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Which NFL playoff favorite is most at risk of crashing out in divisional round? - USA TODAY

USA TODAY Sports

Published 4:29 PM EST Jan 11, 2020

Getting a first-round bye might signal a sizable advantage in the divisional round, but fans of the teams playing at home this weekend shouldn't make conference title game plans just yet.

Sure, no team to play on wild-card weekend has reached the Super Bowl since the 2012 campaign. And three of the four outfits hitting the road on Saturday and Sunday are underdogs by seven points or more. But a few of these teams already have experience pulling off upsets, as three of the lower-seeded teams triumphed last weekend.

Whether that trend continues remains to be seen, as only three of USA TODAY Sports' seven prognosticators projected even a single upset ahead.

But with that in mind, we asked NFL writers and editors from USA TODAY Sports and the USA TODAY Network: Which team that had a first-round bye is at greatest risk of crashing out of the playoffs this weekend?

Their answers: 

Nancy Armour

My inclination is to say none of them, given the record of bye-week teams in the divisional round. But of any host team, the most vulnerable would seem to be the Green Bay Packers. Their offense has been inconsistent the entire season, and an extra week isn’t likely to change that. The Seattle Seahawks were also better on the road than at home, going 7-1, and beat Philadelphia last weekend in the wild-card game.

However, injuries have hobbled the Seahawks more than any other team still playing. (More than many that are now home, for that matter.) I’m not sure how well the patchwork offensive line is going to be able to hold up against the likes of Blake Martinez and the Smith Bros., Za’Darius and Preston – especially after a week to rest and get healthy.

But the bigger factor could be the weather. The forecast was not exactly hospitable initially and it’s only gotten worse as the game has gotten closer. A storm that could dump as much as 5-8 inches of snow is expected Saturday, and the game-time temperature will be in the teens, with the wind chill making it feel even colder. No one likes that kind of weather, but the Packers are at least used to it. Or as used to it as anybody can be.

Jarrett Bell

The Packers. Before these playoffs began, I kind of figured Green Bay as ripe to be upset at Lambeau in the divisional round ... but I thought New Orleans would be turning the trick while on the path to the Super Bowl. Oops. Remove New Orleans, insert Seattle. Yeah, I know the Packers are 7-1 at home this season. The Seahawks, though, are 8-1 on the road. Green Bay was 13-3 but outscored opponents on the season by a mere 63 points. Then again, Seattle put together an 11-5 regular season mark and was just 7 points better. No magic formula with the point-differential. Yet there is magic with Russell Wilson, whose done the best quarterbacking of his career this season and has been money away from the Pacific Northwest. He's been so clutch, late in the games. That's an Aaron Rodgers trait, too. But I'll take Wilson, with Beastmode in tow, to take down a No. 2 seed in a match that goes down to the wire. Like all of the Seahawks games.

Nate Davis

I’m glad I don’t have to pick a lock of the week for the upcoming round of NFL playoffs because good luck finding one. Among this week’s road teams, i.e. the ones not coming off a bye, I’d probably be most inclined to pick the Seahawks given they seem fairly evenly matched with the Packers – which is another way of saying that I wouldn’t consider a Green Bay loss as necessarily meaning they “crashed out” of the field. So all that said, while I’m unlikely to vote against top-seeded Baltimore, I’d like to put the Ravens on upset alert. They’re about to encounter a team that might be more smashmouth than they are on both sides of the ball. The Titans are unlikely to explode for the type of 17-0 start many analysts believe is the key to short-circuiting Lamar Jackson and the run-centric offense he orchestrates. Still, a 10-point Tennessee advantage might prove deadly given that team’s ability to grind a clock, keep Jackson off the field and wear down an opposing defense. And when you consider that Jackson and many of his key teammates have been resting for two weeks, considerable risk a rusty team might come up short against a sharp, confident and hot squad.

Jori Epstein

The Packers have the talent to beat the Seahawks, and watching Aaron Rodgers sometimes can make us believe the eight-time Pro Bowler can do anything. (See: October perfect passer-rating game). But…sometimes he doesn’t. Or he does, but not for long enough in the game. The Seahawks travel to Green Bay with just one road loss this year, equivalent to Green Bay’s one home loss. Sure, the Packers are on a five-game winning streak, while the Seahawks lost three of their last four regular-season games. But the Seahawks loss at San Francisco will likely prepare them better for this game than Green Bay’s 3-point win over the disastrous Lions in Week 17. Not to mention Aaron Rodgers completed fewer than half his passes in two of the Packers’ last three games and threw interceptions in their last two.

I have no doubt Rodgers can rebound to clinch a conference championship berth for the fourth time in his career. But will he? We’ll find out soon.

Mike Jones

I picked them to win, but of any of them, I think the Packers could be the most vulnerable. They won five straight to earn the No. 2 seed, but three of those wins came against teams with double-digit loss totals.

The Packers didn't have a lot of statement wins this year. They beat Dallas at Dallas, but the Cowboys weren't actually all that, it turns out, and they beat the Chiefs, but Patrick Mahomes was hurt. They did sweep Minnesota, and they have Aaron Rodgers and a good defense, but this team doesn't quite scream greatness despite their 13-3 record.

They're hosting a really scrappy Seattle team that went 7-1 on the road this year and just won again at Philadelphia. The Seahawks like to run the ball, but the Packers aren't great against the run. Weather conditions could call for a smash-mouth style of game, and Seattle is probably better equipped for that, even though Aaron Jones is coming off of a 1,000-yard, 16-touchdown regular season.

Lorenzo Reyes

I’m going to go with the Packers. I do like what Green Bay has done this year in Matt LaFleur’s first season as an NFL head coach, but the offense still didn’t put forth as many dominant performances late in the season as I was expecting. And inconsistency is not a formula for making a deep run in the playoffs. Running back Aaron Jones has become a solid and dependable factor in the rushing game, but Green Bay was still average all season long in scoring. The Packers ranked 15th in the NFL in points per game with 23.5. Green Bay’s defense under Mike Pettine has been much-improved this season thanks to pass-rushing additions like Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.

Again, Green Bay has solid units on both sides. Solid, but not spectacular. This is more about the strength of Baltimore’s offense (as well as an aggressive, ball-hawking defense), Kansas City’s explosive offense (and a defense that was improving through the end of the regular season), and San Francisco’s dominant defense (as well as its versatile, rush-centric offense). I do like the Packers. Just not as much as I like the Ravens, Chiefs, and 49ers.

Tom Schad

I think we'll see a home-team sweep this weekend, but if I had to pick one, I might actually go with the San Franciso 49ers -- in large part because of who they're playing. That might seem like a strange pick, I know. But the Minnesota Vikings are coming off a massive overtime win over the New Orleans Saints, with a confident quarterback in Kirk Cousins and a defense that played out of its mind against Drew Brees and company last weekend. I still like the 49ers to win, mind you. But if there's one thing the playoffs have taught us over the years, it's that you should never sleep on a lower seed that's picking up steam. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports' NFL coverage on Twitter @usatodaynfl.


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