Rookies On a Mission
All eyes will be on Dallas as rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott make their highly anticipated playoff debuts this weekend against the Green Bay Packers. Elliott anchored one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, rushing for 1,631 yards and 15 TDs, while Prescott threw for 3,667 yards and 23 TDs against only four interceptions. Earlier this season, Dallas went into Green Bay and dominated Aaron Rodgers’ crew by a score of 30-16, handling Green Bay on both sides of the ball. While this Rodgers-led Packers team has become much more dangerous since October, Dallas has evolved as a team as well. Prescott has developed much needed chemistry with wide receiver Dez Bryant and has efficiently spread the ball around the offense. While these rookies face a tall task on Sunday, they are more than up for the challenge.
No More Excuses for Matty Ice
Matt Ryan has been waiting for this moment ever since that fateful January Sunday in 2012. The Atlanta Falcons jumped out to an early 17-0 lead at the Georgia Dome over the San Francisco 49ers, only to see that lead dwindle to the point where they walked out of their home stadium with their heads down following a losing 28-24. Ryan — now the leading candidate to win the MVP — is laced with more weapons than ever before, including receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman. This Saturday, Ryan will welcome an always-dangerous Seattle Seahawks team into the Georgia Dome. The Falcons lost to the Seahawks in Week 5 by a score of 26-24 at CenturyLink Field. This time around, Seattle will be playing at Ryan’s house and without safety Earl Thomas. Matty Ice is out of excuses. It’s time for a breakthrough in Atlanta.
Winners and Losers
The Falcons rolled into the postseason clicking on all cylinders on offense. Ryan was effectively distributing the ball to his capable receivers, led by All-Pro Julio Jones. Head Coach Dan Quinn’s defense has been able to crank the heat up on opposing quarterbacks by using breakout linebacker Vic Beasely Jr. and his 15.5 sacks.
The Falcons also have the ability to thread defenses through the dual threat of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both pass-catching running backs that can cause defensive coordinators fits. The Seattle Seahawks come into this game on a positive note, having throttled the Detroit Lions 26-6 in the Wild Card Round. Darrell Bevell’s offense rediscovered their ground attack that game as Thomas Rawls rushed for 161 yards and 1 TD. Seattle’s secondary continued to weather the storm without play-making free safety Earl Thomas, anchoring the middle of the field as they effectively shut down Matt Stafford’s passing attack. Seattle’s tackles will struggle in one-on-one match-ups with Atlanta’s edge rushers, but should find success through the air. Matt Ryan expressed his confidence in throwing against this banged up Seattle secondary. Ryan nearly took down Seattle in Week 5 away from the Georgia Dome. Expect him and his teammates to exact revenge this weekend in a classic shootout.
Prediction: Atlanta 31, Seattle 28
The headlining match-up of the weekend features the dynamic duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott taking on the red-hot Green Bay Packers, led by MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will have to survive this encounter without leading receiver Jordy Nelson — out with broken ribs. The Packers staved off the New York Giants in Wild Card Weekend with a patch-work secondary led by Damarious Randall and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. The Cowboys have ridden the magical rookie seasons of Prescott and Elliott. Elliott led the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in the NFL, headlined by All-Pros Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith. The Packers boast the eighth-best rushing defense in the NFL, but Green Bay’s secondary struggled at first against New York receivers Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepherd. Expect Prescott to look for Dez Bryant early and often.
Prediction: Dallas 28, Green Bay 24