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The Higher They Rise, The Higher They Fall
Well, that was fun while it lasted. After the Columbus Blue Jackets had flirted with hockey history, winning 16-straight games, their streak was broken with a 5-0 shutout loss to the Washington Capitals. The Blue Jackets dropped their next game, a 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers, before returning to their winning ways with a 2-1 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers. We pointed to the goaltending as a major player in the Blue Jackets’ winning streak; Columbus netminders allowed 10 goals in their two losses, the most in a two-game span all season. For the feel-good story of the NHL to continue, Sergei Bobrovsky will need to regain his old form for Columbus to return to their winning ways.
AFC Divisional Round – All Roads Lead to New England
The Houston Texans won their first playoff game in RNG Stadium, but it’s probably the only game they’ll play there this postseason. Their next test looms large at Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots handled Houston 27-0 with a third-string quarterback in Week 3. Now, with their four-time Super Bowl champion and two-time MVP under center, the Patriots will look to ride Tom Brady and his 112.2 passer rating to reach their sixth-consecutive AFC Championship game.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers battle for the right to a plane ticket to Foxboro, Mass. (assuming New England holds strong at home). The Chiefs epitomized a bend-don’t-break defense, allowing the 9th-most yards in the NFL, and only giving up the 7th-fewest points in the league. That gap is the largest across football and has worked for Kansas City so far. Opposing quarterbacks completed only 55.7% of passes at Arrowhead Stadium, another important stat to keep in mind as temperatures approach the 30s this weekend.
The top two seeds move on, as Kansas City and New England will square off with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
NFC Divisional Round – Big Offenses and Big Defenses
If there’s anyone more excited than the Green Bay Packers about the New York Giants being eliminated, it’s the Dallas Cowboys. The team who dropped two games by a combined four points against the Giants will not have to face them for a third time this season. Unfortunately, they will have to face the white-hot Aaron Rodgers and Packers squad who has won seven-consecutive games, almost all of which were must-win games. Assuming this is a close game late, Dallas has the edge, holding a 6-2 record in games decided by fewer than seven points (their only losses coming to the Giants); Green Bay went 2-3 in similar games. However, assuming this is a close game late, can you really go against Rodgers these days?
Have the Seattle Seahawks regained their form? We talked last week about their excellence at home; they take their defense to Atlanta where they’ll face one of the best quarterbacks of the season in Matt Ryan. Seattle’s defense is heralded as one of the best in the league, and rightfully so. The Seahawks have allowed the third-fewest points, fifth-fewest yards, and fourth-fewest yards per play this season. Matt Ryan probably doesn’t care about that. Head to the NFL leaderboards, and you’ll see that Ryan completed the ninth-most passes, threw for the second-most yards and touchdowns, and led the league with an 117.1 passer rating. At home, where most comfortable, Ryan and the Falcons are a formidable force.
Green Bay continues their streak, and Atlanta holds on to advance to the NFC Championship game.
Matt Tardiff is the resident stathead at ChinMusicPod.com, and will take a 3-1 record in playoff predictions any week of the year. If you want to make your own, let him know on Twitter @StatTardiff. As always, check back next Tuesday for more stats.