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Saturday, January 11, 2014

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

Last weekend, the NFL gave us one of the greatest weekends of football anyone could imagine.  The only game that wasn't thrilling right to the final gun was the Chargers' big road upset of the Bengals.  Incidentally, that is also the only game that Wild Banshee missed in last week's predictions.  This weekend, Vegas only has one game listed with a point spread of less than a touchdown.  I know there is a reason why those seers in the desert get paid to bet on sports while I merely pay for the privilege to watch sports.  But, even for the pros, it's called gambling for a reason.  Here is how I see things this week.

New Orleans at Seattle:  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX.  Heading into last weekend, all we heard from the media was a relentless mantra about the Saints' road struggles and Drew Brees' preference for indoor games.  The Saints silenced most of that chatter with a road win at Philadelphia.  But, this week, the competition is getting ratcheted up a few notches.  While the Saints were battling the Eagles last week, the Seattle Seahawks were resting and getting healthy.  That's an extra advantage that the Seahawks really didn't need.  In Week 13, the Seahawks dismantled the Saints by a score of 34-7.  And, that was without the services of Percy Harvin.  Well, Harvin will likely be back in the lineup for this weekend.  But even if Harvin does not play, there is no reason to believe this weekend's outcome will be any different.  The Seahawks have a very solid offense and a dominant defense.  Seattle was my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and I believe they will begin their road to the Meadowlands this weekend with a dominating performance at home.  Seattle: 35-14.

Indianapolis at New England:  Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EST on CBS.  I struggled with this pick.  First of all, I didn't predict that either one of these teams would even make the playoffs this season.  My bad.  I swallowed my pride and correctly picked the Colts to beat the Chiefs last weekend.  But, that required a miraculous comeback by the Colts.  It was the type of miracle that never gets performed against Brady and Belichick.  Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, and he will have plenty more playoff victories in his career.  But this weekend will not be one of them.  With Reggie Wayne removed from the lineup, T.Y. Hilton is the Colts only legitimate threat at reciever.  Despite the fact that the Patriots have suffered more than their share of injuries on defense, Belichick will concentrate on Hilton and figure out a way to neutralize him.  On the other side of the ball, it's never wise to pick against the Golden Boy Tom Brady in January.  Due to Luck's ability to make big plays in the clutch, the final score of this game will be closer than the game really was, but the Patriots will be victorious.   New England: 31-24.

San Francisco at Carolina:  Sunday at 1:00 p.m. on FOX.  If you are an old school fan who likes hard hitting defense, then this game is for you.  If you are a new school fan who likes innovative offense centered around athletic, young quarterbacks, then this game is for you.  In other words, this is the game of the weekend.  And Vegas agrees.  They have this game set with a spread of just one point.  In Week 12, San Francisco hosted Carolina, and the Panthers prevailed by a score of 10-9 in a defensive struggle.  I expect a close game again this time, but I think there will be a different outcome.  Back in November, Michael Crabtree was injured.  Since Crabtree's return, the 49ers' offense has been rejuvenated.  The Panthers don't have any weapon like that returning to their lineup.  Just like last time, the 49ers will be able to concentrate their defense on stopping Cam and Steve Smith.  Meanwhile, the Panthers' defensive attention will be divided.  Kapernick will not run wild like he did in Green Bay last weekend, but he will be effective enough to lead his team to victory.  San Francisco:  21-17.

San Diego at Denver:  Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on CBS.  I am glad that the NFL saved this game for the last game of the weekend.  For me, this was the most perplexing game of the weekend.  If you just look at the records, this game is a no-brainer pick in favor of the Broncos.  After all, the Chargers needed a last-second missed penalty on a field goal to even make it into the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Broncos coasted to the top seed in the AFC.  But, if you look a little closer, the Chargers have a lot going for them.  First of all, they beat the Broncos in Denver in Week 15 by a score of 27-20.  And, yes, the Broncos did still have something to play for on that day.  The Chargers simply came into the mile high city and took care of business.  I know it sounds crazy, but I think the Chargers will do it again this weekend.  Last weekend, the Chargers went to Cincinnati and comfortably handed the Bengals their first home loss of the season.  Certainly, Peyton Manning is a far superior quarterback to Andy Dalton.  But, the Broncos' defense is far inferior to the Bengals' defense.  This is especially true without Von Miller in the lineup at linebacker for the Broncos.  Phillip Rivers and his bolo ties will continue their improbable run towards the Super Bowl with an upset win at Denver.  San Diego:  35-31.

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