In terms of my predictions, wild card weekend was a very good one. However, in terms of the games they could have been much better. Three of the four games ended up being extremely one sided while the other is still surrounded by controversy. Like most in the playoffs, these games are filled with exciting matchups and interesting story lines. It’s going to be a very good two days of football.
Wild card weekend predictions:
Straight up: 3-1
Against the Spread: 3-1
Ravens 20 Patriots (-7.5) 24: Despite having homefield advantage throughout the AFC, the Patriots got the worst matchup they could ask for here. The Ravens are a team that historically plays them very tough, the pass rush will constantly be in Tom Brady’s face and Joe Flacco’s postseason achievements are among the best of active quarterbacks. This Patriots team is different than the ones in recent memory though.
One could easily make the case this defense is as talented as the units that Bill Belichick won titles with a decade ago. While Brady in a clean pocket should be able to take advantage of a beat up Ravens secondary throwing to Rob Gronkowski and company, this game has the makings of a slugfest. Based on the track record of these two teams over the years, the winner of this game should be the odds on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Panthers 13 Seahawks (-11.5) 26: Of course the sub .500 division winner is the one that got to host a home game against Ryan Lindley. The Panthers won, but it wasn’t nearly as dominating a performance as numbers would indicate. Now they have to go on the road to take on the defending Super Bowl champs in an extremely hostile environment. Where can this go wrong?
If the Panthers miraculously pull off this game, it could go down as one of the greatest postseason upsets of all time. That is not hyperbole. Cam Newton is playing with a patchwork offensive line and has a limited supporting cast around him. Heck, even Newton’s best receiver Kelvin Benjamin fits the mold of receivers who are usually shut down by the Legion of Boom.
On top of that, the Panthers also lost their defensive tackle Star Lotulelei a huge part of their recent efforts to a broken foot. That is only going to open things up for not only Marshawn Lynch, but Russell Wilson and the passing game. Like any playoff game, I’d love for this matchup to come down to the wire. But there’s a chance that this one could get ugly early.
Cowboys 24 Packers (-6.5) 28: Pretty much anyone who doesn’t root for the Cowboys is in agreement this matchup shouldn’t be happening, but here we are. After a rough start, the Cowboys came storming back to beat the Lions in the final minutes. One sign that the Cowboys had to like was how DeMarco Murray got stronger as the game went on. Against a more beatable Packers defense, Murray will be looked to often so they can keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Tony Romo came up big when it mattered most last week, and had a nice game despite Dez Bryant not being much of a huge factor. That will change in this one as chances are Bryant will be targeted early and often.
At this point, it’s well known that Rodgers is playing with a strained (and possibly torn) calf. While this will hamper his ability to move around in the pocket or scramble, Rodgers at 75% is still a fantastic player. If the injury is more troubling than let on, Eddie Lacy should see a big workload. Lacy ran very well against the Lions stout run defense in week 17 and now gets a much nicer matchup. In terms of matchups the Packers also have favorable ones in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb against the Cowboys secondary. Cobb in particular is interesting to watch as the Packers could use him similar to how Golden Tate was last week. That matchup gave the Cowboys a lot of trouble, so it will be interesting to watch.
Permitting Rodgers can play through the whole game, this one should come down to the wire. While the Cowboys have the ability to control the tempo and play their game, anything short of perfect might not be enough against Rodgers in Lambeau.
Colts 24 Broncos (-7.5) 30: With two potent offenses and a nice forecast by comparison, this is projected to be the highest scoring game of the weekend. Like the first meeting between these teams, it wouldn’t be surprising if Andrew Luck aired it out 40 or 50 times. Despite Daniel “Boom” Herron proving more capable than Trent Richardson, the Broncos run defense is stout and Herron has well documented fumble issues. While it may not be in the running game, Luck did show a lot of confidence in Herron as a checkdown option last week. T.Y. Hilton still figures to be Luck’s top target, but he struggled going up against the Broncos in the previous meeting. Regardless, Luck has the weapons to still move the offense.
The Broncos seemed to be run oriented later in the year to get “playoff ready” and it should work this week. C.J. Anderson who has been fantastic of late has a very nice matchup against a Colts unit that struggles in run defense. Having the effective run game also helps take pressure of Peyton Manning. Nobody knows what it is, but Manning just hasn’t been himself the second half of this year. Granted, you can never count him out but the zip on his throws hasn’t really been there lately. Regardless, when you have weapons such as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, you just get them the ball in space. Both receivers (especially Thomas) are very good at creating yards after the catch. While this should be closely contested, there is only so much Luck can do. The Broncos are a much more well rounded team on both sides of the ball and that should be the difference.