NFL divisional round preview

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looks to pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome, Saturday, Jan. 14 at 4:35 p.m. Line: Atlanta -4.5 Each team’s last game: The Falcons beat the Saints 38-32 in the regular season finale to win their fourth straight (and seventh of their final nine) game(s) and clinch a first-round bye and the no. 2 seed in the NFC. The Seahawks tamed the Lions 26-6 in the wild card round. Seattle won three of their final five regular season games. Key injuries: Neither team is dealing with any major injuries to available players, but the Seahawks will miss FS Earl Thomas and WR Tyler Lockett, both on the season-ending injured reserve list. Backup Seahawks RB C.J. Prosise should be back at practice this week. The big storyline: Matt Ryan is the odds-on favorite for MVP after directing the league’s highest scoring offense to an unexpected 2 seed in the NFC. However, Ryan’s only postseason win came against the Seahawks in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs. Can he repeat the feat four years later and finally take the Falcons to the Super Bowl? The under-the-radar storyline: The Seahawks are just 3-4-1 away from CenturyLink Field, and Russell Wilson is a big reason why. According to ESPN, the fifth-year QB has notched a Total QBR below 50 in five of Seattle’s eight road games this season. If Wilson is asked to keep pace with an offense averaging 33.8 points per game, this one could get out of hand. Prediction: Seattle stole the regular-season meeting between these two teams in the Pacific Northwest, but not this time. Falcons 28, Seahawks 23. — Rob Woodfork (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (AP/Elaine Thompson)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Houston Texans at New England Patriots Gillette Stadium, Saturday, Jan. 14 at 8:15 p.m. Line: New England -15 Each team’s last game: The Texans beat the Oakland Raiders at home in the wild card round last week, 27-14. The Patriots are the top seed in the AFC and are coming off of a first-round bye, having closed the regular season with a 35-14 win over the Dolphins in Miami. Key injuries: There are no serious injuries to be concerned about heading into this game. Texans safety Quintin Demps has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Houston’s backup quarterback, Tom Savage, is recovering from a concussion. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, along with defensive players Brian Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph are questionable. For the Patriots, the injury report is a short one. Running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Danny Amendola are questionable for the Giants. The big storyline: The Texans are coming off of what their head coach Bill O’Brien called the “best game” of the season, but that was against a Raiders team missing star quarterback Derek Carr. Now they draw the Patriots, who cruised through the regular season with a 14-2 record, despite Tom Brady missing the first four games of the year due to the Deflategate suspension. All he did when he came back was throw for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Let’s be honest — if the Texans can somehow pull off the upset in Foxborough, it would be one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history. The under-the-radar storyline: There is one other storyline in this game, perhaps something not many people remember — Bill O’Brien used to be Tom Brady’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Patriots. So he knows him pretty well. Is that enough to derail the Patriots train? Prediction: The Patriots should open the playoffs with a pretty easy win, 33-13. — George Wallace (Getty Images/Maddie Meyer) (Getty Images/Maddie Meyer)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 13:  Quarterback  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by  Brandon Carr #39 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at Lambeau Field on December 13, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28 to 7.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 15 at 4:40 p.m. Line: Dallas -4.5 Each team’s last game: The Packers thrashed the New York Giants 38-13 at Lambeau Field in the wild card round. The Cowboys had the week off after losing their regular season finale, 27-13 in Philadelphia. Key injuries: Packers top wide receiver and NFL receiving touchdowns leader Jordy Nelson was crushed in the back in Green Bay’s wild card win and is listed as questionable with at least two rib fractures. He won’t even practice until Saturday. Cornerback Quentin Rollins will work with Nelson in the injury rehab group after suffering a scary neck injury and concussion in Green Bay’s regular season finale. The big storyline: Dak Prescott making his first career playoff start vs. Aaron Rodgers, who is making his 16th, and is seeking his 10th win in the postseason. Randall Cobb hauled in three touchdown grabs from Rodgers against the Giants. If Nelson is unable to go, can Cobb step up once again? The under-the-radar storyline: The Packers’ defense ranked second-to-last in terms of pass yards allowed this season, and Dez Bryant has 34 catches for 514 yards and 6 TDs in his last seven games with Prescott. If the Cowboys establish a ground game with Zeke Elliott, setting up the passing game, could we see the Packers’ D get torched at Jerry World? Prediction: Dallas wins just its third playoff game in the last 20 years, 24-16. — Chris Cichon (Getty Images/Joe Robbins) (Getty Images/Joe Robbins)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 02:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half during the game at Heinz Field on October 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 15 at 8:20 p.m. (this game has been moved from 1:05 p.m. due to weather) Line: Kansas City -1.5 Each team’s last game: The Steelers romped over the Miami Dolphins. Key injuries: Roethlisberger sent the NFL Twitterverse into a frenzy by showing up at his postgame press conference in a walking boot. But to whatever extent he aggravated the injury, it doesn’t appear it will keep him from playing. The Chiefs have no major issues, though Pro Bowl linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston were limited in practice Wednesday. Lead running back Spencer Ware was a full participant. The big storyline: All eyes will be on Roethlisberger, operating with his full complement of weapons. The Steelers ran the Chiefs right out of Pittsburgh in Week 5, building a 29-0 halftime lead en route to a 43-14 final as Big Ben threw for five touchdowns. The Steelers didn’t beat a playoff team away from home, though, and Arrowhead is one of the tougher venues to win a road game in the NFL. Both Chiefs’ home losses came in 19-17, defensive-minded slogs. The under-the-radar storyline: Andy Reid has plenty of detractors, both for his sometimes-egregious clock management and his failure to win a Super Bowl. But his record coming off bye weeks is hard to argue with. As Will Brinson reported this week, Reid is 16-2 in the regular season when he has the extra week to prepare for an opponent, but he’s also 3-0 in the playoffs. And his defense has allowed just over 12 points per contest in those games against pretty good offenses. He’ll likely need that unit to lead the way again Sunday. Prediction: Nobody likes to talk about defense, but as Denver showed us last year, it can single-handedly carry you to a title. I’ll take the Chiefs, 20-18. — Noah Frank (Getty Images/Joe Sargent) (Getty Images/Joe Sargent)
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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looks to pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 13:  Quarterback  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by  Brandon Carr #39 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at Lambeau Field on December 13, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28 to 7.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 02:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half during the game at Heinz Field on October 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The wild card round didn’t offer too much excitement, with four lopsided affairs. But there are plenty of storylines entering what promises to be a more compelling divisional round.


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