NFL Divisional Round playoff predictions
SAINTS AT SEAHAWKS:
The Saints came into Seattle just over a month ago with the NFC top seed on the line. A victory in that game would have pretty much sealed the home field advantage in the NFC. They were prepared, confident and ready. The weather was perfect for football and the Saints wanted to avenge that playoff loss in 2010 season when Lynch Beast quaked them in the 4th quarter. And then, the 12th man came into the equation and Saints could not overcome the initial shock of being in such a loud environment. It was 17-0 before we knew it and Saints were never in the game. Come this week, the shock factor might be gone. They will know what to expect and can come up with a better game plan. Seattle will not have KJ Wright who shut down Jimmy Graham in the last game. They are running the ball well and they would continue to do so. Seattle on the other hand is coming off a bye and some of their players like Kearse and Okung would have healed over this break. Percy Harvin might play in this game but he will be limited. However just his presence would draw attention from the defenders and that might open up the game for other players like Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin. Seattle did not run the ball very well in the earlier match up as well. Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette played very well and the Linebackers kept the run offense in check. Saints will be without Parys Haralson in the middle and might be without Keenan Lewis. They have already lost Kenny Vaccaro and Jabari Greer from the lineup. So they might struggle in the defensive backfield. I think this game will be very close and the team that dominates the run game will win. I think Seattle will come out on top.
SEAHAWKS 28 - SAINTS 22
COLTS AT PATRIOTS:
While the old school folks are salivating to see the Niners-Panther matchup the following morning but for me, this is the game of the week. Last week I texted a friend during the Chiefs-Colts game that we are seeing the birth of a superstar in Andrew Luck. I have been one of his biggest fans. His talent is unquestioned but his demeanor, his humility and work ethic is what makes him truly unique. He purposely gave up big bucks in his rookie year by refusing endorsement deals worth millions, just to concentrate on football. He has already surpassed Manning in the rookie year comparison and Peyton was never able to come back in a playoff game in which his team was down by 28 points or more. While Luck played superbly the Defense played one of their worst games of the season. Alex Smith shred them with almost 400 yards and 4 TDs. Their pass rush on their turf was not there and the linebacker play was just atrocious. The DBs were horrible as well. So while the Colts are riding high after that win, they need to correct a lot of mistakes. New England has lost a playoff game in each of the last 4 years except for the 2011 season when Donnie Avery made a catch which was not ruled as a catch. In all those 4 games, Tom Brady did not play well. He looked timid and tense in all those games. Once the defense notices that, they constantly pressure him and force him into mistakes. Rex Ryan and the Jets did it in 2010 and the Ravens did it in the last two years. Bill Belichick will take out TY Hilton out of the game and let other players beat him. With the loss of Wilfork, the Patriots run defense is very suspect and I can see a big game for Richardson. May be this is the game that finally validates the big trade Ryan Grigson made for Trent with the Browns. I like Richardson to run often and run well. On the Patriots side, I like Amendola and Edelman to have a huge game. They are both talented receivers and have finally found a trust factor with Brady. I also look for these receivers to have big YAC (yards after catch). In this game you have two of the worst tackling teams in the NFL and Colts might be the worst. So look for a high scoring game where Luck will have the ball at the end but he will not be able to pull this one off. If he does, Luck would have another feather in his cap and that would be beating Brady in his first playoff match, a feat that took Manning four games to achieve.
PATRIOTS 33 – COLTS 27
49ERS AT THE PANTHERS
At 1-3, people all over the NFL spectrum had given up on cam Newton and Ron Rivera. The way they lost to the Cardinals in Arizona was one of the lowest points since Cam and Ron have been together. Then Steve Smith and the leaders on defense intervened and took over the locker room. They had not given up on the season. Taking a cue from his leaders, Ron Rivera did the same. He knew he had a pretty good defense but he had not been able to harness all that talent into a championship team. His aggression from that point forward is a big reason that Carolina ended up as the two seed in the NFC. One of their signature wins was a physical beat down of the 49ers at Candlestick. In that game Colin Kaepernick was still adjusting to life without Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis left the game with a concussion. That left only Boldin and he was covered well. Another thing that the Panthers did was to contain Kaep and did not let him run and make first downs. 49ers played well on defense and restricted Panthers to just 10 points but they could not score more than 9 and lost by 1. This week the 49ers are coming off an impressive but another physical game at the Packers. They needed to battle all 60 minutes in frigid temperatures to eke out a win. Kaep was impressive and the difference in the game. He played his best game of his career on a big stage. But I am not sure if the travel and the fatigue would take its toll. They will fly to Charlotte and have an early start on Sunday. Carolina will have had the bye week and they are expected to get Steve Smith back for the game. This game will come down to who plays better in the trenches. Both the quarterbacks can do a lot of damage if the defenses are not able to contain them. They are hard to bring down and have uncanny abilities to prolong the play and find a lane for themselves or an open receiver. Tackling will also be important as both teams will try to dominate on the ground and keep the drives alive. Most pundits will pick the 49ers as they are playing the best football. On any other day, I will do the same since 49ers are a better team than the Panthers but I am still worried about the travel and the early start. I actually like the Panthers to start fast and get an early lead but Kaep and company will bounce back and take this one in the end.
49ers 27 – Panthers 17
CHARGERS AT BRONCOS:
Before the season started someone asked Jake Delhomme about the best off season acquisition and he said that it was Mike McCoy as the new head coach in San Diego. McCoy had worked with Delhomme who was a decent quarterback but Mike was able to elevate Jake’s game and take the team to the Superbowl. Philip Rivers coming into the season had major question marks about his future as a franchise quarterback. After showing signs of brilliance from 2007 to 2010, his play had deteriorated to a point where he might have been let go. Mike McCoy came in and corrected his game and as a result Rivers has had one of his best seasons as a professional. The team around him has been average and that is why they were unable to close the deal in many games and ended up with an 8-8 record. However they beat the Bengals by being physical upfront on both sides of the ball. They dominated the game and forced Dalton to beat them with his arm which he was unable to do. This is the same game plan that shocked the Broncos4 weeks ago when the Chargers handed them their only home defeat of the season. The good thing about the Chargers is that they know the formula how to win again in Denver. The bad news is that Peyton Manning knows what they are going to do now. Manning might have failed in that game but now he knows what will beat his team and he is not going to let that happen. He has worked with Mike McCoy last year as the OC. Mike must have gotten the advantage of that association in that Thursday night game but Manning is going to take round two. He will come out fast and will put on a lot of points in the first two quarters. He is no going to make the same mistake je did with Baltimore last year and will try to blow the Chargers out. While Rivers is playing well Broncos defense will be missing Von Miller, I still like the Broncos to come out fast and put a beating on the Chargers. Broncos will punch their ticket to the AFC Championship game and see the Patriots for right to represent the AFC in the Superbowl. Peyton Manning has to be concerned about his legacy and he cannot be one and done for the ninth time in his career in the post season. He will take over early and often.
BRONCOS 38 – CHARGERS 21