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Friday, January 9, 2015

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

This weekend is the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.  Normally, this one of the most dramatic and entertaining weekends on the sports calendar.  This year, however, the seers in the desert have set the point spread at less than a touchdown in only one game.  Wild Banshee thinks we'll see a little more drama than that.

Baltimore at New England:  Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST on NBC.  For teams who are not in the same division, the Ravens and the Patriots have developed a heated rivalry over the last several years.  New England earned the top spot in the AFC playoff field with a 12-4 record.  The Pats are coming off a bye and will be playing at home.  So, it's no surprise that they are heavily favored in this game versus the wildcard Ravens.  The Patriots have put on some prolific offensive performances in marquis games this year, but over the course of the entire season, the Patriots and Ravens were not very far apart in total offense or points.  Although the Ravens have long been known for their defense, the primary weakness on this year's team is the defensive secondary.  However, Tom Brady and his receiving corps have not been able to stretch the field with deep passing all year.  I am not picking the upset here, but I do believe that the Ravens will give the Patriots all they can handle.  In the end, Rob Gronkowski will make enough plays to propel New England into the next round.  New England: 24-21.

Carolina at Seattle:  Saturday at 8:10 p.m. EST on FOX.  The Seattle Seahawks begin their title defense at home against a team that had a losing record in the regular season.  The Panthers made the playoffs by being the least terrible team in the horrendous NFC South and then advanced to the second round by beating a Cardinals team that was absolutely decimated by injuries to their offense.  The Panthers have looked every bit as bad as all of that sounds.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks have been on an absolute tear since they cut out the cancer that is Percy Harvin.  The defense is once again a fearsome force, and Russell Wilson is playing championship caliber football at the quarterback position.  Las Vegas set one of the highest point spreads in recent playoff memory for this game, and I whole heartedly agree with that assessment.  Everyone can get a good night's sleep for church in the morning because the Seahawks will have this game well in hand by halftime.  Seattle: 38-10.

Dallas at Green Bay:  Sunday at 1:05 p.m. EST on FOX.  The last time these teams met in the playoffs, it was in the famed Ice Bowl in 1967.  This time around, the fans at Lambeau Field will get to enjoy balmy 18 degree weather.  The Packers were a perfect 8-0 at home this season.  Remarkably, the Cowboys were a perfect 8-0 on the road.  Obviously, one of these streaks must end.  The primary reason for Dallas' road success is that a running game travels well.  The Cowboys running game should be effective again this weekend against a Packers defense that ranked 23rd against the run this season.  Every minute that the Cowboys offense spends grinding out yards on the ground is a minute that the Green Bay offense stays on the sidelines.  Even Aaron Rogers and his prolific offense cannot score points from the bench.  When Rogers is on the field, there are a lot of questions about how effective he can be with a partially torn calf muscle.  Over the past decade, the Cowboys have earned a reputation for wilting when the spotlight was bright, but this year's team has a different vibe.  A gritty vibe.  Tony Romo and the Cowboys will find a way to win on the frozen tundra.  Dallas:  28-24.

Indianapolis at Denver:  Sunday at 4:40 p.m. EST on CBS.  The media storyline heading into this game will be all about the quarterbacks.  Peyton Manning, the face of the Colts for so many years, versus Andrew Luck, the man who seamlessly took over that mantel.  However, it is the running game that will be the deciding factor in this game.  In short, the Broncos have one, and the Colts do not.  Denver will not need a spectacular performance from Manning in order to push past the Colts.  Due to the comeback credentials of Luck, this game will never truly be out of reach, but the Broncos will win this game by a solid margin.  Denver:  35-13.

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