LOS ANGELES, January 13, 2017 — As much as leatherheads love football, last week was a terrible football weekend unless one was watching the College Football Championship Game. The Clemson Tigers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 in a game for the ages. That instant classic briefly distracted football fans from the worst NFL Wildcard games since 1981. All four games saw the home team win by at least 13 points, with three of the games decided by at least 18 points. Even the 13-point game was a 20-point blowout until a touchdown made the score look respectable.
All four games saw the home team win by at least 13 points, with three of the games decided by at least 18 points. Even the 13-point game was a 20-point blowout until a touchdown made the score look respectable.
A couple of the games were close after three-quarters, but then they turned into blowouts. Americans love football, but unless our own team is winning easily, we prefer competitive football.
Every year the top two seeds in each conference get a bye week to get healthy. Yet even with home field advantage, the Divisional round is where they go down in flames.
Off the field, there was plenty of drama in recent days. The San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, the Oakland Raiders still want to move to Las Vegas, and several teams hired new coaches. Those teams are all eliminated from the playoffs. The real action of football is football itself, not the off-field transactions. With that, here is the NFL 2016-2017 Divisional Playoff Preview and Bettor’s Guide with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
With that, here is the NFL 2016-2017 Divisional Playoff Preview and Bettor’s Guide with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
4:30 PM: FOX: NFC: 3.) Seattle Seahawks at 2.) Atlanta Falcons (-5) — Four years ago in Atlanta these teams played a Divisional playoff game for the ages. The Falcons blew a 27-7 fourth quarter lead as Russell Wilson caught fire. With only 30 seconds to play, the Seahawks took a 28-27 lead. That was enough time for Matt Ryan to earn his nickname Matty Ice. He completed a key pass to Tony Gonzalez, who was afraid he would retire without ever having won a playoff game. Their connection allowed Matt Bryant to drill a 49-yard field goal for the 30-28 Falcons victory. The Falcons would go on to lose the NFC Title Game at home in heartbreaking fashion. This time they would blow a 17-0 lead to the 49ers, fall behind 28-24, and in the closing seconds fail to pull out the win. One year later the Seahawks would win it all.
This time Ryan, Bryant and Wilson are all back. So are Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and the rest of the Legion of Boom. Seattle’s former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn heads up the Falcons. The Falcons have the offense and the Seahawks have the defense. Seattle also has Thomas Rawls back from injury, providing Seattle a running game they have not had since Marshawn Lynch retired.
In recent years the Falcons twice went 13-3 and belly-flopped at home. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are only one year removed from being the two-time defending NFC champions. The Seahawks have the experience and the game will be played indoors. That also works to Atlanta’s benefit. Their offense has been explosive, as Ryan and Julio Jones have cranked up the points that were expected when Jones was first drafted in 2011. The Seahawks are missing Earl Thomas. As tempting as it is to trust Seattle’s experience, Atlanta feels that this is finally their year to silence the doubters. Falcons win but fail to cover.
8:00 PM: CBS: AFC: 4.) Houston Texans at 1.) New England Patriots (-16) — This has the potential to be one of the most lopsided postseason games in NFL history. The Patriots saw Bill Belichick and Tom Brady beat up the Texans 42-14 in the regular season and 41-28 in the playoffs in a game that was never close. In 2015 the Patriots beat up the Texans 27-6. In the 2016 regular season, the Texans had a coach in Bill O’Brien and a new quarterback in Brock Osweiler. The Patriots were down to third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who had never started an NFL game. Tom Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension and backup Kimmy Garoppolo was injured. The result was the same, as the Patriots romped 27-0 on their way to another 14-2 season. The Patriots were too polite to say it four years ago and Belichick and Brady are way too smart to say it this time, but everyone knows the truth. The Texans are tomato cans.
The only reason 9-7 Houston even made it this far is because Cincinnati’s field goal kicker missed a kick on the final play that allowed Houston to escape with a 12-10 win in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Otherwise, Houston would have missed the playoffs altogether. They then faced a Raiders team playing with their third-string quarterback who had never started a game before and a backup left tackle. Houston’s defense won the game for them while O’Brien played the second half refusing to allow Osweiler to do anything.
Sometimes underdogs shock the world, from Super Bowl III to the original Patriots team in 2001. That will not happen this time. Houston has the number one defense, but Brady has been torching defenses all year. This game could be over by halftime. The spread is sky-high, but this game could be over by halftime. Brady is on a revenge tour, and the Texans drew the short straw. Patriots cover.
Sunday, January 15
4:30 PM: FOX: NFC: 4.) Green Bay Packers at 1.) Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) — The Cowboys rode rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to an NFC-best 13-3 record. The Packers started 4-6 but Aaron Rodgers insisted Green Bay had the talent to run the table. Seven straight wins later, and the Packers are a force to be reckoned with.
Both of these teams have solid offenses and vulnerable defenses. The Packers struggled for nearly the entire first half last week until Aaron Rodgers unleashed another successful Hail Mary. Green Bay only led 14-13 in the third quarter but Rodgers then caught fire in leading the Packers to a 38-13 blowout win over the Giants. The Giants have a far better defense than Dallas.
This Cowboys team has football fans talking about 2007, when a 13-3 Cowboys team were shocked in the Divisional round at home by a 10-6 team. The Cowboys have an offensive line that can wear down the Green Bay defense, but Aaron Rodgers is the hottest quarterback in the league right now. Whether it is Prescott or backup Tony Romo, neither of them plays defense. Green Bay has the experience. Dallas does not. The Cowboys could be starting a new run of greatness, but Green Bay is still burning from a painful NFC Title Game loss two years ago. In warm or cold weather, Rodgers is red hot right now. Go with the experienced team. Upset special, Packers win outright.
8:00 PM: NBC: AFC: 3.) Pittsburgh Steelers at 2.) Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
(This game was originally set for 1:00 PM but moved due to severe weather concerns.)
The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell playing hard-nosed Pittsburgh football for Mike Tomlin. The Chiefs win with defense and special teams. Alex Smith does his West Coast Offense dink and dunk four-yard passes. The defense forces turnovers and Tyreeq Hill lights up the return game. The Chiefs are overrated and underrated depending on who is asked.
Earlier in the season, the Steelers pounded the Chiefs 43-14 in Pittsburgh. While the rematch is in Kansas City, neither the hostile crowd or miserable weather would intimidate the Steelers. The Steelers have the better quarterback and the better running game. The Chiefs are the Rodney Dangerfield of the league, and part of that is because of Alex Smith. All he does is win, but that usually stops after one playoff win. The Steelers are led by a coach and quarterback who have been to three Super Bowls and won two of them.
The Chiefs defense forces turnovers but gives up a ton of yards. If Bell can run wear down the Kansas City defense, the Chiefs will have to play from behind. Smith is a game manager who rarely loses games, but when it comes time to put the team on his back, he often does not. If the choice is between Pittsburgh power football and Kansas City’s dink and dunk finesse, go with the smashmouth team. Upset special, Steelers win outright.