San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers:
In a rematch of their week 10 matchup, the 49ers will attempt to reach their third straight NFC Championship Game. In the week 10 game, it was a hard hitting low scoring contest and the Panthers were able to win the game 10-9 in San Francisco. In the contest, the Panthers totally shut down the 49ers offense and allowed only 151 yards throughout the entire game. The Panthers were able to contain Colin Kaepernick, who accumulated 107 yards, 91 passing and 16 rushing. The Panthers were able to disrupt the 49ers offense by creating a great pass rush and put a lot of pressure on Kaepernick. The Panthers forced Kaepernick into 6 sacks and an interception. Along with containing Colin, Frank Gore recorded only 80 yards on the ground and did not record a single touchdown. On offense, the Panthers played their normal style, good defense, running game, and timely passing from Cam Newton. Although Newton did not have a good game, 184 total yards, he led the Panthers offense and did not force his defense into bad situations. Along with Newton, the Panthers accounted for over 100 yards on the ground and the only touchdown in the game. However, it is likely that this game will be different than their week 10 matchup. Although Steve Smith is likely to play, he will be hampered by his PCL injury, which stopped him from playing the last few weeks contests. While the Panthers’ receiving core will be slowed, the 49ers will have Michael Crabtree back for this game. Crabtree is Kaepernick’s favorite receiver and gives Colin more confidence when he throws the ball. Last week, Kaepernick threw for 227 yards, including 125 yards to Crabtree, through the cold, weather, and Packers’ tough secondary. Along with Kaepernick’s passing, his rushing came alive last week, which drastically changed the complexion of the game. Although he did not score a touchdown, he accounted for 98 yards. Similar to last season’s playoffs, Colin’s ability to run the ball and adapt to defenses create a huge problem for opposing defenses. Opposing defenses and coordinators must prepare for his ability to run and throw, which has seen to be nearly impossible. Two of the 49ers top three receivers, Davis and Boldin, were horrible during the week 10 game, but has been known to play well in the postseason, especially Boldin. The 49ers will look to establish the run, but their passing attack should enable them to drive the ball down the field. The combination of the three wide receivers/tight end and Kaepernick’s scrambling ability will be too much for the Panthers’ stout defense to handle. The Panthers are a young squad and it is unknown if they can succeed with pressure. This will be Newton’s first playoff game and many are wondering how he will react with the pressure and the great defense of the 49ers. The Panthers need to run the ball for over 125 yards and two touchdowns, if they are going to score enough points to win. Over the last few games, the Panthers’ receivers have been unable to separate from opposing corners in the secondary. Without Smith at full force, the Panthers will be predominately a run first offense. The Packers with a great passing and rushing game were unable to frequently score against the talented 49ers defense. The 49ers will be playing Aldon Smith in this game. Smith is one of the five best pass rushers in the game because he is a freak and offensive lineman cannot stop his speed and power. The Panthers need to control the ball, play great defense, contain Colin, apply pressure, and create a few pickoffs. While the Panthers should be able to stop Frank Gore because of their great linebackers, it will be interesting to see if Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis can stop Colin from running out of the pocket.
Prediction: 49ers win 21-17
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos:
In the third game between these two AFC West rivals, the winner will be able to play in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts or the Patriots. In the two previous match ups, the teams have split with the road teams winning in both games. In their previous week 15 contest, the Chargers were able to head into Mile High and win against the Broncos, which was their best game of the season. In the game, the Chargers were able to make the Broncos one dimensional since the Broncos were unable to run effectively. On 11 touches, the Broncos’ running backs ran for 18 yards, 1.6 yards per rush. Along with a poor rushing game, the Chargers’ defense was able to hold Manning to 289 yards and intercepted him in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, while the Broncos were driving to score. Although the Chargers were ranked fourth in passing yards per game, Rivers threw for only 166 yards and two interception, but zero interceptions. The star of the game was Ryan Mathews, who could not be stopped throughout the game. Mathews rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, his best game of the season. Along with Mathews, Keenan Allen scored two touchdowns in the second quarter, which gave them the lead. While the Chargers were able to stop Manning once in week 15, it is unlikely that they will be able to contain the best regular season quarterback of all time. Manning is on a mission and is desperate to win his second Super Bowl Championship of his career. In the first matchup, Manning threw for 330 yards, 4 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Along with Manning’s success, the Broncos were able to form a resemblance of a running game, 84 yards on the ground. Although it is unlikely Manning will have the same success as the first matchup since he does not post the same numbers in the cold or playoffs, he is great and will return Wes Welker from a concussion. Although Welker is not a big play receiver, he is one of the best possession receivers in the league and allows Manning continue drives with clutch receptions. The underneath threat of Welker gives Thomas and Decker more freedom to make big plays in the passing game. As witness with the Patriots, Welker is a reliable pass catcher in the playoffs. Although Manning will have extraordinary amounts of pressure, he should put up impressive numbers, since the Chargers do not have a great defense, although they are hot. During the game, it is likely that the game will be above freezing and without major weather problems. Manning will be determined to win after the devastating loss to the Ravens in last year’s playoff game. The biggest question mark in the game will be Mathews ability to even play or play through injuries. If Mathews does not play, the game will be no contest since Rivers does not have enough weapons to beat the Broncos alone. Rivers should be able to play well because he has been good during his past playoff games and has resurrected himself this season. Although the Chargers are believed to be the team of destiny, it is unlikely their magical ride will continue past this week. Although the game will be close, the Broncos should be able to win because they have the better quarterback, more talent, and the home field advantage.
Prediction: Broncos win 27-21
Pics and Stats from ESPN