Saturday, January 14, 2017

2016 NFL Divisional Round Picks

Every year I say that this is the best weekend in football because you have eight of the best teams in the league going at it on back to back days, and this year has produced some more juicy matchups.

Falcons -5 versus Seahawks

That Week 6 game between these clubs in Seattle was a weird one with the different scoring runs, but a key takeaway is that Atlanta could move the ball well against this defense even on the road. Now they're at home, and their defensive improvement has been incredible despite being without their best defensive back in Desmond Trufant. The second year emergence of Vic Beasley and his 15.5 sacks has a lot to do with it, and I think he could wreck the Seahawks game plan with their league worst offensive line, especially with head coach Dan Quinn coming from Seattle.
Shanahan has schemed up good way to attack this now Earl Thomas-less defense in the past.
Side note: It's a kind of crazy that Seahawks offfensive line coach Tom Cable is under head coaching consideration with the way his unit has performed, and it's even crazier that so many teams have rushed to hire head coaches instead of waiting for the playoff teams to finish. You know, the well-coached teams that are still in contention for the ultimate prize. I understand that there is a bit of an arms race trying to fill out a coaching staff, which fascinates me with how coaches are connected, but Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels have clearly been the top candidates in my eyes. Now due to them being so good at their jobs to contribute to their teams' success, the 49ers position is the only spot still available for just one of them.

Patriots -15 versus Texans

I don't really like laying this many points against a playoff defense like Houston's, but we saw this show back in Week 3 when New England won 27-0 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Tom Brady has since returned and also won 27-6 in Houston last year, putting Texans coach Bill O'Brien down 54-6 in two meetings against his former team. The Texans as a franchise are also 0-4 all time in New England with an average loss of 25.25, so maybe I don't need to worry too much about the line after all. The Patriots may have benefited from a soft quarterback schedule, but their run defense ranks 4th in Football Outsiders' DVOA, which bodes well for their chances of stopping Lamar Miller. This could also be a spot where Houston's 32nd ranked special teams DVOA comes back to haunt them against the 7th best unit, but either way, it seems inevitable for New England to make an incredible 6th straight AFC Championship Game and 11th overall with Brady and Bill Belichick.

Packers +5 at Cowboys

This game was the hardest one of the week to pick for me, and in the end, I'm mostly just taking the points. Aaron Rodgers continued his insane ways last week with another successful Hail Mary and some incredible pocket maneuvering after his offensive line gave him some time, so this underrated Cowboys secondary that surprisingly ranks #1 in PFF's rankings will have their hands full again. Jordy Nelson missing the game along with the inconsistency of Green Bay's own secondary makes me think Dallas will pull out the game, especially with the way Ezekiel Elliot ran on them back in Week 6, but I can't feel comfortable laying more than a field goal. Lastly, Bill Barnwell noted that no rookie quarterback has ever made a Super Bowl, so taking Dak Prescott against Rodgers is a tall order.
I'm counting on the KC pass rush forcing Big Ben into some mistakes.
Chiefs -1.5 versus Steelers

This game makes it four for four in rematches from the regular season, and although Pittsburgh dominated at home in that Week 4 matchup 43-14, Kansas City has been the better team and has home field advantage for this one. It's well noted that Andy Reid is 19-2 after a bye week including the playoffs, and All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houston should be healthy this week after missing most of the year, including the first meeting. There is reason for concern with how Le'Veon Bell dominated that game for 178 total yards in his season debut coming off suspension, contributing to Kansas Citys struggles against the run all year (26th in DVOA), but Ben Roethlisberger does not play as well on the road. He averaged only 238 yards per game with a 9 to 8 touchdown to interception ratio and 59.4% completion rate in 8 road games compared to 301.7 yards, 22 to 7 ratio, and 70.9% rate in 7 games at home, and he's going against the 7th best pass defense that led the league with 18 interceptions and 33 total takeaways. If the Chiefs can get the lead early on, they'll be in good position to close it out, and Tyreek Hill stands a good chance of giving them a quick lead considering he scored in the first game and has only seen his offensive role increase since then. He's gotten 10 carries for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns in his last three games, and more involvement on the ground like that could be a difference maker in addition to his touches in the return and passing games.

Last week: 3-1
Season total: 55-42-3

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