It was a wild NFL Wild-Card weekend and the Divisional Round games look to be just as promising. Can last weekend’s winners continue their roll, or will the teams with a first-round bye be rested and ready to punch their ticket to the Conference Championship? After an 0-4 weekend with picks by yours truly, it’s time to get this train back on the tracks. Let’s pick ’em!
- (6) New Orleans Saints vs (1) Seattle Seahawks (4:35 pm on Saturday)
- Breakdown: Drew Brees and the Saints proved me wrong last week, showing that the cold Philadelphia weather wasn’t going to be a factor in crunch time. Because of that, the fact that they play in a dome is now irrelevant to me. What matters is the stats and matchups, which are in Seattle’s favor. When these two teams played on Monday Night Football in early December, it was billed as a heavyweight matchup between two of the best quarterbacks in the game. This was going to be the night that Russell Wilson’s perfect record at CenturyLink Field would be put to the test, with his idol, Drew Brees, determined to grab the NFC’s number one seed. Instead, what we witnessed was one of the most lop-sided games of the season, with Wilson accounting for more yards of offense by himself than the entire Saints team gained as a whole. The result was a 34-7 blowout win for Seattle which all but secured their spot at the top of the NFC. Nothing has drastically changed from that night. The game will still be played at the toughest place to play in football, Russell Wilson is still passing at an elite level and the Saints are still so one-dimensional on offense with one of the worst running games in the league. Seattle’s stingy defense will have an answer for everything Sean Payton calls, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson will tear through Rob Ryan’s defense once again, and the Seahawks will be on to the NFC title game.
- The Prediction: Seahawks 38, Saints 24
- (4) Indianapolis Colts vs (2) New England Patriots (8:15 pm on Saturday)
- Breakdown: Indianapolis will need some “Luck” to get out of Foxboro with a win. After all, the thing many overlooked while they were praising the star quarterback’s comeback against Kansas City is that the Colts’ defense was absolutely pitiful on Saturday. They let Alex Smith, who hadn’t thrown for 300 yards all year, come into their dome and throw for 378 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, while allowing him to run for 57 yards as well. Game manager Alex Smith went out and played what was arguably the best game of his career and the Colts needed a Herculean effort from Andrew Luck(as well as the extremely lucky bounce off the lineman’s head at the goal line) to come back and win. They may have survived and advanced then, but there is no chance they can do that against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. New England has sustained every injury to their defense and still allowed the tenth-fewest points in the National Football League. On offense, Brady has made Julian Edelman into one of the most reliable receivers in the league and Danny Amendola is primed for a performance like he had in Miami a few weeks ago. The Pats’ passing game will thrive against Indy’s eighteenth-ranked passing defense, which features former Patriot corner Darius Butler, who was a relative bust in one of the NFL’s worst secondaries from 2009-2010. All things considered, the Colts’ run is almost certain to end on Saturday night.
- The Prediction: Patriots 31, Colts 16
- (5) San Francisco 49ers vs (2) Carolina Panthers (1:05 pm on Sunday)
- Breakdown: This will definitely be a tough one for the two offenses, since the matchup in Carolina will feature two top-5 defenses. Carolina’s defensive unit holds the slight edge in yards and points allowed per game, but San Francisco has the momentum of the win at Green Bay where they held the Packer offense under 300 yards. That being said, this one may come down to who contains the opposing quarterback more effectively. In the previous meeting between these two teams this season in San Fran, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton were both kept in check, each held to less than 200 yards of total offense. The Panthers eked out a narrow 10-9 win, but it was anybody’s ballgame for 60 minutes. Expect Sunday’s game to be a defensive battle as well. It’s a toss-up, but the Niners will continue their run to the NFC Championship game by way of a late field goal. I trust experience over youth in this game, and the Niners have more playoff experience.
- The Prediction: 49ers 19, Panthers 16
- (6) San Diego Chargers vs (1) Denver Broncos (4:4o pm on Sunday)
- Breakdown: On a cold, windy Thursday Night Football game back in Week 15, Phillip Rivers came into Mile High Stadium with no fear of the Broncos’ mighty record at home or the MVP favorite on the other sideline. Like Rivers has done time and time again, he put his helmet on and went to work, playing his game and leading his Chargers to the upset win. Can you say deja vu? The upset special of the week will be the San Diego Chargers going to Denver and beating Peyton Manning’s Broncos once again. That game on December 12 showed what a finely-coached team San Diego is. Defensive coordinator John Pagano put together an excellent blueprint to stop Manning that night. The disguises he ran worked to a tee, and Manning’s audibling, which usually fools even the league’s best defenders, did not phase the Chargers. They came out hitting and held Peyton to just 289 yards passing, his second-lowest mark on the year. What was even more impressive was the run-stopping. Knowshon Moreno only gained 19 yards on 8 carries, while Montee Ball rushed for a negative amount. This mastery of defense allowed Rivers, Ryan Matthews and the Charger offense to dominate Denver’s weak defense en route to the upset win. By the way, Denver’s defense has one noticeable omission from that game: Von Miller, who tore his ACL ten days after the San Diego game and is out for the season. Miller was Denver’s best defensive player and the impact he brings to this team cannot be replaced. Throw in Peyton Manning’s history of playoff failures and you have the perfect recipe for an upset.
- The Prediction: Chargers 30, Broncos 20
Agree? Disagree? Drop a comment or tweet me @chuckiemaggio. Enjoy the Divisional Round games everybody!