In the first round, the NFL Playoffs got off to sub par start during Wild Card Weekend. As the playoffs move to the Divisional Round, the match ups are much more enticing.
In the NBA, Round 2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors season series will tip off in Oakland. The Christmas Day game was a thriller, and it will be Golden State’s turn to defend home court. Once again the regular season game will have a playoff atmosphere. Cleveland and Golden State have formed one of the strongest rivalries in the sport, and their games are must-see.
The bell for Round 2 is about to ring, but who will be ready to fight?
Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks – NFC Divisional Round, 1/14 @ Georgia Dome
The second round of the playoffs kicks off in Atlanta with a Week 6 rematch. The Falcons and Seahawks have met already this season, with the Seahawks grabbing the W, 26-24. However, the biggest factor in the game proved to be Seattle’s home field advantage. Since the loss, the Falcons have gone 7-3 and as a result have earned home field for this pivotal playoff match up.
The quarterback play will be imperative in this game. Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons has played at an MVP-level throughout the regular season. He threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns in one of the best regular seasons of his career.
Russell Wilson played below his standards in the regular season, but found his form last weekend against the Lions during the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs. Wilson looked sharp and threw for two touchdowns in an easy 26-6 win.
Quarterbacks are accustomed to the spotlight, so lets give some recognition to the men trying to stop them.
For Atlanta, it will be the newest elite edge-rusher in the NFL. Vic Beasley is coming off of a monster year after racking up a league leading 15.5 sacks. He will look to pin his ears back and get after the elusive Wilson. An even bigger stat for Beasley is the 6 forced fumbles he had this season. If Atlanta gets an early lead Beasley can be dangerous.
On the other hand, Cliff Avril is just as impressive for Seattle. With 11.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, Avril is a game changer as well.
Ball security will be key for these quarterbacks. The head-to-head match up between Beasley and Avril will be one to watch, with the advantage going to whichever team can benefit from the big plays they are bound to make.
New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans – AFC Divisional Round, 1/14 @ Gillette Stadium
In the AFC, another regular season rematch will unfold in Foxborough.
It is near impossible to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the month of January. One of the coolest customers in NFL history, Brady is known for destroying opposing teams’ defensive game plans. This weekend he will go up against former New England defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel.
Sans J.J. Watt, the Texans were still able to establish themselves as the number one ranked defense in the NFL. They are solid at all levels, especially with rising star Jadeveon Clowney asserting himself as a force to be reckoned with. He will need to step up if the Texans want to change the narrative from their regular season game.
New England embarrassed Houston this season. An easy 27-0 win was a walk in the park for the Pats.
The Patriots come in to this game healthy, well-rested and confident, a dangerous combination for a superior team to possess. Brady lost his main weapon this season, tight end Rob Gronkowski, but still has an extensive arsenal. Martellus Bennett has stepped up after the loss of Gronk, while Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and newcomer Michael Floyd are exceptional options on the outside.
If all else fails, LeGarrette Blount will spearhead a dynamic running attack featuring Dion Lewis and James White.
Blount had one of his best games of the season against Houston, and his physical running style will be a factor this weekend in the frigid conditions.
All that adds up to the Texans being in big trouble. Brady will look slice through the Houston defense while the Patriots get once step closer to Houston, the site of Super Bowl LI.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – AFC Divisional Round, 1/15 @ Arrowhead Stadium
Sunday starts off with a bang. Playoff football in Kansas City will be the definition of deafening this upcoming weekend. Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is one of the loudest stadiums in the country. The volume will be cranked up for the playoffs, and the Steelers have a tough task ahead of them.
The Steelers destroyed the Chiefs earlier this season 43-14. However, that loss will only add to the motivation of Kansas City fans come Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s offense features two of the best skill players to ever enter the NFL. Wide receiver Antonio Brown seemingly sets records every time he catches the ball. His dynamic ability was on display last weekend with two touchdowns in the first quarter against the Dolphins.
Dual-threat running Le’Veon Bell is poetry in motion out of the backfield. His patience might be his best attribute, and although I like to avoid hyperbole, Bell is on pace to be one of the best running backs of all-time if he continues on the pace he has established throughout his young career.
Even though it is hard to believe after their Week 2 match up, the Chiefs have all the necessary players on defense to slow down the Steelers. Their two key players that need to show up on Sunday will be cornerback Marcus Peters and safety Eric Berry.
Among others on the Chiefs’ defense, these two have the complete skill set to compete with Brown and Bell. Marcus Peters (6 INTs this season) has become one of the best cover corners in the league so his task will be to slow down Brown. Eric Berry (77 tackles, 4 INTs) is a physical safety that can stop the run, but he’ll also be chasing Bell around the field after he makes catches from the running back position.
The duo that can have a more productive game on Sunday will provide his team with a big edge.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers – NFC Divisional Round, 1/15 @ AT&T Stadium
The finale of the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs will be a hotly contested rematch in Dallas. The last time these two teams met during the playoffs was in 2015. Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers were locked in an intense duel, and one unforgettable play changed the course of the game.
On a critical 4th down late in the 4th quarter with the Cowboys trailing by 5, Tony Romo went to his favorite target Dez Bryant. Bryant appeared to catch the ball for a touchdown, but it hit the ground as he extended for the end zone. The call was eventually overturned and it is still a controversial debate to this day. The Packers escaped with a 26-21 win, and the Cowboys have wanted revenge ever since.
The script has flipped in this upcoming game. Dallas has the more complete team, and will be hosting Green Bay on this occasion. The Cowboys finished the regular season at 13-3, and with their rookie QB Dak Prescott and a mammoth offensive line they like their chances.
On the other hand, Rodgers has led the Packers on a 7-game winning streak. Green Bay is the hottest team in the league, but will they be able to slow down Dallas’ efficient offense.
Ezekiel Elliott will be the key to the Cowboys advancing. His rookie campaign was impressive has he tallied over 1,600 rushing yards and 15 TDs.
The wily vet on the Green Bay defense, Clay Matthews, will look to plug up any gaps Elliott looks for in the run game. This one-on-one match up will be one to keep an eye on, and could ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – NBA Finals Rematch, 1/16 @ Oracle Arena
It is Round 2 for this regular season, but this is a battle that dates back to the 2015 NBA Finals. Over the course of the last two NBA Finals and the Christmas Day game this season, the series between these two juggernauts is tied at 7. An epic back-and-forth rivalry, each team knows the other’s strengths and weaknesses almost as well as their own.
Familiarity has led to hostility, and this will be one of the most watched games of the regular season. Also, with Golden State and Cleveland atop their respective conferences, this game could decide who has home court if they meet for the third straight year in the NBA Finals. No matter what team you are a fan of, everyone loves seeing these two squads face off.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were the catalyst for a Christmas Day comeback against the Warriors. A game-winning jumper from Irving gave the Cavs and exciting 109-108 win.
The Warriors will be looking to exact revenge in Oakland. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are all big-time players, but with the game on the line in Cleveland, Golden State turned to Kevin Durant to take the last shot for the win.
Undoubtedly, the game will be up in the air late. Irving or James, Durant or Steph, the most intriguing question heading in to this game is who will take the last shot with the game on the line.