NFL Divisional Playoffs: Sunday Preview

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will look to put a halt to a three-game playoff losing streak with a win over Seattle on Sunday.

The NFL playoffs just got interesting.

After a tepid wild-card weekend, the divisional round of the postseason got off to a bang thanks to a 70-yard Joe Flacco bomb. That monster strike would set up a double overtime Baltimore (12-6) victory, as the side upset a heavily-favored Denver (13-4) team 38-35.

If that wasn’t enough, San Francisco (12-4-1) took a slight edge on the book and rammed it down Green Bay’s (12-6) gullet. The 49ers, behind a magnificent Colin Kaepernick, took down the Packers 45-31, advancing to the NFC championship game next Sunday (3PM ET).

Today, fans will be looking for the same level of excitement as the divisional round of the playoffs comes to a close with a pair of intriguing matchups.

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

1 PM ET

The prospect of a mouthwatering NFC championship matchup between division rivals San Francisco and Seattle (12-5, 4-5 road) could be just 60 minutes of football away.

The resurgent Seahawks will travel east for the second weekend in a row, looking to hand the No. 1 seeded Falcons another playoff defeat. Atlanta (13-3, 7-1 home) will be looking to silence the naysayers convinced the team is incapable of winning in the postseason.

The Falcons have lost their last three playoff matchups. Two of those games came in the wild-card round, with the other coming in a divisional matchup with Green Bay following the 2010 season. The Georgia side was a No. 1 ranked team that year also.

With a win, the Falcons can follow Seattle’s own example. Ahead of last weekend’s wild-card game in Washington, the Seahawks had been winless in road playoff games since 1983. Pete Carroll’s side exorcised that trend in one fell swoop. Bucking trends is something very much on the Falcon’s agenda.

Speaking of trends, Seattle has only won two postseason games twice in franchise history. Following the 2005 season, the AFC West-winning Seahawks went to the Super Bowl. In 1983, the AFC wild-card Seahawks were successful in the wild-card and divisional rounds, before falling to the Raiders in the AFC championship game.

Atlanta has the edge on the offensive side of the football. The Falcons ranked seventh in the league in scoring (26.2 PPG) and sixth in passing yards (281.8 YPG). Seattle however has a huge advantage in the run game, averaging 161.2 yards per game (3rd) compared to Atlanta’s 87.3 yards per game (29th).

Seattle will also have a decisive advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Seahawks had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league this season, giving up just 15.3 points per game. The side ranked in the top 10 in opponents’ total yards (306.2 YPG), passing yards (203.1 YPG), and rushing yards (103.1 YPG). The Falcons meanwhile fell outside of the top 20 in those categories, although Mike Smith’s side was particularly stingy in the points department, giving up just 18.7 per game (5th).

Seattle leads the all-time head-to-head series 8-5, although that record is 3-3 since the side moved across to the NFC in 2002. Atlanta has won three straight in the series.

The ‘experts’ all seem to think that Seattle – winners of eight of the last nine – will emerge victorious from the Georgia Dome. Odds makers however give Atlanta a three-point edge at home.

Seattle (12-5-0 ATS) has fared much better than Atlanta (9-6-1 ATS) this season, thanks in part to a series of upset victories, including those over Green Bay, New England, Chicago, and San Francisco.

The total opened at 45 and has subsequently risen to 46. Both teams have shown prevalence for the total going under, with nine Seattle games and 11 Atlanta games falling below the set marker.

After a wild-card weekend that saw all four totals go under, the divisional round began with both Saturday games going (well) over, something worth pondering.

 

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

4:30 PM ET

If ever a team could be buoyed by Baltimore’s performance on Saturday, it’s Houston (13-4, 6-2 road).

Heading into Sunday’s matchup with New England (12-4, 6-2 home), the Texans have been all but written off by pundits, fans, and bookmakers alike. The slumping Texans lost three of the last four regular season games before fending off Cincinnati in a lackluster wild-card encounter last weekend.

Add to this a debilitating 42-14 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 10 – which kick-started those three losses in four games – and you have a team with no chance. Except, as Baltimore showed, every team has a chance at this point in the season.

Believe it or not, New England’s last Super Bowl-winning campaign came following the 2004 season. The perennial title hopeful Patriots have actually come up short in the last six attempts, including three times in the divisional round or before, a fact Houston should latch onto.

New England outranks the Texans in most facets of the offensive games, including points scored, a category in which the Patriots led the league (34.8 PPG). Houston however is the superior defensive side, although both teams conceded an equal 20.7 points per game during the regular season. The Texan defense had been more prolific until New England handed the side that lopsided loss.

New England leads the all-time head-to-head series 3-1. Houston has not won in two tries at Gillette Stadium.

Bookmakers set the opening spread at 9½, a number that has since risen to 10. New England will need to avoid complacency though, as they are the same numbers offered in favor of Denver on Saturday.

New England (9-6-1 ATS) matched the Texans’ output against the spread during the regular season, although Houston (10-6-1 ATS) fell off pace towards the end of the season, failing to cover in five of the last seven games. The Texans did manage to cover the spread in last weekend’s game against the Bengals.

The total opened at 48 and has since increased to 49. New England’s high-scoring offense saw the total go over in 11 games this season, while a more defensive-minded Houston side was only involved in seven games that went over. Last weekend’s wild-card fixture saw the total go under.

The previous two meetings between the sides (2010, 2012) have both gone over the 49-point marker, with this season’s 56-point matchup topping the 51½ total at kickoff.

 

The winner of the Seattle-Atlanta game will face San Francisco in the NFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (3 PM ET).

The winner of the Houston-New England game will host Baltimore in the AFC championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20 (6:30 PM ET).

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