We are down to the final eight teams in the NFL playoffs. You can call it the divisional playoffs or the conference semifinals as I like to say. Last week was pretty cool with three good games and the Bengals not showing up against the Chargers (at least their offense didn't show up). That Chiefs/Colts game was one of the most memorable playoff games ever with the Colts coming back from a 38-10 defeat to win 45-44. This week we have to figure out if the teams that played week still have their momentum or if the teams that were off last week will be able to win at home.
This is my favorite weekend of the NFL year. Four games. The top eight teams (usually). Bring on the fun.
Season Straight Up: 168-87-1 (.659)
Playoffs Straight Up: 2-2 Playoffs Spread: 3-1
I got the NFC games right last week and the AFC games wrong. That Chiefs game was an all-timer in terms of drama and excitement. I feel sorry for Chiefs fans. So many injuries and a blown lead.
All game times are in the Eastern time zone. I'll list each team's seed number beside their name.
(6) New Orleans at (1) Seattle 4:35 pm on FOX
I picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl, so of course I'm going to pick them to win this game. It was announced this week that oft-injured WR Percy Harvin will be back for the Seahawks. It will really help that offense in terms having a player that can make a big play and also giving that Saints defense somebody else to worry about on offense.
The Saints won last week in Philly to exercise the "they can't win outdoors in the cold" demon, so I'm happy for them. I thought they were better than Philly and they proved that they were. While people will always mention their offense as their strength, their defense is also 4th in yards per game and 4th in points per game. It's not all about the offense with them. My question is can their defense slow down Marshawn Lynch? I'm not sure if they can consistently stop that Seahawks running game. What I love about Russell Wilson is he's so composed in the pocket and he'll take advantage when the defense makes him pass. If the Saints key too much on Lynch, Wilson is going to beat them by throwing it to Tate, Harvin and Kearse among others.
For the Saints to win, Drew Brees needs to have the game of his life against one of the best defenses he's ever faced. That doesn't necessarily mean 450 yards and 5 TDs because that will be too difficult. I mean he has to make big plays at the right time, don't turn the ball over and lead his team to long drives that end in TDs rather than field goals. If he does that, they can win. I don't think he can. It's no disrespect to him. I just think the Seahawks defense is too good.
The line is 8 points for the Seahawks. I think they're going to win and cover although I think it will be a close game in the first half. That Seattle defense plus the loud crowd will be the difference in the second half. Seahawks 27-17
(4) Indianapolis at (2) New England 8:15 pm on CBS
This is the toughest game of the week for me. I went back and forth on it as I was doing my usual reading of stats in thinking about it. Even though I picked the Colts to lose to the Chiefs last week, you can consider me on their bandwagon at least for this week. It's weird for me because in past years I almost always pick the Patriots at home. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it did not. While I am far from a Patriots fan (trust me I'm still a bitter Rams fan from Super Bowl 36), I respect Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a lot as one of the best QB/Coach combos in the history of the league.
The problem I have with the Patriots right now is I don't think they're as good as they have been in past years. The run game isn't as consistent this year. Stevan Ridley really fell off. Their committee of backs are good, but not that great. At the WR position, I've been impressed by Julian Edelman and it's nice to see Danny Amendola healthy for them. I think they miss Rob Gronkowski, though. When they're in the red zone they're not as dangerous as they used to be. If Indy can keep the Patriots out of the end zone and make them kick field goals they can win.
What I love about the Colts is the momentum they have. Obviously they should be worried because they gave up 44 points at home last week, but when you can overcome a 38-10 lead that shows me that you have a team that is never going to quit. Remember the Buffalo Bills made the Super Bowl when they came back from the Houston Oilers in the biggest playoff comeback ever. I'm not saying Indy is going to the Super Bowl. I just think Andrew Luck, TY Hilton and that group on offense are going to put up some points on a Patriots defense that is 26th in terms of yards per game. The Colts can score on them especially with the way Andrew Luck is throwing the ball. Just don't turn it over, Luck.
I pick the Colts to win as 7 point underdogs. I think it will be a back and forth game that will feature excellent QB play. Colts 33-27
(5) San Francisco at (2) Carolina 1:05 pm on FOX
There are three rematches this weekend and this one is pretty intriguing to me because when they met in week 10 in San Francisco it was a 10-9 win for the Panthers. Thrilling game right? It is if you like hard hitting and defense because that's what these teams are all about. It wasn't thrilling in terms of points scored, but I expect there to be more points this time around. The Niners are healthier with Michael Crabtree making a different at WR and Vernon Davis didn't play in that first game they had.
I am not discrediting the Panthers defense because they held Colin Kaepernick to 91 yards passing with just 11 completions. They shut that offense down in San Fran's own stadium. Frank Gore did have a productive day with 82 yards on 16 carries (5.1 ypc), so I think the Niners will ride him in this game. If they do that it will open up the passing game. I think Kaepernick will also run a lot just like he did last week against the Packers. The Niners may not call too many plays where they want him to run, but he's great at improvising and bolting for first downs when the situation calls for it.
If you look at the other side the ball, the question is can Cam Newton and that Panthers offense put up enough points to win? I'm not sure. That's where I have concern. Steve Smith is expected to play, but he's banged up and it's not like he's a Pro Bowler anymore. Their other weapons like Lafell and Ginn are okay against a bad defense. Against the Niners? I don't think they're very scary. They better hope they can get the run game going because if not they are going to struggle. I also think Newton has to run a fair bit because much like Kaepernick that's a key part to that offense.
The line for this game is down to 0 for a pick 'em situation. The Niners were favored by 2 points earlier in the week, but it went down because people must like Panthers. It's definitely an even game. I like the road team to get the win in another field goal game for the second week in a row. 49ers 20-17
(6) San Diego at (1) Denver 4:40 pm on CBS
The last game of the weekend is another rematch between two teams that met twice this year. The Broncos won 28-20 in week 10 in San Diego and then the Chargers won 27-20 in week 15 on a Thursday in Denver. I have a lot of respect for the Chargers, who are coming into this game after winning five in a row (they needed all those wins to get in the playoffs) and I'm sure they will strike some fear in the Broncos because they beat them in their stadium one month ago.
I think the Broncos offense will have a big day. I know the Chargers have a bit of a no-name defense that is playing well, but can they really stop a rested Broncos team all day long? I don't think so. I think it's going to be huge for the Broncos to have Wes Welker back in the mix after he suffered another concussion. His presence will help Peyton Manning get the ball to D. Thomas, Decker and J. Thomas. I also think the running combo of Moreno & Ball will have a solid game. They know what it's like to lose this game at home in this round because that's what happened a year ago. I don't think the offense is going to the reason they lose. They need to put up over 30 and I think they will. Then again they didn't let them down last year.
The Broncos defense let them down against the Ravens last year and they could do it again because the Chargers offense is playing as well as anybody right now. I love watching them play. Phil Rivers is spreading the ball around, making short throws when needed and going down the field when it's available. I've been very impressed by their rookie WR Keenan Allen. He's a difference maker already. The run game is pretty good with Mathews (who is banged up, but should play) and Woodhead presenting problems for defenses. It seems like every time they're in a 3rd and 3 type of scenario, Rivers will dump it off to Woodhead to get those yards. Can the Broncos defense really slow them down all game long? I don't know. They need to be better than they were the last time they played that's for sure.
The spread for this one is the Broncos are favored by 10 points. I think they'll win the game, but the Chargers will cover that. The Broncos are vulnerable at home because of their inconsistent defense. The Chargers know that. I just think the Broncos offense is too good to lose this game. Broncos 34-27
I picked two road teams and only one upset with the Colts winning over the Pats.
That's all for me this week. Next week it's Championship Sunday. Enjoy the games.