With the Miami Dolphins out of the playoffs after losing to Pittsburgh last week, no more National Anthem kneelers remain in the NFL playoffs.
So for the patriots out there who stayed away from the NFL, this weekend might be a good time to come back to enjoy some great matchups in the divisional playoff round.
While the Houston Texans-New England Patriots shouldn’t be much of a game, the other three contests, Seattle Seahawks-Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs have the potential to be terrific games.
Let’s preview the action:
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Saturday, January 14, 4:35 PM on FOX
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
The Falcons return from a playoff bye week and enter this game very healthy. In fact, they have no players listed on their injury report.
Atlanta is led by quarterback Matt Ryan who comes off perhaps the best season of his nine-year career. During the regular season, he threw 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions with a stellar 117.1 QB rating.
“His accuracy is phenomenal,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Spearheaded by Ryan, the Falcons averaged 34 points per game this season.
The Falcons love throwing deep, so Seattle missing star safety Earl Thomas could be a problem. He actually picked off Ryan when Seattle beat Atlanta in Week 6 of the regular season.
But while the Seahawks will be without Thomas, the Falcons will also be without a standout defensive back, cornerback Desmond Trufant, so perhaps this evens things out.
There is a good chance this game will be an offensive shootout featuring two of the NFL’s finest quarterbacks, Ryan and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
This game is a toss-up.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Saturday, January 14, 8:15 PM on CBS
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
In Week 3 of the regular season, the Patriots, led by third-string QB Jacoby Brissett, beat the Texans 27-0.
So if the Patriots blew out the Texans behind a rookie QB making his first start, what will they do to them with all-time great Tom Brady under center?
Speaking of third-string rookie quarterbacks, the Texans beat Oakland’s Connor Cook and the Raiders to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Going from facing Cook to Brady is quite a competitive quantum leap for the Texans’ defense.
This could get ugly, and Las Vegas agrees, making the Patriots a 16-point favorite. Texans coach Bill O’Brien was asked if the insulting point spread bothered him.
“What does that matter?” O’Brien asked. “The only thing that matters is what takes place between the white lines on Saturday night.”
The Patriots coaches had two weeks in the lab to come up with new wrinkles to their erudite playbook. You give Bill Belichick and his coordinators Josh McDaniels (offense) and Matt Patricia (defense) two weeks, and they will come up with the mother of all game plans.
Expect the Patriots to win this game easily.
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, January 15, 4:40 PM on FOX
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
With their wildcard playoff win over the New York Giants last week, the Packers have won six straight.
Entering last week’s wildcard match-up, the Giants defense played on a very high-level, but the Packers toyed with them, putting up 38 points led by QB Aaron Rodgers, who is in a zone right now.
And for what it’s worth, the Cowboys only lost three games during their regular season, two of them to the Giants, and the Packers just blew out the Giants. This might mean nothing, but it’s certainly food for thought.
The Packers’ red-hot passing attack could be down two wide receivers. Rodgers’ favorite target, Jordy Nelson, is out with broken ribs. Key reserve Jeff Janis could also be out with a quad injury.
And the Cowboys secondary, which will need all hands on deck against Rodgers, gets cornerback Morris Claiborne back from a groin injury.
The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 in the regular season led by running back Zeke Elliott, who rushed for 157 yards.
While the Cowboys are 4.5 point favorites, Rodgers is playing on such a high level right now, this game is too close to call.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 15, 8:20 PM on NBC
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
This game moved from a 1 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. due to weather concerns. Kansas City is expecting one of the worst ice storms to hit the Midwest in a decade.
While public safety is the reason for the change, this could turn into rating bonanza in prime time for the NFL with these two iconic franchises squaring off.
Coming off a playoff bye, the Chiefs enter this game very healthy with nobody listed on their injury report.
The Steelers will be without speedy tight end Ladarius Green due to a concussion. Also, their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger was seen in a walking boot after the Steelers’ wildcard win over Miami. He says he’s fine, but you never know.
Steelers runner Le’Veon Bell might be the best back in football right now. Bell torched the Dolphins last week with 167 yards rushing.
In Week Four of the regular season, the Chiefs destroyed the Steelers 43-14, but don’t expect a repeat of that. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is considered a strategic genius, and had two weeks to prepare for this game. He should have a great game plan.
This game could go either way.