Predictions and Previews for the Divisional Round games on Sunday

By: Jon

 

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers:

1:05 PM

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

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 ┬áto 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:

4:40 PM

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

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

 

 

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Predictions and Previews for the Saturday Games in the NFL Divisional Round

By: Jon

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks:

4:35 PM

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In a rematch of their week 13 matchup, the Saints will be heading into Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in an attempt to reach the NFC Championship. However, the Saints must hope that this game will be different than the previous game. The Seahawks thrashed the Saints at home by 27 points, their worst loss of the season. The Seahawks blitzed the Saints and took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 27-7 lead by halftime. The Seahawks were able to totally stop the entire Saints offense and allowed them only 188 yards, their lowest output of the season. The Seahawks’ secondary played huge, although they did not record and interceptions Brees threw for only 147 yards and one touchdown because the secondary was great and double teamed his main weapon, Jimmy Graham. Along with the incredible pass defense, their rush defense allowed only 44 yards on 2.6 yards per carry. While the Saints offense was exposed, the Seattle pass offense could not be stopped and Russell Wilson accounted for 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 47 rushing yards, and a quarterback rating of 94.7, which is out of 100 points. Although the Saints were able win on the road at Philly for the first time in franchise history, Drew Brees played below average and will need to improve his play in order to win in Seattle. Although Philly is a raucous environment compared to most stadiums, Lincoln Financial Field is like a tea restaurant compared to CenturyLink Field, which gives the Seahawks the best home field advantage in the league. Since entering the league last season, Wilson has lost only once at home, this season to the Arizona Cardinals. Although Brees will fortunate that the weather will be above freezing, unlike last weekend, the weather calls for heavy rain and 20 mph wind. Unfortunately the Saints are predominantly a passing offense, which will be affected by the weather and the great Seahawks passing defense. However, the Saints showed last week that they could create a resemblance of running game. Last week, Mark Ingram played the best game of his career and recorded 97 yards and one touchdown. Along with Ingram, the Saints combined for 185 yards on the ground, which enabled them to move the ball although Brees passed only 250 yards and 2 interceptions. The ground game will need to have an even better game this week if they are going to have a chance, since Brees will likely have trouble again this weekend. While the Saints offense will probably have trouble, the Seahawks’ players should have adapted to the cold and rainy weather and have a better chance of playing through the elements. The Seahawks may be given a huge addition if Percy Harvin can return and make an impact for the Seahawks. The Seahawks will hope to establish their ground game with Marshawn Lynch against the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league. Although it has been three years since the Seahawks huge upset over the Saints and Marshawn Lynch’s crazy 67 yard run nicknamed “beast mode”, the Saints defense is playing better and held the best running attack to only 80 rushing yards in Philly. The Seahawks should attempt to score early and run the ball so they keep Brees on the bench and eliminate the Saints’ ability to run the ball. Also, Wilson needs to limit his turnovers so the Saints cannot capitalize on extra possessions. The Seahawks should be the favorite in this game because they have better defense and are well built to play in this type of weather. Although the game will be closure, the Saints will need to pull off a huge upset to win the game.

Prediction: Seahawks win 27-20

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots:

8:15

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

Will it be time for the new guard to overtake the old guard? After one of the most exciting games of all time, the Colts must regroup and head on the road to take on Tom Brady and the second seed New England Patriots. Andrew Luck played a great second half and led the Colts to the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Although the Colts did not play the Patriots this season, the Colts headed to New England last year and were destroyed by the men for Foxborough. However, this is a different Colts’ team and Andrew Luck is a different quarterback with more experience and relationships with his offense. The Colts are on a great run and have won 4 straight games and 5 games in their last six efforts. The Colts have been able to succeed because they are playing better defense, running the ball, and Andrew Luck is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Although the Colts did not run the ball very frequently in their contest against the Chiefs, since they were down by 28, they did achieve 5.3 yards per game. The Colts have an added dimension in the running game because Andrew Luck has wheels and ran for 45 yards against the Chiefs. Although Luck’s rushes are nice, his arm and decision making make him one of the best in the quarterbacks left in the playoffs. Last week, Luck threw for 3 interceptions, but 443 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although Luck is very young, one of his best qualities is his ability to lead his team and be cool during pressure filled situations. While the Colts have a good quarterback, the Patriots may have the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Although Brady has posted better statistics in his career, he needed to use all of his skill to lead the Patriots to the second best record in the AFC and an undefeated record at home because his receivers do not have much talent and are unable to provide separation or catch the ball in conference. Like the Colts, the Patriots are hot and have won five of their last six weeks. However, the week break may cause the Patriots to lose rhythm, which could affect them early in the game. The Pats have been able to run the ball with more efficiency and frequency this season, which will be necessary against the Colts. While the Colts are above average against the pass because they have quality pass rushers and corners, their rush defense ranked 26th during the season. LaGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen have provided the Pats with a three headed attack that should be able to gain yardage against the Colts. However, the Pats have not been great in the playoffs over the last few seasons. After winning three titles early in his career, Tom has not won a championship over the past decade. The problems with the Pats have been their inability to shut teams down on defense and run the ball to set up the pass on offense. The Colts should be able to pass the ball and run the ball because Luck can throw on any defense and the Pats have one of the worst defense in the league. In this game, the Colts should be able to pull off the upset because they are playing better defense and Luck has the talent to lead the Colts past the Pats. Besides the 31 points they allowed in the first half, the Colts allowed 37 points over the past few games. The Colts should be the favorite if the game is close because Luck has a knack to win close games against any quarterback and team, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City. The game should be high scoring, since the weather is not going to horrible and the offenses are a notch above the opposing defenses. Last weeks’ game should give Luck even more confidence that he can win any game against any team.

Prediction: Colts win 37-34

stats and pics from ESPN.com

Predictions and Preview for NFL Wild Card Playoff Round

By: Jon

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts:

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

4:35 PM Saturday

Two weeks ago, the Colts and Chiefs played in Kansas City and the Colts came out victorious in a low scoring game. The Colts were able to control the game and comfortably won the game 23-7 on the road. The Colts dominated the game after the Chief’s first drive of the game. The two teams are heading in opposite directions. The Colts are playing their best football of the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, while the Chiefs are playing horribly. Outside of their win against the Raiders, the Chiefs have won once in the last 8 games and have lost two straight games. Kansas City was great during the beginning of the season because they ran the ball effectively, did not turnover the ball, and played great defense. However, the team has not played great defense since the injuries of Houston and Hali, their two best pass rushers. Without an effective pass rush, the Chiefs’ defense has been vulnerable and has allowed more than 20 points per game. Their porous defense has forced Smith to throw the ball more often and force more passes into tight windows. Besides for the offensive clinic against the Raiders and the late explosion against the Redskins, the Chiefs do not play well in high scoring games and have lost three of the last five games when they score more than 24 points. While the Chiefs have tried to become more dynamic because of their poor defense, the Colts are playing better defense and have simplified the offense. The Colts have won their last three games and have allowed a combined 20 points in those games. Although the Colts lost their best offensive weapon in Reggie Wayne, they have run the ball more effectively and have become more efficient in the passing game. Also, players, like D’Rick Rogers and Greg Whalen, have risen from the bench and have produced for the team. The Colts will be benefited by playing at home on the turf and in front of their home crowd. The Colts are 6-2 at home and use the speed of the turf to play better defense. At home, they have beaten the Broncos and the Seahawks. The speed of the turf improves the Colts pass rush, especially Robert Mathis, and allows their speedy linebackers and secondary to track down opposing running backs. In this game, the Colts should be the favorite. They are playing better, at home, and have the better quarterback. Although Smith is older than Luck, he has only one more playoff appearance and does not have the skill or leadership like Luck. The game should be close, but Luck has been great in close games this season. The Colts will be looking to stop the run, which will make Smith pass the ball more frequently. Unless Charles is able to beat 7 or 8 men box, the Chiefs will have difficult scoring against the athletic and feisty Colts defense. The game should come down to the last few minutes, but Luck should be able to pull out a big win and garner his first playoff victory in his career.

Prediction: Colts win 24-20

 

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles:

8:10 PM Saturday

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The Saints will attempt to win their first road game in their franchise’s history when they head to the City of Brotherly Love to play the Eagles. Although the Saints have been one of the most dominant teams since the addition of Drew Brees, the Saints do not play well on the road, especially in the cold. All five of the Saints’ losses have been on the road this season. The three Saints’ wins on the road have been by a combined 14 points against the lowly Bucs, Bears, and Falcons, neither team is above 500. Also, the Bears’ game was the only contest that was not in a warm weathered climate or in a dome The Saints have trouble on the road because they are built for the fast turf field and the controlled climate in the Superdome. Although the Saints do not play well or have the team set for the cold weather, they are extremely dangerous and have Drew Brees, who always gives them a chance in a game. The Saints have lost two of their last three because the offensive line has not played well. The Saints are forced to start a rookie left tackle, who should be abused and over matched against Trent Cole and Mychael Kendricks. The key for the Saints will be Jimmy Graham. Last week, the Eagles could not stop Dallas’ tight end, Jason Witten, who is not on the same tier as Jimmy Graham. If Graham can explode and Brees’ limits the amount of turnovers, the Saints will have a chance in Philly. While the Saints play poorly on the road, the Eagles have played well at home, winning their last four games. The Eagles have been extremely fortunate this season that Nick Foles has put forth one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history. Although Foles has been great because he does not turnover the football, he is given a lot of help from Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, the talented tight ends, and the stable offensive line. The Eagles running game has been the best in football because McCoy has been great this season and they cannot crowd the line with the skill of Nick Foles. Although the players have been playing well, Chip Kelly deserves a lot of credit for turning around the third worst team in football, last season. His offenses has been constructed because of the speed and talent. He has given McCoy the opportunity to run and catch the ball out of the backfield, which has made him the best non-quarterback in the NFL. Along with the offense’s success, the defense has improved throughout the season. Although the defense allows plenty of yards, they have adopted the “bend don’t break” philosophy and have been great in the red zone. As seen from their last 7 games, the Eagles hold teams to field goals and frequently cause turnovers, which has been a formula that wins championships. The Eagles should be able to force a few turnovers this weekend because Brees does not have the same accuracy in cold weather games and the ball is harder to grip, which causes more fumbles. The Eagles have been on fire of late and should be able to continue their winning ways against the Saints. The Saints will have trouble scoring because of the cold and the deficiencies on the offensive line. While the Saints have improved at stopping the pass under Rob Ryan, the Eagles are a great running team and should rely on McCoy, Brown, and Foles to lead them to a win in Kelly’s first playoff game.

Prediction: Eagles win 31-27

 

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals:

1:00 PM Sunday

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In another rematch, the Chargers will be heading into Cincinnati in hopes of extending their season. Although the Chargers should probably not be in the playoffs, they are a dangerous team and played very well toward the end of the season. The Chargers are a dangerous team in the playoffs because Phillip Rivers is playing like a top quarterback again under Ken Whisenhunt. Phillip Rivers has decreased his number of interceptions and has increased his completion percentage, touchdowns, and yardage. Rivers has been aided by the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen and Ryan Matthews. Matthews has added a running game that San Diego has not seen since Tomlinson. Allen has filled the void left by Vincent Jackson when he went to Tampa two seasons ago and recorded over 1000 yards. The Chargers have Woodhead and Gates, who are great situational receivers and provide safety blankets for Rivers. The Chargers have won 4 of their lat 5 games, but the one loss came to the Cincinnati Bengals in sunny, warm San Diego. However, this game will not be played in the sun or the warmth. The temperature is going to start at 37, but is intended to drop to 1 with a 100% chance of rain in the forecast. The rain, snow, and cold could affect Rivers’ ability to throw the ball against the stout Bengals defense. The Bengals’ defense is ranked 5th in both yards per game against the rush and the pass. The Chargers were unable to master the Bengals’ defense in week 13 and scored only 10 points. The Bengals were able to pick off Rivers and force two fumbles in the contest. The Chargers may turn the ball over again because the poor weather is conducive to slippery hands and off target passes. Along with the Chargers’ offense, the Bengals’ offense will be negatively affected by the weather as well. The Bengals have the 8th best passing attack in the league because Dalton has dramatically improved and AJ Green is one of the three best wide receivers in the league. In the past two playoff match ups against the Texans, Green did very little, which dramatically decreased their ability to score and move the ball. Unlike the Texans, the Chargers do not have the shut down secondary or the pass rush to stop quarterbacks from succeeding. The Chargers are currently 29th against the pass. Like their week 13 matchup, Green and Dalton should connect for 100 yards and at least one touchdown. If the Bengals can establish their ground game and account for over 150 yards, like week 13, the Chargers will have a difficult time scoring enough points against the Bengals’ stingy defense. Also, the running game in the snow will allow the Bengals to throw less frequently and not risk turnovers. The Bengals’ defense and the weather should be able to hold down the Chargers’ potent offense, while doing enough on offense to get their first playoff win in Marvin Lewis’ tenure.

Prediction: Bengals win 24-17

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers:

4:40 PM Sunday

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The fans going to the game should wear their gloves, a hat, a scarf, a coat, and about eight more layers of clothes. The weather Green Bay is set to be around 0 degrees at the start of the game and go toward -18 as the sun drops and game ends. However, the weather does not include the wind chill, which should make the fans even happier. The TV companies that want to black out the game because of poor attendance should go out and sit in the stands before condemning the fans. Like 2 of the other three match ups, the Packers played the 49ers in week one in San Francisco. Although it was a long time ago, the 49ers won and won in the previous playoffs, which should give them confidence against the Packers. Although the Packers are playing at home and are more “used” to the cold, if one can be used to the weather, the cold probably benefits the 49ers and their ground and pound style of play. However, the Packers should be happy that they made the playoffs after losing Aaron Rodgers for seven games during the middle of the season. In normal situations and weather, the Packers would want to throw the ball about 35 times because their wide receiver core is one of the best in the league and not many teams can ┬álimit Rodgers’ skills. Although the Packers will always have a chance with Rodgers, they need Eddie Lacy to play effectively, if they are going to challenge the 49ers. Currently, Lacy is listed questionable, but the Packers needs him because he bruises the opposing defense and adds an extra element to the Packers’ offense. Aaron Rodgers will probably have trouble with the accuracy because it is very difficult to handle the ball when it is cold, let alone -18 cold. Even if Rodgers wears a glove, it will affect his accuracy and ability to drive down the field. While the Packers’ offense should be fine, the defense will be challenged against the 49ers offense. The Packers defense currently ranks 24th and 25th respectively in passing and rushing yards allowed. Although the 49ers have what many believed was one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league before the season, the 49ers rank 30th in passing yards, but 3rd in rushing yards. Although the 49ers have not achieved much from their quarterback, the team is incredibly hot. They have won 6 straight and 11 of their last 13 games, which bodes well for their playoff future. The key to 49ers is their ability to play great defense and run the ball, which can translate into any weather. The 49ers rank 7th in passing yards and 4th in running yards allowed this season because they have great linebackers, Bowman and Willis, and their secondary is very good. The 49ers, like the previous two games, should be able to control the pace of the game and time of possession with their running game. Although Kapernick has not been great this season, two of his best games of his career has been in his last two games against the Packers. However, the cold will probably stop Kapernick from running wild, but his strong arm should allow him to throw through the cold and possible snow. Without Clay Matthews providing a pass rush and assisting against the run, they will not be able to stop the improving 49ers offense. The Packers will need to cause turnovers, like their 2010-11 title run, in order to keep the 49ers off the field and give more touches to their All-Pro quarterback. Although the last two match ups have been high scoring, the weather should disrupt the offense and make it a low scoring game.

Prediction: 49ers win 24-23

 

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