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Divisional Playoffs Weekend Predictions

Posted Jan 13, 2017

The BBC's Mike Carlson makes his Divisional Weekend predictions!

You could argue this is the week with the most lopsided home-team advantage in sports. The four 'better' teams (by record) all get to play at home, with a week's rest their opponents haven't had. Since 2002, when the current seeding system was adopted, the home teams in the divisional round are 38-18, or 68 percent, which is up from the usual 57 per cent home field advantage in the season. Interestingly, the results in the Conference Championship games are 19-9, exactly the same percentage. BUT, don't get too carried away, because 68 per cent is less than three out of four; last year when all four home teams won the divisional round, it was for the first time since the 2004 season.

Another thing to consider this weekend is that all four games are rematches of the regular season, though obviously teams are different now than they were then. In fact, the real x factor in the playoffs is when the team with the better record meets the team which is just hitting its best form at the right time, which is a factor in three of these four matchups.

SATURDAY

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2 AT 9:35PM Seattle (11-5-1) at Atlanta (11-5): DAN QUINN BOWL! The Atlanta head coach was, of course, a defensive coordinator in Seattle, and with Vic Beasley stepping to the fore in the last weeks of the season, the Falcons' D has played better than expected. When these teams met in Seattle the Seahawks dominated early and Atlanta launched a great comeback. They lost 26-24, with Richard Sherman getting away with a pretty good hold on Julio Jones late in the game. What's different now? Not that much, as last week you saw DeShawn Shead tackle TJ Jones on a pass route, and the officials rule the ball 'uncatchable'. Yes, when you're tackled, most passes are uncatchable! The big thing is Earl Thomas' absence for the Seahawks; without him as the single high safety their coverage changes, and they force fewer turnovers. Steven Terrell just doesn't have Thomas' range (who does?). With Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright at linebacker, Seattle is better equipped than most to control Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman coming out of the backfield. The real key to this game may well be how well Atlanta fares against the run, with Thomas Rawls back in Beastesque mode last week. The other will be how the Seahawks O line copes with the rush; credit Tom Cable with doing a great job in turning undrafted George Fant from a tight end at Western Kentucky to a left tackle. He'll be facing Beasley and watch the fun. I suspect this game may follow the pattern to Seattle's trip to Carolina last year, with them being the team needing the second half comeback to win. Pick: Falcons

SUNDAY

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2 AT 1:15AM Houston (10-7) at New England (14-2): WILFORK BOWL II! (Also O'Brien, Vrabel, Crennel, Godsey, Izzo Bowl). When the Pats won 27-0 in Foxboro, Jacoby Brissett was the quarterback and threw only 19 passes. JJ Watt was playing, although he wasn't 100 per cent. The Pats got two touchdowns off special teams turnovers, pinned Houston's offense down with their own great special teams play, and won the situational football game. Everyone is looking at this matchup as being one sided because Tom Brady is back and Brock Osweiler is still the Texans' QB. Can the Texans win? That's a Clowney question, bro! If Jadeveon and Mercilus can get to Brady, or even force a turnover, they could have their shot. But last week they faced an Oakland team which started their version of Brisset, Connor Cook, and Oakland didn't come up with a situational game plan that would make the game easier for him. Look for them to make life easier for Brady, and look for Mike Vrabel to get a defensive coordinator's job after the game. Pick: Pats

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2 AT 6:05PM Pittsburgh (12-5) at Kansas City (12-4): TODD HALEY BOWL! Remember the Steelers' OC was the Chiefs' head coach. Steelers' RB coach James Saxon started his NFL career as a running back with the Chiefs too. Big JuJu here, as Pittsburgh are very much a team finding their form at the right time, on a seven game win streak, while the Chiefs' Andy Reid is 16-2 after bye weeks, 4-0 in the playoffs. The big question, of course, is how much Big Ben's ankle injury will effect his play. The Steelers won 43-14 at Heinz in their first meeting, LeVeon Bell's first game back from suspension, and Antonio Brown tore up the Chiefs' secondary. Since then, however, the Chiefs have played solid on both sides of the ball, and Tyreek Hill has emerged as their best big-play threat since Dante Hall (and he's better on offense than the Joystick was). KC has created 8 touchdowns from defense and special teams, with Hill's kick returning and Eric Berry's ball hawking. Watching the Steelers march down the field with Bell running the ball play after play, I wanted to highlight the play of Alejandro Villenueva at left tackle; Mike Munchak has turned an Army tight end into a good left tackle, especially as he's 6-9, which is usually too tall to get enough leverage. You can run the ball on the Chiefs, and that may be the Steelers' strategy here. With Reid and Mike Tomlin opposite each other, the possibility of Krazy Klock management always exists, and the temptation is to think that the Chiefs will need at least one big play from their D or special teams unless Alex Smith can test the Steelers' secondary. Pick: Steelers

LIVE ON SKY SPORTS 2 AT 9:40PM Green Bay (11-6) at Dallas (13-3): Remember the Green Bay/Dallas Ice Bowl? This will be the NICE BOWL, because in the JerryDome the weather's always fine. How you pick this game depends on one factor and one factor only, and it has nothing to do with the weather, home field advantage (Green Bay is 6-18 in Dallas historically), the Cowboys' 30-16 win at Lambeau in week six, the running of Zeke or heady QB play of Zak. It's all about how much faith do you have in Aaron Rodgers to transcend circumstances, the odds, whatever. Yes, the Packers' front has to cope with the league's best O line. Yes the Cowboys' D will sit back under Rod Marinelli and allow you short passes but not get burned deep. Yes Sean Lee has had a good, injury-free season, and the Pack's linebackers and secondary are pretty banged up. But Green Bay is also on a seven game win streak and that is down to Rodgers getting protection (their line is a good pass blocking group; TJ Lang was outstanding last week, watch him on Davante Adams' TD), and Jordy Nelson getting back to full speed. Nelson is out now, but if you believe in AR, that doesn't matter, does it? Pick: Pack

LAST WEEK: 4-0

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