Jan 14 2017

NFL 2016 Divisional Gameplan

Four games this weekend. After that, no more Saturday games, and only three more games that matter.


I loved the blowouts from WIld Card weekend – leave no doubt! My only question: Why, oh why did I pick the Raiders?!? What a bad look. Not because the Raiders lost – but because in the Hypothesis Report released in September, I had the Texans beating the Raiders in Houston in the Wild Card!!! An egregious oversight on my part, and one that cost me a 4-0 weekend in hindsight. Just to wrap up Wild Card weekend:

– The Texans handed the ball off 44 times, averaging only 2.8 yards per attempt but scoring rushing TD from RB Lamar Miller and QB Brock Osweiler in a 27-14 win over the Raiders.

– Seahawks WRs Doug Baldwin (11 receptions on 12 targets, 104 yards, 1 TD) and Paul Richardson (3 receptions on 4 targets, 48 yards, 1 TD) both made insane grabs as Seattle dismissed the visiting Lions 26-6.

– Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell rushed for a franchise postseason record 167 yards, scoring 2 TD in a 30-12 win vs the Dolphins.

– Packers WR Randall Cobb scored caught 5 of 7 passes for 116 yards and 3 TD, including a 1st half Hail Mary, as Green Bay saved the largest blowout of the weekend for last in a 38-13 win over the Giants.

All of the postseason teams that won were not just at home, but they also had made the postseason the year before, while all of the losers missed the postseason in 2015. Now, in the Divisional Round, you have four Super Bowl winning QBs (Seattle QB Russell Wilson, New England QB Tom Brady, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger) facing a quartet of passers who have combined for four career postseason wins (Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, Houston QB Brock Osweiler, Dallas rookie QB Dak Prescott, Kansas City QB Alex Smith). I’m taking all of the teams with the Super Bowl winning QBs to win this week.

Here is a look at my critical rankings for the eight teams left:

Seattle at Atlanta: This is a rematch of the 2012 Divisional Round matchup that marked the first and only postseason win for Falcons QB Matt Ryan and the first postseason loss for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. These teams also matched up in Week 6, a game that saw the Seahawks blow a 17-3 halftime lead but ultimately win 26-24 in typical CenturyLink Field controversial fashion. Seahawks FS Earl Thomas had an INT in that game, but since he was placed on injured reserve following Week 13, the Seahawks have failed to intercept a pass – tying their longest INT drought in franchise history at five games. Now the Seahawks have to travel to the Georgia Dome against a hot passer in Ryan, who ended the season with 11 TD passes without an INT in his last four games. The Seahawks need their offensive weapons to show up, with RB Thomas Rawls being the biggest X-Factor after gaining more rushing yards in the Wild Card (161) than in the last four weeks of the regular season combined (123).

Houston at New England: Here’s another rematch of the 2012 Divisional Round, a game that saw the Patriots beat the Texans and their letterman jackets but lose TE Rob Gronkowski to an arm injury. Gronkowski is on injured reserve in the postseason yet again, but Gronk played only 14 snaps in Week 3 this season, when the Patriots defeated the Texans 27-0 on Thursday Night Football with rookie QB Jacoby Brissett making his first career start. Now, it’s Tom Brady starting at QB for the Patriots, and he went to Houston last season and hit up the Texans for 2 TD passes in a 27-6 win. Houston DE J.J. Watt played in those two games, but he’s on injured reserve with a back injury too, so it’s up to OLB Whitney Mercilus and DE Jadeveon Clowney to lead Houston’s top-ranked total defense. Houston’s biggest issue will be that New England has the top-ranked scoring defense, and that will be tough for former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to overcome with Osweiler and Miller.

Green Bay at Dallas: Oh look, another regular season rematch from Week 6! The Packers won the time of possession in Week 6, but that’s about all they won, as Dallas rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott shredded the Packers for 157 rushing yards in a 30-16 win at Lambeau Field. The Packers beat the Cowboys in the 2014 Divisional, a game in which Dez didn’t catch it, but Green Bay has lost four postseason games in a row at Dallas. The only Packers postseason win in Dallas came in the 1966 NFL Championship, a win that allowed the Packers to play the Chiefs in Super Bowl I – the Packers and Chiefs will both play on the 50th anniversary of the first Super Bowl on Sunday. The Packers will need QB Aaron Rodgers to play well without WR Jordy Nelson, which proved to be a major challenge in 2015 but wasn’t a problem when he was shredding a Giants pass defense that was much better than Dallas’ this season.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City: This game has been moved to primetime due to inclement weather, and the Steelers already spanked the Chiefs once on primetime in Week 4, scoring a season-high in a 43-14 win at Heinz Field. The weather was nasty in that one, too, and so was Kansas City’s play, as they trailed 36-0 in that game with 11:19 left in the 3rd quarter. But the Chiefs are at home, OLB Justin Houston is on the roster, and rookie WR Tyreek Hill is a much bigger part of the gameplan. Kansas City’s last home playoff win came in the 1993 Wild Card against the Steelers, but they have lost all 3 times that they have had a Wild Card bye – all of them since 1995. They’ll be 0-4 at the end of this one, and their inability to stop the run will perhaps be the biggest reason.

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