Well, last week went pretty much as the experts expected with all favorites/home teams prevailing, and only the Giants/Packers game was even close, which is really funny to type since it ended up being the largest margin of victory of any of the games with the Packers winning by 25. I have a feeling this week is going to be much different with significantly closer games save the Texans-Pats game, which is shaping up to be a pre-season warm-up game for New England ahead of the AFC Championship game next week. The RSO Writers have dissected each game again this week below, but in case you are tracking at home, here are the results of each writer’s picks from last week:
A quick summary of the picks for this week in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but, just as last week, you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:
Stephen Wendell: Matty Ice has had another great year and when clicking, the Falcons’ offense is explosive. Seattle looked as solid as ever last week against the Lions, and one should never discount their winning experience this time of the year. This is a rematch of the 2012 Divisional Round game between these two teams that ended with a game winning FG by Matt Bryant…if you remember, the Falcons came out of the gates strong and lost the lead only to win on the last second kick by Bryant. I think Carroll will have his troops ready early and not let the game get away from them, and ultimately, I think Atlanta’s questionable defense lets them down and the Hawks prevail. Projected Score: Seahawks 28 – Falcons 24.
Matt Papson: I can’t believe the Seahawks are +5 point underdogs. The NFC isn’t particularly strong this year, and this might be as good an opportunity as Matt Ryan gets in his career to win it all. But, even with the Seahawks traveling across the country, I see them showing up in a big way. I’m expecting Seattle to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. Projected Score: Seahawks 31 – Falcons 28.
Kyle English: Seahawks got the job done at home against the Lions, but face a much tougher test against the Falcons in Atlanta. The Falcons do a lot of damage through the air, and against the Seahawks banged up secondary they could have plenty of success. The Seahawks won their regular season match-up back in week 6 at home 26-24, but I think the Falcons get their revenge. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 24.
Robert Cowper: I know that the Falcons come into this game at 11-5 and with Matt Ryan as a viable MVP candidate but I’m just not buying it. These two teams, and quarterbacks, matched up after the 2012 season in a similar situation: Seahawks coming off a double-digit Wildcard round win while the Falcons were sitting idle with a bye. The Falcons got out to a 20-0 lead at halftime only to see the Seahawks storm back but ultimately come up short; the Falcons kicked a FG with 0:08 left to win 30-28. Wilson was a rookie then and is now an experienced Super Bowl winning QB, he’s left Ryan in the dust and I expect the Seahawks to do the same to the Falcons. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Falcons 15.
Matt Goodwin: As I wrote in this article, the way to beat the Seahawks defense these days is to attack them deep. The Lions didn’t take any shots, but I’m sure Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered Falcons offense will be in attack mode from the opening play (assuming that his job interviews were not a distraction-I hate that playoff coaches have to take time away to interview and wish the NFL would regulate a process to fix this). Richard Sherman showed no ability to cover Julio Jones in the first matchup (seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown on nine targets) and they now have big play receiver Taylor Gabriel to challenge the Seahawks safeties deep. I liked how the Seahawks fed Thomas Rawls against the Lions, all while not using a single read-option play with Russell Wilson. To keep the ball away from the Falcons, the ‘Hawks will have to rely again on the run game, but this time with Wilson as well. They have fared very poorly on the road this season (3-4-1) with their only quality win being over the New England Patriots. Atlanta has just too much on offense (including in the backfield) and enough opportunistic playmakers on defense to rattle the Seahawks offensive line. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 20.
Nick Andrews: One bird is getting kicked out of the nest and it might not be the one you expect. While Seattle looked tremendous in their Wildcard game Matt Ryan and Co. are not the cowardly Lions. If it wasn’t for a questionable no call pass interference in their week 6 game the Falcons could already have one victory over the Seahawks this season. Not having to worry about the 12th man and playing on the fast track should be the right combination for the Falcons to advance to the NFC Championship game as it was in 2012. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 27.
Dave Sanders: The Divisional Round kicks-off with a really intriguing match-up in the Georgia Dome. Though Seattle’s defense held the Lions without a touchdown last week, I wouldn’t expect that to continue against the Falcons as Atlanta finished the season ranked No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Atlanta. Limiting Seattle, without Desmond Trufant, may be an issue. Trufant frequently lined up opposite of Baldwin during their regular season meeting, limiting Baldwin to 31 yards on 4 receptions. Thomas Rawls regained 2015 form a week ago vs. the Lions, rushing for 161 yards on 27 carries. If Seattle’s running game can continue to be productive in Atlanta, certainly no easy task, I’d expect the Seahawks to top the Falcons in what could be a thrilling final game in the Georgia Dome. Projected Score: Seahawks 34 – Falcons 31.
Bernard Faller: Atlanta scored a ridiculous 540 points this season, almost 100 more than 2nd highest scorer New England, led by MVP favorite Matt Ryan. The Falcons run game provides nice balance to the passing game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Seattle won the first matchup at home 26-24. I expect the Falcons to even the season series in Atlanta against a beat up Seattle team. Projected Score: Falcons 31 – Seahawks 24.
Luke O’Connell: What have we here? Two important facts heading into this game: Pro Football Focus dropped a scathing last place finish on the Seahawks offensive line, and the performance of the Seahawks defense in the second half of the season showed a markedly better team against the run than the pass as the pass rushing numbers declined, the tackles for loss improved nearly 2 per game:
This funhouse mirror into Seattle’s defensive prowess starts piling a mound of chips on Matt Ryan’s shoulders. Carroll’s company should be able to diminish Freeman and Coleman. The Falcon QB was one missed defensive pass interference call away from beating Seattle in the last contest. It will be up to him to dig deeper than his last performance against the Seahawks where he threw for three touchdowns, but posted his lowest depth of target all year apart from the Cardinals tilt. RSO Angle: With everything on the line watch carry/target distribution in the Falcon backfield and target distribution among Seahawk pass catchers. Paul Richardson may make himself fantasy relevant, or be a highlight-reel hero that you can force another owner to burn salary on. Projected Score: Falcons 17- Seahawks 13.
Stephen Wendell: Really not much to say here. Yes, Houston has a great defense, but they will miss J.J. Watt in this game because it takes a phenomenal defense working at 100% of its potential to stop Mr. Brady and Mr. Belichick in January in Foxboro. Pats win big en route to an AFC Championship showdown with Big Ben and the Steelers for the third time. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Texans 12.
Matt Papson: Even if the Texans defense is able to keep the Patriots offense in check, I can’t see the Texans moving the ball effectively against the Patriots. I’m rolling with the underdogs in the NFC…but you won’t see me out on a limb in this one, which is the largest spread in a playoff game since 1999 (According to Pro Football Reference). Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Texans 10.
Kyle English: We all know what happens here. The Pats blew them out in Week 3 27-0 and nothing has changed since then. Patriots win big! Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Texans 6.
Robert Cowper: This game will be the proverbial train wreck that you can’t look away from. The spread is huge but may not be big enough. Picking the Patriots to win is no “prediction” it’s more like a foregone conclusion. Instead, I’ll make this prediction: Jimmy Garoppolo gets 6+ passing attempts. I think it will be enough of a blowout to pull Brady and Belichick will want to remind teams like the Cleveland Browns why they should be making trade offers for him. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 19.
Matt Goodwin: Facing Tom Brady on the road instead of Connor Cook at home. The folks in Vegas may be generous with a 16 point spread in this game because the Texans couldn’t beat the Patriots when Jacoby Brissett was under center. To me, the only interesting sidebar in this game is whether the Patriots get their points in the passing game or the run game. I expect LeGarrette Blount to score at least once, and probably twice and am guessing that Brock Osweiler throws a pick-six in this game as well. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 16.
Nick Andrews: The first betting line I saw on twitter had this game at Patriots -17. Talk about disrespecting a team that won a playoff game and has been a consistent tenant of the tournament over the last half decade. Okay have I given them enough credit to not come off as snide? Good. Yes, the defense has been one of the best in recent weeks but they don’t have enough pieces to stop everything that Belichick-McDaniels-Brady can throw at them. There will be constant double teams and chips on Clowney and the Pats defense will hold them below average offense to minimal points. The Texans only chance is to be creative with their play calling and aggressive with every opportunity they get over midfield. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Texans 14.
Dave Sanders: Did anyone enjoy last weekend more than Brock Osweiler? It was an impressive performance that, frankly, I didn’t see coming. With that said, one solid outing doesn’t erase a disappointing season that including a benching in favor of Tom Savage. The Texans are more than two touchdown dogs heading to Foxborough in what should be the ugliest game of the weekend. If you aren’t able to be locked into EVERY game this weekend, do what you can to make this the game you skip. From the Patriots side, the only question is at what point will the Patriots rest Tom Brady. Bet on Jimmy Garoppolo handling most of the 4th quarter. Projected Score: Patriots 38 – Texans 17.
Bernard Faller: This might be the largest contrast in quarterback play ever to appear in a divisional playoff game with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and 2016’s worst QB Brock Osweiler. New England won easily in the first matchup with a 3rd string quarterback shutting out the Texans 27-0. Look for more of the same here. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Texans 10.
Luke O’Connell: Bill O’Brien has exactly one shot in this game. He has to rain down wrath upon Brady to an uncivil degree, blitzes and inside pressure, violence to a degree that is uncomfortable to watch. It is hard conceive of a world in which Brady finishes the game and loses to Brock Osweiler. Men like Jadaveon Clowney get paid to live in the minds of even great ones like Brady, but short of a nationwide-panic inducing Clowney sighting, this should play out comfortably for Patriot nation. Projected Score: Patriots 30-Texans 17.
Stephen Wendell: I love the three Bs playing together. They look incredible and are certainly built to play in all types of weather. I don’t think they will be as affected by the elements as others have been traveling to Arrowhead, and ultimately, despite the inspired play by the Chiefs this year and the exciting emergence of Tyreek Hill as a TD threat every time he touches the football, I think the Steelers find a way to win a really tough, hard-fought road playoff game. Projected Score: Steelers 24 – Chiefs 21.
Matt Papson: The Chiefs just seem to find a way to win. The Chiefs home field advantage is one of the most underrated in sports. I expect this game to be very, very close, but I’m rooting for Big Red, so I give the Chiefs the edge. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers blew out the Chiefs, either. Projected Score: Chiefs 28 – Steelers 27.
Kyle English: The Chiefs were the first ones to face Bell this season in Pittsburgh back in week 4, and the Steelers promptly destroyed the Chiefs 43-14. Now they will be playing in Arrowhead with that raucous crowd behind their Chiefs. I think they make a difference…but not enough of one. The three headed monster of Big Ben, Bell, and Brown are just playing too well right now. Steelers win a close one. Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Dolphins 23.
Robert Cowper: I went against the Steelers last week and won’t make that mistake again. I’m a Le’veon Bell owner in two leagues so I should not have been surprised by his output against the Dolphins but I was. 31 touches, 174 yards, 2 TDs. The Chiefs are #21 in yards allowed per rush and #26 in total rushing yards, both worse than Miami. It should be another heavy dose of Bell, especially if Roethlisberger is at all hobbled by his injury. I am looking forward to see how the Chiefs deploy Tyreek Hill after having two weeks to game plan. He’s a dynamic, multi-faceted player and a potential game breaker on any play (3 rushing TDs, 6 receiving TDs, 2 punt return TDs and 1 kickoff return TD). Projected Score: Steelers 17 – Chiefs 14.
Matt Goodwin: This is a rematch of an early season matchup where the Steelers obliterated the Chiefs at Heinz Field. We as fantasy owners all know the narrative of Ben Roethlisberger’s home vs. road splits and add in an ankle injury and this looks like some potential questionable weather may be sprinkled in. I feel this is a grind it out type game where Kansas City’s solid defense holds Le’Veon Bell in check enough to win this game closely. Projected Score: Chiefs 16 – Steelers 13.
Nick Andrews: Strength on strength in this matchup with a lot of focus being on the Killers B’s of Pittsburgh. But this game is in KC and the narrative of Roethlisberger’s home/road split is well documented. The Chiefs offense has also been more of a threat with the emergence of Tyreek Hill. Expect this one to be a classic AFC smash mouth game. It’ll be cold, it’ll be low(er) scoring and it will likely come down to the wire. Maybe a late turnover decides the game? Projected Score: Chiefs 24 – Steelers 21.
Dave Sanders: You’re fooling yourself if you believe that their Week 4 meeting offers any predictive value this week. In early October, the Chiefs caught the Steelers at home, coming off an embarrassing 31 point loss to the Eagles led by rookie QB Carson Wentz. The situation is quite different this time around as Pittsburgh has to travel to Kansas City to take on Andy Reid’s team refresh off a first-round bye. As we all know by know, Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are alarming to say the least. While I believe Le’Veon Bell to be the best running back in the league, Pittsburgh will need an above average game from Roethlisberger to pull off the upset at Arrowhead. Let’s not forget that Kansas City finished the season strong winning 10 of their last 12 games. At home and led by their strong defense, I believe Kansas City will be able to score points to hold off Pittsburgh. Projected Score: Chiefs 21 – Steelers 17.
Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh absolutely demolished the Chiefs 43-14 in the first game between these two on the strength of five touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisburger. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this game is in Kansas City. “Big Ben” has been awful on the road in recent years, basically transforming into Blake Bortles away from Heinz Field. Kansas City utilizes the electric Tyreek Hill in a number of ways on special teams and offense. Watch for a big play from him changing the game. Projected Score: Chiefs 24 – Steelers 21.
Luke O’Connell: This game feels like the moment a fuse is lit on a marginally legal firecracker. Something is going to explode, the risk is greater than the reward, and when the smoke clears we are going to be left shaking our heads at how it all plays out. In a just world Big Ben and Tyreek Hill are human beings that deserve a fate far different than the praise and adulation and wealth heaped on NFL stars. One of the two might be responsible for his team’s victory and the deeper they move in the playoffs the more we have to cringe and stare at the residue on all our hands. It will probably be the best game of the week, but it needs to be said, if Ray Rice (correctly) is without a job, any man that lays hands on a woman, much less one who is 8 months pregnant, needs to be off our reality and fantasy teams. RSO Angle: Ware is a polarizing back, he is just the kind of moveable piece that should intrigue dynasty GMs. Pitt’s stars are locked and loaded, but Ladarius Green offers worlds of intrigue if he can recover from the concussion. Projected Score: Steelers 28 – Chiefs 14.
Stephen Wendell: Wow what a game this one should be. Dak and Zeke make their playoff debuts after a near flawless rookie season by both players. But Aaron Rodgers is as on point as he has ever been in his career. He seems poised for another Super Bowl run, and I simply don’t see him being denied this week. Dak and Zeke will play well, but their inexperience and the pressure of the moment will rear its ugly head at some point in the game, costing the Cowboys the game. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Cowboys 24.
Matt Papson: The Cowboys, top to bottom, are better than the Packers. Long before the 2016 season, I thought Dak Prescott would be a strong pro Quarterback. This is going to be the first of many playoff games for him. But, I feel obligated to go with the Packers because of one Aaron Charles Rodgers. Projected Score: Packers 35 – Cowboys 31.
Kyle English: The Packers roll into Dallas on a 7 game win streak, but got banged up quite a bit against the Giants last week, particularly Jordy. Even if he’s able to go, you have to assume at this point he won’t be 100% which is awful news for Packers fans. The Cowboys already went into Lambeau and won back in week 6 which is not an easy thing to do. Unless Rodgers has a few more successful Hail Marys up his sleeve, I don’t think the Packers have what it takes to continue their season. Projected Score: Cowboys 31 – Packers 20.
Robert Cowper: In this space last week, I said that as a Cowboys fan I feared the Packers the most. After Green Bay’s trouncing of the Giants, I am even more worried. It’s tough to find stats that back-up what my heart is rooting for. The Green Bay defense is strongest against the run and weakest against the pass; the Cowboys defense is strongest against the run (gave up the fewest rushing yards in the league) but weaker against the pass. Both are opposite what you were hoping for as a Cowboys fan. The Cowboys only hope is if DE David Irving continues to create havoc and force Rodgers out of the pocket consistently. Projected Score: Packers 29 – Cowboys 28.
Matt Goodwin: I’m very much looking forward to this game. Can Aaron Rodgers remain on fire? Can Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott continue to show they’ve moved beyond their rookie season on the field? There are so many storylines in this game, one I don’t believe Jordy Nelson will be available for. Look for Dallas to continue to pound the ball and run clock to attempt to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. My gut tells me that Dallas has the better team, but I can’t pick against Rodgers when he’s this hot. Projected Score: Packers 27 – Cowboys 23.
Nick Andrews: To paraphrase Mugatu from Zoolander, “That [Aaron Rodgers] is so hot right now”. I thought that the Giants’ defense would be able to control Rodgers. And they did… for 28 minutes of the first half. Then Rodgers put the team on his back and made play after play before pulling away by the 4th quarter. If the Cowboys are going to succeed where the Giants failed they need to control the clock, run the ball, and not let Aaron Rodgers on the field. Lucky for them they have one of the best running backs in the league and don’t make unnecessary mistakes. But if the game comes down to a final drive and each offense has one opportunity to go down the field and score who do you trust more, the Wonder Kid Dak Prescott or the Bad Bad Man Aaron Rodgers? Projected Score: Cowboys 38 – Packers 35.
Dave Sanders: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers. The most hardcore of NFL observers have been subjected to far too much mediocre quarterback play throughout the season. In a league where only have of the teams have competent options, we’re privileged to watch one of the all-time greats each and every week. Doubt entered the minds of some after a slow start to 2016, but Rodgers has put together a truly special final three months and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Though final injury reports are not out yet, it appears the Packers will be without Jordy Nelson this week. Expecting another huge performance from Randall Cobb is probably unreasonable, but Green Bay should feel more confident in his reliability as Aaron Rodgers’ defacto No. 2 target. Expect Dallas to move the ball efficiently on offense against a below-average Packers defense. Attempting to win the time of possession battle and keep Rodgers off the field, I’d expect Dallas to lean heavily on Zeke to the tune of 30 carries. Many factors, including home-field, favor Dallas, but I can’t bet against Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs…especially while he’s on this remarkable run. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Cowboys 28.
Bernard Faller: This should be an epic contest. Aaron Rodgers is destroying both good and bad defenses right now in an MVP-type year. Green Bay likely loses star receiver Jordy Nelson in this one, though. I expect many stacked defensive fronts from the Packers in an attempt to limit Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott and force fellow rookie Dak Prescott to win the game. Dallas comes up just short as Rodgers is simply playing too well at this part of the season. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Cowboys 27.
Luke O’Connell: If Dallas loses this game, much will be made of the pressure, rookies, and walls. Smarter men than most do a good job of debunking the rookie wall narrative. There may be something to be made of what the pressure will do in this game. Dak Prescott and Zeke played in massive college games all year long they have hurdled obstacles in the form of the elite athletes lined up across from them. In a vacuum it would be hard to bet against their pedigree, their record, and their accomplishments this season. Sometimes the chalk doesn’t win, however, and Aaron Rodgers seems set to wreak havoc. RSO Angle: The value fluctuation in Packer Receivers, and clarity on the proper tier and compensation for Dez Bryant. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Cowboys 31.
ENJOY THE GAMES EVERYONE!
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