Easily the best weekend in football, this year’s Divisional Weekend matchups make for the ideal Crunchtime Matchups.
Crunchtime Matchups: Divisional Weekend
We’ve got 4 matchups deciding who plays for the conference championships the following week, so let’s get this started.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Not only will this be a rematch of the classic regular season showdown from earlier in the season, it will be a rematch of the 2012 NFC Divisional Round game, also played at Atlanta. Despite blowing a huge lead, the Falcons managed to win that game, and were a drive away from the Super Bowl.
Now back in the playoffs as the #2 seed, the Falcons, under new head coach Dan Quinn, have been led by All-Pro QB Matt Ryan, the dynamic running duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the receiving skills of Julio Jones, and the dangerous offensive scheme of Kyle Shanahan. Despite losing corner Desmond Trufant, the defense has improved in recent weeks, with linebacker Vic Beasley leading the way.
Coming off an explosive victory against the Lions in the Wild Card round, the Seahawks look to avenge their loss in the 2012 playoffs with an explosive set of playmakers. Receiver Paul Richardson had the most attention due to an unbelievable touchdown catch (and 2 really good catches in addition), but Thomas Rawls and Doug Baldwin are also coming off huge games.
This is easily one of the most intriguing playoff matchups in recent memory. Beasley going up against Russell Wilson’s mobility is enticing on paper, and Kyle Shanahan’s scheme against the Legion of Boom is another attention grabber.
This is easily the best offense Ryan has played in. The talent isn’t the best he’s played with, but Shanahan’s scheme has made for a QB friendly environment, and combined with Julio, Freeman and Coleman, a dangerous one for opponents. Without Earl Thomas, Ryan should be able to connect with Julio a lot easier, and SEA will definitely miss Thomas in that regard.
Wilson absolutely cannot feel the pressure in this game. He’s been inconsistent in terms of how he moves in the pocket, but usually makes up for it with his legs, smarts, and deep arm. Here, he must be more patient in the pocket against a better opponent.
One factor that could help Seattle out is the possible return of rookie C.J. Prosise from injury, though that is yet to be determined. Rawls and Wilson are the bread and butter of the run game though, and you can expect Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and Richardson to get heavily involved as well.
This should be a really fun game, one that Atlanta should win. If the Seahawks had Earl Thomas, they would probably win this, but I think his loss against an excellent offense will hurt in the end.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Deja vu. When these two teams met in Week 3, the Patriots massacred the Texans, and Brock Osweiler played an atrocious game.
This time, Tom Brady is playing, and so called “Brady Killer” Osweiler is still starting after posting a strong (in comparison to previous games) performance against the Raiders last week.
The Texans defense is the big reason why this matchup has any intrigue in it. The Patriots offensive line is not of the same quality it has been under most of the Brady-Bill Belichick era, and Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the season, but the team still looks primed to make the Super Bowl. This is thanks to Brady and Belichick (of course), but also a strong running game featuring LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, and a receiving game featuring Julian Edelman, Malcom Mitchell, and newcomer Martellus Bennett, who has done a great job of filling in for Gronk.
Jadeveon Clowney had a huge game last week, including an interception with massive pressure on the Raiders offensive line, but otherwise this is the least interesting matchup of the 4 games. And at New England, the Patriots should win without any problems. The only thing that would save Houston is if Brady were extremely off because of pressure and Osweiler turned into Brady, but that might not happen.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Yet another rematch. The Steelers creamed the Chiefs in Pittsburgh the last time these two teams played. Ben Roethlisberger played an unbelievable game then, and Le’Veon Bell rushed for 100+ yards despite returning from both an injury and suspension.
This time, Roethlisberger looks extremely shaky, and because of a hit on a late interception against the Dolphins last week, he’s sustained yet another injury. Only the billionth one in the last two seasons! That didn’t matter last week because Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell took care of business against a week Miami Dolphins team, but at Arrowhead Stadium, that will.
Alex Smith’s consistency has been anything but, yet Andy Reid’s offense has managed to get the most out of him. Travis Kelce has been the best tight end on the field this season, and behind him include the explosive Jeremy Maclin, rookie Tyreek Hill, and Spencer Ware.
But it’s the defense that is the real story with this team. Sparked by Justin Houston’s return, the sensational corner Marcus Peters, and Eric Berry, the team has grown into one of the deadliest defenses in the league. That has helped the team win the AFC West for the first time in 6 years, as well as clinch a first round bye for the first time since 2003.
Against one of the top offenses in the league, the Chiefs have their hands full, but also have home field advantage. This is a game where Big Ben’s quality will matter a lot more. After a fantastic start to the season, Ben’s quality of play and consistency have both declined since a leg injury against the Dolphins in the regular season.
Todd Haley’s offense will give them a chance though. Expect Bell, coming off a huge playoff debut, to be involved in the receiving game. Antonio Brown, Ladarius Green, and Eli Rogers should also get heavy reps as expected. The Chiefs defensive line against the Steelers offensive line is an excellent matchup that should get more coverage.
Both teams will need their quarterbacks to limit their mistakes, but Pittsburgh will need it more. Smith is a good athlete, and against this defense I expect him to use his mobility a few times.
Kansas City should win this one, but it should be a great matchup.
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Guess what? Another rematch! Yeah, all 4 games this week are rematches of regular season games.
Aaron Rodgers is the hottest player in the league, throwing 22 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his last 8 games, which the Packers have gone 7-1 in en route to a siege of the NFC North crown and a massive win against the Giants last week. Rodgers passed for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns in that one.
This will also be a rematch of the 2014 Divisional Matchup. This time, however, Tony Romo is not playing. Instead we have rookie Dak Prescott, who has done a nice job in his debut. Behind the best offensive line in the league, the sensational Ezekiel Elliot, and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys exploded to a 13-3 finish in the regular season, clinching their first bye (and home field advantage) since 2007.
Without Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb will have to fill in. Cobb had 3 TD catches last week, and Davante Adams is not dropping the ball quite as much as his 2015 season. With Rodgers playing on fire, this will be the most covered matchup of the weekend.
Both offensive lines are two of the best in the league, so we shouldn’t see too much pressure with both units relatively healthy going into this game. Prescott must continue his strong play and limit the mistakes against the Packer defense, while Rodgers needs to continue his strong patience and footwork in the pocket.
It’s tough to bet against Rodgers on this streak, but I think the Cowboys end it Sunday. The matchup should be a lot of fun though.
(Featured image via cheatsheet.com)