2016 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview, Part 1

January 16, 2016

If last weekend’s trend hold true, then home field advantage is nothing more than a phrase tossed around by pundits grasping as straws for an “X factor”.

None of the four teams playing at home won last weekend, but the four teams playing in familiar air this weekend are there by way of a bye. Thus, it will be very surprising if the trend does in fact hold through this weekend.

Let’s take a look at the Divisional Round games taking place on Saturday.

AFC Divisional Round

#5 Kansas City at #2 New England (Saturday, 4:35 PM ET – CBS)

The Chiefs pounded the Texans in Houston last weekend for their 11th straight victory and a chance to take on the vaunted Patriots this weekend. Optimism has to be high in Kansas City, even facing one of the most consistent organizations in the league over the past 12 seasons. Injuries has New England on its heels, and the Chiefs have the personnel to take advantage of it.

Last weekend’s shutout was as much a result of Brian Hoyer’s terrible play as it was the true strength of Kansas City’s defense. One cannot expect Tom Brady to play as poorly as Hoyer did, but the Chiefs proved that their defense is capable of completely shutting down an offense. In this game, Kansas City will be looking to contain. Rob Gronkowski, who is questionable with back and knee injuries, means so much to New England’s offense that without him they look like a different squad entirely. This is interesting because over the years Brady has been able to produce with countless different pieces around him. But Gronkowski’s presence as an oversized target downfield gives Brady an outlet no one else in the league has at their expense.

If Gronkowski is not 100 percent, the Chiefs should be able to slow down New England’s offense enough to make this one a tight game. Alex Smith is a terrific game manager, but when push comes to shove, I think Brady is the one who makes more big plays in the second half, even if Gronkowski isn’t on the receiving end. As close as this one becomes because of Gronk’s injury, Brady has enough weapons left in the arsenal to clip Kansas City.

My Pick: 34-31 New England

NFC Divisional Round

#5 Green Bay at #2 Arizona (Saturday, 8:15 PM ET – NBC)

Led by Carson Palmer and his MVP-like resurgence, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the NFL that people don’t seem to know much about. Keep in mind that in order to be in this position, Arizona unseated Seattle from the NFC West throne and has lost just one game since the beginning of November. After getting waxed by Arizona in Week 16, this game is a chance for redemption on Aaron Rodgers’ end.

No one is expecting that this game will be a blowout similar to the Week 16 battle, but that could have been said even before the Packers appeared to come alive offensively in Washington last weekend. Rodgers and Green Bay as a whole have struggled without Jordy Nelson, limping into the playoffs with a 4-6 second half effort that highlighted the absence of Nelson. Then against Washington the old Aaron Rodgers returned, distributing the ball to seven different targets throughout the game and having his first multiple passing touchdown, no interception performance since Week 14. The Redskins may have awoken a sleeping giant, as Eddie Lacy also looked strong in the game.

Arizona’s defense is better than Washington’s, but the Redskins came into the game hot and appeared far more confident than Green Bay. As Rodgers begins to find his stride again, opposing teams will need to find a way to keep him in the pocket. If Arizona can do this, then Palmer should be able to take care of business on the offensive end. But with the way the Packers played offensively last weekend, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

My Pick: 31-27 Green Bay

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