The Divisional Round of the postseason is largely considered one of the best weekends of the year. All four of the top seeds from the league will be back in action, and there are more games played on Saturday and Sunday than the remaining schedule of the playoffs, combined. More matchups should bring more competitive games.
We need them. We had none in the Wild Card Round.
Last week, all four favorites won and covered their respective games. In fact, no game from Wild Card Weekend was decided by fewer than 13 points. Thankfully, only one spread for the Divisional Round is currently greater than five points, suggesting that we will, indeed, have a more exciting weekend ahead of us.
In addition to the spread, each pairing carries the opportunity for revenge. All four games being played in the Divisional Round are rematches from earlier in the season. The only change – for three-of-the-four-pairings – is the venue, as Atlanta, Kansas City, and Dallas will host their opponents, this weekend – after traveling in the first matchup.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2016 Season: 51-65-3 (Last Week: 1-1)
(2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2016 Season: 120-132-8 (Last Week: 2-2)
(2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)*
As soon as the seeding had been finalized in the AFC, the fates of the conference’s top three seeds appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Pittsburgh would win its first game – against a Dolphins team that would no longer survive the loss of its starting quarterback – and set up a winner-take-all battle with the Chiefs for the right to play New England in the AFC Championship Game. This was hardly a stretch of the imagination, as it only requires two games going in the right direction – New England beating Houston and Pittsburgh beating Miami, last week.
The Divisional Round matchup between the Chiefs and Steelers has been highly anticipated solely for its impact over the next few weeks. Many have debated whether or not Pittsburgh is the team most threatening to another Patriots’ Super Bowl appearance, and the Steelers’ odds to bring home a championship appear to reflect such a possibility. What continues to get lost in the discussion is the team that stands in the way of an AFC Championship Game between Pittsburgh and New England. The home team in Sunday’s battle.
There is no denying what head coach Andy Reid has brought to the table for the Kansas City Chiefs. He has led his teams to winning seasons in all four of his years with the Chiefs, with at least eleven regular season victories and a playoff appearance in three-of-the-four campaigns. Unfortunately for Reid, his success has typically ended as the calendar turns, where he holds a 1-2 record with the Chiefs in the postseason. Somewhat surprisingly, he has yet to coach a playoff game in Kansas City. Until Sunday.
To a lesser statistical extent than the aforementioned Falcons, the Chiefs have been fantastic in home games during Reid’s tenure – 23-9. Then again, the Chiefs’ overall record since Reid took over is an outstanding 43-21 in regular season games, so location is not necessarily the biggest contributing factor. But it is a factor. As is the desire to cash in on an outstanding regular season campaign with a playoff win.
Pittsburgh’s home victory against the Dolphins was completely expected – the Steelers actually entered the postseason with better odds to win the Super Bowl than the Chiefs. As a result, some websites initially listed Pittsburgh as the road favorite on Sunday afternoon. At the time of this writing, the number has moved back in Kansas City’s favor, most likely due to the injury of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s leg.
Why were the Steelers favored when the game opened? Why did Pittsburgh have better odds than Kansas City prior to the start of the postseason? What should the number of points between the Steelers and Chiefs be telling us?
When writing about the Steelers, we have cited the franchise’s perception many times. Pittsburgh is one of the top organizations in the sport, has a traveling fan base, and generally gets the benefit-of-the-doubt from the football-watching world. There is a natural inclination to buy the Steelers in the playoffs simply because of their history.
There is, however, no reason to sell the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh’s odds – both to win the Super Bowl and initially to win on Sunday – are nothing more than a premium needing to be paid for a team that has yet to disappoint. Buying the Steelers has resulted in eight consecutive wins, so why would anyone stop now? And, with the Chiefs out-of-sight and, therefore, out-of-mind, the connection is easy to make.
The completion is much more difficult.
Of Kansas City’s four losses in 2016 – resulting in the second-best record in the conference – three were by a combined thirteen points. The one outlier? A 43-14 bludgeoning by the Steelers in Pittsburgh on national television. The blowout loss was both the second-fewest points Kansas City scored and most it allowed in a game, all season. Even including the final score, the Chiefs ended the year with a point differential of +78, an average margin-of-victory of 4.9 points-per-game.
The loss to Pittsburgh sparked a 10-2 run to close the season, earning a first-round bye for Kansas City. It also allowed the offense to emerge on the legs of Tyreek Hill – one of the most dynamic threats over the latter half of the season. The Chiefs had previously lacked the weapon to give them the edge in a game-by-game basis. Hill changed that.
Kansas City has been building towards a deep playoff runs for years and finally has the opportunity to take the next step. At home against a quarterback currently operating at less than 100 percent, the Chiefs will not miss their chance.
Kansas City wins by three points and covers the spread.
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
For the second consecutive week, the Green Bay Packers close out a playoff round. Thankfully for the viewing public, Green Bay has been such a thoroughly entertaining team since the midpoint of the season that they are arguably must-watch television, at this point. Sending the Packers to Dallas to take on the top seed in the NFC in a rematch of their 30-14 home loss from Week 6 should present yet another fantastic showdown.
When the Packers and Cowboys squared off in mid-October, Green Bay had featured one of the best run defenses in the sport – previously allowing 171 rushing yards combined in the team’s first four games. At the time, Dallas’ offensive line and rushing attack quickly emerged as an unstoppable force, and the Cowboys ultimately broke through with 191 rushing yards on the afternoon – the most that Green Bay allowed in a single game, all year.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons via C.C. 2.0 / Mike Morbeck