Just as everyone predicted, Wild Card Weekend in the NFL made no sense. The Chiefs blew a four touchdown lead in the third quarter, the Saints won outside, and the Chargers beat a team on the road that hadn’t lost at home all season after scratching and crawling their way into the playoffs.
Ladies and Gentleman, the NFL postseason.
Now the #1 and #2 seeds get involved, but honestly, seeding doesn’t mean squat this time of year. Three road wild card teams won last weekend, and Andrew Luck orchestrated a miracle to avoid making it a clean sweep against the Chiefs.
We can only imagine what this week has to offer. Let’s get to it.
The Saints got annihilated when they visited the 12th man earlier this season on Monday Night Football, and honestly, this one could easily have the same result. Drew Brees will have to play flawlessly and the Saints will have to keep him upright to have any kind of success offensively. The only problem is–and what was on display in their last matchup–the Seahawks secondary is far better than any team in the NFL, and there isn’t a whole lot of match ups the Saints can exploit.
Russell Wilson played just about as good as a quarterback possibly can the last time he played the Saints. He eluded every sack, made every correct decision, and converted every throw that was presented to him. However, Wilson has struggled over the last few games, and he and the Seahawks showed they can be vulnerable at home when they were outplayed by the Cardinals in Week 16.
The Saints will have to play turnover-free ball to have a chance in this one, and that’s no easy task, considering the Seahawks force a turnover on one out of every five possessions, not only the highest rate in the NFL this season, but the highest rate since the merger. It would take a whole lot of cajones to pick the Saints to upset this Saturday.
Prediction: Seahawks 38, Saints 24
No, it’s not Brady vs. Manning anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a polarizing matchup. Andrew Luck officially announced his NFL superstardom in his absurd comeback against the Chiefs last weekend, and he’s every bit as advertised.
It’ll be interesting to see if Luck can withstand the pressure in a road playoff game. His first visit to Gillette Stadium was a disaster last year, the Colts got blown out of the stadium to the tune of a 59-24 score. It’s likely the Colts remember that game quite vividly.
Frankly–at this point–Tom Brady has more postseason experience than just about anybody. Brady is 17-7 in his postseason career, but since 2008, he’s a mediocre 3-5. The jury is still out on whose fault that is, but if the Patriots want to win on Saturday night, Tom Terrific is going to have to play well, something he should have no problem doing against a defense that just gave up 44 points to Alex Smith at home.
The Patriots will likely try to take T.Y. Hilton out of the game. Hilton excels in the short-to-intermediate passing game, and he’ll see a lot of Aqib Talib plus some. If the Pats succeed in taking him out, it’s likely the Colts will have a difficult time moving the ball between the 20’s.
We’ll see who runs the ball effectively, but it’s possible neither team does and we just see an all out aerial attack. If that happens, the Patriots will have a huge advantage on Saturday in the elements.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Colts 27
While these two teams played in Week 10, it’s hardly an indicator of what to expect in this game. The 49ers were without Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, and Cam Newton hasn’t quite hit his stride yet.
Now in the divisional round, it’ll be interesting to see how Newton and head coach Ron Rivera handle their first playoff game. They certainly have the personnel to beat the 49ers for the second time this season despite the fact their just the third home dog in a divisional playoff game since 1990.
Luke Kuechly can handle Colin Kaepernick and the read option, Thomas Davis has the ability to cover Davis down the seam, and Captain Munnerlynn can limit Crabtree.
As for some other potential key players:
Steve Smith is attempting to play through a knee injury and will likely be limited this Sunday. Relying on Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Lafell to move the chains could be catastrophic against the 49ers defense. Expect Greg Olsen to be heavily targeted.
Anquan Boldin has been the X-factor in a lot of games for the 49ers this season, and this game will likely be no different. Boldin doesn’t get much separation these days, but he’s crafty in the open field, and wins the ball at the point of attack. Frankly, if he’s shows up with his usual “man among boys” attitude, it’s going to be a long day for the Panthers secondary.
As for Kaepernick, I’m still not quite sold on him. He obviously has all the physical tools, but I’m not sure if it’s quite there between the ears at times. Despite his physical gifts, at times he plays timid and scared, and you can see when he over thinks instead of just relying on his natural instincts and abilities. If he plays anywhere close to like he did last time out against the Panthers–when he threw for just 91 yards and ran for just 16–the 49ers don’t have a chance.
However, I think Kaep shows up on Sunday, especially with his legs. That should be the difference.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Panthers 24
Denver has the most prolific passing offense in the history of football. The Chargers have one of the worst pass offenses in the league. But guess who was the only team to hold Peyton Manning and the Broncos to under 400 yards of total offense?
That’s right. The Chargers.
How’d they do it you ask? They played keep away.
In the two games that the Chargers and Broncos played in 2013, the Chargers had the ball for 77 of the 120 total possible minutes, winning one of those games in Denver.
I could throw out a lot of random stats and matchups, but honestly, the only thing you need to know is this:
Since 2005, the a #1 seed has lost in seven of the last eight seasons, and since I think the Seahawks roll the Saints this weekend, that leaves the Broncos to take the hit. I’m going with my gut. There’s just something about the Chargers this year.
Prediction: Chargers 31, Broncos 30
Shawn Ferris is an NFL, MLB, and Fantasy Sports writer for sportstalkflorida.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealShawnFerris  for more sports news and updates.
NFL Divisional Round Playoff Preview by Shawn Ferris