Analyzing the NFL divisional playoffs

NFL This Week Football
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.

WILL THE FALCONS finally come up big? If not, it'll be a sorry way to close their stadium. Otherwise, look for a blowout in New England on Saturday night and a pair of sweetheart games on Sunday.

But for all that's at stake, bet nobody has been waiting for this weekend more than Dez Bryant. His chance at redemption is at hand.

There are seven meaningful games left. Here's a look at the next four, with Saturday previews here and Sunday game previews on Page 61.

Seattle at Atlanta

When: Saturday, 4:35 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta.

Records: Seattle 11-5-1; Atlanta 11-5.

Seeds: Seattle 3; Atlanta 2.

TV: Fox (Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver, Peter Schrager).

Radio: WYSP, 94.1-FM (Kevin Kugler, James Lofton, Derek Rackley). Won't be a factor, because of the dome.

Seattle's wild-card win in a sentence: An effective running game and a nasty defense; where have we seen this before?

About the Seahawks: Drilled Detroit, 26-6, in the wild-card round to improve to 6-0 at home in the postseason under Pete Carroll . . . The Seahawks are 2-3 in road playoff games under Carroll and were just 3-4-1 this season away from home . . . Thomas Rawls set a team postseason record with 161 yards rushing last week. He did not play in the Seahawks Week 6 win at Atlanta. In fact, Seattle's leading rusher that day was Christine Michael, who is now a Green Bay Packer . . . Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham has just 11 receptions in the last five games. He was held under 50 yards in four of those.

Atlanta's season in a sentence: No second-half gag this time.

About the Falcons: Enter with a four-game winning streak that turned a wobbly 7-5 season into a division title and a playoff bye . . . Matt Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs. His only win is detailed below . . . Julio Jones had 7-139-1 in the first meeting against Seattle. His numbers, and the outcome, would have been different had a pass interference on Richard Sherman been called. That game was in Seattle . . . This would be the final playoff game at the Georgia Dome if the the Falcons lose - or if top-seeded Dallas beats Green Bay and hosts next week's NFC title game. Atlanta is 3-2 in playoff games at the arena, which opened in 1992. Next season, they move into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has a retractable roof.

Line: Atlanta -5. Over/under: 51.5.

Odds and trends: Atlanta was 10-6 against the spread this season, but five of those losses ATS were at home . . . Falcons games have been under just twice, none since Atlanta lost to the Eagles 24-15 in Week 10. The total that day was 49 . . . The Seahawks have been underdogs just twice this season. They were getting 1.5 points when they tied Atlanta, 6-6; and were 7.5-point 'dogs when they went into New England and won outright, 31-24 . . . Three of Seattle's last four road games were went over.

Memory lane: Friday, Jan. 13, is the fourth anniversary of a classic playoff game between Atlanta and Seattle following the 2012 season. The Seahawks overcame a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit when Marshawn Lynch scored from two yards out to give Seattle a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left. Matt Ryan completed a couple of passes to set up a 48-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, whose first attempt went wide right, but was nullified when Seattle called a timeout just before the ball was snapped. Bryant's second kick was right down Broadway.

The pick: This is where the Seahawks will miss injured safety Earl Thomas. Falcons, 31-20.

Houston at New England

When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

Records: Houston 10-7; New England 14-2.

Seeds: Houston 4; New England 1.

TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely).

Radio: WYSP, 94.1-FM (Ian Eagle, Mike Mayock, Ross Tucker). Temperatures in the 20s with 5-mph wind. Snow is not in the forecast.

Houston's wild-card win in a sentence: Sure would be nice to see Connor Cook again.

About the Texans: Took advantage of the Raiders having to use a third-string rookie quarterback last week to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2012 season. This week's opponent is slightly more formidable than Connor Cook . . . Expensive quarterback Brock Osweiler played better last week, as he was able to reclaim his starting spot when Tom Savage (concussion) went down . . . Osweiler bought custom suits for his offensive linemen, much to the delight of guard Jeff Allen. "He got me looking right," said Allen, who was with the Chiefs last year when they lost in this round at New England. "I look all professional now" . . . Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, is playing the best ball of his career. He and linebacker Whitney Mercilus must disrupt Tom Brady to give Houston a chance.

New England's season in a word: Methodical.

About the Patriots: Have won seven in a row . . . The Patriots averaged 29.6 points in the five games after losing star tight end Rob Gronkowski to a back injury . . . Brady justifiably gets a ton of ink, but the defense also deserves credit for New England being one step away from reaching the AFC title game for the sixth consecutive season . . . Houston was first in fewest yards allowed, but New England was first in fewest points allowed. It's just the second time the Pats led the league in scoring defense. The other was in 2003 when Bill Belichick won the second of his four Super Bowls . . . LeGarrette Blount set a team record with 18 rushing touchdowns and has run a score in five straight. The Texans were 12th against the run during the season, but that's skewed because they were gashed during the first two months. In the last 10 games, Houston has given up an average of 58 yards per game and allowed three total rusing touchdowns to opposing running backs.

Line: New England -16. Over/under: 44.5.

Odds and trends: This is the largest point spread for a postseason game since the 1998 playoffs when the Vikings laid 16.5 to Arizona. Minnesota won, 41-21, when Leroy Hoard scored with five minutes left for a backdoor cover . . . The Patriots were a fantastic 13-3 against the spread this season, including 5-0 to finish the season . . . They are just 8-9-1 ATS in home playoff games in the Brady/Belichick era (15-3 straight up) . . . Houston was 2-7 against the spread as underdogs this year, 2-6 on the road . . . Just two of Houston's last seven have gone under.

Brady crunch: Tom Brady threw 432 passes and just two picks for a 0.5 interception rate, easily a career low. Baltimore's Eric Weddle and Seattle's DeShawn Shead were the two guys to pick off Brady this season.

The pick: New England has hosted divisional playoff games each of the last five years and have averaged 38 points per. Patriots, 38-10.


Pittsburgh at Kansas City

When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

Records: Pittsburgh 12-5; Kansas City 12-4.

Seeds: Pittsburgh 3; Kansas City 2.

TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya, Heather Cox).

Radio: WYSP, 94.1-FM (Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Hub Arkush). Freezing rain in the morning, changing to rain as the temperature climbs. High around 37, with 5-10 mph winds.

Pittsburgh's wild-card win in a sentence: The B's were certainly buzzing.

About the Steelers: Current eight-game winning streak includes four on the road. None of those road games, however, was against a team that reached the postseason . . . The Steelers rolled KC, 43-14, in Week 4 in Pittsburgh in what was Le'Veon Bell's first game. Bell had 144 yards that day and has run for at least 118 yards in six of the last seven . . . Ben Roethlisberger has been a little loose with the football lately, throwing eight interceptions over the last five games. The Steelers are 4-1 in games Roethlisberger throws multiple picks, but that would be tough to overcome Sunday . . . Ryan Shazier has an interception in each of the last three games. The third-year pro looks like the next great Steelers linebacker.

Kansas City's season in a sentence: Division's nice, but we want more.

About the Chiefs: Won at the Chargers in Week 17 to earn the AFC West title in a game that turned out to be the finale in San Diego. It's Andy Reid's first division championship as KC's coach . . . The defense forced 33 turnovers, most in the NFL. Twenty-one of those turnovers came at Arrowhead, which is hosting a playoff game for the first time since a wild-card loss to the Ravens after the 2010 season. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the Chiefs' coach . . . Kansas City has two Pro Bowlers in its defensive secondary, safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters . . . Quarterback Alex Smith is 2-3 as a starter in the postseason. He's thrown one interception in 186 attempts, a 0.5 percent INT rate that ranks as the best in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts).

Line: Kansas City -1. Over/under: 44.5.

Odds and trends: The Chiefs have covered five of the last six . . . KC was 6-2 straight up at home, but only 3-5 against the spread . . . The only game in which the Steelers were underdogs this season was at home against New England in Week 7. Pittsburgh, favored by 7.5, did not cover in a 27-16 loss . . . The Steelers have scored at least 24 points in nine consecutive games . . . Be sure to catch the Sunday morning weather report.

Arrow up: It's been 23 years since the Chiefs have won a playoff home game. KC, led by Joe Montana, beat the Steelers, 27-24 in overtime.

The pick: Joe retired. Steelers, 26-23.

Green Bay at Dallas

When: Sunday, 4:40 p.m.

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.

Records: Green Bay 11-6; Dallas 13-3.

Seeds: Green Bay 4; Dallas 1.

TV: Fox (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers).

Radio: WYSP, 94.1-FM (Tom McCarthy, Tony Boselli, Scott Kaplan). Jerry's World has a retractable roof.

Green Bay's wild-card win in a sentence: Ignore the first 28 minutes.

About the Packers: Have won seven in a row and scored at least 30 points in each of the last five. Scored all 38 points against the Giants in the final 32 minutes of last week's wild-card win . . . Lost at home to Dallas in Week 6 when Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 157 yards. No runner has gained 100 yards against Green Bay since Washington's Rob Kelley in Week 11 . . . Wide receiver Jordy Nelson (broken ribs) missed practice again Thursday and doesn't appear likely to play. Nelson led the league with 14 TD catches. On the one hand, Green Bay's offense looked disjointed last year after Nelson ripped up his knee in the preseason. On the other, the Packers scored all 38 of their points last week after Nelson went out . . . Aaron Rodgers has 19 TD passes and zero interceptions during the Packers' win streak. Rodgers has thrown 285 consecutive passes without an interception.

Dallas's season in a sentence: The kids are all right.

About the Cowboys: Led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys captured the NFC's No. 1 seed for the first time since 2007. America's Team hasn't played in the conference championship game in 22 years . . . The offensive line is arguably the strength of the Cowboys. Guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick and tackle Tyron Smith are Pro Bowlers. Smith might be the best left tackle in the league . . . Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who's been out with a groin injury since Oct. 30, is back. The Packers might not have Nelson, but they still have plenty of firepower. Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence also are expected to return the lineup.

Line: Dallas -4.5. Over/under: 52.5.

Odds and trends: The Cowboys closed the season on a 1-5 skid against the spread, and under has come out in four of the last five . . . Dallas was 5-2-1 ATS at home this season, 7-1 overall . . . Green Bay is on a 6-1 spread run with each of their last five hitting over . . . The Packers went 3-1 ATS as underdogs this year. They won two of those games outright (at Eagles, home vs. Seahawks).

Catching up: Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant has only six catches for 86 yards in two career playoff games. Of course, those numbers would be seven receptions for 117 yards if officials had not overturned a 31-yard reception that would have put Dallas at the 1-yard line late in their divisional round loss at Green Bay after the 2014 season.

The pick: Saving the best for last, this should be a dandy. Cowboys, 33-31.