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NFL Divisional Round Preview
Updated: April 2018

Kansas City @ New England
After starting the season 10-0, the Patriots are just 2-4 in their last six games. They still earned a bye in the Wild Card round of the postseason, but now a very hot Kansas City team visits Gillette Stadium next Saturday. It was just 15 months ago that head coach Bill Belichick and his Patriots were embarrassed by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football. After the 41-14 defeat, Belichick’s squad rallied and won 13 of 15 games including Super Bowl XLIX. New England will need to be sharp if it is to have a shot at winning Super Bowl 50.

For the Chiefs, it will come down to defense. Patriots QB Tom Brady leads one of the NFL’s best passing attacks. New England averages 287 yards per game in the air. The Patriots should have WR Julian Edelman back to complement TE Rob Gronkowski. Kansas City pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali need to put some pressure on Brady though it may not matter with the number of quick throws in the Patriots offense.

A win will be hard to come by for Kansas City who might have to play without their leading receiver, Jeremy Maclin. Maclin suffered an ankle injury and is listed as day-to-day. Even if he plays, Maclin may not be 100 percent which will allow the Patriots defense to load up on the Chiefs running game. The Patriots return the favor for last year’s beat down… New England 34, Kansas City 17.

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Green Bay @ Arizona
The Packers win over Washington in the Wild Card round earned them another shot at Arizona. Green Bay is hoping for anything other than what happened on Dec. 27. In a 38-8 Cardinals domination of the Packers, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times. Two of Rodgers’ fumbles were returned for touchdowns and the Cardinals defense held him to a season-low 151 passing yards. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals offense was as efficient as ever. QB Carson Palmer completed 18-of-27 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown. Another performance like that and the Cardinals will easily punch their ticket to the NFC title game.

Green Bay is going to have to get creative on offense and allow Rodgers to gain some consistency in throwing the ball. Whether it is short, timing throws or crossing routes that allow receivers to come open quickly, the Packers cannot do what they did on Dec. 27 or they can keep the plane running for the trip back home. Green Bay struggled last week against Washington until pulling away late. It’s hard to envision the Packers having much success in Arizona… Arizona 33, Green Bay 28.

Seattle @ Carolina
Who would have thought Seattle would have another shot at an NFC title after starting the season 2-4? The offense, playing most of the year without RB Marshawn Lynch and TE Jimmy Graham, came to life averaging over 32 points a game over the second half of the season. That is thanks in large part to QB Russell Wilson (34 TD passes) and the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.

Carolina was on the verge of becoming the second team to go 16-0 in the regular season before an upset loss to Atlanta. QB Cam Newton is having an MVP-type season with a career high 35 TD passes. He is the team’s second-leading rusher and has 10 touchdowns on the ground. Back in October when these two teams met, it was Newton’s 26-yard TD pass to TE Greg Olsen in the closing seconds that gave Carolina a 27-23 victory. The Seahawks have had success against Carolina in the past. Since the arrival of Pete Carroll, Seattle was 5-0 against the Panthers prior to this season. That includes two blowout playoff losses in 2005 and 2014. Seattle won at Minnesota last week on a missed last-second field goal in freezing conditions. Can they pull off another upset? Anything is possible… Seattle 28, Carolina 27.

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Pittsburgh @ Denver
In yet another rematch in the postseason, the Steelers will face a Denver team that they beat just last month…in Denver. Can they do it again? It may much tougher this time around as the status of QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown are uncertain. The Steeler QB was knocked out of last week’s Wild Card round game after a hit by Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict in the third quarter. Then, on the Steelers final drive, Burfict put a devastating hit on Brown that helped put Pittsburgh in position to kick the game-winning field goal. If Roethlisberger or Brown does not play, the Steeler offense will struggle.

Denver will start Peyton Manning at quarterback. In the first meeting between the two teams, it was Brock Osweiler who led the Broncos to a 27-10 lead in the first half only to fall victim to a furious Steelers comeback. Osweiler was benched against San Diego as the Denver running game pounded out 220 yards. Will they be able to run against a very good Pittsburgh defense? Probably not to the tune of over 200 yards, but if they can have some success and allow Manning to get into a groove the Broncos will reach another AFC title game.

The Steelers may have to rely on the unlikely pair of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman once again to handle their running back duties. DeAngelo Williams is still hurt and may miss Sunday’s game. Toussaint and Todman combined for 183 yards against Cincinnati. If either or both Roethlisberger or Brown misses Sunday’s game, it may be up to this pair to guide the Steelers to victory. That probably won’t happen… Denver 28, Pittsburgh 17. USA Sportsbook
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