Playoff Preview: Sunday’s Divisional Match-ups

January 13, 2013 • Ben Heck • AFC, NFC

Rough day in regards to picking games yesterday, as the 10-point underdog Ravens upset the No. 1 Broncos in double overtime and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick literally ran away with a 45-31 victory in the second half against Green Bay.

But today is a new day, and there are still two more games to be played this weekend. Here is a quick preview of both match-ups.
Sunday January 13, 2013
5 Seahawks @ 1 Falcons
1 pm (eastern time), Georgia Dome
The AFC’s No. 1 seed has already gone down, and I think later today the NFC’s No. 1 seed will fall as well. People don’t seem to be giving the Seahawks any credit for its victory last weekend, but the truth is they are probably one of the hottest teams in the NFC right now. A scary combination of defense (No. 1 in the league) and a running game.
Atlanta’s offense put up 30 or more points five times this season and has the league’s 6th-best passing offense, but a lack of a capable running game may hold back Matt Ryan and his Falcons. Say all you want about this league now being a pass-happy league, but you still need a great defense and a consistent running game to win playoff games and honestly I don’t think this defense will be able to limit Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch on the ground.
Seven of Atlanta’s 13 wins this season have been by a touchdown or less and, personally, I always found this Falcons team to be overrated. Ryan is 34-6 at home in his career (including a playoff loss to Green Bay), but the postseason has been a different story as he’s gone 0-3 with 4 interceptions and a 71.2 rating.
This is a new season, however, and the past postseason games for Ryan do not matter today. With Ryan playing at home, he should have a decent game, but Atlanta’s 29th-best running game is likely to be non-existent against Seattle’s No. 10 run defense.
On offense, I’m expecting to see rookie Russell Wilson at his finest and we should see a lot of plays coming out of the pistol with some option runs, because Atlanta hasn’t seem to be able to stop the opposition on the ground this season. No turnvers from Wilson, and this offense could put up 30-40 points inside Atlanta’s dome. Sorry Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta TE), but I think you’ll fall to 0-6 in your postseason career today.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Falcons 24
3 Texans @ 2 Patriots
4:30 pm, Gillette Stadium
Earlier this season, just a couple of weeks ago actually, Tom Brady carved up Houston’s 10th-ranked defense for 42 points on the primetime Monday night stage. It was all downhill for Houston after that, as they finished the season 1-2 and backed into the postseason. They had a shot for a couple weeks to clinch home-field advantage and a first round bye, but failed to do so.
A sloppy 19-13 Wild Card victory over Cincinnati last week got Houston to this point, but it’s not looking too promising for Matt Schaub’s Texans. Of course, the Ravens already proved us all wrong this weekend, so perhaps the Texans can do it again today? I’m playing it safe and going with New England, who always seem to have the highest-scoring offense year-in and year-out.
Going against Brady and head coach Bill Belichick in the postseason is not a smart move. With a 16-6 record in his illustrious postseason career, Brady’s level of play elevates once January and February rolls around. In past seasons New England was a pass-oriented team that never really worked at establishing the run, but with Stevan Ridley on the field this season, New England has been a much more rounded offense. On less than 300 rushing attempts, the 23-year old Ridley broke out with 1,263 yards and 12 TDs on the ground.
Arian Foster running for 100+ yards is likely today against New England’s defense, but we’ve seen that a 100-yard rusher isn’t going to automatically put a team in great position to beat the Pats. We’ve seen that all season, as the Patriots have gone 7-3 this season when allowing 100 or more yards on the ground. Nope, Matt Schaub will actually need to make some plays in the passing game (and limit INTs) in order to come away with a win today. A couple of big plays on defense from J.J. Watt or Connor Barwin wouldn’t hurt either.
Though he was voted to a Pro Bowl this season, I always thought of Matt Schaub as more of a game-manager in this offense. But if he wants to prove his worth to me today, he’ll need to make some big plays. I don’t think Houston’s defense will be able to limit the damage that Brady leaves, and the Pats will advance to the AFC Championship against Baltimore for the second consecutive season.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Texans 21
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