Saturday’s Divisional Match-up Preview
It’s been a while, but now that life has slowed down somewhat I thought I’d share a few thoughts on this weekend’s Divisional action, a weekend that ordinarily deals out some of the more tense match-ups and the last time we’ll have more than 2 match-ups in a weekend, so let’s savour this.
I want to make a few points on every game, some of which would be obvious, some hopefully less obvious. Let’s start with a game that might see the Pats as the underdogs… maybe.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
“They’re Coming Outta the Goddamn Walls”: This is obviously a quote from one of my favourite all time action movies and how I would describe the state of the Chiefs pass rush. Whilst Hoyer should take some of the blame for a woeful performance, there is no doubt that the Chiefs pass rush played its part. No one player on that front 7 is better than JJ Watt, but the ability to get a rush going from literally anywhere should be a terrifying prospect for a beaten up Patriots team with a beaten up Tom Brady. With Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dee Ford on the edge and Dontari Poe, Derrick Johnson and Jaye Howard on the inside, this team can create an insane amount of pressure and force early throws into an exceptional secondary. This unit is growing and could one day, in my opinion be talked about in the same breath as a certain Bears defence.
A Cold Boston Winter: It’s not supposed to be this way for New England. They’re supposed to start slow, cause some scares, wait till we’ve all written our “is Tom Brady done?” articles, then move 0n to completely prove us wrong. That didn’t happen this season, with a decimated Patriots roster limping into the playoffs relying on an exceptional 1st half to the season, the Patriots lost 4 of their last 6 seasons, something that hasn’t happened since 2000. There is hope for them though. having a week off has meant Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are making a return to the starting line-up and look as good as ever if reports are to be believed, also the potential return of Sebastian Vollmer to the offensive line could be huge against the Chiefs excellent pass rush. Despite the return of some important pieces though there are still some big issues. Tom Brady is going into this game recovering from a high ankle sprain and whilst it looks like he is at least on the mend, it could still affect his mobility in the pocket. Then add to the equation that Gronkowski has been receiving treatment for his potentially re-aggrevated knee injury and a lack of a potent running attack and the Patriots could struggle on offence. The Patriots are as cold as the Gillette Stadium turf right now, whereas the Chiefs are searching for their 12 consecutive win.
The Unsung Heroes: In a game involving the previous Super bowl winners and one of the greatest QB/ tight end combo of all time, it’s the defence that looks set to decide whether the Patriots take a big step to a repeat. The Patriots defence has racked up 49 sacks so far this season, whereas Alex Smith behind an average offensive line has been dragged to the ground 45 times. Now throw into the mix an injury to Chiefs star receiver Jeremy Maclin and we could see Smith under a lot of pressure in this game, with a lack of receiving talent meaning they’ll stay out of nickel and concentrate on stopping the run, whilst keeping Travis Kelce under wraps. If the Pats can do this, they can win the game. Equally if the Chiefs can make mincemeat of a patchwork offensive line and force throws into their excellent secondary they could send the Lombardi holders packing.
Predicted Final Score: Chiefs win 20-17
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
So Hot Right Now: It is possible that the Packers got their mojo back at exactly the right time, beating Washington convincingly in last week’s wild card game and proving that the Packers don’t pay attention to form. This week is a much bigger challenge however against a Cards team that, as Dylan stated on the pod this week is ranked top 5 in both offence and defence and took them to pieces with a 38-8 drubbing in week 16. So how can the Packers win? Simple. They need Aaron Rodgers to play his best behind a strong offensive line, whilst his weapons take a step up from last week’s performance against one of the deepest secondaries in the league. All of this sounds impossible, but with the Packers you can never tell. This is a team that won a Super bowl in 2010 with a staggering amount of injuries and is always good for a little excitement.
Nowhere to Run: The Cardinals defence, in my opinion is what we’ll see more and more of thanks to a greater focus of mobility and speed on offence. Arizona have a variety of versatile players that can be used in a number of ways. Rodgers usually excels when running no huddle, which is exactly what this unit is set up to deal with. Arizona’s pass rush relies heavily on bringing defensive backs forward with the front 3 soaking up pressure. Calais Campbell alone is a one man wrecking machine and one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league, combining size and speed to bust through offensive lines or tie them up to make space for Dwight Freeney or Justin Bethel. In addition to exceptional versatility the Cards have insane depth and an ability to rotate players, whenever they have a chance, meaning they don’t really wear down on extended drives. Finally elite players in the secondary and an amazing run defence means that Rodgers could be in for a long night.
The Big Mismatch: Whilst the stifling nature of the Cards defence should cause Rodgers and his offence fits, the biggest mismatch is that of a quick talented Cards receiver group against a young Packers secondary. Last week despite probably the best performance in 11 games, the defence still allowed Jordan Reed to pick up 120 yards, thanks to lining the receivers up in bunches as well as sending the receiver in motion. Despite being talented group, a lack of experience against Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, as well as David Johnson out of the backfield will undoubtedly cause the Packers fits.
Predicted Final Score: Cards win 35-24
That’s Saturday. See you for Sunday’s games!