Well, the NFC Wild Card round went nothing like I expected it to be. Both games were even on paper, but the Packers blew out the Giants and the Seahawks shut down the Lions. Now, both teams will have to go on the road to reach the NFC Championship Game.
#3 Seattle Seahawks at. #2 Atlanta Falcons
Last Saturday, Seattle had the advantage of playing at home against the Lions and dominated all four quarters, holding an elite offensive attack to just 254 yards of total offense. But the story of the night was Thomas Rawls, who ran through Detroit’s defense for 161 yards and one touchdown. However, Atlanta is a much more complete team than the Lions.
Led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons ranked in the top five in both passing and rushing offense on the year. Matt Ryan might be the MVP, and had the best year of his career, throwing for almost 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Julio Jones is the number one target for Ryan but 13 players caught touchdown passes for Atlanta, and Jones only found the end zone six times. Ten players had over 200 receiving yards, including both Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who proved to be dangerous in the passing and rushing games.
On the other side of the ball, Atlanta struggled all season long, ranking 25th in total defense. This team has really missed Sean Weatherspoon and Desmond Trufant, who is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. The secondary has been torched all year long, and outside of Vic Beasley’s 15.5 sacks, they don’t get a ton of pressure on the quarterback.
Seeing this offensive attack going up against a top five defensive unit in Seattle will be one of the main storylines of the divisional round. The Julio Jones vs. Richard Sherman matchup will be one to watch, and it will be interesting to see if Matt Ryan throws to Sherman’s side and whether Atlanta moves Jones around to try and get him as many touches as they can. The offensive line for the Falcons gave up 37 sacks, and if the three-headed monster of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony Clark can get pressure on Ryan, Seattle could pull off the upset.
The defense for Atlanta is going to have to contain Russell Wilson, who has a habit of showing up big time in the playoffs. Vic Beasley should be fired up at the opportunity to play a weak offensive line that actually played pretty well last week. Thomas Rawls could be in for another 100+ yard game running the football, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of running from Russell Wilson.
In the end, however, I think Atlanta’s balanced attack will keep Seattle guessing and off balanced. The lack of elite offensive weapons surrounding Russell Wilson will make Seattle come up short away from home.
PREDICTION: Seattle 24, Atlanta 30
#4 Green Bay Packers at. #1 Dallas Cowboys
Green Bay surprised everyone with their play last week. In a game that everyone thought would be an instant classic, the Packers blew out the Giants 38-13, and shut down Odell Beckham and the rest of the Giants offense. Aaron Rodgers tossed four touchdowns, including another Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Now, they’ll have to go on the road the rest of the playoffs if they want to run the table.
For the Cowboys, it all starts with that offensive line, which is the best in the league. Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and Doug Free have done an excellent job all year long of giving Ezekiel Elliott holes to run through and Dak Prescott time in the pocket to throw.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, with over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns, showing off an impressive blend of speed and power. He was also a threat in the passing game, with 363 receiving yards and a touchdown. Prescott had a nice rookie campaign for himself too, and while I think he’s not as good as the numbers say he is, he’s done a good job of managing the offense and not turning the ball over. Prescott spread the ball around to a plethora of receivers, led by Cole Beasley’s 833 yards and Dez Bryant’s eight touchdowns.
Prescott will get to go up against a weak secondary that somehow managed to not let Eli Manning throw for 300 yards. Dom Capers’ unit was able to shut down Odell Beckham for only four catches and 28 yards. Green Bay has been burned deep all year long, but Prescott doesn’t have the arm talent to consistently drive the ball down the field accurately. However, he should be able to find Cole Beasley, his favorite target, a lot underneath.
Elliott will get a ton of carries in this game, and seeing the NFL’s best run blocking offensive line go up against a good front four will be a dogfight all night long.
On defense, Dallas gave up the fewest rushing yards in the league. But that could be a mute point, as Green Bay doesn’t have much of a running game to begin with. Aaron Rodgers is going to have to sling it all game long, and with Dallas’ 26th ranked pass defense, Rodgers could have himself a field day, even with Jordy Nelson out with rib fractures. Randall Cobb and DaVante Adams stepped up in a big way last weekend, and will be relied on heavily again this week. Rodgers will likely have ample time in the pocket, as Green Bay’s offensive line has a heavy advantage over the pass rush of the Cowboys, who lack an elite pass rusher on their roster.
Dallas may be the #1 seed in the NFC, but Green Bay is built to beat them. Dak Prescott hasn’t shown many nerves in his first NFL season, but there is a ton of pressure on him. No rookie quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl, and if loses this game, fans will wonder whether Tony Romo is the starter next year. Meanwhile, Rodgers and the Packers have been here before and have big game experience.
PREDICTION: Green Bay 34, Dallas 24
Cover Photo via SportDFW