Scott Shapiro's Sunday NFL Divisional Round preview
Points were at a premium in the NFL Wild Card Round, as all four games went under the total. Saturday’s Divisional Round games may be similar, but the scoreboard should light up a bit more Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs
After they came back from 16 points down to defeat Buffalo, the Texans will travel north to take on a well-rested Chiefs team that finished the season on a six-game win streak.
These teams met at Arrowhead on Oct. 13—a game won by Houston, 31-24. In that contest the Texans had success on the ground, led by 116 yards from running back Carlos Hyde and 42 from dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson. Things are obviously different nearly three months later, especially considering the health of Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was hobbled that afternoon. I still expect both teams to once again have plenty of success on offense.
The Kansas City defense is certainly much better it was a season ago, when the Chiefs were beaten by the Patriots, 37-31, in overtime. But I am not convinced the defense is as good as its numbers over the last six games suggest. The Chiefs held every opponent during that stretch to 21 points or fewer, and held three to single digits, but they were not exactly facing the 1999 St. Louis Rams. The Texans offense will be the toughest test Kansas City has faced in a while.
Watson and DeAndre Hopkins are the most heralded offensive threats for the Texans, and it is deserved, but Houston is a different team when wide receiver Will Fuller is on the field. The 2016 first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame stretches the field and opens things up for Hopkins and the other Houston pass catchers. Fuller had five catches for 44 yards in the Week 6 win against Kansas City, but his stat line does not tell the full story. A deeper dive shows Fuller dropped three potential touchdowns. His presence all but guarantees offensive success for Bill O’Brien’s team.
I may be bullish on the Texans offense in the Divisional Round, but I am bearish on their defense. This is about as bad a matchup as it gets for Romeo Crennel’s crew. The Houston defense yielded 425 total yards last weekend to a modest Bills offense and now has to face the most potent passing attack in the NFL. Look for Mahomes to take advantage of a unit that gave up the fourth most passing touchdowns in the league (33) and allowed Buffalo to convert on 11 of 21 third downs.
With a week off to game plan and catch its breath, I expect Andy Reid’s offense to find the end zone early and often. I also expect Watson and the Texans offense to score its fair share of points, even if its against a prevent defense late in the contest.
The potential of a backdoor cover has me unwilling to lay two scores, despite my expectation of a Chiefs offensive explosion. I will play the Over instead.
Pick: Over 51
Green Bay Packers
Off a road win in Philadelphia, Seattle has issues on the offensive line, is without its top three running backs, and has struggled to consistently stop the forward pass, but quarterback Russell Wilson has made up for it, with his ability to make big plays with his arm and legs.
The Seahawks offense would be better off if Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer let Wilson do his thing from the start, but instead they lean on the running game, even if it is not successful. This was the case in the Wild Card Round, when Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch compiled just 19 yards on 17 carries.
The good news for the Seahawks is they should find much more success against a Packers run defense that yielded 4.7 yards per carry and 120.1 yards per game during the regular season. Combine this with Wilson’s ability to get the ball down field to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and it should lead to more points.
I am far less confident in the Seahawks defense, which will face a Packers offense that was inconsistent in head coach Matt LaFleur’s first season but still has Aaron Rodgers running the show. Davante Adams is one of the NFL’s best receivers, but outside of him and running back Aaron Jones, the options were limited for the Green Bay offense in 2019. In matchups against the league’s top defenses this is problematic, but it should not prevent the Pack from moving the ball against a Seattle secondary that is overly aggressive at times and struggles to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks.
I struggled to come up with a strong opinion in this game. I do not trust this Packers team enough to lay points against a Seattle team that is 8-1 straight up on the road this year and 4-2 ATS as an underdog. And my confidence in the Seahawks coaching staff and defense is low.
My faith in Wilson and Rodgers, and the expectation that there will be a lot of big plays, has me believing there will be enough points scored to get this over the total. The temperature will be cold, but that should not prevent both teams from scoring in the mid to high 20s.