Divisional Round Predictions

Updated: January 12th 2019

Well, the road teams were the story of last weekend, covering the spread in all four games and winning three of them outright, culminating in an absolutely crazy finish to the Eagles-Bears game with a double doink missed/blocked FG as time expired (putting huge smiles on the faces of Matt and me). Here is how our writers performed last week (some 3-1 ATS and ML but nobody with the clean parlay):

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  7. Luke Patrick O’Connell: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs (Line KC -5): ML – 5 KC & 1 IND // ATS – 5 KC & 1 IND
  2. Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams (Line LAR -7): ML – 0 DAL & 6 LAR // ATS – 4 DAL & 2 LAR
  3. LA Chargers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -4): ML – 2 LAC & 4 NE // ATS – 4 LAC & 2 NE
  4. Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints (Line NO -8): ML – 2 PHI & 4 NO // ATS – 4 PHI & 2 NO

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) [Line: KC -5]

Stephen Wendell: Mahomes overpowers Luck as his legend continues to grow. Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 24.

Matt Papson: Andy Reid is dominant off a bye. Projected Score: Chiefs 35 – Colts 24.

Kyle English: Call it a homer pick if you want, but I think the Colts are the real deal.  I expect plenty of points to be scored, I just think the Colts offense has a larger advantage over the Chiefs defense than the Chiefs offense has against the slightly underrated Colts defense. Projected Score: Colts 31 – Chiefs 28.

Matt Goodwin: Color me impressed by how dominant Andrew Luck, Marlon Mack and the Colts were last weekend in Houston. I’m really impressed with the Colts’ offensive line and running the ball will be paramount to controlling clock and keeping the high-octane Chiefs offense off the field at raucous Arrowhead Stadium. With that said, I think Pat Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill are too much for the Colts defense to contend with and Kansas City has found ways to still get solid contributions out of their running backs as well.  Projected Score: Chiefs 30 – Colts 20.

Nick Andrews: There is only one factor that will determine the outcome of this game, Indy’s O-Line. If the Chiefs are unsuccessful at getting pressure on Andrew Luck the Colts defense should be able to hold of Pat Mahomes for a least enough drives to keep them under 28 points. If there is snow during the game this only helps the Colts who are better equipped to produce through their run game. Despite all this, I still think the Chiefs will come out the victor but the Colts will have a real shot at the end. Projected Score: Chiefs 27 – Colts 21.

Bernard Faller: This should be a shootout with two of the top passers in the NFL.  Andrew Luck is playing at a MVP level and second-year pro Patrick Mahomes likely wins the MVP.  Kansas City scored 30+ in all but four games this year and the Colts won 9 of their last 10. Questions remain as to how Mahomes will react in his first post-season start but the Chiefs offense is playing at a different level.  Projected Score: Chiefs 34 – Colts 28.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) @ Los Angeles Rams (13-3) [Line: LAR -7]

Stephen Wendell: Cowboys keep it really close but the Rams learn from last year and prevail. Projected Score: Rams 24 – Cowboys 20.

Matt Papson: I expect this to be a relatively close game. Despite being 13-3, the Rams seem vulnerable. Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 24.

Kyle English: I expect this to be a blowout with the Rams dominating the Cowboys across the board. Projected Score: Rams 31 – Cowboys 17.

Matt Goodwin: Dallas is 3-5 on the road this season and head to Los Angeles to face the Rams who have had several weeks to get Todd Gurley healthy and scheme for the Cowboys (since the Seahawks are in the Rams division, guessing the focus was on scheming for either Dallas or Chicago since the playoff bracket was announced). Anyways, while Dallas looks to run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott and get their defensive line pressuring Jared Goff into bad decisions, the Rams just have too much for Dallas to handle schematically on the road and if a team like the Colts can blow the Cowboys out, imagine what a more dynamic offense can do to them. Projected Score: Rams 34 – Cowboys 17.

Nick Andrews: All the talk this week with head coaches being hired has surprisingly focused on a coach who is already employed, Sean McVay. Every pundit and analyst is saying that X team needs to find their Sean McVay but can we pump the breaks until he’s won a playoff game at least. The Rams this season have looked superhuman, and then average around the 2/3rds marker, then back to great the final two weeks of the regular season against cupcake opponents. Whichever team shows up against the Cowboys this weekend is likely going to be the decider. Projected Score: Rams 24- Cowboys 20.

Bernard Faller: Dallas has the tools to bleed out the clock, keeping the ball away from the potent Los Angeles offense.  It will not happen this game.  Too much Aaron Donald.  Too much Rams passing attack.  Los Angeles learns from last post-season’s loss.  Projected Score: Rams 27 – Cowboys 20.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ New England Patriots (11-5) [Line: NE -4]

Stephen Wendell: Tom Brady in Foxboro in January. Enough said! Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Chargers 17. 

Matt Papson: I had more trouble picking the victor in this game than any other, but have to give the edge to BB & TB in the playoffs. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Chargers 23.

Kyle English: I’ll be cheering for the Chargers, but I don’t think they have enough to pull out another road upset. Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 17 

Matt Goodwin: While I don’t want to stake myself against the Patriots at home with all their playoff experience, this Chargers team is 8-1 on the road this season and with such a lack of home field advantage at Stubhub Center, you can argue they play on the road every week. 12-4 in the regular season and with the most balanced team they’ve had, this Chargers team is capable of going into Foxboro and beating a potentially “cooked” Patriots team and signaling a changing of the guard. While the Patriots like to run the ball when the playoffs come, I don’t think they have enough in the passing game (especially with Gronk seemingly all sorts of banged up) to fool the Chargers stalwart secondary. On the other side, I don’t think the Patriots can take away the best weapons the Chargers have and even if they do, the Chargers have secondary weapons like Mike Williams to deal with. It will be nice to see what Hunter Henry does in his return as well. I’m calling the upset here. Projected Score: Chargers 27 – Patriots 23

Nick Andrews: Can Philip Rivers finally give Brady a loss? Does the silly stat of Nick Saban and Bill Belichick alternating championships mean anything? The answer to both is no, probably, but a fun idea for people to debate about. The Patriots are 19-3 at home in the playoffs, 11-1 in Divisional games after a bye, and 2-0 against Rivers and the Chargers during the Brady-Belichick era. The Chargers are a great team and should be a better matchup than several of the previous years’ divisional opponents but making the AFC Championship is what the Patriots do.  Projected Score: Patriots 20 – Chargers 16.

Bernard Faller: Do I necessarily trust Phillip Rivers over Tom Brady? No.  I do believe the Chargers are the better, more balanced team on both sides of the ball.  Los Angeles basically played away games this whole season so they handle one more.  Projected Score:  Chargers 28 – Patriots 24.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ New Orleans Saints (13-3) [Line: NO -8]

Stephen Wendell: I projected Sir Nick to go 7-0 and win the SB when Wentz went down with injury. He has won four in a row since then and Sunday he will make it five. Projected Score: Eagles 35 – Saints 34.

Matt Papson: The Church of Nick Foles. Projected Score: Eagles 31 – Saints 21.

Kyle English: I’d love to see more Foles magic and he’ll probably have a good game, but I think the Saints offense will be too much for them. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 27.

Matt Goodwin: St. Nick struck again last week in Chicago and the Eagles seek revenge from an earlier in the season drubbing at New Orleans. The Saints are a different team at home and while a project a close shootout, I think the Saints move on to the NFC Championship behind Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees. Look for the Eagles to lose a close one, although nothing would surprise me. Projected Score: Saints 34 – Eagles 31.

Nick Andrews: A rematch of what should have been the NFC Championship game last year we will see if Nick Foles is really a football Messiah. The Saints obliterated the Eagles 48-7 in the regular season with Carson Wentz as the starting QB and there’s not much that would make me think that the outcome would be any different this time. Blowouts are hard to pull off so while the Saints should win again the likelihood of a 41 points spread is highly unlikely. If Nick Foles somehow upsets the Saints with the same roster Wentz had in week 11 he may really have a direct link to the man in the clouds. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

Bernard Faller: The key to this game is Philadelphia’s defensive front against New Orleans’ run game.  The Eagles have a chance if they can shut down Kamara and company.  The odds are against it.  New Orleans is too good in both the pass and run areas.  I also really like the Saints’ defensive backfield improvements to finish the year. Projected Score: Saints 31 – Eagles 20.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Updated: January 5th 2019

Welcome to wildcard weekend and the NFL playoffs! With your fantasy season over, the playoffs are the perfect holdover between now and when the RSO site reopens a few days after the Super Bowl. We have three lines below three points and the defending champions +6.5 on the road in Chicago. The games should be highly entertaining this weekend. Like last year, some of the RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little analysis of each game, which can be found below. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the weekend!

A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans (Line HOU -1.5): ML – 4 IND & 3 HOU// ATS – 4 IND & 3 HOU
  2. Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys (Line DAL -2.5): ML – 4 SEA & 3 DAL // ATS – 4 SEA & 3 DAL
  3. Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens (Line BAL -2.5): ML – 5 LA & 2 BAL // ATS – 6 LA & 1 BAL
  4. Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears (Line CHI -6.5): ML – 2 PHI & 5 CHI // ATS – 3 PHI & 4 CHI

#6 Indianapolis Colts (10-6) @ #3 Houston Texans (11-5) [Line: HOU -1.5]

Stephen Wendell: Andrew Luck quietly has gotten his team back to the playoffs, which is a good sign for the future of the Colts. However, Deshaun Watson is back to looking healthy and I think he and his other Clemson buddy DeAndre Hopkins are too much for the Colts to handle in the end.  Projected Score: Texans 28 – Colts 21.

Matt Papson: Both teams enter the playoffs red hot, tying each other at 9-2 their last 11 games. An incredible story for the Colts, with Andrew Luck returning from a devastating injury, barely able to throw a football a year ago, first year Head Coach and second year GM Chris Ballard making the best use of their personnel. The colts and Texans May battle for the AFC south for years to come. The Texans also have a great story, with Bill O’Brien going from the hot seat to coach of the year candidate, an incredible defense, deshaun Watson’s return from his own injury, and the passing of Bob McNair, the team’s founder and owner, as inspiration. Ultimately I think the Texans win a tight thanks to their defense. Projected Score: Texans 27 – Colts 24.

Kyle English: I am not about to pick against the Colts who have been on fire lately (Editor’s Note: and our my favorite team). Projected Score: Colts 27 – Texans 24.

Matt Goodwin: With some assistance from my 8 year old son Jory who wanted to pick these games with me, here we go. Both division rivals won on the road in this series this season, with the Colts winning 24-21 to start their four game winning streak. I think (and Vegas agrees) that a similar score is in order for this game. TY Hilton has performed very well in Houston in the past. However, I think the Texans defense will cause a lot of problems/turnovers for Andrew Luck even with an improved Colts offensive line and the Deshaun Watson/DeAndre Hopkins will shine in this game, giving the Texans the edge. Additionally, Ka’imi Fairbairn was the best kicker in the game this year and is practically automatic at home (18/19 for the season). Projected Score: Texans 27 – Colts 20.

Nick Andrews: This matchup is probably the least interesting to the casual football fan but by the end of wild card weekend, this may be the biggest nail-biter. The Colts have looked solid in the final quarter of the season with a shutout win over Cowboys and a victory over these very same Texans just four (4) weeks ago. If the playoffs started in December the Texans would have been the hottest team entering the tournament but losing two of their last four games has put them in a bit of a slump. The playoffs sometimes have teams roll through a couple weeks on pure momentum and after a must win on Sunday night last week I think the Colts are going to be coming out of the gate a little faster than the Texans. Colts 27 – Texans 24.

Bernard Faller: The AFC South rematch resumes with both teams posting identical points scored and 1-1 records against each other this season.  The Texans’ weaknesses jump off the page when compared to the Colts.  Houston’s offensive line is still a mess while the defensive secondary is exploitable if Indianapolis’ stellar offensive line can contain Watt and Clowney to a degree.  Expect another tight one. Projected Score:  Colts 31 – Texans 28.

Luke Patrick O’Connell: The FantasyDocOC is letting his scores speak for themselves this week. Projected Score:  Colts 24 – Texans 21.

#5 Seattle Seahawks (10-6) @ #4 Dallas Cowboys (10-6) [Line: DAL -2.5]

Stephen Wendell: Seattle has had a remarkable year and Pete Carroll deserved the contract extension but they are 4-4 away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, and Dak + Zeke + Cooper will be too much for the Seahawks in Jerry World. Dallas wins and covers. Projected Score: Cowboys 28 – Seahawks 21.

Matt Papson: The Cowboys have been great at home this year, but I don’t think this team is ready for this moment. With Kris Richard getting looks from other teams as a head coaching candidate, it will be interesting to see if Jerry finally decides to move on from Jason Garrett and again replace from within. This Seahawks team could be dangerous in the playoffs, though they’d need to win two road games, and have the eagles win two road games, in order to host the NFC championship in Seattle. I don’t think this one will be as close as the line suggests. Projected Score: Seahawks 31 – Cowboys 16. 

Kyle English: Both teams have been on a roll, but I’ll take the Cowboys at home. Projected Score: Cowboys 20 – Seahawks 17.

Matt Goodwin: Probably the most evenly matched game of the weekend where both teams hope to impose their will by pounding the other in the ground game. Expect continued heavy usage by both Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys and both Chris Carson and Mike Davis for the Seahawks. The Seahawks have had some trouble against running backs catching passes, so I expect Elliott to be a significant factor in that aspect as well. The Seahawks impressed me this season by changing up their scheme successfully and I wouldn’t doubt Russell Wilson in the fourth quarter with the game on the line if he gets the chance (and if he does, my favorite part of any NFL game is the reaction in Jerry Jones’ owner suite after the Cowboys blow a game). I just don’t think they’ll get the opportunity as Dallas will play keep away with Dak Prescott being one of the hottest QBs of late playing better at home with shiny new toy Amari Cooper doing enough in the passing game as well.  Projected Score: Cowboys 23 – Seahawks 20

Nick Andrews: This game is either going to be the highest or lowest scoring game of the week, there’s no middle ground. Both teams want to run the ball as much as they can to get down to the final possession and have a chance to either score the game winner or milk out the clock. Sure, there will be some big plays in the passing game between Lockett, Baldwin, and Cooper but I think both sides would be more comfortable if their running game had close to 30 touches and 150 yards on the ground. Red zone trips will become the premium and whichever teams make at least 2 red zone touchdowns will in the game. Seahawks 13 – Cowboys 10.

Bernard Faller: This should be a good game between franchises which have exceeded many expectations this season.  Both teams play a similar style pounding away at the run game with better defenses than many give credit for.  I trust Russell Wilson a lot more than Dak Prescott to make plays when needed in a low scoring affair.   Projected Score:  Seahawks 17 – Cowboys 13.

Luke Patrick O’Connell: The FantasyDocOC is letting his scores speak for themselves this week. Projected Score:  Colts 24 – Texans 21.

#5 Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) @ #4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6) [Line: BAL -2.5]

Stephen Wendell: Wow, Phillip Rivers puts up one of his best years of his career, goes 12-4 and travels to face a first-year QB in Lamar Jackson and is a 2.5 point underdog. I think it is Rivers’ time and the Chargers avenge the Week 2 loss to the Ravens and come out of Baltimore with a win.  Projected Score: Chargers 24 – Ravens 20. 

Matt Papson: The Chargers are sneaky good, but I can’t help but take the hot hand. I have always admired the Ravens organization ability to be competitive year after year. They’re seemingly always risk moving on from veterans a year early rather a year late, and it’s only been a few games, but getting Lamar Jackson with the last pick in the first round, giving them an option for his fifth season, looks like a final stroke of genius by one of the best GMs of the modern era. After the season, it wouldn’t be totally surprising if they decide to trade (yes, trade) John Harbaugh to another team and move forward with Eric DeCosta and a new coach with their young QB into a new era. Projected Score: Ravens 24 – Chargers 23.

Kyle English: I’ll take the veteran QB over the rookie. Projected Score: Chargers 24 – Ravens 20.

Matt Goodwin: Baltimore is like the Pharcyde as they want to keep “Runnin'” with rookie sensation Lamar Jackson providing the lightning to Gus Edwards’ thunder; however the Chargers offense getting off to a quick start can potentially alter the game script. In the meeting a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, an interception on an underthrown bad decision ball to Mike Williams by Philip Rivers set the tone early and took the Chargers rhythm from the game, particularly from Melvin Gordon and early penalties called back some big plays. I think the Chargers getting Austin Ekeler back from a stinger/concussion helps in the utility role and a fully healthy Keenan Allen should carve up the Ravens very solid secondary as they continue to play him in the slot where Baltimore just gave up 5-102-1 to Jarvis Landry last week. If Hunter Henry comes back (even on a pitch count) that should also help matters in the very attackable middle of the field against the Ravens. I also think that the Chargers get more pressure on Lamar Jackson this go round and in spite of being on the road, the better team wins in this one. Projected Score: Chargers 24 – Ravens 20.

Nick Andrews: I want Philip Rivers to have a rubber match game at the Chiefs in the divisional round next week. I just can’t see the outcome of this week’s game being any different then what transpired in week 16. The Ravens play a smothering defense that doesn’t allow most offenses to go the length of the field multiple times in a game. Combine that with the fact that each offensive drive the Ravens have drains so much of the clock with their running game it puts an even greater emphasis on Rivers getting at least a score on every other drive. The only way I see the Chargers flipping the script is if rookie QB Lamar Jackson makes multiple mistakes that lead to short fields and easier scoring chances. Ravens 24 – Chargers 12.

Bernard Faller: Baltimore dominated the first game between these two teams where the Ravens suffocating defense forced Phillip Rivers into his worst game of the year.  Baltimore’s run-heavy approach with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has given teams fits so far.  I believe the Chargers adjust this time around and Rivers out-duels Jackson for the win.  Projected Score:  Chargers 24 – Ravens 17.

Luke Patrick O’Connell: The FantasyDocOC is letting his scores speak for themselves this week. Projected Score:  Chargers 31 – Ravens 14.

#6 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) @ #3 Chicago Bears (12-4) [Line: CHI -6.5]

Stephen Wendell: No surprise from me here. When Wentz went down in Week 14, I texted some old Eagles buddies to chin up because Nick Foles was going to come in and win seven straight to become a Philadelphia God (he is currently a Philadelphia legend). He took care of the first three games, and I think this will be number four (remember Mitchell Trubisky is playing in his first ever playoff game). Projected Score: Eagles 20 – Bears 17.

Matt Papson: The Church of Nick Foles. Projected Score: Eagles 33 – Bears 31. 

Kyle English: As much as I want to believe in the Foles’ magic, the Bears are the better team. Projected Score: Bears 24 – Eagles 13.

Matt Goodwin: A stalwart Bears defense goes against St. Nick in the final game of the playoff slate in frigid Chicago. While Foles’ magic has been impressive, this Bears defense is one of the best in recent history and they undoubtedly will double team Zach Ertz and make the wide receivers beat them. While it is a tough draw to face the hot defending Super Bowl Champions in your first playoff game in awhile for Mitch Trubisky and company and running against the Eagles front is particularly arduous, the Bears get this game on defense and a little bit of Tarik Cohen gadgetry. I expect the Bears DST to score a touchdown and to cause all sorts of problems for Nick Foles. Projected Score: Bears 24 – Eagles 16

Nick Andrews: Foles Magic Part Deux is upon us once again and much like the Colts who started their playoff a week earlier than everyone, the Eagles have been in must-win mode for most of December. Unlike the Texans who I think have a good defense, I think the Bears have a great defense that, even when their offense isn’t working at full capacity, can more than make up for it. Much like Lamar Jackson in Baltimore I think all Mitch Trubisky has to do is not have negative plays and this team should easily move on to the divisional round. Bears 20 – Eagles 13.

Bernard Faller: This game presents more questions than answers.  How will Mitchell Trubisky react in his first post-season game?  Will a Nick Foles with bruised ribs continue last season’s incredible playoff run?  The one known is a Chicago defense with no true weakness decimating offenses of late.  The Foles’ post-season magic dries up playing in the cold confines of Chicago. Projected Score:  Bears 21 – Eagles 10.

Luke Patrick O’Connell: The FantasyDocOC is letting his scores speak for themselves this week. Projected Score:  Bears 17 – Eagles 14.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Divisional Round Predictions

Updated: January 12th 2018

Well, the underdogs were the story of last week, covering all four games, and winning two of them outright with the Titans pulling off a miracle at Arrowhead and the Falcons dominating the Rams. All in all, the games were highly entertaining save for the Jags/Bills game which was one of the worst games in the history of football in my unfettered hyperbolic opinion. Here is how our writers performed last week (only one of us with a winning record ATS 🙂 ): 

  1. Stephen Wendell: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS
  3. Bob Cowper: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS 
  5. Nick Andrews: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS 

A quick summary of the picks for this week are below in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles (Line ATL -2.5): ML – 4 ATL & 3 PHI// ATS – 3 ATL & 4 PHI
  2. Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots (Line NE -13.5): ML – 0 TEN & 7 NE // ATS – 3 TEN & 4 NE
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Line PIT -7.5): ML – 1 JAX & 6 PIT // ATS – 4 JAX & 3 PIT
  4. New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (Line MIN -4.5): ML – 4 NO & 3 MIN // ATS – 7 NO & 0 MIN

#6 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [Line: ATL -2.5]

Stephen Wendell: As a Birds fan, I am very nervous, but I think Foles and the defense do enough to get this one done, narrowly escaping defeat and setting up an exciting NFC Championship game at home hosting the Vikings featuring two backup quarterbacks!  Projected Score: Eagles 28 – Falcons 27.

Matt Papson: It’s a Falcons line but I can’t bring myself to pick against the Birds. It’s a home game. Nick Foles is capable of putting together two good games, which is enough to get them to the super bowl. Will he? I’ll bet on at least 1. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Falcons 23.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Eagles 25 – Falcons 19.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Falcons 23 – Eagles 20.

Nick AndrewsThe Eagles have been sliding down the power rankings ever since Carson Wentz was lost for the season. In their final three games, the Eagles looked on par with the 3-13 Giants and 6-10 Raiders and then were shutout by the Cowboys in week 17. There’s a reason why this will be the first time since the playoffs expanded that the #1 seed is an underdog in the Divisional Round. The Falcons flaunted their playoff experience against the Rams last week by taking the early lead and then holding strong throughout. I expect the same will occur this week. Projected Score: Falcons 27 – Eagles 16.

Bernard Faller: Philadelphia was in the conversation for most complete team in the NFL with Carson Wentz at quarterback.   The Eagles dominated in almost every aspect with no weaknesses.  Things change in a hurry.  Atlanta has not exactly been a “juggernaut” in any area this season but I will take Ryan almost every time in a Ryan vs. Foles matchup.  The improving Falcons defense does just enough. Projected Score: Falcons 21 – Eagles 17.

Dave SandersWhile Doug Peterson tries to return Nick Foles to somewhere between competent and his 2014 form, the Atlanta Falcons come to town as -2.5 point road FAVORITES.  I’d expect that Ajayi, Blount, and Clement will faced a stacked box as Dan Quinn will force Foles and company to attack their Cover-3 zone scheme, which has been very successful this year.  Foles will have to get the ball out quickly to counter Atlanta’s ability to pressure with only four rushers.  On the other hand, Atlanta’s offense hasn’t be great this season and likely will continue struggle against a stout Philadelphia defense.  All of that said, give me Ryan over Foles in a playoff game.  It’s as simple as that.  I’ll take Atlanta and lay the 2.5 points. Projected Score: Falcons 20 – Eagles 13.

#5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) @ #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -13.5]

Stephen Wendell: The Titans cover but in a backdoor fashion. They will not compete on the road in one of the toughest places to win in January. Brady and a healthy Gronk dominate this game from start to finish. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Titans 14.

Matt Papson: All the drama surrounding the Pats isn’t nearly enough to create a chance they lose this one. Projected Score: Patriots 45 – Titans 13.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Patriots 33 – Titans 10.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Titans 10.

Nick AndrewsI called everything but the score in last week’s Titans/Chiefs game. The Chiefs did everything to lose that game by not relying more on Kareem Hunt in the second half. It will be interesting to see what happens to them in the offseason. As for the Titans current matchup, the Patriots are the opposite of the Chiefs in terms of offering opportunities to come back from a multi-score deficit. There are only two outcomes that this game can have. Either the Patriots are distracted from last week’s media storm and allow the Titans to pull out another sneaky win or they use the distraction as fuel to throttle the Titans out of playoffs. I expect the latter. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Titans 12.

Bernard Faller: The Titans move on to the second round after a historic collapse by the Kansas City Chiefs last week.  New England’s defense, one of the worst in the league this year, is certainly exploitable especially against the run.  That won’t matter as Tom Brady brutalizes the Tennessee defense.  The Kansas City offense forgot to play the second half last week.  New England’s will not.  Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Titans 24.

Dave SandersGive me Tennessee and the 13.5 points.  This isn’t about the drama between Brady, Belichick, and Kraft, which I believe to be overstated.  It’s simply too many points for New England to be laying against anyone in the divisional round.  Mariota and Henry should be able to do just enough to cover, while still losing a close game to the Pats. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Titans 24.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) [Line: PIT -7.5]

Stephen Wendell: Blake Bortles is awful, plain and simple. Big Ben threw 5 INTs, 2 of them were run back, and the Jags still only scored 30 points in the Week 5 defeat of the Steelers. Big Ben will protect the ball this time around and the Steelers offense will score enough to overcome a very very weak Jags offense. Projected Score: Steelers 24 – Jaguars 10. 

Matt Papson: Despite last week’s abysmal performance I think this is going to be closer than people are expecting.. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Jaguars 27.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Steelers 16 – Jaguars 9 

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score; Steelers 16 – Jaguars 10

Nick Andrews: Antonio Brown is expected to be back but how healthy will he be? These two teams met up in week 5 when Big Ben had five interceptions and the Jags got a rare win at Heinz Field. While I don’t think there will be five interceptions again I do suspect that the result will repeat itself. The Jags defense has shown that they can cover the best receivers in the league and can also get to the quarterback. Bortles was rather lackluster against the Bills but he surprisingly did enough on the ground to get a win last week. His performance will likely be the difference between a victory and defeat.  Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Steelers 17.

Bernard Faller: The Jaguars won an ugly contest in the wild card game against Buffalo featuring one of the worst cumulative performances by opposing quarterbacks in playoff history.  Jacksonville’s defense might be the best in the league and could keep the game close.  The Jaguars beat the Steelers earlier this season with a historically bad five interception game from likely future hall of famer Ben Roethlisberger.  It will not happen again.  One can not trust Blake Bortles against Ben Roethlisberger in a playoff matchup.  Projected Score:  Steelers 24 – Jaguars 13.

Dave SandersI can’t wait to watch the Steelers offense vs. the Jacksonville defense.  It’s the head-to-head matchup I’m most looking forward to watching, most especially if Antonio Brown has fully recovered from injury.  In what may become a defensive grind, I’ll take Jacksonville and the 7.5 points. Projected Score:  Steelers 23 – Jaguars 16.

#4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) @ #2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3) [Line: MIN -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Man this is the toughest game to predict of the weekend. I think the Vikings put together a FG drive late to win 17-16 and inch out the Saints, putting them one win in Philly away from hosting the Super Bowl! Projected Score: Vikings 17 – Saints 16.

Matt Papson: The Vikings have a more feasible path to a home super bowl than any team in recent memory. Case Keenum isn’t as good as Drew Brees, but the Vikings offense has been consistent and Pat Shurmur is going to put his mark on his final few games with the team Projected Score: Vikings 31 – Saints 27.

Robert Cowper: Jury duty got a hold of Bob this week (good thing college is done) so he was just able to send his projected scores. Projected Score: Vikings 24 – Saints 23.

Matt Goodwin: Going with experienced QB play in each game as that is the key to the divisional round in my opinion. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 20.

Nick AndrewsThis is another regular season rematch but unlike my Jags prediction, I think this one will be a different outcome. In week 1 the Saints were trying to figure out what to do with Adrian Peterson, had yet to discover the awesome power of Alvin Kamara, and faced Sam Bradford instead of Case Keenum at QB. Marshon Lattimore has also developed into a shutdown corner which will limit the big plays of Stefon Diggs. If the Saints offense can continue to both stretch the field with Brees, Thomas and Ginn Jr. as well as pound the ball with Ingram and Kamara I see the Saints hosting the NFC Championship game next week. Projected Score: Saints 20 – Vikings 17.

Bernard FallerThis game is the highlight of the playoff weekend.  Two of the best overall teams in the league face off for the second time this season.  The Vikings won the first matchup on the strength of a 347 yard, 3 touchdown game by Sam Bradford.  Both teams are good on each side of the ball but the highlight will be two top-rated units squaring off in the New Orleans offense against the Minnesota defense.  In a common theme for my picks, I pick the team with the proven quarterback in Drew Brees going against playoff first-timer Case Keenum. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 20.

Dave SandersIn what most are calling the game of the week, New Orleans travels to Minnesota in a showcase of two of the best QBs in 2017….Drew Brees (makes sense) and Case Keenum (wait what?).  It’s true.  Maybe it’s the 2,500 virtual reality reps or just distance from Jeff Fisher, but Keenum has turned himself into a very good quarterback.  I still have this feeling in the back of my mind that he’s going to sink the Vikings with a dud of a game at some point.  I’ll bet on it being this game as Kamara, Ingram, Brees, and Thomas may be too much for the Vikings regardless. Give me the Saints and the 4.5 points. Projected Score: Saints 24 – Vikings 23.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Yes, your fantasy season is over, but the NFL playoffs have begun! Whether your team is still alive or failed to make the exclusive 12-team field, the action this weekend should be very entertaining as there as some marquee matchups (Giants traveling to Green Bay) and some head scratchers that should still be entertaining (Oakland at 12-4 traveling to Houston with their 3rd string rookie QB). The RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little of each game, which can be found below. Enjoy the games!

A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans (Line HOU -3.5): ML – 4 OAK & 5 HOU // ATS – 5 OAK & 4 HOU
  2. Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks (Line SEA -8): ML – 9 SEA & 0 DET // ATS – 5 SEA & 4 DET
  3. Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Line PIT -10): ML – 8 PIT & 1 MIA // ATS – 5 PIT, 2 MIA & 2 PUSH
  4. New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (Line GB -4.5): ML – GB 6 & NYG 3 // ATS – 3 GB & 6 NYG

#5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ #4 Houston Texans (9-7) [Line: Houston -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well, ready for the pillow fight of all pillow fights? Not sure how to dissect the a mentally damaged Brock Osweiler vs. Connor Cook matchup we are about to witness, but Cook will look to feed off his incredible Bowl Game performances (2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl) and use the Raider’s great offensive weapons while Osweiler will look to bounce back from being benched at the end of the season when it mattered most and pull out a playoff win and make a run to justify all the money he is making. I have loved the Raiders all year, and something tells me Connor Cook will do enough for the Raiders to win in what looks to be a very similar game to the first round game in 2012 where a rookie QB T.J Yates led the Texans to a playoff win over another rookie QB, Andy Dalton, who is still searching for that first elusive playoff victory. Projected Score: Raiders 21 – Texans 14.

Matt Papson: I’m probably one of the few people outside of Houston or Oakland looking forward to this matchup. I wish it were Tom Savage squaring off against Connor Cook instead of Brock Osweiler, but I’m excited to see Cook get a chance to play. He’s the first guy in the Super Bowl era to start his first NFL game during the playoffs. I’m rooting for him to succeed, but the Texans have been strong at home. I picked the Raiders to win the AFC before the year started, so it’ll be disappointing to see them get bounced in the wildcard round after such a stellar year for the struggling franchise. Projected Score: Texans 24 – Raiders 20.

Kyle English: This game is going to be dreadful to watch.  As a Hopkins owner in multiple leagues this year, I know Osweiler has been just horrendous in his short time with the Texans.  Meanwhile on the other side, we have Connor Cook making his first career start…in the playoffs…on the road…yikes.  However, Cook has played in big games in his time with MSU so I believe he’ll handle this situation fine.  Should be a low scoring game with struggling offenses and plenty of work for the kickers.  I like Oakland to pull it out and give Cook a 1-0 start to his career. Projected Score: Raiders 16 – Texans 13.

Robert Cowper: A lot of the conversation surrounding this game will be about the quarterback woes.  Specifically, many are talking about how the Raiders are in trouble after losing star QB Derek Carr and possibly losing backup Matt McGloin.  One thing that I believe has gone under the radar is how well the Raiders have managed their backfield trio of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.  All three had at least 100+ touches during the regular season and essentially alternated throughout the season depending who had the hot hand minus a few missed games (for comparison the only other playoff team to have that depth are the Lions who were forced to due to multiple multi-week injuries).  When Murray isn’t working between the tackles, Washington and Richard can provide a change of pace (averaging 5.4 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively); both Murray and Richard are more than capable receivers, combining for 62 receptions.  Washington had 10+ touches four times while Richard did three times and only one time did one of them do it in consecutive weeks (Washington in Weeks 5-6 while Murray was hurt), illustrating the hot-hand approach.  What I’m trying to say is, as long as Connor Cook can hand the ball off and complete some screen passes, the Raiders will be just fine.  The Texans defense is fine, about middle of the pack in most rushing stats, but it won’t be enough to steal a win.  Projected Score: Raiders 22 – Texans 13.

Matt Goodwin: After watching Brian Hoyer in a home playoff defeat to the Chiefs in the wild card round last year for the Texans, I vowed never to pick the Texans again in a playoff game until they got a serviceable quarterback. Well, Houston spent big in the free agent market on Brock Osweiler, thinking he’d be serviceable and unfortunately, early returns are that they swung and missed and the only reason their big-dollar quarterback is playing right now is because Tom Savage (who frankly wasn’t much better) has a concussion. That said, I don’t like the Raiders situation any more than I like Houston’s. While Connor Cook showed accuracy and the ability to win at Michigan State, he shriveled up like a frightened turtle in some big games. If Derek Carr was healthy, I’d be picking the Raiders and it wouldn’t be close. In the end, even with it being his first game back from an ankle injury, give me Lamar Miller’s rushing, the Texans tough defense against a rookie quarterback, and their 7-1 home record this season in a boring game to watch. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 13.

Nick Andrews: Before week 16 I would have said that the Raiders were the only question mark still left in the AFC in terms of “Who could upset the Patriots”. Fast forward two weeks and they will be starting a third-string rookie quarterback, on the road, in his first career start. While this by no means is a nod of excellence to the Texans and their lackluster options at quarterback it simply comes down to who I think will play less bad (that is a proper term to use for this matchup). Give me Osweiler and a strong Texans defense. Projected Score: Texans 18 – Raiders 12.

Dave Sanders: Nothing says the start of the postseason quite like Connor Cook vs. Brock Osweiler.  As the 3rd string QB for much of the year, Cook hasn’t seen the reps of a usual backup quarterback.  He even admitted this week that plays were called last week that he never even practiced.  Expect Oakland to call a very conservative game and lean heavily on their running game, even if Houston loads the box.  On the Houston side, I expect Brock Osweiler’s season-long struggles to continue.  He’ll likely find C.J. Fiedorowicz over the middle of the field about a half-a-dozen times, but will make too many mistakes and kill too many drives.  In what feels like a preseason game, I will take the Raiders. And just think – the winner likely gets to travel to New England next week…Projected Score: Raiders 23 – Texans 10.  

Bernard Faller: This matchup features arguably the worst starting quarterback of 2016 in Houston’s Brock Osweiler and Oakland rookie Connor Cook making his first professional start.  Both teams will rely heavily on the run game and limit quarterback touches offensively.  Houston holds the one big advantage in this game with one of the better defensive units in the NFL, particularly against the pass where the Texans allow only 6.6 YPA (tied for 2nd in the NFL).  Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus make trouble for Cook all day long and the Houston defense forces two big turnovers.  Osweiller finds redemption from a miserable season on the way to a Texan playoff victory.  Projected Score: Texans 21 – Raiders 13.

Luke O’Connell: The Brock Osweiler redemption begins (and ends) here.   He should be able to do just enough against one of the measurably worst quarterback prospects in a while.   Brock has done nothing to assure us he can lead an NFL franchise, but Cook couldn’t even get voted team captain for his Spartans.   Pro Football Reference presents this tail of per game averages for two quarterbacks:

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 11.43.22 AM

The helmsmen of these two playoff teams are remarkably similar.   If you guessed that player 1 is Cook, albeit over a markedly smaller sample size, good on you.   The difference is that Houston has a slightly stronger weighted defense according to the smart folks at Football Outsiders.   Injuries can be too much for a team to overcome, and are all witnesses to losing a great young QB like Carr too soon.   Look for the Houston Defense to rally as they have done all year.  RSO angle: Watch the RB rotation for Oakland (Jalen Richard is available in most leagues for a long term contract) and WR/TE targets for Houston. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 14.

#6 Detroit Lions (9-7) @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) [Line: Seattle -8]

Stephen Wendell: It is just too hard to bet against the Seahawks at home ever and especially in January. This team is too experienced and used to the pressure, and while I think Matt Stafford will give everything he has (perhaps even a broken limb), he is going to fall just short in this one. The Seattle defense will be its normal self, but Detroit’s lackluster secondary, especially against tight ends, will be the difference…look for Jimmy Graham to have a big game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 20.

Matt Papson: This will be an interesting game, though I like the Seahawks to win the NFC at this point. I’m not sure I see a path to victory for the Lions, even though I expect Matt Stafford to play his heart out. Projected Score: Seahawks 38 – Lions 24. 

Kyle English: I think this one is going to be closer than most people think.  The Seahawks have a banged up secondary and the Lions are going to toss the ball all over the field.  Having said that, the Seahawks have the 12th man behind them and the Lions have lost 3 straight coming into the playoffs and have 8 straight playoffs losses dating back to 1991.  I don’t think the Lions reverse those trends.  Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 23.

Robert Cowper: Unlike for the Raiders, the Lions regular season backfield depth won’t mean much against the Seahawks, especially since Theo Riddick is now on IR.  It’s no surprise that the Seahawks defense is stout: #3 in points against and #1 in yards per rushing attempt.  However, they are more vulnerable in the passing game where Earl Thomas is out and they are #15 in yards per passing attempt.  Luckily, for Detroit they have Matt Stafford who doesn’t mind slinging the ball.  Stafford has only thrown for 300+ twice since their Week 10 bye but has still managed to average more than 39 attempts per game in that span.  Wilson hasn’t been as prolific over the same span but has, on average, attempted more passes over the last seven games than the first nine and far more this season than years past.  The Lions defense, per Yahoo Fantasy, allowed on average 1.3 TD from WRs during 2016 which is tied for the second worst in the league; not surprisingly then, they also gave up the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs.  The Las Vegas wisdom has this pegged as a pretty low scoring affair with an over/under set at about 42.5 depending on where you look; my gut tells me this is going to be a shootout, defenses be damned.  Projected Score: Seahawks 33 – Lions 29.

Matt Goodwin: The Lions find themselves limping into the playoffs with three straight losses (albeit to three NFC playoff teams). Going into a place like Seattle and getting a win in those circumstances is tough sledding. Seattle is showing plenty of cracks as well, but should be fired up in a home playoff game with a healthier than any point since the season opener Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks would like to establish their running identity against a suspect Lions defense, they ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards this season, which is a far cry from their Marshawn Lynch led teams. Perhaps the Seahawks were playing possum a bit with a division that was wrapped up fairly early and plan to use Wilson and Thomas Rawls on the read option more, which they were unable to do at all during the season due to injuries to both. If this ends up to be a battle of kickers, Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka has been very shaky on extra points and getting kicks blocked this season. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Lions 13.

Nick Andrews: Stick a fork in the NFC North; the Lions have this one in the bag. That’s what many people were saying while sticking their fork in some turkey on Thanksgiving. Well after three straight losses to end the season Fold Field will be empty this January and the Lions will have to go the dreary Pacific Northwest instead. The Seahawks have been up and down this season with questionable performances as of late but with no running game behind Matthew Stafford and Seattle’s defense being rich with playoff experience Russell Wilson just needs to avoid turnovers and they should be able to control this game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 13.

Dave Sanders: Detroit’s surprising season likely comes to an end Saturday.  Losers of three straight, the Lions hopes may hinge on the injured finger of Matthew Stafford as they’ll need him at his best to pull off the upset in Seattle.  From the Seahawks’ perspective, they’ll likely go as far as Russell Wilson can take them.  Their running game has been a disaster all year, with much of the blame falling on their horrid run blocking.  Expect Baldwin and Graham to do just enough to hold off the reeling Lions…Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 17.

Bernard Faller: Detroit limps into this contest the loser of three straight to finish the year.  Contrary to the Oakland-Houston game, this duel sets up as a pass heavy contest with Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford.  The Seattle offensive line has struggled all season and the Lions have not enjoyed any consistent usage in the run game.  The Seahawks defense will be the difference in this game.  While not the same unit without play making safety Earl Thomas, the defense still contains difference-makers at all levels including Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Cam Chancellor.  Detroit went to the playoffs by winning close games but not this one as Seattle wins at home.  Projected Score:  Seahawks 23 – Lions 20.

Luke O’Connell: That coach, that stadium, that defense.  It is hard to conceive of a scenario in which a Zach Zenner/Eric Ebron led offense can marshal a victory against the ‘Hawks.  Stafford’s saving grace is that no one expected him to rally for the victories the Lions did have this year.  This one should be light on drama. RSO angle: frustrated Lockett owners may be willing to sell for pennies and if Tate lays a Golden egg he could be had at a reasonable price. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 10.

#6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) [Line: Pittsburgh -10]

Stephen Wendell: Nobody is quite sure how Miami ended up 10-6, but here they are with a chance to win and advance to a game against their divisional foe New England, a game in which they would probably be close to 14 point underdogs. Matt Moore is certainly one of the better backup QBs in the league, and I think he won’t completely embarrass himself, but the Steelers simply have too much offensive firepower with the killer Bs. Look for the game to perhaps be close in the first half but for the Steelers to pull away in the second half behind big performances by Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. Projected Score: Steelers 35 – Dolphins 20. 

Matt Papson: I think this is going to be a lot closer than people think. And I think the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore. The Dolphins aren’t particularly good, but I’m not certain on the Steelers either. Ultimately Ben, Antonio, and Leveon will find a way to advance. Projected Score Steelers 24 – Dolphins 21.

Kyle English: Since coming back from a suspension, Bell has racked up 1268 yards on the ground (good for 5th best for the season) and another 616 receiving yards in all of 12 games.  He’s been an absolute monster and, when combining him with Big Ben and Brown, they are almost impossible to stop.  Add in the fact that if the Dolphins get behind at all, they’ll probably be relying on Matt Moore to throw them back into the game and this one could easily turn into a blowout.  Projected Score: Steelers 38 – Dolphins 17. 

Robert Cowper: Despite beating them already in 2016, the Dolphins are a heavy underdog against the Steelers.  Everybody knows Le’veon Bell’s great, along with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, so we won’t spend any time on them but instead let’s look at Jay Ajayi vs the Steelers rush defense.  Ajayi was a surprise this season after being left at home for the Dolphins season opener.  Ultimately he earned 1,272 yards and 8 TDs, despite not getting more than 7 carries until Week 5.  In their early season game against the Steelers, Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 TDs.  Most casual fans would assume the Steelers have a great defense but that is based solely on past reputation.  Aside from points against (#10), you’ll find the Steelers ranked between #12-18 in most defensive statistical categories.  I believe the Dolphins will be able to move the ball again this time and their prospects will rest heavily on how far Ajayi can carry them which should be far enough to keep it close.  I can’t believe I have convinced myself of this but my bold prediction is that this game will come down to a special teams touchdown from the Dolphins (it’s also how they beat the Jets in Week 9).  They are ranked #5 in kick off return average and have two return TDs (one kickoff, one punt).  Meanwhile, the Steelers have struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking #29 in kick off return average and #25 on punts.  Projected Score: Dolphins 18 – Steelers 11.

Matt Goodwin: In spite of Ben Roethlisberger’s success as a two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s never thrown for three touchdowns in a playoff game, and has only eclipsed 300 yards passing in three playoff games, which coincidentally are all losses. With the 18 degree weather in Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins 30th ranked run defense according to Pro Football Focus, look for Pittsburgh to run the ball early and often with Le’Veon Bell. Given his success a few weeks ago in the snow in Buffalo and his patience as both a runner and his skills as an elite pass catcher, Bell figures to be the bellcow that propels the Steelers to victory with a little bit of Antonio Brown sprinkled in. Matt Moore has been more than adequate as Ryan Tannehill’s fill-in and Jay Ajayi torched the Steelers for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a week 6 victory (30-15) in a game that the Dolphins dominated time of possession. I see the opposite happening in this game, with Bell running rampant and the Steelers controlling clock. Projected Score: Steelers 20 – Dolphins 10.

Nick Andrews: Unless Pittsburgh uses the same starters as they did against Browns last week it will be hard for the Dolphins defense to keep up with a lethal Steelers offense. The Dolphins defense looked to have come together against the Jets only to be brought back to earth when put up against the ageless Tom Brady. Faced with another elite quarterback, Big Ben should be able to pick his spots with this defense. While they have a solid running game with Jay Ajayi that can open up a big Kenny Stills touchdown at any point but unless they connect on two or three of those big plays Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be the only guys on Monday morning’s highlight reel. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Dolphins 16.

Dave Sanders: Although the Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in Week 6, I don’t give Miami much of a chance of advancing past Sunday’s game.  Without Ryan Tannehill, I’d expect the Dolphins to lean heavily on Jay Ajayi in an effort to control the clock and keep Ben and company on the sidelines.  It’s impossible to ignore Big Ben’s home/road splits at this point.  It’s truly jarring and has reached a point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as the only QB on my fantasy roster next season.  In likely Pittsburgh’s lone home game of the post-season season, I’d expect the Steelers’ offense to put this game out of reach by the 3rd quarter.  In DFS, LeVeon Bell’s price can’t be set high enough for me to fade him this week.  Projected Score: Steelers 34 – Dolphins 20.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh storms into the playoffs the winners of seven straight to end the regular season.  The Steelers offense focuses on the trinity of Ben Roethlisburger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell.  Miami also finished the season strong going 8-2 in the final 10 games.    This game also spotlights another backup quarterback in the playoffs, Miami’s Matt Moore.  Miami will attempt to run the ball all game long with sophomore sensation Jay Ajayi against an underrated Pittsburgh defense.  It will not work as Miami won’t keep pace with the Steelers offense.  Pittsburgh is just too talented across the board and triumphs handily.  Projected Score:  Steelers 27 – Dolphins 17.

Luke O’Connell: If this game was in Miami…OBJ and Cruz would be watching.   Also, the very real Ben Roethlisberger splits would make it a fun call to wager on Adam Gase’s sea mammals. However, all the indicators look great for Pittsburgh here.   Antonio Brown and Bell are transcendent players, and the home crowd in a great sports city might be enough to rattle even Matt Moore. RSO angle: Chances are the big names are not moving. Brown, Bell, Ajayi are set pieces.   Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry should be watched.   For GM’s willing to commit, this game might help open up some trade wallets. Projected Score: Steelers Big.

#5 New York Giants (11-5) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) [Line: Green Bay -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Certainly the most intriguing playoff game of the weekend. Everyone knows that both of Eli’s Super Bowl titles included trips to Lambeau Field where the Giants took down the Packers as underdogs in both occasions (2007 NFC Title Game and 2011 Divisional Playoff Game). That experience and those good memories in Lambeau will be important, but I don’t think the Giants will do it a third time. Perhaps it is because I was in the stands in Philly and witnessed the start of Rodgers and the Packers six game-winning streak, but I just think that Rodgers is too focused and playing too well to be denied. This is the year Green Bay makes it back to the Super Bowl. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Giants 17.

Matt Papson: Choosing the Giants visiting Lambeau seems crazy as I type it. The packers are hot at the right time. The Giants are a better football team. Projected Score: Giants 27 – Packers 21.

Kyle English: Far and away the toughest game for me to call.  Rodgers completed his “run the table” prophecy and has played remarkable down the stretch.  They’ve even found something that looks at times like a run game to go with it while averaging over 30 PPG in their last 6.  Meanwhile, the Giants have relied quite a bit on their defense and allowed the second lowest PPG this season.  Eli has won a few in Lambeau before, but I think the aerial attack of the Packers gets it done in a close one.  Packers squeak out the W. Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 20. 

Robert Cowper: The Packers are a buzz saw.  As a Cowboys fan, I recently had somebody ask me which playoff team I would least like to see in Dallas’s Divisional Round matchup and I did not hesitate: Green Bay.  I’m not sold on Ty Montgomery as an every day RB but he’s good enough that it doesn’t matter.  Not surprisingly it all comes down to A-A-Ron.  Rodgers’ numbers are crazy.  The last INT he threw was on November 13th.  Over the last two weeks against Minnesota and Detroit, he has 647 yards and 8 TDs.  He’s also contributing on the ground to help pick up the slack from the lackluster running backs, rushing for 369 yards (a career high) and 4 TDs this season.  I don’t believe there is any way for the Giants to stop, or even slow, Rodgers even with their Top 10 passing defense.  If the Giants are missing CB Janoris Jenkins and/or DE Jason Pierre-Paul their chances are diminished even further.  Luckily for Eli Manning,  Odell Beckham Jr. et al, the Packers have a Bottom 3 defense in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, etc.  That will allow them to keep the final score closer than the play on the field will feel.  Projected Score: Packers 29 – Giants 20.

Matt Goodwin: I’m giving the Giants the best chance of the road teams to win this weekend, but with a huge contingency. Eli Manning has to be virtually flawless against a banged-up Green Bay secondary and the Giants questionable run game has to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. If Eli can establish chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and hit some big plays, the Giants could come out victorious. That said, Rodgers is playing in another stratosphere right now and his chemistry with Jordy Nelson (especially in the red zone) is untouchable. Until he blinks, give me Rodgers at home.Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 21.

Nick Andrews: Appropriately the best wildcard game is saved till last. No team has been hotter than the Packers over the last six weeks and they benefit from the Lions late season collapse to earn an extra home game. Eli hasn’t had much to worry about in his playoff experiences at Lambeau, he’s won twice there in their last two Super Bowl runs, but he has been a serious hamper to his offense’s effectiveness this season. The team has a tremendous defense but they will need to score more than 20 points to defeat Aaron Rodgers. I still see them getting it done but only if Manning plays better than he did in December. Projected Score: Giants 26 – Packers 24.

Dave Sanders: There’s not much better than watching one of the best quarterbacks ever perform at the top of his game.  Understated throughout his epic run is the way Aaron Rodgers has protected the football, with zero interceptions since November 13th.  Converted running back Ty Montgomery has provided an added dimension that the Packers have lacked since Eddie Lacy’s remarkable 2014 season.  Count me out on the Giants’ bandwagon as I do not believe Eli will be able to put together a 3rd improbable playoff run, especially this late in his career.  Quietly having a very poor year, Eli ranked as ProFootballFocus’ 24th ranked QB as of 12/21.  Though he’s only had 16 interceptions this season, he’s had far more “turnover worthy” plays than most quarterbacks.  In what may be the first of many January wins for this Packers team, I’ll take Green Bay. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Giants 24.

Bernard Faller: This game also showcases two teams playing well going into the postseason.  Green Bay won the last six games on the strength of an offense which scored 30 or more points in each of the last four contests.  New York, on the other, finished 9-2 on the strength of a top-notch defense which has not given up 20 points in any game for seven weeks.  Something must give in this one.  The difference between MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers and a perpetually mediocre Eli Manning will determine the outcome.  The Giants defense will keep things close but New York has no run game to lean on.  The erratic Manning will make at least one huge mistake which dooms New York.  Projected Score:  Packers 24 – Giants 20.

Luke O’Connell: Despite my aforementioned fandom for the Vikings, this is the game that we must see.  Aaron Rodgers continues his superlative run, Eli carries a playoff legacy into Lambeau with the game’s most exciting player as his wingman.   Winter may weigh heavily on these teams, as the projected temps are in the teens.   Eli suffers in the conditions he will face on several levels.   His game splits in grass/turf, cold/warm, and Lambeau specifically show a quarterback that plays at levels double-digit percentage points below his best, both in his career and this season. Rodgers is more ambiguous statistically in the cold, but the general trend of games this cold has driven scores a few points down and closer together. Look for the game to go under its projected Vegas line.   The narratives this week should encompass all the lines above, but the heart of the story here is how much Eli Manning can still play.   If his past playoff performance resides in that arm, then the Beckham, Cruz, Shepard trinity should be too much for the Packers to contain. RSO angle:   Every single receiver should be on the table for the right price.   Break the bank for Beckham? gamble on an aging Jordy? Devante Adams? Ty Montgomery (WRish)? Projected Score: Giants 24 – Packers 21.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell