The playoffs continue to the divisional round. This is for all the marbles. Let’s take a look at the four divisional matchups.
Kansas City (11-5) at New England (12-4) Saturday 4:35 PM ET CBS
The Chiefs throttled the Texans 38-0 in the wild card game in Houston. The Chiefs travel to New England to take on the AFC East winner and number 2 seed. The Chiefs won 11 games in a row after starting 1-5. The Chiefs are 3rd in defensive PPG giving up 19.7 only on the season and have forced 29 turnovers. The Patriots are 10th in defensive PPG giving up only 19.6 PPG and forced 21 turnovers. The Chiefs have 47 sacks on the season despite an ailing Justin Houston (7.5 sacks). Tamba Hali is a terror at OLB with 6.5 sacks and Jaye Howard had 5.5 sacks from defensive end. The Chiefs blitz a lot too and have the league leader in interceptions with the rookie Marcus Peters (8 ints).
The Patriots have a great offense under Tom Brady despite his lack of WRs. Brady is having another great season with 64.4% completion, 7.6 YPA with 36 TDs and 7 interceptions. The Patriots are 3rd in PPG scoring 29.1 per contest.
Rob Gronkowski (1,176 yards, 16.7 YPC and 11 TDs) is a monster at TE. He is almost unguardable. Danny Amendola filled in the slot for the injured Julian Edelman. Amendola has 648 yards 10 YPC and 3 TDs on the season. Brandon Lafell isn’t having a good year with 515 yards and 0 TDs after missing the first half of the season. James White is a nice late find at RB with 410 yards receiving and 4 TDs. The Patriots have run game issues due to the injuries to LaGarette Blount (4.3 YPC), Dion Lewis (4.8 YPC) and several offensive linemen. New England still has a very potent offense. Brady was in the middle of the pack in pressure percentage so the Chiefs fire power rushing the passer will be the biggest matchup. If the Chiefs can disrupt Brady, they have a great shot to win.
The Patriots have the 10th ranked defense allowing 19.7 PPG. They have only forced 21 turnovers but have firpower with Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard and Jamie Collins. New England is 11th in run defense allowing 4.0 YPC. The Patriots are 13th allowing a 87 QB rating. Belichick always has the Patriots defense prepared and especially at home in the playoffs. Malcom Butler, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, Deron Harmon and Patrick Chung is a very underrated secondary.
The Chiefs actually have a good offense. The Chiefs are 9th ranked in PPG offense scoring 25.3 YPC. Alex Smith continues to win 65.3% 7.4 YPA 20 TDs and 7 interceptions. Smith’s 95.4 rating is good. The Chiefs can run the ball with Chandarick West 4 YPC, Ware 5.6 YPC or even Alex Smith (5.9 YPC). Jeremy Maclin topped 1,000 yards with 1,088 yards and 8 TDS. Travis Kelce is a good tight end with 875 yards and 5 TDS. Albert Wilson isn’t much of a second WR with 451 yards and only 2 TDs. If the Chiefs get the run game going, their offense should continue to excel. The Chiefs had sluggish first half against a good Texans defense but responded with a strong second half and 17 points. Jeremy Maclin’s injury is the biggest question for the Chiefs offense against a Belichick defense.
This should be a close game since the Chiefs are red hot. The Chiefs crushed the Patriots in 2014. They certainly can upset them this week.
Green Bay at Arizona Saturday 8:25 PM NBC
My good friend Bee Pee has already previewed this game. Go Cardinals.
Seattle (10-6) at Carolina (15-1) 1:05 PM FOX
This is another great defensive matchup. Seattle has the top defense in the league allowing only 17.3 PPG. Seattle escaped Minnesota in a defensive battle (10-9) due to a missed 27 yard field goal by Blair Walsh. Carolina is 6th in the league allowing 19.3 PPG. Carolina beat Seattle in a close game in Seattle this year. Seattle has had the Panthers number in previous years.
Seattle has a strong offense even without Jimmy Graham (605 yards and 2 TDs). Seattle is 4th in PPG scoring 26.4 this season/game. Russell Wilson is the top QB in the league with a 110 QB rating on 68.1 % completion, 8.3 YPA notching 34 TDs and 8 interceptions. Wilson also is a dangerous runner with 5.4 YPC on 103 carries. If typical clutch Wilson shows up, the Vikings could be in trouble.
The Panthers counter with a strong PPG defense and forced an incredible 39 turnovers. Carolina is strong against the run allowing only 3.9 YPC (7th). Marshawn Lynch didn’t play at Minnesota. We will see if he plays this week.
Seattle must play much better offensively than they did against Minnesota. Wilson must be protected better and have his weapons get separation against a stingy Carolina secondary led by Josh Norman. Carolina has 44 sacks on the season led by DT Kawan Short (11). Carolina is best in the league allowing only 73.5 QB rating. It could be a long day for Seattle if they can’t get open. Carolina has injuries to Charles Tillman and Bene Benikwere at cornerback which helps Seattle. Carolina still has Norman, Kurt Coleman (7 ints) and strong LB coverage (Kuechly and Davis). Seattle is poor in pass protection as Wilson is pressured a 2nd worst 42.4% of his drop backs. Luckily, Wilson can scramble and still make crazy plays with his arms and feet.
Seattle finished 8-2 and look like Super Bowl contenders despite being the 6th seed. Seattle is 4th allowing on 3.6 YPC rushing and should have a great shot to shut down Peterson. Michael Bennet (10 sacks), Avril (9 sacks), Bruce Irvin 3.5 sacks and rookie Frank Clark (3 sacks) bring the Seattle pass rush. Seattle has a great secondary to shut down the Carolina weapons led by Greg Olsen.
The Panthers are first in PPG scoring 31.3 per contest on the season. Cam Newton is having an MVP year with 35 TDs and 10 interceptions for a 99.4 rating. Newton is producing without a number one WR (Kelvin Benjamin). However, having Greg Olsen helps newton big time. Olsen has 1,104 yards and 7 TDs. Carolina has decent number 2-4 WRS in Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess and Jericho Cotchery. Ted Ginn isn’t efficient but his 739 yards, 16.8 YPC and 10 TDs is enough big plays for the Panthers stingy defense. Funchess is a rookie with 473 yards and 5 TDs. Cotchery added 485 yard and 3 TDs. Corey Brown has 447 yards and 4 TDs. Newton spreads the ball around and has a running game with Jonathan Stewart (4.1 YPC). Newton can also run with 636 yards and 4.8 YPC notching 10 TDs. Newton really is a special two way player.
Carolina is at home and only lost one game all season (which was on the road). Seattle has a good defense and is a very lucky team. Lynch may return for Seattle. However, I think Carolina should win this defensive battle as they have more offense.
Pittsburgh (10-6) at Denver (12-4) 4:40 PM CBS
The Steelers snuck into the playoffs with the Jets loss at Buffalo. The Steelers somehow won a miracle game in the rain at Cincinnati due to a Jeremy Hill late fumble and 30 yards of personal fouls by the Bengals. This set up the game winning field goal for the Bengals. The Steelers have a very strong offense at 26.4 PPG (4th) in the league. Big Ben is having a good year with 68% 8.4 YPA and 21 TDS while missing some games. Ben does have 16 interceptions on the year which is big for the Bengals to force turnovers. Ben is battling a shoulder sprain and had to leave parts of the wild card game. If Big Ben is not 100% this greatly helps a very strong Broncos defense.
Antonio Brown is the best WR in the game with 1,834 yards and 10 TDs. However, Brown is doubtful for this game due to the head hunting by LB Vontaze Burfict. If Brown can’t play, the Steelers suffer a big hit.
Wheaton and Bryant are deep threats with 749 yards/17YPC and 765 yards/15.3 YPC respectively. Heath Miller is a vet tight end with 535 yards too. The Steelers are loaded with weapons to challenge the Broncos.
The Broncos have the 4th ranked PPG defense allowing 18.5 PPG. The key to the game will be DeAngelo Williams health for the Steelers. Williams has 4.5 YPC and 11 TDs on 200 carries. If Williams can play, the Steelers have a chance to move the ball on the Broncos defense without Brown. The Broncos defense has 52 sacks led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. This will be an incredible task for the Steelers with a banged up Big Ben. The Broncos secondary with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Darrian Stewart and TJ Ward is very tough to pass against. However, the Steelers won a shootout in Pittsburgh this year against Denver (34-27).
The Broncos offense is below average (22.2 PPG was 19th) with an old Peyton Manning. Manning tallied 59.8% completion, 6.8 YPA and 9 TDS with 17 interceptions (second in league despite missing 5 games). Manning was awful but the Broncos won with defense and timely plays. Backup Brock Osweiler is banged up and the Broncos turn back to Manning for a story book ending to his career.
Manning must rely on his run game. Ronnie Hillman has 4.2 YPC and CJ Anderson notched 4.7 YPC. They must have success to protect Manning. The Steelers are 6th in run defense allowing only 3.8 YPC. If the Steelers stop the run, they can pin their ears back and rush Manning all night.
The Steelers have an underrated defense allowing 19.9 PPG (11th). The Steelers have forced 30 turnovers despite allowing 28 (+2 TO differential). The Steelers have 48 sacks mixed well with Cameron Heyward (7 sacks), Bud Dupree 4 sacks, Stephen Tuitt (6.5 sacks), Lawrence Timmons (5 sacks), Harrison (5 sacks) and Ryan Shazier (3.5 sacks). If the Steelers bring pressure on Manning and force turnovers, they can have success with short fields on the Denver. Denver is average at protecting their QB which helps the Steelers.
The Steelers are missing Brown. The Broncos have a good run game and defense. Peyton Manning could squeak out one more playoff victory in Denver.
Enjoy the divisional round games.