AJ Abouye, Atlanta Falcons, Brock Osweiler, Devonta Freeman, Earl Thomas, Houston Texans, Jacoby Brissett, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, Kyle Shanahan, New England Patriots, NFL, Rob Gronkowski, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, Tevin Coleman, Tom Brady, Vic Beasley, Whitney Mercilus
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
The injury to Earl Thomas robbed us of the chance to see a full strength Seattle defence go up against the number one ranked offence by DVOA in the league, but this should still be a fascinating contest.
The Falcons have the options on offence, and the players to challenge Seattle down the seams and see if they find a weakness in the secondary without Thomas patrolling the rear of the defence. Their offence has been in great shape all year, moving away on the reliance on Julio Jones to spread the ball around a number of receivers and the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have caused many teams problems out of the backfield. They are a team that run more traditional sets with a fullback than almost any other team in the league, and I am looking forward to seeing how Kyle Shanahan plans to attach the Seahawks defence. The Atlanta defence has pretty ordinary for most of the season, but Vic Beasley led the lead in sacks and with the offence playing so well, they only have to do so much to keep the Falcons in the game.
I was impressed by the the Seahawks renewed commitment to the run last week, which helped their offensive line play better and sparked an improved performance. Against a defence that ranks twenty-ninth in rush defence by DVOA this might help the Seahawks limit the time the Falcons offence has on the field, but given the problems they’ve had with the offensive line you could see Vic Beasley getting pressure on Russel Wilson. The defence also looked better last week, but the Falcons offence is a very different prospect that the Lions with their injured quarterback.
In the end I fancy the Falcons to win, but we really shouldn’t discount the playoff experience of the Seahawks, but the problems they have had against the pass since Thomas was injured could really hurt them in this one.
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
The Patriots went 14-2 this season despite having Tom Brady suspended for four games, losing one with him and one without. In their previous meeting the Patriots ran out 27-0 winners with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback so it is hard to see anything other than a Patriots’ win in this game.
The offence has been its usual efficient self, and has barely missed a beat since Rob Gronkowski was lost to injury as it appears that nothing can slow down Brady who has managed to get himself into the MVP discussion despite his suspension. The defence struggled earlier in the season, but has come on over the course of the season and whilst finishing a modest sixteenth by DVOA, they will have scheme enough for a Texans offence that has sputtered all season.
The Texans got their win last week, and will no doubt want to put in a better performance than their last visit to Gillette Stadium. However, whilst their defence should be competitive, with a number of players stepping out of JJ Watt’s shadow to lead the team, the offence is likely to struggle. The Texans stressed surrounding Brock Osweiler with options in the passing game, but he struggled to make use of them for much of the year. He looked a bit better last week, but I’m not sure he’ll have the tools to attack this Patriots defence. I can see Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney causing problems with their pass rush abilitiy, and AJ Abouye has looked like an excellent pick up at corner, but you just have a feeling that the Patriots will find a way to win out in the end. They have for most of this season.