2016 NFL Picks: Divisional Round
Last Week: 2-2
- Atlanta Falcons -4.5 vs. Seattle Seahawks
- New England Patriots -16 vs. Houston Texans
- Green Bay Packers +4 at Dallas Cowboys
- Kansas City Chiefs -1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
I arrived at the Phoenix airport on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 record through the weekend's first three games. All I needed was the Giants and their 2nd-ranked defense to keep their game close against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. It was looking good as I pulled a stool up to the bar and ordered a pre-flight beer: the Giants were up 6-0 in the second quarter, and we seemed destined for a low-scoring affair. Then Aaron Rodgers reminded me that he is the reason I can't have nice things by throwing a go-ahead touchdown pass after holding the ball longer than anyone should and completing his third Hail Mary in the past year to put the Packers up 14-6 before halftime. The Giants closed the gap to 1 after some questionable play-calling from Mike McCarthy, but Rodgers and the Packers responded with 24 unanswered points. My hopes of a winning week and Odell Beckham Jr's hopes of people forgetting about his Lonely Island antics were shattered like Jordy Nelson's ribs.
I also missed on my Oakland +3.5 pick. Connor Cook played like the worst version of Brock Osweiler (40% completion percentage, 161 yards) and Brock Osweiler played like the best version of Brock Osweiler (56% completion percentage, 168 yards). It was a dreadful game to predict and an even more dreadful game to actually watch. I hope you all had something better to do with your Saturday evenings than watch it.
This week will be different though! All of the remaining quarterbacks are more experienced than Cook, and only one is as bad as Brock Osweiler (hint: it's Brock Osweiler). Three of the four games have a line lower than a touchdown. Clear your calendars, throw on some stretchy pants, and settle in for the last weekend of the 2016-17 NFL season with multiple days of games. To the picks!
Atlanta Falcons -4.5 vs. Seattle Seahawks
When these teams met in Week 6, the Seahawks weathered a 21-point third quarter from the Falcons before a fourth-quarter comeback (and a controversial no-call) gave them a two-point victory at home. This time around, Atlanta is at home and fresh off of a bye week, Seattle is without Earl Thomas, and Vic Beasley is the NFL's sack leader. Here are three reasons the Falcons should cover this spread:
- Atlanta's offense is really, really good. They were held under 30 points just four times this season (and under 20 points just once), in games against the NFL's 1st-, 2nd-, 7th-, and 13th-ranked pass defenses. The one middling team? These Seahawks, who had the league's best defense at the time. The Falcons still scored 24 points in that game, and I expect them to put up even more this time around.
- Seattle's offensive line is still bad. Ranking 26th in run blocking and 25th in pass protection is not helpful when your goal should be limiting the other team's possessions. Last week in Seattle, the Seahawks needed two ridiculous one-handed catches to reach 26 points against the Lions' league-worst defense. The Falcons are 27th in defensive DVOA, but the Seahawks can't afford to settle for field goals and manage only 10 points through three quarters if they want to hang in this game.
- Earl Thomas is out. I know I already mentioned it above, but it's hard to emphasize the impact of his injury enough. They've given up an extra touchdown per game (24.5 PPG allowed after Thomas's injury, 17.0 before) and they're being victimized by deep passes of at least 20 yards (48.2 passer rating allowed with Thomas, 108.9 without). Even if Seattle has Richard Sherman follow Julio Jones around the field, Matt Ryan and company should find plenty of opportunities for big plays.
Final Score: Atlanta 35, Seattle 24
New England Patriots -16 vs. Houston Texans
The rematch no one wanted, and the game the fewest people will watch. Brock Osweiler heads into Foxboro to take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Texans visited the Patriots in Week 3 and lost 27-0 to New England's third-string quarterback, Jacoby Brissett. In four visits to Gillette Stadium, Houston has covered a 16-point spread just once, when they lost by 13 in the 2012-13 playoffs. Here are three reasons this game won't be any closer than the matchup earlier this season:
- Tom Brady is a lot better than Jacoby Brissett.
- Brock Osweiler is really bad, making him the wrong person to take advantage of New England's 23rd-ranked pass defense. Brock and the Texans' offense struggled against everyone they played this year, scoring 20 points against Detroit (32nd in defensive DVOA), 22 and 24 against the Colts (29th), and 17 and 27 against the Titans (24th). The Patriots' defense is better than all three of those teams.
- New England has a better coach and better special teams. Bill Belichick is better than just about every head coach out there, and he's had an extra week to prepare for this game. Every team is better than Houston on special teams, but the discrepancy is particularly large this week because the Patriots rank 7th. If they aren't going to get the job done on offense or special teams, it's going to be up to their defense. Do you want to pick Houston to slow down Tom Brady?
Final Score: New England 35, Houston 13
Green Bay Packers +4 at Dallas Cowboys
Stupid, Sexy Rodgers was as stupid and sexy as ever last week, finishing with 362 yards and four touchdowns against the league's 4th-ranked pass defense. This week they take on a Cowboys team who ranks 18th against the pass in a rematch of a game they lost by 14 earlier this season. Dallas is a very good team and has an offense capable of running your defense over until it surrenders. Both teams will score points, but here are three reasons the Packers can cover:
- Aaron Rodgers is en fuego. Hail Marys only present him with a mild challenge. He doesn't bother waiting for his receivers to get open. He has the best touchdown celebration in the league, and I'm even laughing at his commercials! Since Green Bay started its current win streak against Philadelphia in Week 12, he's thrown 19 touchdowns and 0 interceptions and registered just one game with a passer rating below 100. He is infuriating to root against, seemingly impossible to tackle, and now he's taking on Dallas's very average pass defense.
- The Cowboys are great on offense, but rarely blow teams out. After their bye in Week 7, Dallas went 8-2. Only three of those wins were by more than six points, and one was against the Browns. Unless they can slow down Green Bay's offense, they'll have to throw the ball more than they like. If that happens, they might not be able to wear down the opposing defense for easy scores late in the game like they have most of this year.
- Even if Dallas is up by 10 late, Rodgers can just throw a fourth, backdoor-covering Hail Mary.
Final Score: Green Bay 35, Dallas 31
Kansas City Chiefs -1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh covered a ten-point spread last week against Miami, but the game was closer than the final score of 30-12 indicates. After scoring 14 points in the first eight minutes of the game, Pittsburgh needed a Miami fumble just before halftime to prevent the Dolphins from closing the gap to 20-9 or possibly 20-13. The Chiefs (5th in total DVOA) are a much better team than the Dolphins (21st). These teams met in Week 4, and Pittsburgh pummeled Kansas City en route to a 43-14 win. Here are three reasons I think the Chiefs will win this time around:
- The Chiefs have improved their offense by featuring Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Kelce had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season in Week 8; after that, he crossed the century mark five times in eight games. Hill had one touchdown in three games heading into that game against the Steelers; in the twelve games after, he scored seven.
- Ben Roethlisberger is injured and has a tendency to throw the ball to the wrong team on the road. In seven home games (including last week), he's thrown 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In eight road games, he's thrown 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. That split should be troubling for Pittsburgh fans as the Steelers travel to visit the NFL's leading takeaway artists in Kansas City.
- Andy Reid is a bye week wizard, and his powers extend to the postseason. In eighteen regular season games after a bye, Reid's teams are 16-2. In three postseason games after a bye, they're 3-0, and 2-1 against the spread. With only a one-point spread in this game, another win guarantees at least a push.
Final Score: Kansas City 24, Pittsburgh 21