By Mike DeVito
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
I knew the Falcons offense was good during the regular season this year but I didn’t realize exactly how good. They’re good…. I mean really good! With QB Matt Ryan leading the way, the Falcons offense finished in the top 5 in most major categories and finished 1st in the most important category, scoring average with almost 34 points per game. A lot of the credit goes to Ryan and WR Julio Jones but I’ve been even more impressed with the Falcons offensive line. Being lead by All-Pro center Alex Mack, the Falcons run game has emerged as one of the best in the NFL averaging 120 yards per game with Devonta Freeman running for over 1,000 yards and 11 TDs. If the Falcons offense plays the way they have been playing all season it could prove to be a long night for Seattle.
On defense, Seattle is full of play makers with guys like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, and Richard Sherman. Even in what some would call a down year, this unit finished this season 3rd in scoring defense. They put on a show last week in the Wildcard round as well, holding Matthew Stafford and the Lions to 6 points. Russell Wilson has done a good job commanding his offense all year and is a guy who can beat teams with both his arm and his legs. Wilson had 2 TDs with no picks last week and is looking primed for another Super Bowl run. The biggest weakness for the Seahawks this year has been their offensive line, which has struggled at times to protect Wilson and run the ball effectively. That was not the case last week as Seattle’s offensive line dominated all day and consistently knocked defenders off the ball, paving the way for Thomas Rawls to run for 177 yards.
My X-factor in this game is the fact that the Seahawks are a different team on the road. The advantage of playing in Seattle is sometimes overlooked but it is certainly a major advantage (I know from experience – it’s loud!). 4 of Seattle’s 5 losses, and a tie, this year were on the road; highlighting this point. This is going to be a good game but because of the way Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense is playing, along with Seattle not being the same team on the road, I have the Falcons ultimately winning and moving on to the NFC championship round.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
The Texans have had an up and down season with the majority of their problems coming at the quarterback position. The team spent $70 million to bring in Brock Osweiler who was ultimately benched half way through the season for Tom Savage. Due to injury, Osweiler was given a second chance last week against the Raiders and showed that he has the ability to play winning football (14 for 25, 168 yards and a TD).
The Texans defense has been stellar all year finishing 1st in yards allowed per game and that was without the help of JJ Watt. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have been monsters upfront creating all kinds of problems for opposing offenses. The secondary has also been very good (2nd in pass yards allowed per game) lead by Johnathan Joseph and Quinton Demps. For all the problems Houston has had they had the resiliency to make it to the Divisional round which is no easy feat.
As far as New England goes there isn’t much that hasn’t already been said. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, a run game lead by LeGarrette Blount, a very good offensive line, a very good defense, and on and on and on. I would argue one of the most complete teams the NFL has ever seen and they have shown it every week finishing the season 14 – 2.
The most important thing for New England in this game is to keep Clowney and Mercilus in check. The last thing we want to see is a repeat of the Denver game last year where Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware made it impossible for Brady to be productive. Houston has that same ability with these two rushers but the Pats are a different team this year. With Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder pass blocking like All-Pro’s and the addition one of the best run games in the NFL, New England shouldn’t have many problems. It will also be important to stop wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is Houston’s number one offensive weapon and can make all the plays needed. All that being, said I just don’t see the Texans coming into New England and winning this game. The Pats win and move on the AFC championship…again.
Mike DeVito (@MikeDeVito70) is a 9-year NFL veteran, playing with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. He is an alum of the University of Maine, color analyst for Black Bears football on TV and is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm-6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowmaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.