NFL playoffs: Round 2 predictions

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NFL Divisional Round

Saturday 3:35 CT Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

How they got here: Seattle dominated the Detroit Lions en route to a 26-6 victory on wildcard weekend. Atlanta won five of their last six games down the stretch. Their one blemish was a one-point loss to Kansas City, known as the “Eric Berry Game”.

Match-up to watch: Jake Matthews (ATL OT) vs Michael Bennett (SEA DE)

While Bennett will line up in a variety of different alignments, he will be utilized mostly at right defensive end against the Falcons. Atlanta selected Matthews in the first round in 2014 to be their franchise left tackle to protect Matt Ryan’s blind side. In an offense that has thrived in the last couple years, Matt Ryan can tear up any defense if given the time to do so.

Winner:  If the Seahawks have any chance of winning they will need to run the ball and control time of possession in order to keep the Falcons offense on the sidelines. If anyone knows how to beat Pete Carroll in the playoffs, it’s former Seattle defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn. Falcons 34-26.

Saturday 7:15 CT Houston Texans (9-7) at New England Patriots (14-2)

How they got here: The Oakland Raiders were without Derek Carr and Houston’s defense took advantage a week ago. The Texans jumped out to a 20-7 lead at halftime and never looked back. Tom Brady returned from suspension and posted an 11-1 record to get New England back to the playoffs. The Patriots outscored their opponents 92-20 over their last three games.

Match-up to watch: DeAndre Hopkins (HOU WR) vs Malcolm Butler (NE CB)

A former first-round draft pick, Hopkins is having his worst year since his rookie season in part because of quarterback play. An undrafted free agent, Butler is having a career year in his third season with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Ignoring the statistics, this is a top-ten wide receiver lined up against a top-ten corner, keep an eye on this matchup outside of the numbers.

Winner: The Texans are just 2-6 away from Houston this season and it is always tough playing up in Foxboro. That being said, I’ll take Brock Osweiler over Tom Brady any day… just kidding. Patriots 38-13.

Sunday 3:40 CT Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

How they got here: Two years ago, these teams battled in the divisional round in game known as the “Dez Bryant no-catch game”. Fast forward to this season where this matchup flips to Jerry’s world as the Cowboys were 7-1 at home this season. The Packers have now won seven in a row after beating the Giants 38-13 on wildcard weekend.

Matchup to watch: Aaron Rodgers (GB QB) vs Dak Prescott (DAL QB)

This rivalry has seen its fair share of star quarterbacks from Bart Starr and Roger Staubach to Troy Aikman and Brett Favre. This present-day matchup should be the first of many to come, assuming Prescott is the future of the Cowboys. Prescott is second in the NFL with a 23:4 touchdown to interception ratio compared to Rodgers 40:7, which ranks third.

Winner: Can the rookies from Dallas out duel the veterans from Green Bay? Experience matters. Packers 31-30.

Sunday 7:20 CT Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

How they got here: Pittsburgh extended their win streak to eight last week with a commanding 30-12 victory over the Dolphins. Kansas City won five of their final six games to clinch the competitive AFC West and earn a first-round bye.

Matchup to watch: Spencer Ware (KC RB) vs Pittsburgh’s front seven (Defense)

Pittsburgh was able to shut down the Dolphins star running back Jay Ajayi a week ago (16 car, 33 yds). Spencer Ware is no Jamaal Charles but he can certainly move the rock on the ground; on Sunday, he could eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the season. The Chiefs could be successful if they can get the ground game going early to set up their play action pass game.

Winner: Arrowhead is one of the most difficult places in the league to play, but the Steelers are 5-3 on the road. Pittsburgh dominated Kansas City back in early October 43-14. Another round, please. Steelers 36-24.

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Brad Thompson is a Contributing Writer for the Chronicle/NCClinked.

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