It’s the divisional round portion of the 2016 NFL playoffs and there are several intriguing match ups this weekend. Here’s a look at the divisional match ups outside of Kansas City, New England.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Three Keys for the Packers
1. Protect A-Rod: The Packers need to do a better job in pass pro than they did three weeks ago when they got drubbed by the Cardinals 38-8. Rodgers was sacked nine times in the game. If the Packers want to have any chance of winning this game, they must protect Rodgers.
2. Run the Football: Arizona is on the smallish side defensively. The Packers need to run the football and try to wear down Arizona’s small but aggressive front.
3. The Secondary Needs to Compete: If the Packers are going to pull off the upset, their secondary needs to step up and play better. They got toasted the last match up. That can’t happen tonight.
Three Keys for the Cardinals
1. Start Fast: Arizona needs to score on the first possession. Put the pressure on the Packers by forcing them to play from behind.
2. Blitz Pick Up: Green Bay will try to help their secondary out at times by bringing pressure. The Cardinals offensive line needs to ID the pressure and pick it up. This is especially important when Green Bay puts Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers on the same side.
3. Front Seven Needs to Gap Control Against the Packers Ground Game: Green Bay is going to come out and try to pound the football. The Cardinals front seven needs to flog gaps and get multiple hats to the ball against Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
Prediction: Cardinals 31 Packers 17: The Packers will play better this time around but it still won’t be enough. Arizona is the better team and after a week off, they’ll take care of business at home.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Three Keys for the Seahawks
1. Get Off to a Good Start Offensively: The Seahawks struggled offensively last week. The cold in Minnesota was a factor. Cold won’t be a factor this week. Seattle needs to play much better in this game.
2. Beast Mode Time: With Marshawn Lynch returning this week, look for Seattle to try to get him going early by getting him some early touches. The Seahawks are more of a passing team now but Lynch can still be a big part of this offense. If Beast Mode gets going early in this one, the Panthers will have a tough time stopping this Seattle offense.
3. Contain Newton: The Seahawks are good defensively but they are not good enough to “shut down” Cam Newton. They have to contain him however. They cannot allow Newton to hurt them on designed running plays. That’s where Newton is at his best and tough to stop. The Seahawks must play tough inside.
Three Keys for the Panthers
1. Give Cam Time: The Seahawks have the best pass rush in football. They can really get after the quarterback. The Panthers need to block up Seattle’s base pressure. Look for Carolina to use more six and seven man protections in this game, especially when the Panthers throw play-action passes.
2. Keep Wilson in the Pocket: The Panthers cannot allow Russell Wilson to break contain and extend plays. They need to build a box around him and force him to step into the pocket. That’s the only to take him out of his game.
3. Heavy Dose of J-Stew: Jonathan Stewart is back and healthy. The Panthers need to unleash him in this one. The best way to slow down Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark is to run at them. The Panthers need to be physical with Seattle’s defensive line.
Prediction: Seattle 24 Carolina 21: The Seahawks were spared last week. They’ll take advantage of their second chance by beating the Panthers and advancing to the NFC Championship game.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Three Keys for the Steelers
1. Cater the Gameplan to Big Ben’s Arm: Roethlisberger shouldn’t be playing in this game but it’s a playoff game, so he’s playing. He’s not at a full strength and he can’t push the ball down field in the passing game. Look for the Steelers to throw more perimeter screens, three step passes and play action passes. It’s the only way Roethlisberger can play in this game and be somewhat effective.
2. Pound Away! The Steelers will be leaning on Fitz Toussaint and Jordan Todman in this game heavily. They need to run the football and take pressure off of Roethlisberger and a Steelers defense that is prone to giving up big plays.
3. Make Manning Beat You: Yeah, I never thought I’d see the day where I would say “Make Manning beat you” buts that’s what the Steelers need to defensively. They cannot allow Denver’s ground game to get going because if it does, then Pittsburgh is in big trouble.
Three Keys for Denver
1. Manning Can’t Turn the Ball Over: Peyton Manning has been notorious for turning the ball over in big playoff games. He cannot turn the ball over against an undermanned Steelers team that will need breaks in order to win this game.
2. Bring the Heat Defensively: Given his injury, Roethlisberger will be a sitting duck. Look for the Broncos to blitz the hell out of him. Broncos DC Wade Phillips will bring pressure on a consistent basis as he should.
3. Play Like the Better Team: The Broncos are the better team in this game. They were last year against Indy and lost. They can’t have a repeat this year. Pittsburgh is a wounded animal. The Broncos need to put them down!
Prediction: Broncos 28 Steelers 14: The Steelers can’t win this game with a banged up Ben Roethlisberger and no Antonio Brown. Denver will win and advance to the AFC Championship game.