And then there were eight. In a series of solid contests, divisional winners went 4-0 over wild card squads to produce a full chalk advancement and set up some of the games we’ve all been waiting for.
Detroit Lions 216, Philadelphia Eagles 171
Tyler Lockett had 31, Matthew Stafford threw for 28, both the offense and defense broke the century marker, and Detroit cruised to an easy 45 point victory over the Eagles in the wildcard round – though since Lockett played on Monday Night, the victory appeared much more questionable up until that point. The Eagles were undone on the defensive side of the ball, where not a single player reached double figures. Combined with a Witten goose egg, it was simply too much for the Eagles to overcome.
Arizona Cardinals 198, Atlanta Falcons 150
The bright lights of the playoffs do strange things to teams. Atlanta and Cleveland are both teams that are vastly better than they showed in the Wild Card round, leading one to wonder just what sort of first time playoff jitters both teams were experiencing. Julio Jones came to play with 23 and Jay Ajayi got a respectable 16, but nobody else on the team scored more than 11 points as the Falcons stumble to a quick exit. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 4 point whimper will increase the cries for Goff over the off-season. Arizona, on the other hand, put in a strong, workmanlike performance that shows they know what the playoffs are about and are planning on a long stay. Shady McCoy led the way with 32, Brandon LaFell snared 22, and the Cardinal offense outscored the Falcon offense by 40, proving to be the difference in the game.
Kansas City Chiefs 244, Cleveland Browns 115
Cleveland’s drama and triumph happened in week 12, when the Browns posted a nice win and won a four team tie-breaker to make their first ever RDFL playoff. It was a huge milestone for what has been a struggling franchise, and a great step on the rise to success. Coupled with a bye week that away 5 starters and an injury to star receiver Marvin Jones, one could forgive the Browns for just being happy to be there. The Browns were lifeless from the jump, falling behind 25-9 on Thursday night and staying there. Both sides of the ball were abysmal as Cleveland posted 48 offensive points and 55 defensive ones on the way to their worst overall performance of the year. Still, a first ever playoff experience deserves congratulations. Kansas City, meanwhile, took advantage, feasting on defense. The front-line trio of Everson Griffen, Kyle Williams, and Dante Fowler combined for 66 defensive points, the defense put up 153, and Jordy Nelson added 31 to make this a convincing route.
Houston Texans 230, New England Patriots 201
The best game of the playoffs was never truly decided until Monday night, as the Houston Texans and New England Patriots both put up strong performances worthy of playoff teams. New England road strong games on each side of the ball, getting a well rounded 95 on offense and 92 on defense. Houston countered, however, with a preposterous ground and pound game all weekend long behind a 40 point explosion from David Johnson and a 36 point complement from Jordan Howard. As a result, Houston outscored the Patriots at RB (Frank Gore and Kenjon Barner) 75-15, more than enough to make up for the difference in the game. Still, a hugely successful year for the 12-4 Patriots, who would have advanced against 3/4 NFC teams in the Wild Card.
Divisional Round Predictions:
Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals: This battle of playoff veteran teams also appears pretty one-sided. The Panthers have the 2nd ranked offense and 6th ranked defense in football, while the Cardinals are on the middle of the list. Injury concerns do loom for Carolina though, with Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman still in the concussion profile, Eddie Royal and Robert Woods suffering from lingering injuries, and whatever the heck is going on with the real life Cam and the Panthers threatening to impinge. Still, the biggest danger to me is that the Panthers look past the Cardinals this week. Face to face and at full strength, Arizona would need a repeat from Shady and much more to knock off the Panthers. But if Carolina turns in a dud, Arizona is absolutely strong enough to capitalize
Prediction: In a startling break from my playoff rule about never predicting Carolina, I pick Carolina. This is largely because Carolina seems to have their own rule about winning every damn playoff game.
New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions: To my mind, this is the best matchup of the divisional round, and potentially one of the best 2 vs 3 divisional matchups we’ve seen in a long-long time. The Giants were the best team by far in fantasy points in the regular season, dropping out of the top slot by virtue of a pair of back to back losses against teams like LA playing their hearts out. Let’s be clear, though – they scored 3775 fantasy points, which is an AVERAGE of more than 230 per game. When they are on, they are massacring people. By contrast, the Lions won their division handily, are an outstanding team in their own right, and scored 3219.
Prediction: New York Giants. It’s hard to vote against Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and the best point total in RDFL. I’m riding the Giants until Carolina beats them and makes me look bad.
Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans: Here’s where things get interesting. The red-hot Texans against the wounded but still powerful Bills. Houston is on a tear, winning some ridiculous number of games in a row (is it 11?) and posting 230 points in a very strong playoff performance. As Jordan Howard emerges in the Bears backfield as a stud, this team just gets stronger. Nobody wants to play them, and they are a brutal 12-4 four seed. At the same time, the Bills injuries are well documented, with Gronk, AP, CJ Prosise, and AJ Green suffering major injuries and Alshon Jeffery suspended. So does this bode well for an upset? Hard to say. Because of that defense. Just when everyone thought the Bills might be vulnerable, they dropped a 156 point defensive day to combine a still solid 80 points from the offense to score the most points in fantasy in the week #12 double and maintain the #1 seed. Same old Buffalo. Wounded? Yes. Still fighting? Absolutely. This is going to be one heck of a fun game.
Prediction: Houston. Going out on a limb here and saying Houston is too hot and the injuries are too much. But man this will be close.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Another one that should be close. The Baltimore Ravens have not lost since week 3. This team has done nothing but win, week after week, game after game, opponent after opponent. Add to that the sudden re-emergence of “good Joe Flacco” and Dennis Pitta, and this is a ferocious team that nobody wants a piece of. The Ravens make their hay with their #3 ranked offense that could get even better, and feature a complimentary #9 defense. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are riding high after their wild card round laugher, but will be watching the injury news all week anxiously for updates on Jordan Reed and Tavon Austin.
Prediction: Baltimore. You don’t go against a team this hot, especially not after seeing what they would have put up last week had they been playing!
Good luck to all, and condolences/congratulations to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New England.