On January 14 and 15, four nationally televised NFL playoff games will determine the fates of the eight teams remaining in the postseason race.
In the divisional round, the AFC Championship Game representatives will be determined from among the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers will compete for the chance to earn the title in their conference.
The home teams had a distinct advantage in the Wild Card Round; in fact, "the 19.0-point differential average is the highest of any Wild Card Weekend since 1981," according to Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com.
Divisional Round Weekend promises more lopsided outcomes; after all, the Patriots are favored by 15.5 points over the Texans, per OddsShark. But other matchups could prove to be must-see TV for how close they may be. The Steelers and Chiefs, for instance, are so well-matched that their point spread is even.
Let's break down the TV schedule for the divisional round and make some predictions about the games on the slate.
|NFL Divisional Round Coverage Guide|
|Jan. 14||4:35 p.m.||Fox||SEA||ATL||Falcons|
|Jan. 14||8:15 p.m.||CBS||HOU||NE||Patriots|
|Jan. 15||1:05 p.m.||NBC||PIT||KC||Steelers|
|Jan. 15||4:40 p.m.||Fox||GB||DAL||Packers|
Chiefs Keep Steelers Within 1 Point
But that doesn't mean the Chiefs will go down without a fight.
Kansas City finished the 2016 regular season with one of the best scoring defenses in the league, allowing opponents an average of just 19.4 points per game. That's significantly fewer than the 24.9 points Pittsburgh scored on average during the regular season.
Now the Chiefs head into the second round of the playoffs coming off a bye, refreshed and ready to take on their AFC rivals. Their defense may be bolstered by the return of Justin Houston and Spencer Ware, as Mike Welch shared from Andy Reid's press conference:
Mike Welch @RealMikeWelch
Andy Reid: Justin Houston and Spencer Ware are ready to go. #ChiefsKingdom https://t.co/HFFhxoWrAj2017-1-9 18:12:04
That alone has to give the Steelers pause and certainly should keep this game a close one. If the Steelers are going to score close to their season average of 24.9, expect the Chiefs to put up something in the neighborhood of 21.
Patriots Blow Out Texans by at Least 21
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who expects the Texans to slip past the Patriots on Saturday night. But even if the Patriots are assumed to be a lock, can they really cover the spread?
Expect them to do that and then some. Vegas has New England defeating Houston by at least 16 points; it's very likely they could put 21 points between themselves and their opponent.
This prediction hinges on two facts: The regular-season Patriots averaged 27.6 points per game, the third-most in the NFL...but they also had the league's top scoring defense, holding opponents to just 15.6 points per game.
If that pattern continues, not only are the Patriots in position to score nearly 30 points against Houston, but their defense will ensure the Texans aren't able to catch up.
Houston's Lamar Miller has been a potent weapon, but the Patriots held opposing rushers to just 88.6 yards per game in the regular season. Add the fact that Houston will likely fall behind early and be forced to air it out, and its offense will become one-dimensional quickly.
Packers Force Multiple Cowboys Turnovers
There are two things the Packers have to do on Sunday if they hope to defeat the Cowboys and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The first is to limit the amount of damage Ezekiel Elliott does on the ground. The second is to force turnovers.
Green Bay's defense hasn't been stout this season when it comes to bread-and-butter plays, but it has been able to create opportunities for its offense by forcing turnovers. The Packers had 25 total takeaways in the 2016 regular season: 17 interceptions and eight forced fumbles.
Meanwhile, Dallas passer Dak Prescott took care of the football, throwing just four interceptions during the regular season. One of those picks, however, came against the Packers in Week 6.
If the Packers can intercept Prescott or force fumbles—and they have playmakers in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers who are more than capable of doing so—they can control the flow of this game.