Terrific weekend of action in the National Football League playoffs with two Divisional playoff games today and two tomorrow. I'll preview and predict two today and will do the same tomorrow.
Here are previews and prognostications for today's games, the Seattle Seahawks @ the Atlanta Falcons, and the Houston Texans @ the New England Patriots.
Seahawks (11-5-1) @ Falcons (11-5)
Georgia Dome, Hotlanta, 74, 228
3:35 PM CT/4:35 PM ET
Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver, Peter Schrager
Lead Whistle: Gene Steratore
Falcons by 4 1/2
The Seahawks beat the Falcons in their regular season meeting in week 6 @ Seattle, 26-24, but there was controversy when Richard Sherman clearly interfered with Julio Jones on a deep ball very late in the game that would have put the Falcons in field goal position that would have secured the victory for the Falcons. But Sherman wasn't flagged and the Seahawks escaped. The interesting match-ups in this game are quarterback Matt Ryan vs the vaunted Seattle defense, that is very good, but is missing superstar safety Earl Thomas, who broke his leg late in the regular season. Ryan had an MVP year, and if it wasn't for Tom Brady's ridiculously good numbers, and ARodg's season, he could very well have won it. I'll go with Brady as the MVP for the year. More on "Tom Terrific" below.
Ryan completed 373-of-534 passes, 70%, wow, for 4,944 yards and 38 TDs against only 7 ints. Tailback Devonte Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11, sevens. And the awesome Julio Jones of the University of Alabama caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and 6 TDs. The other match-up to look for is Julio versus the superb corner for the Seahawks, Sherman. That should be a riveting match-up. Can't wait for that.
Russell Wilson toughed out a series of injuries this season, but put up pretty solid numbers, throwing for 4,219 yards, 21 TDs against 11 interceptions. The Seahawks have found an excellent running back late in the season in Thomas Rawls, who rushed for only 349 yards and 3 TDs this season, but came on late, and was huge in the wild card game last Saturday against the Lions rushing for 161 yards and a 7. Atlanta's run and pass defense are OK, but they will be tested by Wilson, Rawls, wide receivers Doug Baldwin, who finished the season with 94 receptions for 1,128 yards and 7 TDs, super tight end Jimmy Grahamm, who posted 65 catches for 923 yards and 6 TDs, and a stud who has emerged in Paul Richardson, who made a couple of sensational catches against the Lions, one leaping over a Lions defensive back and catching the ball with one hand for a 7 yard TD. He could be a big factor in the passing game along with Baldwin and Graham.
The Falcons do have the NFL regular season sack leader in Vic Beasley, who had 15.5 this season. Wilson is hard to sack, but Beasley will try to chase him down.
This should be a classic. The Seahawks know how to win big games as the 2014 Super Bowl champions and huge victories in the postseason the last three years attest to. The Falcons are at home and I love their offense. I like Ryan, Julio and Freeman to get the job done but barely.
Falcons 31, Seahawks 30
Houston Texans (10-7) @ New England Patriots (14-2)
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. (68,756)
7:15 CT/8:15 ET
JIm Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely
Lead Whistle: Pete Morelli
Weather: 28 at kickoff, wind 6 MPH SSW
Patriots by 16
In their first meeting in week 3, the Patriots blasted the Texans, 27-0, at Foxborough, with backup rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, starting as Brady was suspended for the first four games for Deflategate. Now Houston faces Brady, who says he feels better at 39 than he did at 29. Amazing. The Patriots look like the best team in the league, but Houston had the No.1 defense in the NFL, so that gives them somewhat of a chance.
In 12 games this season, Brady completed 291-of-432 passes, 67.4%, for 3,554 yards, 28 TDs and just 2 interceptions. He's all world and the best ever without a doubt. LaGarrette Blount rushed for 1,161 yards and 18 TDs. He's awesome, but his status is questionable for this game. Dion Lewis and James White will carry the load if Blount is not available. Brady's targets include the speedy Julian Edelman, who caught 98 passes for 1,108 yards and 3 TDs. White, a valuable player both in the run and more so in the pass game, caught 60 passes for 551 yards and 5 TDs. Veteran tight end Martellus Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and Chris Hogan caught caught 38 passes for 680 yards and 4 TDs.
Cornerback Logan Ryan led the defense with 92 tackles, while former University of Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower posted 65 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who played at West Alabama and burst on the scene two years ago as a rookie in Super Bowl 49 when he intercepted a Russell Wilson pass to clinch the Patriots fourth Super Bowl in 17 years, 28-24 over the Seahawks, led the team with 4 ints.
So Houston has their work cut out for them in Foxborough. Quarterback Brock Osweiler was up and down all year, completing 301-of-510 passes, 59%, for 2,967 yards, 15 TDs and 16 ints. But running back Lamar Miller can give Osweiler some help tonight on the ground game. Miller rushed for 1,073 yards and 5 TDs. Wide receiver DeAndre "Newk" Hopkins from Clemson caught 78 passes for 954 yards and 4 TDs. He's exceptional. Tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz caught 54 passes for 559 yards and 4 TDs, and wide out Will Fuller, a speedster like Hopkins, caught 47 passes for 635 yards and 2 TDs. So Houston has some weapons on offense, but the question is whether Osweiler can get it done. That's a huge question mark. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney led the team with 129 tackles and 5 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney came into his own this season, as he was finally healthy, finishing with 52 tackles and 6 sacks. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who finished with 53 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks, is an exceptional player. Quinton Demps is a superb safety who finished with 6 ints this season.
This is a tough one for the Texans. The Patriots are a sensational team and Brady may be better than ever. Houston's defense could keep them in it for a while. The Texans posted a solid victory over an injury riddled Raiders team last Saturday, 27-14, in the Wild Card round, but this is a daunting task. Brady vs Osweiler is a massive mismatch. Like the Patriots to steamroll the Texans in this one.
Patriots 31, Texans 14
Tomorrow's games to preview and predict
Green Bay Packers (11-6) @ Dallas Cowboys ( 13-3)
3:40 PM CT/4:40 PM ET, FOX
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
7:20 PM CT/8:20 PM ET, NBC
*** The time was changed for this game due to a potential ice storm in KC tomorrow during the day. ***