New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
In a rematch of the regular season encounter, when Seattle rocked the New Orleans hopes of gaining a bye themselves. The Saints return to Seattle to derail the Legion of Boom and beat an undefeated team at home. Seattle have the best defense in the NFL and will ask questions of one of the better offenses, however it is those extra dimensions of the Saints offense that may make this closer on this occasion. If Brees can avoid overthrowing and over-egging the pudding, and rely on Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram to take some carries to the house.
The Seahawks for me rely too much on Marshawn Lynch, whilst Russell Wilson has shown great maturity in his sophomore season, I feel he does not have the weapons in the receiving core that Brees has (Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore and Sproles).
However, you feel the intimidatory feel of the ultimate home field advantage will serve Seattle well, although they have not ended the regular season as dominant as they would have intended.
Prediction: Seahawks by 6
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
The Patriots lucked out by having the Bengals eliminated, they get the higher remaining seed. In this case they get the comeback kings the Colts who came from a 28 point deficit at home to the Kansas City Chiefs to give Andrew Luck his first playoff victory. While Luck was inspirational, let it not be forgotten he threw three interceptions.
That is where I feel the game will be decided, the Patriots secondary led by Pro Bowler Aqib Talib has improved significantly from previous early season nightmares. Andrew Luck has only one receiver remaining in TY Hilton, and the one-two punch of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson. Yet the Patriots run defense has been good despite the loss of Vince Wilfork.
New England will probably have the most un-Brady playoff game as they rely on the running back trifecta of Stevan Ridley, LaGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen for screens. The Colts defense leaks points especially against the run. If NE find form and success with the rush, expect Brady to throw the ball no more than 30 times if that, and go to another AFC Championship game.
Prediction: Patriots by 10
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Carolina beat San Fran 10-9 at Candlestick about six weeks ago in a result that made people stand up and count these Panthers. However, that was probably the nadir of the 49ers season, since then they have regained Michael Crabtree from injury which has given Colin Kaepernick options with the ball, something he has not had. Anquan Boldin has had an amazing first season and Vernon Davis has been a stud as always, but Crabtree with his ball handling skills had 125 yards at Green Bay last week.
The Panthers probably could have done without a bye, the SF defensive line will be too much for the Panthers O-line with pressure coming from the edge to force Cam Newton to panic and scramble when they will then plug the gap sufficiently.
The worry of Steve Smith's health means that there are fewer weapons for Cam Newton to find and you cannot run on this 49ers defence. Whilst it is great to see Cam in his first playoff game, you feel it will be a one and done.
Prediction: 49ers by 7
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
The Chargers are that team that seemingly exists every year in the playoffs; the team that gets hot late on or fortuitously sneaks in using that momentum to gain shocks on teams. San Diego went on the road to the Bengals and upset them massively, Cincinnati were a bit complacent and over-reliant on AJ Green who they shut down sufficiently forcing Andy Dalton to aim elsewhere and then intercept him twice. Whilst Dalton was awful in his third successive one and done playoff game, the Chargers deserve huge credit for winning match-ups all over the field.
The game plan of utilizing the running of a healthy Ryan Mathews and the duck and dive of the ever impressive Danny Woodhead led to big gains on plays, managing the clock and frustrating the opposition causing mistakes that they scored off of.
The same plan will be in effect versus Peyton Manning and the high scoring Denver Broncos at Mile High. The altitude and away trip will hold no fear to the Chargers who won at Denver on a Thursday night when Ryan Mathews had over 130 yards and Denver had the ball for only 21 minutes. If that plan can be carried out properly it can work, and the loss of Von Miller on the Broncos defense will be sorely tested against a Chargers O-line that gives Rivers enough time in the pocket; Rivers is leading this team well marshaling the troops and controlling the tempo.
This could be an upset and the Chargers could do it again.
Prediction: Chargers by 3
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