The first round of the NFL Playoffs was insane. Three games came down to the wire and were decided by three points or less, while the fourth game was at least closely contested until the final quarter.
If the first round of the playoffs was any indication, we are in for one wild ride in this year’s playoffs. After all, the potential championship game matchups are interesting enough, but the actual matchups we’re seeing in the divisional round are every bit as interesting.
Let’s get right down to it as we quickly break down all four games and offer a prediction/pick:
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
Fresh off of an insane comeback win at home in the first round of the playoffs, the Colts come into Foxboro to try to upend the favored Patriots. The question is, can Andrew Luck avoid the same mistakes that almost buried him last week, or will he top Tom Brady and extend Indy’s unlikely run to the AFC title game?
It’s set up to be an awesome story, but the reality is that the Colts don’t run the ball all that well, are on the road, and really only have one receiver the Patriots need to be afraid of. If Aqib Talib can shut down T.Y. Hilton like he should be able to, it may be difficult for Luck and co. to put up the same amount of points.
It’s not going to be easy for the Colts to come in and take care of business in New England, while I’m not a believe in their defense holding Brady and co. in check, either. Ultimately, I see Brady pushing the Pats to another AFC Championship appearance.
The Pick: Patriots 34, Colts 24
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
The Broncos and Chargers split their season series in 2013, and it will be very interesting to see who controls the tempo of their divisional round matchup. That was San Diego in their last meeting, as they road Ryan Mathews and the ground game to control the clock and get the W. The real question, though, is how likely is it the Chargers can go on the road and do that a second time in a row?
Wes Welker returns for the Broncos, who will be at 100% full strength on offense. That’s not really the problem. They have their full offensive arsenal and there’s little doubt they can pick apart the Chargers on the ground or through the air. Whether or not they can keep Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews in check, though, is a whole different story.
The absence of Von Miller (torn ACL) doesn’t help an already shaky defense, but I just can’t see the Chargers coming in and dictating the pace of this game. Banking on Peyton Manning coming up short in two straight playoff games isn’t the best idea, either.
The Pick: Broncos 30, Chargers 27
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Drew Brees and co. marched into Philadelphia last week and proved they can go on the road and win outdoors. That was nice, but Philly ain’t Seattle – both in atmosphere and defensive matchup. There’s that logic, plus the other obvious nugget of the Saints getting owned in Seattle earlier this season, 34-7.
Add in that Marshawn Lynch will be near impossible to completely stop, Russell Wilson will keep plays alive all day, and Percy Harvin could provide an x-factor spark, and the Seahawks look more than a little formidable at home. Also, they lost just one game at home this year, and generally don’t lose there at all. That, and they don’t get burned on defense very much, and even the three games they lost this year were decided by a touchdown or less.
It all comes down to whether or not you believe the Saints have what it takes to march into an insanely difficult venue and dominate a team that has been dominant all season. I don’t doubt the Saints will put forth a much better effort this time around, but I doubt it’ll be a different result.
The Pick: Seahawks 24, Saints 16
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers
The 49ers are red-hot and looked sharp on both sides of the ball a week ago, despite playing in horrible elements on the road. That’s all good and well, but the problem is clearly going to be overcoming Carolina’s stout defense on the road.
The last time these two teams met, the Panthers dominated the game and set the tone for a gritty game early, and eventually won a close 10-9 battle. Needless to say, I wouldn’t expect fireworks or more than 40 total points. In fact, I think it will be a lot like San Fran’s game of a week ago.
Normally the home team fresh off the bye is favored here, but there’s always a team that gets knocked out right away and I think it’s going to be the Panthers. They’re new to the playoff scene and the 49ers are trying to get to their third straight NFC title game. I think they do just that by narrowly turning the tables here.
The Pick: 49ers 23, Panthers 13