NFL expert Louis Ross (@LouisRoss67) runs the rule over Saturday night’s play-off divisional matches from Atlanta and New England.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons | Saturday 21:25 | Sky Sports 2
Now the NFL season starts to get serious as just eight teams remain after Wild Card Weekend.
Houston came though in a relatively straightforward win over Oakland, Pittsburgh blew Miami away, Seattle took care of business against Detroit and Green Bay beat the Giants in a near classic.
We get the weekend started down in Georgia as the Falcons host the Seahawks. Seattle having won their match-up in Week 6 at Century Link Field 26-24 – a game that ended in controversy as Richard Sherman hauled down Julio Jones on Atlanta’s last drive of the game but did not draw what most thought was an inevitable penalty.
Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn, a former assistant to Pete Carroll, was and still is furious about that non-call and rightfully so.
That game saw Matt Ryan throw for 335 yards. Julio Jones has been used quite intelligently by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this season. Then again who in this Atlanta offence hasn’t?
Shanahan likes to move Jones around the formation. With opposing defences having to worry about Devonta Freeman and a whole host of rookie receivers like Tyler Gabriel, it has often been the case that Jones can line himself up against the weakest link in his opponents’ secondary.
Richard Sherman managed to cover Jones 25 times in October although Julio still managed a more than respectable 139 yards against the ‘Leigon Of Boom’.
The Seattle defence has been as tight as ever this season but in a game like this could really miss what Earl Thomas brings to this unit. On Saturday they will be facing the only team in the NFL to rank top-five on both offence and defence.
This is a game I can see Atlanta winning and I can particularly see them getting off to a really fast start and making life very difficult for the Seahawks early on. Carroll’s team is nothing if not brave however and they won’t let this thing go. If they are behind at the half, expect them to come out swinging in the second.
Bet of the season?
As much as I like Atlanta to be in the Championship game next week, it is to Seattle that I look to for a betting opportunity and unless something goes terribly wrong, I think I have found my NAP of the weekend and possibly bet of the season.
The only way to stop a powerful offence is to keep them off the field. The best way to keep Matt Ryan off the field is giving it to Thomas Rawls.
Seattle faced a similar dilemma last week in needing to keep Matt Stafford on the sidelines and handed it to Rawls 27 times. Bet365 have estimated Rawls rushing attempts at just 16.5.
There are no injury worries for the running back who is relatively fresh having missed half the season.
Atlanta ranked 17 against the run in the regular season. Rawls missed the regular season game between these two but when you have a guy who just broke your franchise post-season rushing record with 161 yards, what are you going to do but give him the ball. Hopefully again and again and again.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots | Sunday 01:15 | Sky Sports 1
You have to feel for the Texans here – nobody thinks they can win.
If you are one of those that does, I wish you good luck. Nothing but pain awaits these Texans as they ride into freezing Foxboro.
Only five times before has the season’s number one offence met the number one defence. Worryingly for Bill O’Brien, the best offence has triumphed each time.
Sympathy for Bill
If you feel for the Texans, then you really have to feel for O’Brien. He seems a thoroughly decent guy and has built himself a great base in Texas with this defence.
JJ Watt, the leagues best defender, is a huge miss for any team but Houston have swept all before them on the back of an outstanding season from Jadeveon Clowney the number one draft pick from 2014, the marauding Whitney Mercilus and the evergreen ex-Patriot, Vince Wilfork.
He has his defence on point and in Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins, some quality in the skill positions. However, no head coach has had to burn through so many quarterbacks in the last three years and after all that, the end result has been Brock Osweiller.
Osweiller – a $72m quarterback who was benched three weeks ago. I won’t lay into Osweiller again. It’s getting close to bullying on my part.
Positivity for the Pats
Just a note about that top defence thing though – New England actually allowed fewer points per-game(PPG) this year – 15.6 to Houston’s 20.5.
The positive stats don’t end there for Bellichick’s team. Houston only managed to outscore the Jets, the Browns and the Rams this season with a measly 17.4 PPG whilst New England has allowed just three of its last fourteen opponents to score more than 20 points.
There cannot be too many out there expecting Houston to get anywhere near 20 points tonight and that makes the 15-point spread a very attractive betting proposition.
A cushy night for New England
My first instinct on calling this weekend’s games was Patriots 38-13 over the Texans and expect them to cover comfortably. Matt Patricia has his defensive unit in a really good place right now and up against Osweiller they should be in for a reasonably comfortable night.
The last two games between these opponents resulted in 27-6 and 27-0 wins for the Patriots. That shutout was achieved in Week 3 of this season with the Pats being led by Jacoby Brissett, a third string quarterback rather than the greatest of them all, Tom Brady.
And this is a Tom Brady with something to prove both to the watching public but more importantly the NFL Commissioner who banned him for the first four games of the season. Brady wants to win the Super Bowl and shove it down the Commissioner’s throat.
It should make for interesting viewing but New England win this with considerable ease.