AFC: #6 Colts vs #3 Texans, 4:35 PM ET, ESPN
We have a division rivalry to begin the playoffs this NFL season and it’s a division rivalry that has featured a split of the season series, where both teams were able to win by three points on each others home field.
I’m expecting another very close game in this one, as both teams have been pretty even throughout the regular season. A lot will obviously come down to the production from each quarterback. Andrew Luck was of course able to make it through this season healthy after missing all of last season, and it’s not his first playoff action as he has played in the postseason before, most notably in 2014 when the Colts made it to the AFC Title Game. Luck has however, not played well in the postseason during his career, completing only 56.5% of his passes and throwing 9 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Now the biggest difference between those other trips to the postseason and this one is that Andrew Luck has a good offensive line in front of him. In 2016 when Luck started 15 games, he was sacked 41 times, which equated to 7% of his drop backs, and this season he was only sacked 18 times, which equated to 2.7% of his drop backs, which lead the league.
On the other side of the field, the Texans defense has a very good pass rush, lead by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. That battle in the trenches could very well determine which team goes on to win this game, because if Luck is given time to throw, he has some good weapons, lead by T.Y. Hilton, but he also has guys like Eric Ebron, Marlon Mack and others.
For the Texans, it’ll be the first playoff start for Deshaun Watson. Of course, Watson was dominant in a playoff setting when he was at Clemson, bu the NFL Playoffs is a different animal.
Houston is eighth in the league in rushing so I expect them to try and establish a running game with Lamar Miller to try and take some pressure off of Watson, not only because it’s Watson’s first playoff start, but also because with Demaryius Thomas recently going on IR, the Texans are pretty short of weapons outside of DeAndre Hopkins.
It will be really interesting to see how the connection of Watson to Hopkins looks against an improved Colts defense. The key to the Texans winning this game will probably come down to that connection, because the Colts are pretty good against the run, but they are spotty against the pass.
I’m expecting a close, low-scoring game in this one as both teams have been pretty solid this season on defense. The pair of quarterbacks going against each other in this game could lead to a higher-scoring game if they are both able to get it going and play at their peak levels, but overall I do like both of these defenses and think this game should come down to just a couple of plays, which will probably be turnovers. A big stat in this one is that Houston is 2nd in the league in turnover differential, and I think they have the more well-rounded team.
NFC: #5 Seahawks vs #4 Cowboys, 8:15 PM ET, FOX
This is a game where a low-scoring game should definitely be expected. Both teams have been spotty at times on offense this season, while ranking in the top-12 in defense.
The biggest matchup in this whole game is likely going to be the Seahawks rushing offense against the Cowboys rushing defense. The Cowboys have been stout against the run this season, ranking 5th in the league behind their talented young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, and on the other side the Seahawks rank first in the league in running the ball behind the trio of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny. Of course, Russell Wilson is also a big threat to run the ball for the Seahawks. The winner of this game is more than likely going to be whichever team can win that battle.
Now Dallas has a good running game of their own. There’s is more dependent on one player and that is of course Ezekiel Elliott. Seattle ranks 13th in the league and defending the run, but that defense has been pretty hot over the past couple of weeks, as some of their young guys have started to gain the experience you need to get stops at the NFL level. They also still have mainstays like Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark and K.J. Wright has been back playing after missing a lot of the regular season.
A couple of other big stats in this game to me are the TD percentage in the redzone. Seattle scores touchdowns on 65.5% of their drives when they reach the redzone, while the Cowboys score touchdowns on only 48% of their drives in which they reach the redzone. The other one is turnover margin. Seattle is +15 in turnovers this season, which leads the league, while the Cowboys are only +3, which ranks 12th so it’s not too bad, but Seattle has been much better in turnovers.
The case for Dallas in this game is them being able to stop the run and putting Seattle in third and longs and allowing their pass rush to really try and get after Russell Wilson, because they have a pretty good pass rush, especially if Randy Gregory plays the game with his head screwed on straight.
When Dallas is on offense they of course have to run the ball well and control the clock. It’s pretty jarring how bad their offense gets when they struggle to run the ball and are putting Dak Prescott in obvious passing downs.
I don’t trust Dak Prescott and that passing offense to be able to go out and win a game against a good defense. Yes, Amari Cooper was really good when he first got to Dallas, but since he put up 217 yards against the Eagles, he’s only caught 13 balls for 83 yards in the past three games, so that connection has cooled down considerably.
I think Seattle does in and gets the win. The Dallas defense is clearly good and is a defense that can lead them to a win, but I think the Seattle defense is also really good and that they are just a more well-rounded team. This will likely be a low-scoring game, but I think Seattle goes in and gets the win.