First things first: I’m waiving the white flag on my “Fading Kevin Wheeler” series.
In the end, it was one of the dumber ideas I had, mostly because I was making picks on games I didn’t truly have a feel for, but also because I didn’t factor in how Kevin is a machine.
An NFL-picking machine.
His picks did very well this year and after losing our season-long wager, I’ll pay up with a meal of his choosing.
On “The Turn” last week I picked all four favorites to cover in Wildcard Weekend, which they did. I won’t be choking on chalk in the Divisional round, however.
Seahawks (+5) at Falcons, 3:35PM CT, Saturday
This won’t be the blowout that some are projecting. For starters, Thomas Rawls breathed life into Seattle’s dormant running game last week when he rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Lions. If he runs like that again, the Seahawks have a good shot at pulling off the upset Saturday in Atlanta.
Defensively, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark will help neutralize Atlanta’s explosive passing game by getting after Matt Ryan.
The Seahawks also own the No. 7 run defense in the league, so the two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman won’t be able to run wild.
That said, this is why the Seahawks will ultimately fall: Without Earl Thomas, the Seahawks’ Cover 3 scheme is vulnerable 18-22 yards up the seams, as well as on the deep post. Thanks to Matthew Stafford’s damaged finger and his receivers’ inability to catch the ball, the Lions were unable to take advantage of Thomas’ absence last week. The Seahawks won’t be as fortunate on Saturday against a Falcons team that has multiple weapons that will test all three levels of Seattle’s defense.
Plus, can the Seahawks’ much-maligned offensive line play as well as it did last weekend? The Falcons don’t have a great defense but they’re fast and athletic and are capable of giving Seattle’s front fits.
This game will come down to a field goal but I like Atlanta to advanced.
Falcons 27, Seahawks 24
Texans (+15) at Patriots, 7:15PM CT, Saturday
There’s no need to spend a ton of time breaking down this game. The only shot Houston has at pulling off the upset is if Jadeveon Clowney turns into Von Miller and harrasses Tom Brady like the Broncos’ front did in last year’s AFC title game. Clowney is a force, but the Texans’ inability to sustain drives offensively will be their defense’s downfall. Houston has never won in Foxboro and Saturday night won’t be the exception. The question is whether or not the Patriots cover. I bet they do.
Patriots 41, Texans 10
Packers (+4.5) at Cowboys, 3:40PM CT, Sunday
How will Dak Prescott handle his first career playoff game and what kind of impact will Jordy Nelson’s absence have on the Packers? Those are the two questions many people are asking leading up to this fantastic matchup on Sunday.
Prescott is a fourth-round rookie that started 16 games for the Dallas Cowboys this season. He’s played with poise and composure all year – he’s not going to rattle. I expect both him and Ezekiel Elliott to play well this weekend.
The better question is whether or not Dallas’ defense will come up with a big stop in the fourth quarter against the hottest quarterback in the league. The Packers will miss Nelson, but Aaron Rodgers still has Randall Cobb, Devante Adams and Ty Montgomery at his disposal. He’ll make it work.
The Cowboys’ rushing attack has protected its defense all season. If the defense can’t generate pressure on Rodgers this weekend, they’re in store for a long day.
I have a hunch the Packers will trail late, but Rodgers will have the ball last, which is why I’m picking Green Bay in an upset.
Packers 34, Cowboys 31
Steelers (+1.5) at Chiefs, 7:20PM CT, Sunday
Everyone continues to focus on Pittsburgh’s three-headed monster of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and for good reason. The team’s defense and offensive line has flown under the radar, however, and it’s those two units that will lead the Steelers to victory this weekend at Arrowhead.
Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Tambi Hali comprise one of the better pass-rushes in football. With a healthy Maurkice Pouncey anchoring the middle of Pittsburgh’s offensive line, however, the Steelers are well-equipped to give Bell space in the running game and keep Big Ben upright in the passing game.
On the other side, the Steelers’ defense has been questioned all year but the reality is that Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Sean Davis and Artie Burns are coming into their own. I don’t trust Andy Reid not to forget about Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce when the game is on the line. I like the Steelers in a tight battle.
Steelers 20, Chiefs 17