After the conclusion of the Wild Card round of the playoffs, there are only 8 teams remaining in the quest to win Super Bowl LI. Which team will hoist the Lombardi Trophy? In a few short weeks, we will find out, but for now, we can only speculate and make educated guesses. Without further ado, here is Sports Al Dente’s prediction for the rest of the playoffs.
Seattle at Atlanta
In the classic battle of an elite offense vs. an elite defense, something has got to give. Atlanta comes in winners of 4 straight and it would have been 6 straight if it weren’t for an improbable 1-point loss against Kansas City in week 13 on a botched 2-point conversion that was returned by the Chiefs. They also lead the league averaging 33.8 points per game. Seattle however, has only allowed 18.3 points per game and is 3rd in the NFL in that category. The Seahawks crawled into the playoffs, however losing 2 of their last 4 (beating SF and LA), but looked like their dominant selves in the 26-6 win in Wild Card weekend. In a barnburner to kick off the Divisional round, the old adage, ‘defense wins championships’, along with the experience of Seattle in the postseason will rein supreme.
Seattle 26, Atlanta 24
Houston at New England
Momentum after winning in the first round can sometimes pay dividends when facing a team that is coming off a bye. This will not be the case for Houston. The Texans will see their title hopes die on Saturday as they face a Patriots team that is better in every facet of the game. Bill Belichick is of the best, if not THE best coach the NFL has ever seen, and his playoff success speaks for itself. Houston was lucky to get past the first round facing a Raiders team without QB Derek Carr, but the 16-point underdog (largest spread in Division Round history), will not find the same success this weekend.
Houston 13, New England 31
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
On paper, it would seem that Pittsburgh would be favorite. The Chiefs are the one team in the NFL that I still can’t figure out. The emergence of rookie Tyreek Hill gives Kansas City a legitimate playmaker on offense and special teams but outside of him, the Chiefs seem to be middle-of-the-road at best at every position on their offense, but still find a way to win games. On top of that, Andy Reid is 3-0 in the Divisional Round and 19-3 overall after coming off of a bye. The Steelers after losing 4 straight, rebounded with 8 straight victories to end the season plus a convincing 30-12 win over Miami in Wild Card Weekend. Coming in as one of the hottest teams in NFL along with Le’Veon Bell breaking records in his playoff debut, Pittsburgh is a force to be reckoned with. If Tyreek Hill can make a special teams play, Kansas City will have a chance. With that being said, it is tough to bet on that happening.
Pittsburgh 27 Kansas City 20
Green Bay at Dallas
In my opinion, this is the game of the week. On one hand, Aaron Rodgers is playing like a man possessed, and on the other, you have a 14-2 Dallas squad led by 2 rookies who look like 5-year veterans. With Jordy Nelson questionable with two fractured ribs, even if he does play, he will most likely not have the impact he normally would. Here’s the kicker though, Dallas just does not have the experience in the playoffs that Rodgers and company do. As much as I want to root for the Cowboys and see this incredible run continue, I believe the Packers will advance to play the Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
Green Bay 31, Dallas 26
Pittsburgh at New England
This will be one hell of a game as the 2 most decorated franchises in the AFC battle it out for conference supremacy. The Patriots have 4 Super Bowl rings, all during the Brady-Belichick Era, and Pittsburgh has 6 Championships, 2 of them coming with Roethlisberger at the helm. With Big Ben having Bell and Brown at his disposal, his two most formidable weapons, and Brady not having Gronkowski available, (but mainly because I picked Steelers to win it all in the preseason), I give the edge to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh 27 New England 23
Green Bay at Seattle
In another matchup QBs looking to add another ring, we are in for another epic matchup. Wilson is hungry after losing in heartbreaking fashion two seasons ago by throwing an interception on the goal line to end the season. Rodgers is looking to prove critics wrong about his team’s recent playoff struggles, despite his great play. I do believe that Green Bay is the better team on paper but when you play Seattle at Century Link, you can throw everything out the window. Seattle’s defense will once again rise to the occasion and win a defensive battle.
Green Bay 17, Seattle 20
Super Bowl LI
Pittsburgh vs. Seattle
In a rematch of Super Bowl XL, 11 years later, only two of the remaining Steelers from the 2005 team, remain on the active roster. Those two players, however, are Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison, who are two of the best players to play their respective positions in NFL history. The Seahawks have no remaining players from 2005 on their team. Not that this means much, but it is worth mentioning that Big Ben and Harrison will have fond memories of playing Seattle on the big stage, and the Seattle team will not have a bad taste in their mouths from the loss they endured. The season ends just like I predicted, with Ben Roethlisberger getting his 3rd ring and first Super Bowl MVP award.