NFL playoff predictions: Aaron Rodgers to drag Packers past Cowboys

Rodgers has thrown for 22 touchdowns in the past eight games, and he can spoil the Cowboys season on Sunday. Plus, go for the Falcons, Patriots and Steelers

Time for the real fun to begin? Wildcard weekend was a damp squib, with every home team winning exactly as it was expected to do. That this was a predictable outcome is evidenced by the fact that more than one third of our Pick The Playoff contestants did, quite literally, predict it.

Ill have the full standings up in the comments section below shortly. But until then, lets get right into it.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (Saturday 4.35pm ET/9.35pm GMT)

Will Matt Ryan be happy to see the Seahawks on Saturday? On the one hand, these are the only opponents he has ever beaten in a playoff game. On the other, he knows exactly how hard they are to beat. Ryan threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns when Atlanta faced in Seattle in October, but still wound up on the wrong side of a 26-24 final scoreline.

The Seahawks have lost Earl Thomas who registered Seattles only interception in that game to injury since, but Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark were absent from the first meeting and will both start on Sunday. Seattles running game is also in better shape, with Thomas Rawls finally healthy and bulldozing his way to 161 yards against Detroit in the Wild Card round. On paper, the Seahawks look like they ought to be improved. On the gridiron, though, there have been far too many missteps. I have a hard time backing a team that barely scraped a week 17 victory in San Francisco to waltz into the Georgia Dome and win.

Falcons to win

Houston Texans @ (Saturday 8.15pm ET/Sunday 1.15am GMT)

Not since Joe Namath delivered on his promise of a victory at Super Bowl III has a team overcome greater odds in a postseason game than those the Texans face this weekend. They are listed as 16-point underdogs by the Las Vegas bookies, (the Jets were given 18 points against the Colts back in 1969) and even that feels like it might be on the low side. After all, Houston lost 27-0 to a New England team with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback in week three. What hope can this team have against the same opposition, led by Tom Brady?

My honest answer is that I think they have none. But if you were looking for some straws to clutch then I suppose we could note that the Texans were themselves missing left tackle Duane Brown for that last matchup whose presence has upgraded the running game and pass protection. A weather forecast calling for freezing conditions and a chance of snow might also make it harder to throw the ball, which should hurt New England more than the Texans unlikely to achieve much in that department under any circumstances with Brock Osweiler taking the snaps. But, yeah, Im reaching.

Patriots to win

Pittsburgh Steelers @ (Sunday 1.05pm ET/6.05pm GMT)

Winter Storm Jupiter is making its way up to Kansas City, and freezing rain is expected at Arrowhead Stadium. One imagines that the Steelers would suffer such weather the most. They were forced to scale back their passing attack when they visited a snowy Buffalo last month, and whilst that change of tack worked out just fine LeVeon Bell rushed for 236 yards and three scores in a 27-20 win a team with such potency through the air can hardly relish having its options restricted.

It is also true that the Chiefs have thrived on their ability to generate turnovers. They ranked in the bottom half of the league for both offensive and defensive yardage during the regular season, but led the NFL with 33 takeaways, and such opportunism can only be an advantage when ball gets tricky to handle. I do worry, though, about Kansas City capacity to slow down Bell. He stormed to 144 yards on 18 carries when they met earlier this season and that was before Derrick Johnson got injured.

Steelers to win

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (Sunday 4.40pm ET/9.40pm GMT)

As a rule, I try to resist narratives that reduce a team down to an individual. Right now, though, Aaron Rodgers is performing to such a level that I am starting to believe he might just drag Green Bay into the Super Bowl single-handed. Over the past eight games he has thrown for 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not even the loss of Jordy Nelson to injury could slow him down on Wild Card weekend, with all four of his scores coming after the receiver had departed the game.

Nelson might not make it back for Sunday, which would be a significant blow against opponents who have already beaten Green Bay once this season. Dak Prescott outplayed Rodgers at Lambeau Field in October, while Ezekiel Elliott trampled what was then the leagues No1 rushing defense for 157 yards. The Cowboys clearly boast enough firepower to keep up with Rodgers and company, and are looking healthy off the bye week, but somehow I just cant shake the feeling that this will not be their day. Maybe its the fact that 10 out of 15 rookie quarterbacks making playoff debuts since the merger have lost. Or maybe it really is just all about Aaron Rodgers.

Packers to win

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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