Spread picks for every Divisional Round game
After a week’s worth of ho-hum playoff football, the slate below is sure to include some of the more enticing play that has made for a great 2016 season. After all four home teams were favored (and covered) a week ago, all four teams coming off of a first-round bye are favored again in a weekend that consists entirely of rematches from earlier in the season. While New England should have no problem finishing a season sweep of Houston, I have the other three games decided by a field goal or less, with win probabilities in each case below 60 percent for the home team.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here. For more game predictions, follow Eric on Twitter at @EricEager82.]
Seahawks at Falcons (-5)
Prediction: Falcons win by 3 (Seahawks cover)
The highest-graded offense and the third-highest-graded defense in the league square off in a rematch of a 26-24 Seahawks’ victory from Week 6 in Seattle. The last meeting between these two teams featured a few blown coverages in the Seattle secondary, with the Seahawks only able to salvage a victory via a rare drop by Falcons WR Julio Jones (92.6 overall grade this season) that was intercepted by safety Earl Thomas—leading to a game-winning field goal by Steven Hauschka. The Seahawks no longer have Thomas (84.1), and his replacement, Steven Terrell (74.8), has had some difficulty in his stead—as has Hauschka (who has fallen from our eighth-highest-graded kicker in 2015 to 16th this year). While I think 5 points is too high of a number, the Falcons’ bevy of talented skill-position players and their sixth-ranked offensive line should be enough for them to become the fifth home favorite to win in five 2016 playoff games to this point.
Texans at Patriots (-16)
Prediction: Patriots win by 17 (Patriots cover)
In a rematch of a 27-0 Week 3 victory by the Jacoby Brissett-led Patriots, New England hosts a Texans team that finished just 2-6 on the road during the 2016 regular season. Quarterback Brock Osweiler has struggled in general, but has been especially bad away from Houston, grading well in just one of his eight road games and failing to reach 5 yards per pass attempt in four away contests. The Texans’ defense has been awesome this season, but if the Patriots can hold them to the zero sacks and five total QB pressures they did in the first meeting, Tom Brady should be able to help New England roll in this one at home.
Steelers at Chiefs (-1.5)
Prediction: Chiefs win by 2 (Chiefs cover)
In a rematch of a 43-14 Steelers’ blowout in Pittsburgh in Week 4, two of the hottest teams in football square off in Arrowhead Stadium’s first playoff game since 2011. A lot has changed for the Chiefs since that matchup, and while they seemed to have figured some things out in the secondary, their ability to stop the best running back in the game will be a lot more difficult without the services of future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Johnson and starting interior defenders Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey, all of whom have been placed on IR since the first meeting. Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell has been outrageous of late, generating 78, 139, 60, 88 and 110 yards after contact in his last five games, forcing 24 missed tackles during that time. Equally impressive has been Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, whose 652 yards after the catch is more than all but 12 tight ends have in total receiving yards on the season. I have a hard time seeing the Chiefs being able to completely shut down the Steelers, so it will be up to Kelce and the Alex Smith-led offense, along with the team’s third-highest-graded special-teams unit, to become the first Kansas City team to make the AFC title game since Joe Montana and Marcus Allen’s 1993 squad.
Packers at Cowboys (-4.5)
Prediction: Cowboys win by 2 (Packers cover)
If Jordy Nelson was active for this one, there would be a far bigger case to make for the Packers challenging what has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the NFL season: the Cowboys’ top-ranked secondary. Without Nelson, the load falls squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers, who continues to thrive behind what has been one of the most underrated stories of the season: the Packers’ offensive line. The most-efficient pass-blocking unit in the league should be able to shut down one of the weaker pass-rushes in pro football. What should decide this one is whether a relatively-clean Aaron Rodgers can keep up with a Cowboys’ offense that is averaging the fifth-most yards per carry before contact against a Green Bay defense surrendering the seventh-most yards per carry before contact. After a weekend of lopsided affairs, look for this one to close out a much better slate in style.