NFL Football has ended in Houston for the year with the Texans' loss to the Chiefs last week. But that doesn't mean the NFL has shuttered for the season.
There are four playoff games being held this weekend. Each of the eight teams playing possesses a strong defense, multiple receiving options, and established quarterbacks. Your Houston Texans have two of those three things.
Finally, rounding out the weekend, the Steelers (and what's left of Ben Roethlisberger's arm at this point) are travelling to Mile High Stadium to take on the Broncos (and the remains of Peyton Manning's arm and foot) Sunday at 3:40 p.m. CST on CBS.
And now, for your Masthead predictions for each of the divisional round games:
Chiefs at Patriots: Even with Rob Gronkowski listed as questionable, I don't see the Chiefs being able to stopTom Brady enough. Offensively, the Chiefs are without Jeremy Maclin, and Spencer Ware is listed as questionable. For me, that's too much missing against the slightly above average NE defense. Plus, there's no Brian Hoyer to gift the Chiefs points. Patriots 20, Chiefs 17.
Packers at Cardinals: Even with the Honey Badger out, the Cardinals might be the best team in the league. Both offensively and defensively, they clearly over-match the Packers. I don't see this game as particularly close, either. Cardinals 31, Packers 13.
Seahawks at Panthers: On a weekend of fantastic match-ups - this weekend is one of my favorites all year - I think this is the best game. Both teams are similar, built around fantastic defenses and all-world quarterbacks. The difference for me is that Russell Wilson has more available talent than does Cam Newton. If Kelvin Benjamin is healthy, I might lean Carolina. As is, I'm taking Seattle. Seahawks 23, Panthers 16.
Steelers at Broncos: The Steelers were the team nobody wanted to face in the playoffs. Then DeAngelo Williams got hurt, and Antonio Brown's concussion does appear to be real, regardless of Adam Jones' medical advice. Ben Roethlisberger has a torn up throwing shoulder, as well. Suddenly, that high-powered offense is shooting blanks. Facing the best defense in the nation this year, I don't think this all bodes well. The Broncos won't need to do much to win, and they'll do just enough. Broncos 24, Steelers 20.
KC @ NE: Gronk might not be 100%, but Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola should both be back to help take some of the slack. Tom Brady in the playoffs is the closest thing the NFL has to an unstoppable force, and that goes double when he has all of his favorite targets available. KC's offense without Maclin simply cannot keep up with that. Patriots 27 - Chiefs 16.
GB @ ARI: The Cardinals are arguably the most complete team in the entire NFL, and I cannot envision Green Bay going back into the desert and avenging their embarrassing meltdown of a loss from a few weeks ago. The offensive line isn't good enough, the receivers aren't good enough, and the defense isn't good enough. They honestly just aren't at that level right now. Cardinals 30 - Packers 13.
SEA @ CAR: I honestly don't know who will win this game. If there was ever a game between a first seed and a sixth seed that was too close to call, this one would be it. My gut says Seattle...but narrowly. Seahawks 24 - Panthers 23.
PIT vs. DE: Antonio Brown is out. Big Ben has torn ligaments in his shoulder. Denver's defense wants revenge for torching them earlier this season. I can't see this one ending very well for Pittsburgh. Broncos 27 - Steelers 13.
Chiefs v. Patriots: The Patriots are wounded, but give me Tom Brady throwing to the Ghost of Troy Brown or give me death. Patriots 24, Chiefs 17.Packers v. Cardinals: While it's possible Aaron Rodgers puts Green Bay on his back and has himself an all-time performance against a stout Arizona defense, I think it's rather unlikely. The Cardinals are just too much. Cardinals 31, Packers 20.Seahawks v. Panthers: I spent a good deal of the 2015 season waiting for Carolina to break. They didn't. They are legit. Allow me to be the 1,569,412th person to state that it's nonsensical for the NFC's No. 1 seed to get rewarded with a matchup with Seattle in the divisional round. This should be the game of the weekend. I'll take Russell Wilson and a timely forced turnover from the Seahawks' defense late in the game by a razor-thin margin. Seahawks 21, Panthers 20.Steelers v. Broncos: Somehow, some way, the chips have fallen in a fashion that presents the Broncos with a great opportunity to waltz into the AFC Championship Game. If Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were healthy, I'd take the Steelers. They're not, and even Gary Kubiak cannot manage to screw this up. It will be closer than it should be, though. Broncos 23, Steelers 17.
Chiefs vs. Patriots: I'm tempted to pick the Chiefs here. It's not like the Patriots haven't lost at home in the playoffs in recent years, plus I just like the "feel" of the Chiefs right now. I know we're kinda all down on the Texans right now, but the fact that the Chiefs went on the road, into a LOUD hostile environment, and not only beat Houston but beat them rather easily in all phases of the game speaks highly of their mindset and preparation. That said, I really think the Patriots are saving their best run for the playoffs. Though they haven't looked quite as dominant lately, I think New England pulls this one out in an instant classic. Patriots 29, Chiefs 27.Packers vs. Cardinals: It's tempting to say "Green Bay is back" and fall back on the greatness of Aaron Rodgers, but this Cardinals team may very well be the best in the NFL. I think this one stays close a while and Arizona blows it open late. Cardinals 31, Packers 17.Seahawks vs. Panthers: Rough, physical game on tap. Marshawn Lynch (apparently) is returning, and Carolina will be stout as always. Very tempted to take the Seahawks here but I think the Panthers are too focused, too physical, and too good to be knocked off this early in the playoffs. Despite how good and battle-hardened Seattle is at this point, I don't see the paper tiger in Carolina that apparently a lot of folks detect. Panthers 24, Seahawks 20.Steelers vs. Broncos: A few weeks back, given this matchup - I would have picked the Steelers on the road without any hesitation. But those injuries, they take a toll. Chiefly, DeAngelo Williams. You get something out of him you don't get out of those picking up the slack behind him. I really think this team can weather the storm of losing Antonio Brown, as they have excellent WR depth... far more damaging is that Ben Roethlisberger is apparently going to play, but if his shoulder injury is still limiting to the point where Pittsburgh can't even threaten to take the top off of the defense with deep shots - PLUS not having Williams in the run game - it's just too much to overcome. I have a ton of respect for the Steelers and Mike Tomlin - but it's just too much. Still I think the game is close. Broncos 30, Steelers 27.
KC v NE: Bad news has been coming out of Foxboro about health and hospital visits this week. But I know better than to count any Belichick-coached team out, so I'm going with NE. Pats 24 - Chiefs 10GB v AZ: I am a GB fan, and I love them almost as much as I love the Texans, but they have struggled this entire season since Jordy Nelson went down injury. Sam Shields might finally be returning from his concussion, but Carson Palmer's team has been going strong all season. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best QBs of all time, but it won't be enough to overcome a better team. Cardinals win. Cards 27 - Packers 20SEA v CAR: The Seahawks have turned it on at the right time, and Marshawn Lynch has declared that he's recovered and ready to play. Cam Newton's men have been ready all season, and won't make mistakes for the 'Hawks defense to capitalize on. Panthers win. Panthers 27 - Seahawks 17PIT v DEN: Big Ben is injured, but will play anyways, because that's what Big Ben does. But Antonio Brown won't be playing this game, and neither will LeVeon Bell. Gary Kubiak can work within and around Peyton Manning's limitations to craft a victory, especially armed with a defense worth AF. Broncos win. Broncos 24 - Steelers 10
Patriots 28, Chiefs 17Tom Brady's offense has been suspect over the last month due to injuries across the board, but they have had two weeks to rest and heal.Packers 9, Cardinals 24Nobody is stopping Arizona this year, especially that war-torn team from Green Bay.Seahawks 21, Panthers 17Cam Newton's showboat sinks to a Seattle team that is firing on all cylinders right now.Steelers 20, Broncos 21That Denver defense will do just enough to slow down the high-powered offense from Pittsburgh. This one will be a nail-biter to the end with the home team getting the edge.