In my humble opinion, the divisional round is always the most intriguing round of the playoffs. Four teams come off of a bye, playing teams that have come off of a huge victory. I don’t lend much to momentum, but how each team deals with both the week off and the week after a hard fought win is pivotal to taking the next step to the conference championship games. Here’s how I see things going down…
Seattle 31 – New Orleans 27
Not too long ago, the Seahawks hosted the Saints and absolutely owned them in every facet of the game. Both of these teams are different beasts at home, but the Saints proved themselves road-worthy with their wildcard win in Philadelphia. The thought here is basically that the better team wins, but don’t expect Sean Payton and the Saints coaching staff to not have a multitude of new wrinkles thrown into their gameplan, deviating from the course that left them dead in the water the last time these two teams met.
Indianapolis 38 – New England 28
Where to begin? The strength of the Patriots, the real strength, isn’t in Tom Brady but in their defensive schemes, expertly designed by Belichick and his staff to deny opposing teams the use of their best weapons. The Colts don’t exactly have a bounty of weapons, but if the plan is to shift coverage towards T.Y. Hilton (as we all expect), the Colts will be ready for it. In the great chess match of football, it’s rare that the Hoodie is out-dueled, but I expect Chuck Pagano and his staff to do just that. How? Defensive pressure and offensive patience, grounding out the clock and using high percentage short route passes to put together several long, demoralizing drives. In the end, the clock will decide the victor as much as the Colts will…but the Colts have to make the clock work for them, or this game could easily go in the other direction.
San Fransisco 20 – Carolina 16
Their game earlier this year was a defensive equivalent of an endurance race, while the offenses struggled to 19 combined points. The Panthers’ narrow victory was earned, no doubt, but this is a 49ers team who have retooled, healed and energized themselves for the long run since that game. The Panthers? Their inexperience will be their downfall. Cam Newton is the key to this game; if he has room to make plays with his feet, or time to make them with his arm, you can take on another 14 points to Carolina’s score.
Denver 31 – San Diego 24
These division foes split their games this year, with San Diego winning the last contest and giving the Broncos a hard time in the first meeting, as well. These two teams match up so well, predicting the game is a coin toss. I didn’t toss a coin; I firmly believe that Peyton Manning is going to do something a QB rarely does, but too often gets credit for doing; he’s going to will the Broncos, the entire team, to a victory. A hard fought, close victory.