Off The Beaten Path: Storylines for the NFL Divisional Round

| January 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas break up pass intended for Julio Jones. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Not everything you see and hear is really that interesting. Here are some facts and questions we should be thinking about but aren’t as we head into the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

The first fun fact: every game this weekend is a rematch of the 2016 regular season. Seattle beat Atlanta in Seattle, Pittsburgh beat Kansas City in Pittsburgh, New England beat Houston in New England, and Dallas beat Green Bay in Green Bay.

Moving on …

  1. Can Seattle score points on offense?

The first Saturday game was initially played in Week 6 in Seattle (*keep this in mind) and will be the best game of the weekend. In their first matchup, Seattle had a 17-3 lead at halftime. Atlanta came roaring back and scored three unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to go up 24-17. After a TD by Seattle with 4:43 left in the 4th, they missed the extra point to remain down 24-23. Seattle got the ball back and kicked a field goal to take a 26-24 lead with 1:57 to go. The Falcons got the ball after the kickoff and needed to convert on 4th and 10 from their own 25 to keep their hope alive. All-Pro quarterback Matt Ryan dropped back and threw to Julio Jones who was interfered with (see picture above). However, the referees did not call it. It left Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn irate on the sidelines. Here’s his reaction.

The last time these two teams played, here is how evenly matched they were:

Atlanta Seattle
Total Yards 362 333
Time of Possession 29:51 30:09
First Downs 22 22
Penalties 8-66 3-30
Turnovers 2 0

This weekend, though, the game is in Atlanta. Advantage: Falcons.  First,  you have to assume the penalties will be a bit more evenly distributed and that the referees will be more attentive to things like blatant defensive pass interference in the final two minutes. Also, the home v. road numbers favor the Falcons. In Atlanta, the Falcons are averaging almost 36 points per game. Additionally, the Falcons have won games against two playoff teams this year against the Raiders and Packers and lost two games to playoff teams in close fashion, losing to the Seahawks in Week 6 and then the Chiefs in Week 12 in what Bill Simmons calls the Two Point Reversion. Watch the play here.

Additionally, Seattle is terrible on the road. They have losses to the Rams, Saints, Bucs, and Packers and a tie against the Cardinals. Seattle averages a whopping 16 points per game outside the state of Washington. In the four road losses and tie, they averaged 8.8 points per game. Their lone signature win was at New England in primetime, but their two other wins were against the Jets on October 2 and the 49ers. Don’t forget, too, that in the Week 17 game in San Francisco, the 49ers rallied late and almost won despite Seattle having their starters in late in a meaningless game.

In a game against the best offense in the NFC on the road, the thing to watch for is not Seattle’s defense sans Earl Thomas, but Seattle’s ability to score on offense. The Detroit game last week in Seattle is not indicative of how good they are, it exposed the fraud that that Lions were all year.

1A. The Avian Impact

In a rare winged mascot battle, a falcon would curb stomp a seahawk in an aerial fight to the death. The seahawk, also known as an osprey, feed almost exclusively on fish while the Peregrine falcon eats mostly birds, including ospreys, according to the National Geographic. Again, advantage: Falcons.

Prediction: I like Atlanta to cover the 5.

  1. How many snaps does Dion Lewis play and can LeGarrette Blount break Ricky Watters’ record for most TDs in a playoff game?

Everyone should thank the NFL for allowing us to make plans Saturday night without thinking about the Texans/Patriots game since it will be over before halftime. As of Friday at 1:00 eastern, the Pats are 15.5 point favorites over the Texans in the second round of the playoffs. For comparison, that’s a higher spread than when the LA Rams came to New England on December 4 and the Pats were only favored by 13.

Something largely undiscussed, though, is that the Patriots have kept their best running back weapon, Dion Lewis, on the sideline for much of the second half of the season. Averaging around 20 snaps per game, Lewis has seen a decreased role compared to 2015 while the Patriots continue to protect his surgically repaired knee despite him coming off the PUP list in late November. Though it’s counterintuitive that Lewis would be the best back in New England with LaGarrette Blount leading all running backs in the NFL with 18 rushing TDs this season, as Mike Reiss of ESPN noted yesterday, the Patriots have never lost when Lewis is on the field. That is not a coincidence.

Lewis is a matchup nightmare for defenses because for all of his skills as a runner, he’s an even better pass catcher. When New England lines him up in the backfield and he splits out on motion, he almost always is in a one-on-one situation with a linebacker. Brady exploits this matchup over and over and over until the defense adjusts. Once the linebackers are gassed from running with Lewis, in comes the 250-pound monster of Blount to smash it down their throat.

But … you have to wonder how interested the Pats are in tipping their hand and showing the playbook against a Texans team this bad. Belichick has a choice: let his best running back rest two full weeks and keep his best offense in his back pocket or let it all hang out against Brock Osweiler. Not a difficult decision. This leaves Blount and James White to do the heavy lifting and kill the clock. Blount already is tied for the second most touchdowns in a playoff game with 4 against the Colts in 2013. It would not surprise me a bit if he surpasses that total Saturday night. When the Patriots won 27-0 in September with Jacoby Brissett it was just a taste for how this game will go Saturday.

Prediction: I like the favorite, but the number is too big. I would tease the Pats to -9.5 and the under.

  1. Ice, ice baby

Starting early Friday morning, an ice storm has blanketed the Midwest and Arrowhead is in the heart of it. The storm is projected to last until around sunrise on Saturday morning, take a break, and then resume from 11:00 AM Saturday through the kickoff time at 1:00 PM Sunday morning.

Remember how earlier in the week the Steelers were reporting that Big Ben’s injury was “nothing serious”? Apparently it was serious enough to take the precaution of putting him in a walking boot and not letting him practice through Thursday. On the other side, the Chiefs have had full or limited participation by their injured stars Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston all week. While the fact that Andy Reid is career straight up 16-2 off a bye (we know, mainstream media), the weather is actually going to be the biggest factor in Sunday’s game. If the Chiefs’ pass rushers can force Ben to move or get hits on him and the foot/ankle, Ben’s proclivity to throw the ball up into coverage favors the Chiefs, whose defense was tied for first in the NFL with 18 interceptions.

Prediction: Ben is more injured than he leads on and Alex Smith will play cautious, turnover-free football. The game will come down to turnovers and the Chiefs cover the point and win by a touchdown.

edit: after publication, the NFL moved the game start time to 8:20 PM ET due to the ice storm.

  1. Can Dak Prescott parlay throwing his trash away into his first playoff victory?

No, because it’s against Aaron Rodgers.

Prediction: The Packers win outright.


Thank you for reading. I tweet nonsense. You should read it. @Brett_Butz


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