This weekend, every single division winner - and only the division winners - will be in action! That should make for some good games over the upcoming weekend.
It begins on Saturday, when the Seahawks travel to Atlanta to face the red hot Falcons and their explosive offense. After that, the Texans travel to Foxboro to take another shot at the Pats.
On Sunday, the Steelers will try to win on the road, in hostile Arrowhead against Kansas City, and the Packers and Cowboys will renew a classic NFC playoff rivalry in Dallas.
Sounds like it should be fun, right?
That also means that it is time for me to make my picks. So here we go:
Seattle at Atlanta - The Falcons were on a mission this season to be taken seriously. They had some major talent on offense, and decided to use it. The result has been magnificent for them, as they wound up with one of the most explosive offenses in the league, which helped them to easily take the NFC South with an 11-5 mark, and secure the second seed throughout the NFC playoffs. Along the way, they beat the Raiders in Oakland, as well as defeating Green Bay. However, they actually lost the earlier season meeting to these same Seahawks, which should give Seattle some confidence heading into this one. Still, that game was in Seattle, which is a tough place to play, and the Falcons barely lost. This time around, the contest will be hosted in Atlanta, and the Falcons appear to be filled with confidence, and ready to explode and give their home crowd a thrill. The Seahawks are still tough, still a battle-tested playoff team, and they clearly have more valuable recent playoff experience than does Atlanta. So, both teams bring something into this game which should make them believe that they can come away with the victory. In the end, however, someone has to win. And the Falcons right now are hot, having won their last four straight. Seattle can still appear dominant, as they did last weekend against Detroit. But they have been surprisingly inconsistent all season, and have not appeared to be the same team that we have gotten used to in recent years. It will be extremely difficult for them to win, and even though they can win if they play at their best and set the tempo from the start, doing it is not guaranteed. I suspect that the Falcons get off to an early start and jump out to a decent lead, and ultimately, that they provide their home fans a playoff win in this game. My pick; Atlanta
Houston at New England - Okay, so this is the upcoming game that I suspect will be the least competitive and suspenseful. Why? Because the Texans made it this far by being in the worst division in the league, and then lucking out last in last weekend's wildcard game by hosting a team that had just lost it's best player and star quarterback. No such luck this weekend, though, as they travel to frigid New England, where they were eliminated in a blowout in 2012. In the all-time series between these two teams, the Pats have won seven of the eight meetings, and have never lost at home to the Texans. When the two teams met earlier this season, the Patriots won 27-0, and that was without Tom Brady! The Patriots have a tough but underrated defense, and we all know how good that offense can be. They are dripping with playoff experience, and have both one of the greatest quarterbacks and one of the best head coaches in the history of the game. Since Brady returned in October, the Patriots have compiled an 11-1 mark, the best in the league during that time span. Heading into this game, they seem to hold all the cards, as every advantage goes in their favor. It is just very hard to imagine the Texans managing to overcome all of that to pull off what would truly be one of the most shocking playoff upsets in history, and not only am I not brave enough at this point to predict an upset, I just really fail to see any reason why Houston would even have any real shot at it. I know, I know, anything is possible on any given Sunday. But Houston would have to do something truly incredible - legendary, even - to even have a shot in this one. Frankly, there is nothing that the Texans have shown, in this season or in the last one, to suggest that they are up to the task. Frankly, they would be lucky to keep this even somewhat interesting by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. My pick: New England
Pittsburgh at Kansas City - Now, this game could go either way. While the Pats-Texans match-up seems like a mismatch right from the start, this game is a much tougher one to call. Both teams come in with a lot to offer, and plenty of reasons to believe that they can pull this one out. The Steelers won their last seven regular season games, and looked dominating in their Wildcard win against Miami. The Chiefs, however, fought hard to overcome a deficit to win the AFC West, which is one of the toughest divisions in the league, and can boast a perfect record against their division foes, which included the Raiders and the defending champion Broncos, who surely would have qualified for the playoffs if they were in a lesser division. These two teams did meet earlier this season, and Pittsburgh won that contest in a blowout win. However, the Chiefs have had time to prepare since then, and have home field advantage for this game. Since starting off last season at 1-5, the Chiefs have compiled a 23-5 mark, which is surely one of the best during that stretch. They got hot in last year's playoffs, too, shutting out the Texans in Houston, 30-0, and then giving the Pats all that they could handle up in New England. Now, with home field advantage, the question is whether they will be that much more determined, or if the pressure, and Pittsburgh's play, will get to them. The Steelers are pretty hot themselves, and their offense is always very dangerous. Plus, their defense reminded viewers of the old Steel Curtain with that dominant win against Miami. This is one of those games that is extremely tough to call, but I guess that it has to be done. I will go with the home team. My pick: Kansas City
Green Bay at Dallas - This game renews a classic rivalry that dates back to the 1960's and the Ice Bowl, when the two teams fought in two consecutive championship games for the right to reach the first two Super Bowls. Green Bay won those particular contests, but the Cowboys seemed to own the cheese heads in the 1990's. But they met two years ago, in a game that featured many, if not most, of the players who will take the field for this one. That game was in Lambeau Field, and the Packers benefited from a call that Dallas fans still fume about - the catch by Dez Bryant that was not ruled a catch. Many Cowboys fans feel cheated, and this will be their chance to get back at Green Bay. The 'Boys will be hosting this game, and they enjoyed the most successful record in the NFC, winning every meaningful game against every team except the New York Giants, who were eliminated (and the meaningless loss to the Eagles two weeks ago, when Dallas starters rested up for the playoffs). After the incredible success that Dallas enjoyed this season, which included a solid road win up at Lambeau Field, the Cowboys have every right to believe that they can and should win this one. However, the Packers team that Dallas beat on that day is not the same one that they will face in this contest. Earlier in the season, Green Bay appeared decidedly vulnerable, and Aaron Rodgers particularly looked like a shadow of the quarterback that he usually is. But then he stated boldly, after a blowout loss, that the Pack could run the table, and that there was a very good chance that they would. Since then, Green Bay has pulled off seven straight, including the Wildcard win against the Giants last weekend. They are one of the hottest teams in the league, and come into this one with a head full of steam, fully believing that they can win. That makes this a huge contest, and a tough one to call. Both teams are loaded with talent, and there are good arguments to be made for either team winning. But only one of them can in the end, right? Now, here is where I take a chance, because I think that Green bay being hot matters, even on the road against the best overall regular season team in the NFC. Dallas earned the number one pick, and they have a bright future with a star rookie quarterback and a star rookie running back, plus a solid offensive line. But I see Green Bay pulling this one off. My pick: Green Bay