In the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, which kicks off this weekend, all four games are rematches from the regular season. The Saturday afternoon game features the Seahawks and Falcons in a reprise of their Week 11 matchup, while the nightcap has the Texans in Foxboro to square off with the Patriots again.
The first time Houston visited New England, the Patriots were without Tom Brady, who was serving his four-game suspension for DeflateGate. Despite the star QB’s absence, the Pats easily dispatched the Texans, 27-0. With Brady back in the lineup this time around, many fans give the Texans no shot to win. The Patriots enter the game as 16-point favorites.
With the game set to air on CBS at 8:00 pm ET Saturday night, NFL legend and current CBS NFL Today analyst Tony Gonzalez weighed in with his thoughts on this and other divisional round matchups.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots – Jan. 14, 8:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: The Patriots won 27-0 in the regular season without Tom Brady. Now Brady’s back, and the Pats are 16-point favorites. What’s the blueprint, if there is one, for the Texans pulling an upset?
Tony Gonzalez: Maybe Tom Brady doesn’t show up to the game? This is a tough, tough challenge for the Houston Texans to go in there and win. Nobody is expecting them to go in there and win. I don’t even think Houston fans are expecting them to go in there and get this W. But, I bet everyone in that locker room thinks that they have a shot. If they’re going to get it done, they’re going to have to play great defense, which is what their strength is, and stop Tom Brady. They’re pretty good against the pass — second in the NFL — but the Patriots can also run the ball with LeGarrette Blount. I anticipate seeing a lot of him running the ball. If they can stop the run and do what they’ve done against the pass, then they have a chance to be successful.
But they also have to put up points. Brock Osweiler is so hot and cold. He’s going to have to play a perfect game. The defense is going to have to play a perfect game. Special teams, no turnovers, [and] they have to get some turnovers. It’s going to be a tough challenge for them to go up there and get that victory.
CBS Local Sports: Does Brock Osweiler’s performance last week give you confidence in his ability to be the starting guy going forward?
Gonzalez: He played pretty well last week considering what he’s done. I’m happy for the guy. I said it on our show earlier this year, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Brock Osweiler yet. This is really his rookie year. He had started only seven games at the beginning of this season. He’s having some growing pains, which is normal for 99% of quarterbacks, and he played pretty well last week. But, at the same time, even if he plays as well as he did last week, he has to play better than that. He has to play a lot better than that.
He has to be an accurate quarterback, smart. Don’t turn the ball over, which he didn’t last week, and he had some good completions. But he has to pick it up even more. We’re talking about the New England Patriots. This is a dynasty team here with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, in Foxboro. They don’t lose at home, especially when they’re the number one seed in the playoffs. He has to play an outstanding game, something that people are going to look back [on]. It has to be a memorable game in NFL history. He has to play that well for them to win.
CBS Local Sports: What’s the key matchup to watch in this game?
Gonzalez: Jadeveon Clowney against the Patriots offensive line. This is his breakout year now that he’s healthy, and he’s proven a lot of people wrong. If he can go out there and continue what he did last week… He played pretty well against the Raiders, but, if you can do it against Tom Brady, talk about making your mark. Everybody is excited about Jadeveon Clowney — and they should be — but he can take it to another level this week. He could say all that hype was worth it, and I am one of the best, and I’m going to be one of the best defenders in the NFL.
If he can make Brady uncomfortable in that pocket, then that’s the chance they have. Just like the Denver Broncos, you’ve got to get Brady uncomfortable when he’s dropping back for that pass. Jadeveon Clowney has a chance to make an impact on this game.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons – Jan. 14, 4:35 p.m. ET
CBS Local Sports: On to another matchup now, as Seattle heads to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Atlanta lost a tough one when these two teams met in the regular season, but Matt Ryan had a big game. Do you think he can do it again this weekend?
Gonzalez: I don’t see why not. Matt is playing at an all-time high. He’s, to me, the MVP of the NFL this year. He did play well against them earlier, I don’t think he’s had a bad game this season, but now he’s at home too. They’re not out there in Seattle this time. Everybody is healthy, and Matt is poised for a big-time playoff run as he further solidifies that he is an elite quarterback. Obviously, I played with him. I’m so happy that he’s been able to play this type of season and just prove so many people wrong.
He has a big chance going against a great defense — you know Seattle’s going to come in there ready to roll. They played their best game this past week, which you knew they would because Pete Carroll always has a way of getting them to peak come playoff time. It’s going to be a tough challenge for the Falcons, but that offense, they have too many weapons. They have two guys who are playmakers in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Julio Jones and [Steelers’] Antonio Brown are the best receivers in the NFL. Plus, they have Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. They have a lot of weapons, and Ryan throws it to everybody. He has a chance to pick up where he left off in the regular season, and I don’t see why he can’t.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Jan. 15, 8:20 p.m. ET
CBS Local Sports: The first time these teams played, the Steelers offense exploded for 43 points. The Chiefs defense has been pretty stingy this season aside from that game. What do you expect this time around, especially considering how good Andy Reid teams have been in his career coming off a bye?
Gonzalez: That’s the big plus for me. He [Reid] has had two weeks to prepare for this game. You knew Pittsburgh was going to win their first game [against the Dolphins], so he’s been preparing for the Steelers. [With] his record — 16-2 regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs — it’s going to be a tough challenge for Pittsburgh to come into Arrowhead and win. Everybody is coming back. Justin Houston is going to be back in the lineup on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s going to be a huge plus for them.
Then, on offense, Jeremy Maclin, he’s an X-factor to me. Coming into this season, he was their number one receiver, but he has been banged up. Now, with Tyreek Hill and the running backs they have, and Travis Kelce with Alex Smith. [Smith] is not going to turn the ball over, and he’s going to make smart throws. This team, at home, it’s going to be tough for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they’re vibing too. The Chiefs’ biggest problem is going to be Le’Veon Bell and can they stop Le’Veon Bell. If they can at least contain him, then they’re going to have a chance to come out on top.