The Divisional Round. So many folks feel that this is the best weekend of the entire NFL season.
While this isn't the space where we would typically discuss this kind of topic, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how hard this will be on the fans in the San Diego area. As an NFL historian and purist (for lack of a better word), I don't love it, either. Franchise relocation is generally not good for the perception of a sport -- period. And as someone who works in Los Angeles, I am not sure how the Chargers will be received by the mixed stew of sports fans that live here. Much has been made of all the things to do in L.A., and the failure of having two teams here in the '80s and '90s. My fear is that the difference between the organization's needs and what city leaders in San Diego were willing to offer will only lead to indifference from Angelenos.
Now, let's get to it!
Elliot Harrison went 3-1 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, giving him a record of 173-85-2 thus far this season. How will he fare in the Divisional Round? His picks are below:
OK, so let's look forward. What matters Sunday? Much of what counted in October. The Packers' run defense had better slow down Ezekiel Elliott and that Cowboys ground attack. Green Bay came into the first meeting allowing less than 3 yards per carry. Then Dallas outrushed the cheeseheads 191-78. Being that successful means the Cowboys control the clock, limiting Aaron Rodgers' touches. If the Packers go 0-fer -- like on their first four drives versus the Giants -- they won't get 8-10 more possessions to compensate. I like Rodgers against the Dallas secondary, but Jordy Nelson's probable absence sure doesn't help. (UPDATE: Mike McCarthy announced on Friday that Nelson will indeed miss Sunday's game.) Also, with Mo Claiborne back at corner and Dallas' pass rushers having rested legs -- hello David Irving, who was a force in the earlier meeting -- can Rodgers get enough time (in terms of protection and number of drives) to put up enough points? The guess here is no, but that's why they play the games. #GBvsDAL
Another key: Whether or not the remainder of Seattle's secondary can play up to snuff versus the Falcons' other receivers -- namely Taylor Gabriel, who really came on late in the season. DeShawn Shead makes Seahawks fans panic. He must hold down his side of the fort. Matt Ryan played like an absolute stud this year, and he will find the windows if open. Methinks his pass protection will hold its own. If Ryan struggles, though, it will be up to Alex Mack and Co. getting out in space and neutralizing Bobby Wagner. Then Devonta Freeman gets loose, and Atlanta heads to Dallas for the NFC Championship. #SEAvsATL
Houston's defense must generate New England mistakes, despite the fact that Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly. If Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus create disruption -- not necessarily sacks, but tipped balls and interceptions (see: Clowney's thievery of Connor Cook) -- the Texans have a chance. That said, I fully expect LeGarrette Blount to get 15-20 carries, keeping that Texans front honest. The Patriots allowed 15.6 points per game this season, and I don't see a Brock Osweiler-engineered attack surpassing that mark. #HOUvsNE