Initial Thoughts about Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs (Saturday games only)

Pretty good week for us last week. We were way off with the Oakland Raiders but pretty much spot on with the other games. We were off by 2 with the Seattle score, and just off by one on both the Pittsburgh and Miami scores!

We had the Packers winning by 4 and it seemed that our final score prediction of 24 - 20 was going to be correct when the Packers were up 24 - 13 at the start of the 4th quarter. I guess there is no stopping Aaron Rodgers right now if the best pass rush in the playoff field couldn't keep him from lighting up the scoreboard.

Oddly, the Raiders - Texans game was the closest affair even though it was quite an ugly spectacle to watch and the Raiders never really had a true chance of winning this one once the game started.

On a different note, hopefully you read our column on DraftKings/FanDuel selections for wild card weekend. We were spot on with Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, Jarvis Landry, and Davante Adams. If you rolled with that roster, you made some big money! Two of our followers made $7000 and $5300 last weekend! Yours truly also cashed in!

OK, so what are our thoughts about the games this weekend? We won't publish our predictions until Friday but for now, here is what we are thinking may happen for the Saturday games (thoughts about Sunday games will come out later today).

  • Houston at New England
    Vegas Line: NE -16 , O/U 44.5
    GE line: NE -13.91, O/U 41.62

Houston should consider themselves lucky to have made it this far in the postseason. They lose the best defensive player of this current era (JJ Watt) early in the season but yet find themselves in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. It certainly helps to play in a very weak division and draw a wild card team that was down to it's 3rd string QB who didn't even get many reps with the practice squad for most of this season.

Now the Texans draw the top team in the land: New England. They must also travel for this game and their opponent has had a weak off to rest and prepare. No head coach is better at game preparation than Bill Belichick and no QB has a more impeccable playoff record than Tom Brady. Also, the forecast on Saturday night calls for 20 degree weather which is stark contrast to the 80 degrees Houston will have today.


This will clearly be an insurmountable challenge for the Texans for the reasons stated above. So what will actually happen in this game? The best way to beat Tom Brady is knock him on his ass early and often. The Broncos did that last year, the Giants did that in two Super Bowls, and the Ravens and Jets have also dialed up the pressure on Brady en route to playoff victories against the Patriots (on the road nonetheless!). The Texans have a really good pass rusher in Jadeveon Clowney and he proved last week why his #1 selection in the 2014 NFL draft was justified. He single handedly beat Oakland in the first half of last week's game. New England clearly will need to neutralize him and we believe the Patriots will use tight end Martellus Bennett as an extra blocker. Bennett has been a nice pass catcher at the 2nd level for New England, especially with Rob Gronkowski out. However, Bennett's blocking skills are nothing to scoff at. In fact, he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and expect to see him help double team Clowney.

Running back James White is also very good at picking up blitzes which we are sure Houston will do often to pressure Brady into some bad throws. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (a former assistant under Belichick) has learned from the best so expect the Texans defense to bring its A-game. Cornerback AJ Bouye has played like a shutdown corner for most of this season and will probably take one of Brady's WR away (our guess is that he will covering Michael Floyd). This means the Patriots will wind up using wide receiver Julian Edelman often in the slot and he is one of Brady's most trusted weapons. Also, look for wide receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell to make some big plays downfield.

Perhaps the most effective way New England will move the football is the run game. LeGarrette Blount has proven to be a stud in previous postseasons for the Patriots, especially in inclement weather. Expect the Patriots to run the ball frequently in order to neutralize any the Texans pass rush and blitzes. Then look for Brady to target Edelman often who will line up in various spots on the line of scrimmage to find open space. The Patriots may not necessarily put up 30 - 40 points like they have in more than half of their games this season but they should score about 27 - 28 points.

On the other side of the ball, forget about the Texans offense. They are doomed. No fancy analysis here. Brock Osweiler is awful and if you thought he looked OK last weekend, that is because the Raiders offense does not rank very high based on the GE model (#16) while the Patriots defense is #3. In fact, they are #1 in fewest points allowed. The Texans won't have the comfortable confines of NRG Stadium and will be in for a rude awakening in Foxborough. DeAndre Hopkins was a huge weapon for Osweiler last week but Belichick is the master at taking away a team's best weapon. Hopkins numbers against the Patriots in his career are simply below average and for good reason. Lamar Miller also has subpar numbers against the Patriots.

The Texans essentially enter this game as one of the worst playoff teams in recent memory while the Patriots look very poised to making their 9th trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history (7th in the Belichick/Brady era). The point spread of 16 for New England makes sense and it happens to be the 4th highest point spread for a postseason game in the Super Bowl era. The Texans might be able to put pressure on Brady but the Patriots have enough skilled players to keep Brady upright and move the chains. On the flip side, the Texans will be lucky to get into the red zone more than once or twice.

We are thinking this will be a 27 - 10 or 28 - 13 type of game with of course the Patriots winning. Patriots may not cover 16 but they will be close to covering and with cold weather, the under might be the right play.

For fantasy purposes, consider Blount and Edelman and without a doubt pay up for the Patriots defense. The NFC games will be shootouts and so might the KC-Pittsburgh game so the Patriots defense is the way to go. Forget about any players on the Texans. You will be wasting your roster space with them.

  • Seattle at Atlanta
    Vegas Line: ATL -5 , O/U 51.5
    GE line: ATL -5.42, O/U 52.27

Now this game can be a shootout! Atlanta has the #1 offense in the land by most metrics (including the GE model). Seattle is also very capable of scoring, especially with the way their WRs played last Saturday night. With the game being played indoors on turf and a week of rest and preparation for Atlanta, we expect the Falcons to score at least 30 points in this game. It also helps that the Seahawks pass defense is a former shell of itself after Earl Thomas's injury.

Seattle would be wise to commit to the run game early and often. That is usually the best way to shut down a prolific offense like Atlanta's. Rawls looked great last week and the Falcons defense is clearly a glaring weakness. In fact, the Falcons have had trouble closing out games due to its poor defense. They blew a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter to San Diego at home only to lose in overtime. Also at home they nearly let Green Bay come away with a victory late in the game and allowed Tampa Bay and Kansas City to have double digit leads going into the 4th quarter en route to losses at home for the Falcons. With those 4 contests, the Falcons defense allowed an average of more than 30 points per game. That is not home field advantage even though Matt Ryan, for his career, has been solid at home.

Seattle does have its issues with the offensive line and Vic Beasley has been a sack machine leading the NFL with 15.5 sacks. However, 8.5 of those sacks were against rookie QBs who are not very mobile (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch). Wilson is a very experienced QB and very mobile so he will be tough for Beasley to catch.

The last time these two teams met, it was a very close game in Seattle and that was the Falcons second road game in a row after beating Denver the week before. The Falcons didn't even bother to fly back home after their win in Denver so one has to think that this time around, getting to stay at home for the last 3 weeks will do wonders for them. Seattle will lose a day of prep for cross country travel and this game will most likely be the last game for the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Something tells us that even though the Falcons haven't made much of a home field advantage this season, that might all change come Saturday. The Seahawks, after all, are not the same team on the road as they are at home: 8-1 at home and 3-4-1 on the road.

Julio Jones had a great game against Seattle earlier in the season and if it were not for a missed PI call (we still go back and forth on that one), the Falcons should have won. Richard Sherman will surely be covering Jones often but the Falcons have so many other weapons they can use such as Taylor Gabriel, Mohammed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, and Devonta Freeman. We feel Freeman is due for a big game and the Seahawks have not done a good job of defending RBs who catch the ball out of the backfield even though they allow just 3.4 yards per carry.

Not sure if we have indicated which way we will be going in this game since we can see good reasons why either team can win. Seahawks have the experience and can expose the Falcons weak defense. The Falcons have an incredible offense and the Seahawks have holes in various places. The Seahawks are not great on the road but the Falcons haven't been all that daunting at home when it comes to defense. Still, we have to lean towards the home team and Matt Ryan is ready to take this Falcons squad to the next level while the Seahawks championship window might be coming to a close. We also can't ignore the intangibles such as the last game at the Georgia Dome and having a week off. Bye teams tend to do well in the divisional round for good reason and the Seahawks numbers can be a bit skewed due to having 4 games against two horrible offenses like the 49ers and Rams. One thing we know for sure is that this game will be high scoring and a fun one to watch.

If you are considering any of these players for fantasy football, then you came to the right place! Consider stacking Matt Ryan with any of his weapons. Don't worry about Sherman on Jones. The Falcons will find ways to move Jones around to get him some mismatches. Freeman is our favorite though. If the 49ers RBs can put up big numbers against the Seahawks, so can Freeman who has been amazing at home this season. For Seattle, you can feel comfortable stacking Wilson with his players but Matt Ryan might be the better option for just a $1000 more on DraftKings but a more favorable home/away split. The Seahawks player we like the most is Jimmy Graham. He has a great track record against the Falcons, especially playing indoors. He has struggled to put up numbers but we think he is due, especially with more attention being placed on Baldwin after that amazing game he had last week.