Coming into the postseason, the Patriots owned the easiest path to the Super Bowl, by far. By virtue of securing the No. 1 seed and the favorites all winning in the wild-card round, New England needed to get past the Texans, win one more home game and they'd be in Houston for a chance to get the fifth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.
That's not asking too much. And the Patriots did get past the Texans, handling business by picking off Brock Osweiler three times and putting away Houston 34-16 after leading by just four points at halftime. A win is a win, obviously, but the Pats weren't great.
Tom Brady threw two interceptions against Houston, the same number he threw during the entire regular season. He shouldn't be hammered too hard for his receivers tipping balls that fell into the Texans' hands, but Brady wasn't sharp and missed plenty of throws. He ended up completing less than 50 percent of his passes and finished with just a 68.6 quarterback rating.
Brady was pressured on 36.6 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and completed only 46.2 percent of his passes on those plays. He took some pretty big shots, including a monster hit from Jadeveon Clowney.
Defensively, New England was fine, but it's hard to judge anything against Osweiler. Look at these things -- they're layups:
This game should've been closer. The Texans trailed 24-13 late in the third quarter when Osweiler threw a beautiful deep pass that nailed rookie Will Fuller in the hands. There's no excuse for it not being a touchdown other than Fuller has a habit of dropping passes.
It wasn't all bad. Dion Lewis looked like the dominant player he was before last season's ACL injury, and he became the first player in postseason history with a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a return touchdown in the same game. If he's starting to peak at the right time, it's a huge plus for the Patriots.
Brady probably won't be as bad in the next game, either. You might have heard he has played pretty well in the playoffs in his career, and it's not hard to imagine the Patriots bouncing back from a poor outing in a big way.
They ultimately covered a historical spread and won handily, but this was hardly the most impressive effort from New England. The stakes are getting higher and the competition is about to be much better.
The postseason doesn't count when it comes to MVP votes, but if there were any concern about Matt Ryan being the most valuable player in the NFL this year, it should've been laid to rest with his performance against the Seahawks.
The Falcons quarterback became the first player ever to throw for 300-plus yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Seahawks under Pete Carroll, slicing and dicing his way through Seattle's defense to help Atlanta win handily.
Detractors lately have decided to try and peg Ryan's success on having Julio Jones. Don't let them fool you -- Ryan is feeding tons of receivers. All told he completed passes to eight different offensive weapons, including Mohamed Sanu, the offseason acquisition who caught a touchdown pass Saturday.
There's a good argument the Falcons have the most depth of any team when it comes to the skill positions. Between Julio, Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta is absolutely loaded.
The Falcons won't be favored if chalk keeps winning, however. Dallas is slated to be a 5-point favorite if the Cowboys end up hosting the Falcons (they play Green Bay tomorrow afternoon). If the Packers pull the upset, the Falcons would be a 4-point favorite over the Packers in what would definitely be the final game at the Georgia Dome.
The good news is Atlanta's victory guarantees us an exciting entrant to the Super Bowl from the NFC. All of Dallas, Green Bay and Atlanta offer strong storylines and high-octane offense. Of the three, the Falcons might secretly be the most dangerous team.
Costly offensive line
The Seahawks didn't spend a ton of money on their offensive line this offseason, using less than $7 million to pay for the guys protecting Russell Wilson. One of those guys, rookie right guard Germain Ifedi, suffered an injury in the first quarter against Atlanta. His replacement, Rees Odhiambo, was the primary culprit on a play that completely swung the game in Atlanta's favor.
As Russell Wilson was taking a snap under the shadow of his own goal line, Odhiambo tripped him, causing the Seahawks quarterback to fall backwards into the end zone, creating a situation where the Seahawks committed a safety on themselves.
The Falcons' questionable defense managed to get seven quarterback hits on Wilson and three sacks. But the crazy number is the pressures -- PFF tracked Wilson with 18 dropbacks under pressure (46.2 percent of his dropbacks); on those plays, he completed only 30.8 percent of his passes while posting a 46.3 passer rating.
Reworking the offensive line has to be a huge priority for Seattle in the offseason.
Eye of the Beholder
Saturday night might have been the last game of Vince Wilfork's career, and if it was, what a great spot for him to go out: playing in Gillette Stadium in front of Patriots fans, where he spent most of his (likely) Hall of Fame career.
Wilfork's underrated in most of the things he does, but let's not sleep on his pass-coverage abilities either.
The grace and beauty of Wilfork's pass coverage skills know no bounds https://t.co/hQVG0AU40Q— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 15, 2017
A thing of beauty.