NFL: Divisional Round 2016

By: S. Davis

The most impressive win last weekend happened down in Houston and the world isn’t paying the Kansas City Chiefs much attention. I love that they fly under the radar while Alex Smith continues to win games. Behind Bill Belichick, Andy Reid is the longest tenured head coach in the NFL. Jeremy Maclin’s high ankle sprain is likely to keep him on the sidelines this week and I’m so happy it wasn’t another knee injury for him because it looked terrible when the emotion was so prevalent on his face.

Four road teams prevailed last weekend and I was all but certain the Packers would fare the worst. It’s not a surprise at all though that the experienced coaches and quarterbacks all moved on to play this week. Did you see the 35-7 run that Aaron Rodgers led? He was pressured around six-to-eight times all evening so the moral of this story is the one that’s proven: Keep your quarterback clean and your offense runs.

Now that we know J.J. Watt is about to undergo surgery – groin injury – why in the world did they have him take a direct snap at the goal line? I could look at him lining up as a tight-end/receiver because he’s done it in the past – but to have him under-center wasn’t a move that I thought was smart, no matter if he scored or not.

I do not think that Marvin Lewis should be fired. Why? Do any of you remember what the Cincinnati franchise was before he took up the headset as football coach? Would you like to revisit that? I thought so. Lewis wasn’t the one fumbling the ball – that was Jeremy Hill – nor was he one dolling out asinine penalties after seemingly winning the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, see Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict for that.

Lastly, I want to apologize to the football fans of St. Louis. Sorry. “The Greatest Show on Turf” was the NFL team I had to most fun watching…ever. They made me a fan of the St. Louis Rams.

Saturday:

Kansas City @ New England

It’s hard to ignore the Patriots’ struggles over the last month, particularly on offense. Outside of injuries hampering Rob Gronkowski and having to play without Julian Edelman – who should take the field this weekend – the offensive line troubles are the most glaring. Opposing defenders are in their backfield immediately, halting any progress of their rushing attack and collapsing the pocket around Tom Brady as soon as the ball hits his fingertips. Considering who’s coming into their building this weekend they better hope the players upfront have their best outing of the year.

The Chiefs compete with anyone, especially at this moment in time. They’re stacking wins, playing confidently, avoiding crippling mistakes and dismantling teams if they’re not ready at kickoff. Jeremy Maclin will be out with a high-ankle sprain while Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are likely to play (I think they both do). The issues they can cause defending both the pass and run makes we want to slightly lean towards them. Are they my pick? I don’t know.

My primary area of apprehension focuses on the weapons Alex Smith has at his disposal. With Maclin out, Belichick will scheme to take away the last remaining target that Smith has: Travis Kelce. If Kelce can get close to 100 yards receiving (or more) then I feel that bodes well for the Chiefs’ chances. The Patriots’ pass defense can be attacked along the seams and across the middle. There will be ample space for Kelce to operate as long as Smith’s pocket is clean. If Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West contribute in the manner in which they have thus far, this game will be tight for the duration.

Edelman’s return will be a key component because of the broken bone in his foot. What type of threat can he present? He’s money on third-down conversions when he suits up (50% conversion rate for his team, when playing, 33% when on the sidelines) so his presence pulls the attention away from Rob Gronkowski. The stress on the offensive line can be mitigated by Edelman, Gronkowski and Danny Amendola running crisp routes and Brady making a decision with the ball swiftly. To counter that, the Chiefs often defend with a horde of defensive backs.

Will the Chiefs’ offense supply more touchdowns than field-goals?

Pick: Patriots over Chiefs, 24-20.

Green Bay @ Arizona

Are the Packers back or was last week’s win in Washington a mirage? I think it’s a little of both. Aaron Rodgers was quick with his decisions which made the struggling offensive linemen in front of him look better than they’ve been. I felt that Rodgers was holding the ball for three-to-five seconds too long on many of the snaps that ended with sacks or busted plays in the prior games leading into the postseason. The problems with his receiving corps contributed to that but I do believe the blame for their offensive ineptitude goes both ways.

Routes, timing and opportunities sure opened up against a weaker defensive unit last week. That will not be the case here as the Cardinals can easily create a pass rush while also covering splendidly in the secondary. I do not see this outcome a repeat of the 38-8 beating in Week 16 though. It will be best for the Packers to feature Eddie Lacy and James Starks regardless of whether they break big runs or not. The run threat must be strong in order to have any success through the air.

Carson Palmer will want to make this game a high-scoring affair. He leads a team averaging 30.6 points per game (second best in the NFL) while the Pack surrenders 20.2 as a defensive unit. I don’t like the Packers’ defense.

Pick: Cardinals over Packers, 27-17.

Sunday:

Seattle @ Carolina

This is a tough one to call. At some point in time the Seahawks are going to run into a game where the defense won’t do enough. (You could make the argument that they shouldn’t even be on the field this week and I would agree, slightly.) I’m having all types of trouble coming up with a pick for this contest on either side.

I think the Panthers’ best way to move on to next week is Greg Olsen. Secondly, having Jonathan Stewart back along with Cam Newton to keep the Seahawks’ defenders guessing will make it difficult to key anywhere and ensure they can dictate terms to Seattle and not the other way around.

Sometimes it can be an exercise in futility to focus on the regular season when there’s a postseason rematch between two teams – as this is. In Week 6, the Seahawks were in control until the fourth quarter when Newton and Olsen started gaining chunks of yards through the air. Olsen finished that game with 7 catches for 131 yards and one touchdown. A week earlier the Cincinnati Bengals stormed back from a 17-point deficit to win as the Seahawks’ secondary failed to slow Tyler Eifert (8 rec, 90 yds, 2 TD).

Witness a minor trend?

Attack them with your tight-end, run the ball and don’t be afraid to put the ball in the air. Again, it’s better to set the pace than to have it dictated to you – and the Seahawks excel in that area. If the Panthers play timid, this will get brutal, regardless of having the home-field advantage.

Over the last two months the Seahawks’ offense has been carrying the team. That’s not saying the defense has been bad – not at all – but they don’t have to rely on shutting teams down every week. Russell Wilson has been supplying so much cushion that they can afford to surrender three touchdowns – and still win by 10 points. It was hard to play without Marshawn Lynch but it may have given the offense another level of confidence by excelling in his absence. So even though he won’t be 100% he should make his presence felt in this game.

My trepidation to outright pick the Panthers revolves around experience. We already know the Seahawks are prepared for these types of games but what about the NFC top seed?

Pick: Panthers over Seahawks, 26-24. 

Pittsburgh @ Denver

Antonio Brown is out and DeAngelo Williams will be on the sidelines right along with him. Ben Roethlisberger will play but he’s only nursing a torn throwing shoulder so that should be a walk in the park for him. This should be a clear victory for the hosts, right?

We still have no idea what condition Peyton Manning will be in. He looked closer to normal than he has all year when he faced the Packers coming off a bye in Week 8. He’s been resting, approaching two weeks, so he’s the swing player in this game considering how limited the Steelers are going to be without Williams and Brown.

The Broncos’ pass defense should be able to slow Martavis Byrant and Markus Wheaton without having to worry about Brown taking up most of the defensive game plan. All things considered, I’m still watching what Manning will be able to muster. Everyone complains about his arm even when he overthrows targets. I’ve always felt that overthrowing a receiver, for him, is a positive as it shows he can push the ball. Naturally you want those long passes to be completed but over the course of the game you have to think – if it’s in his body – he will connect on a big pass or two.

Pick: Broncos over Steelers, 23-18. I don’t feel confident about this at all but if Big Ben is playing, and he and Manning cancel one another out, then I look to the defensive side of the ball. That’s the unit I have the most confidence in.

Playoffs: 4-0
Regular Season: 154-101

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