try to keep Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense off the field, feeding Elliott early and often. If Dallas can feed Zeke the ball over 25 times, they’ll put themselves in a great position to win, but Green Bay will certainly have other ideas.
Rodgers is on one of the greatest runs of his brilliant career, and will continue here against a defense that hasn’t been tested by a quarterback with his mettle since the two teams met earlier this season. Rodgers hasn’t forgotten about the 30-16 loss in Week 6, and will come out firing to put Dallas in a hole early. It’s been said for months, but Dak finally shows that he’s human and has a less than stellar game, giving Green Bay their first trip to the NFC Championship since 2015.
Prediction: 34-24 Packers
Image Sources: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports, Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports, Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports, Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports