Both home teams were successful in the Wild Card round as Green Bay knocked off New York (Giants) while Seattle took care of an underwhelming Lions team. The divisional round will be much tougher with road games against the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys and #2 seed Atlanta Falcons.
Seattle Seahawks vs Atlanta Falcons
The Seattle Seahawks beat the Detroit Lions 26-6 in the wild card to set up a very winnable game against the Falcons. The Seahawks reminded everyone how good their defense can perform in the playoffs, holding the Lions to 231 total yards of offense while causing three sacks, registering six QB hits, six tackles for loss and forcing four pass deflections. That’s a great line, but it will be harder to sustain that kind of success against one of the NFL’s best offenses.
Atlanta had a week to recover from injury and will have its explosive offense intact. Wide receiver Julio Jones, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a toe injury, should be fully healthy for the matchup. With the emergence of third year receiver Taylor Gabriel, who filled in beautifully for Jones, the Falcons have a tremendous outside combination that should open up middle of the field and put pressure on Seattle’s banged up secondary. Atlanta has also been very good at home this season and won its final 4 games against NFC South opponents. Atlanta should be able to take advantage of the patchwork Seattle offensive line and provide pressure from NFL sack leader Vic Beasley Jr. In fact, Atlanta’s defense played much better the second half of the season and should be able to cause enough disruption to give the offense a chance to shine.
Seattle didn’t force any turnovers against Detroit but was able to dominate time of possession with the outstanding defensive performance but also generating 177 yards rushing (4.7 yards p/rush average); led by Thomas Rawls who rushed for a playoff franchise record 161 yards. It’s important that Seattle stay consistent with the running attack to hold Atlanta’s offense at bay. Atlanta will be looking to control the tempo and repeat its’ 2012 playoff performance against Seattle; coincidentally Matt Ryan’s only career playoff win.
Both teams enter the game without any significant injuries (not considering safety Earl Thomas for the Seahawks) so they are as close to full strength that can be expected at this time of year. With all things being equal, the nod has to go to Matt Ryan and the Falcons getting over their recent playoff issues and Atlanta being able to take advantage of home-field advantage.
Prediction: Atlanta 31-24
Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys
The Packers dominated their game against New York, blowing them out 38-13. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 25 passes for 362 yards. His 42-yard touchdown heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the first half changed the momentum and opened the game up for the Packers. Rodgers will have to continue his magical run against a much better Dallas defense which finished fifth in the NFL in points allowed (19.1 per game). The task has become exponentially more difficult with the loss of All-Pro receiver Jordy Nelson who suffered a rib injury last week and has been ruled out of the game. Nelson was healthy this season for the first time in a couple years and his absence on the outside will be felt by the entire offense.
Dallas enters the game with some magic of its own riding two rookies at key skills positions to an NFC best 13-3 regular season record. The strength of this year’s Cowboys has been time of possession (second best in the NFL) and rushing (also second in the NFL, close to 150 yards/game). These types of splits generally bring success in the NFL and controlling the clock will neutralize Rodgers by keeping the Packers offense off the field. The defense will need to be ready to stop Rodgers who over his last seven games has thrown 18 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has defied all the odds this season and has controlled the things he can control. Prescott will be looking to lead the Cowboys to its first Super Bowl in 21 years and appears to have all the tools to do so. But Rodgers has the momentum and the experience to pull of the improbable and lead the Packers to the upset victory.
Prediction: Green Bay 27-24