The action in SSG FOF moves to the divisional round with 4 match-ups on the schedule.
Falcons @ Panthers
Fascinating match-ups in the NFC division weekend. Playoff veterans Atlanta head to Carolina in a blockbuster match-up which pits league MVP Matt Ryan (47-30) against.. well Panthers fans wish the name that follows would be Cam Newton (56-28) but unfortunately it is going to be Earl Brice (2-0). A mismatch then? How can the Panthers cope with the season ending injury to probable MVP Newton?
The answer surprisingly appears to be they can cope very well. Brice has 2 wins to his name and the last was in week 16 when he lead the Panthers to a 34-30 win over the very same Falcons. It was a game that could easily have gone the other way but for a big defensive stand which saw WR Binney drop Ryans’ 4th and goal pass from the 3 yard line.
The Panthers D, like many others had no answer to Julio Jones but did enough to keep Ryan from being comfortable while Brice hit 7 different receivers keeping the Falcons D a little off-balance. The problem for Brice is the Falcons coach Andrew has had another week to plot how to stop Brice. Add in the Falcons edge in the running game – 2nd year Myles Exner averages nearly 6 ypc behind a hugely impressive line anchored by LT Jake Matthews and if you are a Panthers fan you have reason to fear Sunday’s game. Edge: Falcons
Rams @ Bears
While the first game is a match-up of playoff perennials, the second pits two teams both in their first playoffs. The Rams retreat job on Brock Osweiler is complete and can be called an unqualified success. Osweiler has thrown 7 ints – a career low in guiding St Louis to the divisional round. Meanwhile the Bears’ Jay Cutler has thrown 17 (vs 15 TDs) which is a concern. FL Kevin White is 7th in receptions with a reliability that suits Cutler’s QB style. The Bears pass D is up to the job of containing Osweiler providing they can get some heat on him.
The numbers are mixed but if Kent Mojica fires the Bears can win. On D the Rams simply cannot be run on. They pride themselves on preventing opposition runners big gains and are 1st in rush yards and 3rd in ypc. Meanwhile a steady diet of Todd Gurley rammed down opposition throats allows the Rams OL to beat up on opposing front 7s. Everything points to a Rams win but the Bears are unbeaten at Soldier Field and this could be a huge leveller. Edge: Rams
Browns @ Raiders
Over in the AFC the defending champion Raiders host the surprising Browns. Devante Ratte is playing at MVP level and simply cannot be single-teamed. The 2018 draft overall #1 pick had 16 sacks in the regular season and another 40 knockdowns. He is a phenomenal player and the Raiders will know he has to be managed. Fortunately for Oakland one of their best players, RT Donald McMahon will primarily be responsible for managing Ratte and he could just be up to the task.
Could the Browns switch Ratte to line-up opposite the aging Andrew Whitworth? Will he be as effective if Coach Flesfader risks it? Dave is an excellent coach and he will know he starts as big underdog but after the Browns destroyed SD in the wild card game perhaps momentum is with the visiting team. For their part Oakland is on a 9 game win streak but will Damon still be having nightmares about week 3 when the Browns destroyed the Raiders 54-19? Will Johnny Manziel play that well ever again? Come to that will he even play in this game? He is listed as probable and Wayne Jarrell did pretty well in wild card play. For me it comes down to Chris Beach. If he gets 100 + yards and the Raiders can control the pace of the game they’ll win. If it gets scrappy, expect a far closer game. Edge: Raiders
Bills @ Jaguars
Finally the Bills travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars who are a little beat up. The Jags picked Pete Garner #1 overall in 2019 and the rookie has shown flashes of brilliance while battling injuries. Nate has wisely added some quality at BQ and whether Garner plays or BQ Porter sees time, the Jags will be confident they have enough to see off the playoff veteran Bills. Sadly for Bills fans, their former great FL Robert Woods is injured and will not take the field for the Jags. The Garner (or Porter) to Calvin Johnson will be keeping the Bills defensive coaches up at night. Johnson will fancy his chances against whoever the Bills can field in the secondary and a big game threatens.
The Bills did however overcome a dangerous QB / WR combo in the wildcard round with TJ Yates taking his TD total for the season to 35, 19 of which have gone to either SE Watkins or TE Church. Like the Panthers the Bills are effectively starting their BQ but unlike the Panthers, the gap between the Bills QB and BQ is much smaller. The Jags offensive line and RBs have out-performed the Bills and their performance remains the key battleground. Edge: Jags