Last week was not a great one for my predictions as it turned into a very unpredictable wildcard weekend. Between all of the different story lines covered and some very interesting matchups, the divisional round should be another fantastic weekend of playoff football.
Wild card weekend results:
Straight up: 1-3
Against the Spread: 3-1
Saints 20 Seahawks (-8.5) 33: The Saints solved their road woes last week by limiting an explosive Eagles offense to pull off a last second win. Their reward is to travel cross country to Seattle: home of the best secondary in the NFL and also one of the few places where a home-field advantage exists. The last time these two teams played was earlier this year when the Seahawks won 34-7 on Monday night in this same building.
Even with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees and a strong supporting cast, this Seahawks defense is a lot to handle. For that reason along with the Seahawks ability to move the ball on the ground with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson’s ability to come up with big plays when needed, I’m going with the Seahawks in this one.
Colts 24 Patriots (-7.5) 31: The first playoff win of Andrew Luck’s career is one that’s going to be discussed for a long time. Not players can say they’ve their team from a 38-10 deficit to victory let alone when it matters most. While I love watching Luck continuing to come up in big moments, T.Y. Hilton becoming a household name before our eyes and Robert Mathis creating havoc in opposing backfields, I can’t go with the Colts here.
The Chiefs were able to put up 38 points despite losing their best offensive player in Jamaal Charles within the first few minutes of the game. That put the game in the hands of Alex Smith who despite being labeled a “game manager” went on to throw for 378 yards and four touchdowns. Smith’s game has really improved, but he isn’t close to the tier Tom Brady is at the quarterback position. Despite not having all his weapons, Brady was still very much his typical self this season. With the help of a balanced running attack and an underrated defense, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots took the next step towards getting Brady his fourth Super Bowl victory.
49ers 20 Panthers(+1.5) 17: The Panthers are one of the real feel good stories of the 2013 season. After starting 1-3, they finished the year on an 11-1 stretch. One of those wins was against the 49ers on the road by the score of 10-9 in what was a very physical game. A big thing to remember from that game is that Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were missing two of their three biggest playmakers in the passing game. Vernon Davis left that game early with a concussion and Michael Crabtree was still rehabbing his torn Achilles.
Now, the 49ers are back at full force and you could make a case they’re the most dangerous team left in the field. The Panthers have a very good formula for playoff success. They have a stout defense and a fantastic pass rush, an above average running game and a quarterback in Cam Newton who can make plays with the game on the line. Unfortunately, the Panthers don’t have a lot of big game experience as this will be the first playoff game for many on the roster (most notably Newton and All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly). With a game on the line, I would rather go with the team that has been in these situations before. For that reason, I’m going with the 49ers in what should be a very closely contested game.
Chargers 23 Broncos (-9.5) 28: The Broncos on paper are the odds on favorite to win the AFC but we all saw how that ended up last year. On offense, they are stronger than ever. Peyton Manning had another year to become comfortable with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, while Wes Welker (who will be playing this week) joined via free agency and Julius Thomas emerged as a big play threat at tight end. On top of all that, Knowshon Moreno who many had started to write as a bust emerged as a reliable running back to give the team balance.
The Chargers needed a lot to go their way to get to this point and the biggest moment for them might have occurred against the Broncos. Due to a balanced attack, the Chargers went into Denver and upset the Broncos and they haven’t lost since. Philip Rivers is one of the few quarterbacks who could possibly match Manning score for score in a shootout. However, knowing Manning and his history, I find it hard to believe he could lose to the same team twice in one year. Let alone both of those loses coming at home. For that reason, I’m going with the Broncos in what could be a very memorable game.