After Wild Card Weekend, we are down to 8 teams left in the NFL Playoffs. Wild card weekend saw the 6 seeds upset the 3 seeds in both conferences. 3 out of the 4 road teams won. This coming week features more of the conference heavyweights. Many, including myself, consider this week to be the best weekend of football of the year.
Saturday, January 11th: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
These two teams met earlier in a Monday night showdown. The game looked to be a playoff preview and indeed it turned out to be. Unfortunately for the viewers, it wasn’t much of a game. The Seahawks decimated the Saints 34-7. Again, this game will be played at CenturyLink field where the Seahawks were 7-1 this season. These two met in the postseason in the 2010-11 NFL playoffs where the underdog Seahawks (won the at-the-time-awful NFC West with a 7-9 record) won at home. Only 3 years later, the NFC West is one of the best divisions in football. On the other hand, the Saints are not a team to sleep on. Only Peyton Manning threw for more yards than Drew Brees. Even though the offense of these teams will be a major storyline, don’t ignore the other side of the football. Both teams have top 5 defenses (Seattle: 1st; New Orleans:4th) I think this game will be closer than the prior meeting this season but I still think the Seahawks will win.
My pick: Seattle Seahawks
Saturday, January 11th: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
These two teams are no strangers to each other. These two teams boast, perhaps, the best non-division rivalry of the past decade and half. Peyton Manning is gone and Andrew Luck has taken his place. The Patriots have played Andrew Luck one time. Last year as a rookie, the Patriots humbled Luck 59-24. The Patriots returned two Andrew Luck interceptions for touchdowns in that game. Arguably, Luck has matured a good bit since then. Unfortunately for Luck, his defense may not give him much of a chance. All season the Colts have found themselves in the hole early because of their defense. Last week the Colts rallied in a historic comeback. If they find themselves in a similar hole, in New England, the outcome likely won’t be the same. Tom Brady and the Patriots are like sharks that can smell blood. I like the Patriots at home.
My pick: New England Patriots
Sunday, January 12th: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
This is another rematch of a regular season game. Unlike the Saints-Seahawks, the 49ers-Panthers delivered a great game midway through the season. It was a great game especially for those who enjoy defense as the Panthers upset the 49ers in San Francisco 10-9. While that game was in San Francisco, this game will be in Carolina. Much like the Seattle-New Orleans game, this game will also feature 2 of the top 5 defenses in the league (Carolina: 2nd; San Francisco: 5th). The game will also feature two young and upcoming quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Neither quarterback had a pro bowl year but both always seemed to make plays at the ends of games. In a close defensive game, turnovers can make the difference in a game. I have liked watching the Panthers all year but I think the 49ers may be peaking at the right time.
My pick: San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, January 12th: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
These two divisional teams met twice this season with the road team winning each game. The Chargers are another team that has peaked at the right time. Over the last decade there have been examples of teams that barely get into the postseason yet win it all once they get in (2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants, 2010 Packers). The Chargers are trying to add their name to that list. Like we pointed out so many times this year, the Broncos defense is not great. They rank 27th in pass defense compared to the Chargers pass offense which ranks 4th overall. Conversely, the Chargers pass defense ranks 29th compared to the Broncos 1st ranked pass offense. Peyton Manning’s postseason woes are well documented throughout his career. The Chargers are playing with house money and have nothing to lose. The Broncos look to avenge their only home loss of the year against the Chargers.
My pick: Denver Broncos
I am excited to sit back and watch 4 great football games this weekend. Thank you once again for a great year. I apologize for not having a column last week. Life happens (Got married and had a honeymoon; good excuse I think). Enjoy!
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