Second-round NFL playoffs predictions
Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens (L) breaks through the Dallas Cowboys defensive line for a first down, as Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Chad Hennings (C) misses the tackle, during the first quarter of the Nov. 23, 2016, game at Lambeau Field, in Green Bay, Wis. (VINCENT LAFORET/AFP/Getty Images)
The second round of the NFL playoffs will be everything the wildcard weekend wasn’t: well-matched great offences and defences in games that will be exciting right through the fourth quarter.
How bad was what we just saw?
This past weekend had the most lopsided average margins-of-victory for the opening four games since 1981.
With the potential exception of Houston-New England, each game looks capable of producing an instant classic.
Here are the four matchups on the divisional weekend (all times Pacific):
Seahawks at Falcons
Saturday, 1:35 p.m.
Can Seattle keep pace with Atlanta’s high-octane, #1 offence?
The Seahawks won a tight one at home against the Falcons in mid-October, but this one’s on the road and without Earl Thomas.
Matt Ryan’s 9.3 yards per passing attempt was by far the best in the league (and in years), and will be a huge test for the Legion of Boom.
Seattle’s Thomas Rawls needs to repeat with another career game (21-161 vs the Lions Saturday).
Expect a high-scoring but close, entertaining affair, with a slight edge to the home team.
Texans at Patriots
Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
Has the NFL’s top-rated defence ever been a 16-point underdog in a playoff game? Highly unlikely.
A Houston coaching staff filled with former Patriots will go into Foxborough trying to pull off a huge upset over Super Bowl favourite New England.
But the Pats have won five straight over the Texans, often by a large margin – including 27-0 early this season when they were led by 3rd-string rookie QB Jacoby Brissett.
In this battle between the #1 total D (Texans) versus #1 scoring D (Patriots), keep an eye on Jadeveon Clowney trying to get to Tom Brady.
Steelers at Chiefs
Sunday, 10:05 a.m.
Red-hot Pittsburgh comes into Kansas City having won eight straight.
The combination of the Steelers' offensive weaponry with the Chiefs' 24th-ranked defence is a red flag.
K.C. can win this at home with big plays – rookie triple-threat Tyreek Hill has quickly established himself as one of the fastest and most dangerous players in the league.
This one may come down to the health of Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle.
If he’s 100% - or close to it – I give a slight edge to the Steelers.
Packers at Cowboys
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.
Green Bay has won seven straight but Aaron Rodgers’ top target, Jordy Nelson, could be injured/out.
It’s the first playoff game for Dallas super rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Not only does the Pack need to slow the Cowboys running game but Green Bay’s secondary is being held together by duct tape and chewing gum, and has allowed the second-most passing yards per game in the league.
This one should be wildly entertaining. Let’s see if Rodgers has one more magic trick up his sleeve.