Seahawks @ Falcons
Kick off: Saturday January 14th 2017, 4:35pm ET
- Winner: Falcons 10/23, Seahawks 19/10
The battle of the birds (2017 edition) has a new participant. Although the traditional Cardinals vs Seahawks rivalry didn’t disappoint in 2016, the Falcons pose a completely different threat to the Arizona team; one with an offence led by MVP favourite Matt Ryan. The Seahawks romped to victory last week against the Lions. It was stated last week that the Lions would need to form a rounded offense, and it was not for lack of trying that they lost - the Seahawks secondary was simply too much for them.
The Legion of Boom don’t need to be physical if they can play as well in coverage as they did last week. However, the likes of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones pale in comparison to the offensive weapons on the Falcons roster. Julio Jones is probably the most dominant receiver in football when healthy. Partner him with the open field speedster Taylor Gabriel and the backfield one-two punch of Coleman and Freeman, and it’s easy to see why the Falcons offence has been so prominent.
Realistically, this game will come down to the Falcons offence vs the Seahawks defence, and what a matchup that is. Still without Earl Thomas, who is out for the season, the Seahawks will need to be on their best form if they are to walk away with a win this week. If you cast your mind back to week 6, you can get a glimpse of how these two teams match up. The Falcons lost in a 26-24 nail biter. On that occasion, the Falcons were robbed by a pass interference non-call on Julio Jones by Richard Sherman. Had that call been made, as the officials later confirmed it should have been, then the Falcons would have left Seattle with another win, something very hard to do in CenturyLink Field. The Falcons are 5-3 at home, a less than stellar record, but considering the Seahawks are 3-4-1 on away fields, the upper hand is definitely with the Falcons.
Texans @ Patriots
Kick off: Saturday January 14th 2017, 8:15pm ET
- Winner: Patriots 1/16, Texans 10/1
There is little to say about this game other than it would take a disaster on the Patriots behalf for them not to walk away with the win. Tom Brady is 17-3 at home in the playoffs, and his only home losses have been to Ray Lewis and the infamous Raven’s defence, and the similarly formidable 2010 Jets defence.
Although the Texans do boast statistically the best defence in football, the Raiders and third string QB Connor Cook were able to move the ball convincingly on a few drives. It is hard to see a situation where Tom Brady and his offence (even without all-star Rob Gronkowski) aren’t able to slice through the Texans’ defence with a mixture of precise throws and power running from LaGarrette Blount.
For the Texans to win this one, they will need the likes of Jadaveon Clowney, who was on fine form last week with his first ever interception, to penetrate the Patriots offensive line, as well as being able to shut down the likes of Julian Edleman and newly acquired Michael Floyd. On offence they will need to continue where they left off last week, with Brock Osweiler looking more confident with each play. Play off football is always great, and teams play in a completely different fashion from the regular season, but given the Texans poor form and the Patriots excellence at home, this is only going to go one way.
Steelers @ Chiefs
Kick off: Sunday January 15th 2017, 1:05pm ET
- Winner: Chiefs 10/13, Steelers 11/10
The Steelers rolled to victory over the Dolphins last week, which was no great surprise. However, the explosiveness with which they did it was. A huge opening touchdown by Antonio Brown set the tone for the game, and the Dolphins defence was powerless to stop the Steelers once they got moving. Despite flashes of brilliance from Suh, the Steelers were able to get ahead early and ride LeVeon Bell to victory. It is now over to the Chiefs defence to stop them repeating the same formula. How are they going to do that? Well, there are few things playing in their favour. Their defence is a much more rounded and aggressive one, strong at the line-backer and cornerback position as opposed to just the defensive line. They offer a far more complete package. The Chiefs also have the home field advantage, which means they will benefit from the backing of one of the loudest crowds in the game. Add to that the fact that Ben Roethilsberger is far less effective in away stadiums and this is a far more interesting matchup than last weeks’ offering.
This game is reminiscent of the Packers v Giants matchup of last week; one team has the vastly superior offence and the other excels in defence. Homefield advantage lies with the underdog (despite having the superior record, it is hard to argue against the Steelers being Super Bowl contenders given their current form). In that matchup, the offence got the best of the situation and led the Packers to a comfortable victory. This won’t be that easy, but if Big Ben can lead Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell in similar fashion to last week, they will be very hard to stop, regardless of opponent.
Packers @ Cowboys
Kick off: Sunday January 15th 2017, 4:40pm ET
- Winner: Cowboys 4/9, Packers 15/8
Just as last week, the NFL has kept the best matchup for last. The Packers enjoyed a comfortable win at home last week against the Giants in what many predicted would be much closer than it turned out to be. At half time, this still seemed to be the case, but despite losing their main receiver Jordy Nelson, the Packers were able to rally and Rodgers was on fine form to lead them to victory. However, a matchup in Dallas against the number one seed in the NFC is a totally different animal to the 11-5 Giants, and one with a wholly different set of challenges.
The Cowboys have been consistently great for the entire season, as their record suggests, and are probably the most rounded team in the NFL. Benefiting from the addition of rookies Dak Prescott and Ezikiel Elliot, as well as Sean Lee being able to stay healthy this year, the Cowboys look like the entire package. The challenge for them this week is that this is the first playoff game for their two key offensive weapons. That throws up a collection of intangible differences to a regular season win, as Odell Beckham found out last week, dropping a record number of passes.
They are then faced with playing against one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, and one who appears to play better in the playoffs than at any other time. So, although the Cowboys are definitely the favourites coming into this matchup, they need to make sure they keep their emotions in check and stay focused. Given half the chance, Rodgers and the well-coached Packers will be able to strike. Let us not forget that two of the Cowboys three losses this year were to the Giants, and you saw what the Packers did to them…
Please note that odds may fluctuate before the games take place.