We lost the four weakest links this weekend, as the NFL playoffs continue onward toward Super Bowl LI. The four divisional round games are much stronger and more enticing than the wild-card weekend slate, which saw a few too many backup quarterbacks struggle in blowout decisions.
Here’s a brief look ahead at next week’s Elite Eight matchups and the respective schedule for each:
NFC No. 3 Seattle at No. 2 Atlanta, Saturday at 4:35 p.m. Fox
The Seahawks were led by a dominant run game in their wild-card victory over the feeble Lions, but the convincing victory served as a good tune-up for a team that has been a bit inconsistent during the regular season.
Thomas Rawls looked agile and elusive netting 161 rushing yards and opened up Russell Wilson and the Seattle air attack. Their running game will look to keep it up in another controlled environment in Atlanta, against a Falcons team that is not particular tough on the run, allowing 104.5 yards per game (17th in the NFL).
But run defense isn’t Atlanta’s tune — their aerial attack is. The Falcons have the third best passing game in the NFL, led by MVP candidate Matt Ryan and his favorite weapon, Julio Jones. Seattle’s defense has allowed the third fewest yards per game, and has a killer secondary led by Cam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. Will offense prevail over defense? It will be a great matchup.
AFC No. 4 Houston at No. 1 New England, Saturday at 8:15 p.m. CBS
The Patriots were really bailed out when Raiders quarterback (and another viable MVP candidate) Derek Carr was injured and knocked out for the postseason in Week 16. They were able to sit back and prepare for the winner of the elite battle between rookie Connor Cook and Texans’ underachieving QB Brock Osweiler.
Not surprisingly, neither was much of a factor as the Texans top-ranked defense lifted Houston to a second-round berth. The Patriots will welcome back to town former assistant Bill O’Brien and a bevy of other players with New England connections in the second meeting between the two teams (the Pats won 27-0).
Even if the Texans defense plays as well as it did last Saturday against the Raiders, they’ll be hard-pressed to score enough points on offense to keep up with Tom Brady — fresh off a regular season with the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of all time (28-2). This should be a cakewalk for the Pats.
AFC No. 3 Pittsburghat No. 2 Kansas City, Sunday at 1:05 p.m. NBC
The Steelers looked simply dominant in their 30-12 all-around win against the over-matched Dolphins Sunday afternoon, but without home field advantage and up against the well-rested Chiefs in Kansas City, it could be quite the test.
Ben Roethlisberger was able to get the ball to LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown in space (whether via handoff or short pass) to allow them to score two touchdowns apiece. The Chiefs will spend most of their effort on defense controlling the ball on offense, and keeping the ball out of the hands of Pittsburgh’s elite skill players. He did, however, leave the game late with an injury. It’s severity is yet unknown.
The Chiefs have been tested often in the best conference in football, the AFC West, and entered the postseason fresh off dominating wins against the Broncos and Chargers. They will try and get the ball to their highly-effective skill player Tyreek Hill.
NFCNo. 4 Green Bay at No. 1 Dallas, Sunday at 4:40 p.m. Fox
The last of the favorites won Sunday night, as the Packers came alive in the second half to thoroughly dominate New York and advance to face the Packers in what is a dream matchup for the NFL.
It would be hard to argue that any quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers is playing the best in the world right now, and Rodgers and the red-hot Packers — winners of seven straight now — could be just the team to upset the NFC’s No. 1 overall seeded Cowboys.
Dallas is of course led by rookie sensations Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, and their high powered offense (thanks to the best offensive line in football) helped them dominate the NFC all year. But if any unit can take advantage of the Cowboys’ weaknesses, it’s the Green Bay offense.