2017 NFL Divisional Round Sunday games preview and predictions

The 2017 NFL postseason is six games in, and so far, it’s been pretty much the same story in each game. In all four Wild Card and the first two Divisional Round games, the home team has won, with the closest final margin being 13 points.

Both of yesterday’s Divisional Round  games were close for two and a half quarters, but the home teams, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, pulled away to defeat the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans, respectively, by 16 and 18 points.

Today, hopefully the games will be closer. On paper, both games should be terrific tossups. First, the surging Green Bay Packers will go to Arlington to face the NFC’s top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. Then in the nightcap, Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown’s Pittsburgh Steelers will visit frigid Arrowhead to face the AFC’s second seeded Kansas City Chiefs.

What will happen? Who will advance? Will either game be close? Will both? Without further ado, here are my picks for both of today’s games.

Green Bay Packers  (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys  (13-3) (4:40/3:40c, FOX)

In the first game (would’ve been the last game had the Steelers/Chiefs game not been moved to the night due to weather safety concerns) one of the NFL’s most iconic playoff rivalries will take the stage as the Green Bay Packers head to Arlington, the place where they won their last Super Bowl in February 2011, to take on “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys.

The team’s participated in some great games in the 60s, including the famed “Ice Bowl,” in the 90s, and even two years ago!

In the latest playoff meeting between the two, The Cowboys played really well in Green Bay in a Divisional Round game in January 2015, before trailing 26-21 late in the game. In the game’s biggest play, Tony Romo threw a pass to Dez Bryant just yards away from the endzone, and Dez caught it? Or did he? Well, it looked like he caught it, but the play was overturned, the Cowboys weren’t able to get a first down, turned it over on downs, lost the game, and that play has haunted the team ever since.

This year,  the circumstances are different. The Cowboys are the home team,  while the Packers are the visitors. Green Bay began the season 4-6, including a 30-16 loss to the Cowboys in Green Bay in Week 6, but Aaron Rodgers led the team to six straight wins to win the division.

Last week, the Packers were down for most of the first half against the New York Giants,  including being held scoreless for almost the entire first half, yet wound up being up 14-6 at halftime. They turned the ball over early in the 3rd quarter, and when the Giants capitalized with a touchdown, the Packers lead was just 14-13. Then the team really began to heat up, despite the absence of top receiver Jordy Nelson, and scored the final 24 points to win the game via 38-13 rout.

Now, the Packers take a seven-game winning streak into Arlington, to face the team that toppled then 30-16 a few months back. Led by MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, they will need to try and outdo the Cowboys without top receiver Jordy Nelson, and an iffy Ty Montgomery. The defense has been pretty solid the past month plus, but it’s had to know what to expect from them.

As for the Cowboys, the formula is simple: pressure Aaron Rodgers on defense and on offense, let the o-line allow superstar rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and veteran backs Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden kill the clock, with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott playing efficient football.

As long as the team doesn’t turn the ball over and controls the game on offense, while limiting big plays from Aaron Rodgers, this should be a game that goes the Cowboys way. But, this is the first time in a month that the Cowboys will have played a genuinely important game, so rust is a potential factor.

Another potential factor is experience. The Cowboys top players have either never been to the playoffs, or only played a handful of games in the postseason. Meanwhile,  the Packers make it pretty much every year, with Aaron Rodgers having a full regular season’s worth of experience in the postseason alone!

This game really could be a tossup. Neither team winning will shock me. I do think the Cowboys will fall behind and turn the ball over a few times. I’ll say they’ll be down around 14-10 in the third quarter, but will rebound and pull off a nice comeback win.

Prediction: Green Bay Packers 23, Dallas Cowboys 27

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) (8:20/7:20c, NBC)

The nightcap and final Divisional Round game of the year will pit two historic franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs,  in what could be a really interesting game. The game was supposed to take place at noon, but due to fan safety due to an ice storm that took over the Midwest earlier in the weekend, the game had to be postponed until tonight. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s  and rain, and the ice should be all cleared up before fans head to Arrowhead Stadium, arguably the loudest stadium in the NFL, to cheer on their Chiefs.

The two teams played in Week 4,  with the Steelers dominating to a 29-0 lead and 43-14 win in Pittsburgh,  bit so much has changed since. The Chiefs have gone 10-2 since then, and rookie Tyreek Hill has been an electrifying playmaking machine who’s really risen to prominence since that game. 

This one should be much closer though. For one, the offense of the Chiefs is more high-powered and capable than it was in Week 4. The defense is still elite, and there’s a reason why they’re the two  seed. That said, the Steelers “Big 3” of hall of fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger,  top-level running back Le’Veon Bell and arguably the league’s top receiver in Antonio Brown is a trio that could be the best in the league. Also, the defense has allowed just 16 points per game in the last eight games, sacking the opposing quarterback nearly four times a game during that span. Basically, there’s a lot of reasons to believe the Steelers will win.

It’s hard to pick this one. Yes weather will play a factor, but the Steelers are used to bad weather. Plus in a snow game earlier this year, Le’Veon Bell ran for 247 yards and three scores! Sure, Ben Roethlisberger has completed less than 60% of his passes on the road this year, for 63 less yards per game as compared to at home, and has a much worse touchdown to interception ratio on the road (nine touchdowns, eight interceptions,) than he does at home (22:7.) And this game is in Arrowhead, so that favors the Chiefs too! Hobestly, my heart says KC will find a way to pull it off. However, the more I think about it, the more I think the Steelers will wind up winning. Whatever happens,  hopefully it will be a great game.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Chiefs 20


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