After one of the most exciting wild card weekends we have had in the NFL in recent memory, it is time to predict the outcomes of the Divisional round. This past weekend featured Andrew Luck, former number one overall pick, getting his first playoff win in an improbable comeback over the Chiefs. After not losing a game at home the whole regular season, the Bengals lost to the Chargers in an ugly showing from Andy Dalton. The Saints finally got their first playoff road victory in franchise history, defeating the high-powered Eagles offense. To conclude the wild card weekend was the nail biter at Lambeau Field. The 49ers won on a field goal in closing seconds, a great drive led by the feet of Colin Kaepernick. Now with that all said and done, time to get to the picks and analysis.
Saints 17 Seahawks 23
The Saints went to Seattle earlier this season on a Monday night game and it was not close from the get go. They finally won a playoff game on the road, so New Orleans has confidence going into Seattle. It is extremely difficult to beat Seattle at home, but they showed vulnerability during the regular season, losing to Arizona. This game will be much closer than their regular season matchup, but Seattle will advance to the NFC championship. New Orleans did a great job last weekend of getting pressure on Nick Foles and not allowing Lesean McCoy to get to the outside. They did a nice job of setting the edge, but they now face a running back in Marshawn Lynch, that favors running between the tackles and inside. Unless the Bob Ryan defense can get to Russell Wilson and force him to make risky throws, I cannot see the Saints winning. Drew Brees is going to have a lot on his shoulders alone facing the legion of boom, especially if rookie Terron Armstead needs to start at left tackle once again. While the rookie out of small school Arkansas Pine-Bluff did a solid job last weekend against Trent Cole, he is facing a different animal in terms of pass rush against Seattle. Theres Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin and the list keeps going. Seattles defense, combined with the 12th man crowd, will get them to the NFC championship round.
Colts 20 Patriots 33
This is the easiest game to pick for me this weekend. A lot has been made of the Colts crazy comeback victory last weekend. It was one of the greatest wild card games we will see, but the Colts throughout the season consistently dig themselves huge holes early in games. Do that against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home, that’s trouble. Brady does not have the weapons he would have hoped to have heading into the playoffs, but his weapons will be enough to get past the Colts. Alex Smith and his WR corps were torching their secondary last weekend, which has Tom Brady licking his chops. If that secondary cannot tackle like last game and allows New England’s receivers to get behind them like that, this game will not be close. Andrew Luck also cannot afford to turn the ball over as much as he did in the wild card round, because Brady will turn those turnovers into points. Tom Brady will lead New England back to the AFC championship round once again.
49ers 20 Panthers 17
This will be the most exciting matchup of the weekend. Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton are among the best of the young quarterbacks in the NFL. These two teams met earlier in the season and Cam Newton left Candlestick Park with a victory. The Panthers defense stood out that game and did a great job defending Colin Kaepernick. The defense forced Kaepernick to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm; this time around will be different. The 49ers were without Michael Crabtree in their first meeting and Vernon Davis was not healthy. As we saw in Green Bay, Crabtree and Davis have a serious impact on the 49ers offense. While the Panthers defense is great, I am still not sold on their secondary. Crabtree and Davis will do their best part to expose that. If the Panthers cannot contain Kaepernick as well as they did in their first meeting, they will have trouble winning this game. Cam Newton has been tremendous this season and is one of the main reasons why Carolina is the king of the south (NFC South). When it comes down to it, I don’t think Cam is going to get enough support to win this game. The 49ers defense is as good as it gets, they are yet to allow an individual 100-yard rusher all season. So if Cam is forced to sit back and throw, he might have to start taking chances, which can result in costly mistakes. Steve Smith will be ready for this game, but is he really 100% healthy. This game will be close, but I’m picking the 49ers based on their playoff experience.
Chargers 30 Broncos 27
Everyone’s pre-season Super Bowl favorite, Denver Broncos finally take the filed this Sunday. All the pressure will be on Denver, led by Peyton Manning at home. Wes Welker has been rested the final weeks of the regular season in hopes to be ready for the playoffs. Denver has disturbing memories of coming off of a first round bye last season and having the hot wild card Ravens team beat them in miraculous fashion. I see the same result once again this year. The Chargers are coming into Denver with full confidence and with nothing to lose. Phillip Rivers was great against Cincinnati, even though he only attempted 16 passes. He has this team fired up and ready to go into Denver, as San Diego has been in a playoff mindset for about 6 weeks. The Broncos two poorest offensive showings during the regular season both came against the San Diego Chargers. San Diego beat Denver at home in their last meeting, so they have the full belief they can do it once again. Phillip Rivers is having one of the best years of his career and I don’t see it ending here. After an offseason of being written off by the media, Phillip Rivers will lead his team to the AFC championship game in Foxboro.