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NFL 2013 Divisional Playoff Matchups
Last weekend we were treated to three great playoff games (thanks Andy Dalton). This week I expect four more entertaining games, but they may not be the nail-biters that we witnessed last weekend.
Sat 4:35 #6 New Orleans at #1 Seattle
After last weekend's win over the Eagles on the road, the Saints finally showed everyone that they are able to win a road playoff game in the cold weather. Now everyone will be watching to see if they can go on the road again, in an even tougher environment in Seattle, and produce another victory. The Saints traveled to take on the Seahawks and the 12th Man a little over a month ago and slinked away with a 34-7 loss. Seattle dominated every facet of the game and handed New Orleans their most lopsided defeat of the year.
In the win over Philadelphia, New Orleans was able to control the clock and keep the Eagles' offense off the field, running the ball 36 times for 185 yards. If there is a weakness to the Seahawks defense it is in the running game, where they are ranked 7th in the league. While that is very good, Seattle is ranked 1st against the pass, so I expect New Orleans to take a similar approach as last weekend and run the ball, not making quarterback Drew Brees have to win the game on his own. Seattle had struggled a bit down the stretch this year, but they've looked better in recent weeks, and no doubt put the bye week to good use. Pete Carroll will make sure that his team doesn't overlook this game given their blowout win earlier in the year. Receiver Percy Harvin, who has played only 20 snaps this year dealing with a hip injury is expected to play in this game. I don't expect him to have a huge impact, but quarterback Russell Wilson will enjoy having a dangerous weapon at his disposal. I expect this game to be much closer than the first encounter, but I think ultimately Seattle's defense holds the Saints' offense in check enough to pull this one out.
Prediction: Seahawks 27 Saints 20
Sat 8:15 #4 Indianapolis at #2 New England
Last weekend Indianapolis pulled out a huge come-from-behind victory over Kansas City. The Chiefs led by a score of 38-10 early in the third quarter before the Colts stormed back, winning 45-44. I've heard a lot of people giving Andrew Luck a ton of credit for the victory, but let's not get too carried away. While he threw for 443 yards and four TDs, adding another on the ground, he also had three interceptions. One or two of those interceptions were on mistakes that High School quarterbacks shouldn't be making. If the Bengals had won last week, would we be praising Andy Dalton?
New England has been battling through injuries all year, and needed a bye week to regroup and get some of their backups up to speed. Everyone knows they lost tight end Rob Gronkowski earlier in the year, but they are also playing without nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, all leaders on their defense. I think both teams will run the ball with mild success, but ultimately the game will depend on the passing attacks. I think the key matchup in this game is Indianapolis wide receiver TY Hilton against New England's Aquib Talib. Indy's receiving corps is thin after the loss of Reggie Wayne earlier in the year, so I expect the Patriots to use their best corner, Talib, to shadow Hilton as much as possible. Last week Hilton amassed 224 yards and two TDs. I think he puts up about half those numbers in this one, and the Colts need more than that. I'm still not a big believer in the Colts and the real season is just getting started for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady--they're moving on.
Prediction: Patriots 30 Colts 23
Sun 1:05 #5 San Francisco at #2 Carolina
These two teams met earlier this year in San Francisco, and Carolina pulled out a 10-9 defensive victory. Now it's the 49ers turn to travel across the country for the rematch. I feel like I have a good handle on who San Francisco is, but Carolina is tougher for me. I feel like they are a very solid football team, but the #2 seed just doesn't seem to fit them. That being said, they beat some very good teams this year and did finish 12-4, winning 11 of their last 12 games. They find ways to win football games.
I expect to see another defensive, low-scoring game, but we will see more than 19 total points in this one. The only potentially better defensive matchup we will see in these playoffs is the NFC Championship game if Seattle beats New Orleans. Both of these teams are top seven in rushing and passing against. Both teams get after the passer and play solid on the back end. Both offenses want to run the ball successfully so their quarterbacks don't have to win the game with their arm, but they are capable of doing so if needed. I think this game comes down to a 2:00 drive for the tie or win. Whether San Francisco is on offense or defense, I think they make the plays to win and advance.
Prediction: 49ers 17 Panthers 14
Sun 4:40 #6 San Diego at #1 Denver
Last weekend, San Diego played in the least entertaining game of the playoffs so far. Unless you enjoy watching Andy Dalton turning the ball over (like me), then it was entertaining. The Chargers played a solid game, winning 27-10. This will be the third time the teams have met this year, and the prior meetings were both good games, with each team winning a game. Each team won their respective game on the road, the Broncos by eight points and the Chargers by seven.
I expect this to be another close, one possession game. The Chargers are playing great football right now, and I think they have what it takes to keep within striking distance of the Broncos. Cool fact: The last four teams that played the Philadelphia Eagles on opening weekend went on to win the Super Bowl that year. This year the Chargers beat the Eagles on opening weekend. Could it be destiny? In both previous meetings the winning team got out to a double digit lead and hung on for victory. It's important that the Chargers aren't playing from behind all game, because that will be a losing formula for them. Peyton Manning will be dealing with his own playoff demons, and the longer the game is close, the more pressure will be put on him to lead Denver to victory. I really want to take Philip Rivers and the Chargers in this one, but I think the Broncos offense is just a little too much to keep up with.
Prediction: Broncos 31 Chargers 24
Enjoy this weekend's games!
Last week: 3-1