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NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

The NFL playoffs resume this weekend.  We’ve already taken a look at the game between the Cowboys and Packers in Lambeau Field.  Also this weekend, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Denver to take on the Broncos.  In the late game Saturday, the Carolina Panthers head to Seattle to face the Seahawks and their infamous “Twelfth Man.”  Possibly the best weekend in football is about to commence.  Here is how I see those games playing out.

AFC Divisional Playoffs: Colts at Broncos

For the second straight season the Colts won the AFC South, and for the second straight season earned the chance to play in the Divisional round with a win on Wild Card weekend.  The Broncos won the AFC West for the fourth straight time, and made it to the Super Bowl a year ago.

Of course, the relative recent success of these teams will take a backseat to one of the NFL’s favorite story lines: Peyton Manning versus his heir apparent in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.  Each played very well through most of the regular season, only to fall off down the stretch.  Both will need to play well for their team to win today, as each offense is capable of putting up points.  If either Manning or Luck has an off day, the opponent is highly likely to win.

Were I a betting man, I’d lay money on the Broncos.  While each team is strong in the passing game, the Broncos have the better defense (third in yards allowed per game vs. 11th) and running game (15th vs. 22nd.  Manning has historically played poorly in inclement weather, temperatures should be in the 40s throughout the game.  Look for the Broncos to win in a close one.

NFC Divisional Playoffs: Panthers at Seahawks

The Panthers have the tall task of traveling to Seattle to try and beat the Seahawks at home.  Though the Seahawks showed vulnerability in the middle of the season, they have rebounded as their defense gained health.  In fact, the Seahawks finished number one in defense for the second straight season, overcoming the excellent Detroit Defense down the stretch.  They have not given up 20 points since a week 11 loss to Kansas City.  Since then, they have given up 3 points to San Francisco, 3 points to San Francisco, 14 points to Philadelphia, 7 points to San Francisco, 6 points to Arizona, and 6 points to St. Louis.  Though that list of offenses is far from elite, that is an incredible stretch of defensive football.  No coincidentally, the Seahawks have won six in a row.

They are not, however, the only hot team coming out of the NFC.  The Panthers won the NFC South with a losing record of 7-8-1.  However, they have won five in a row, including the playoffs.  While the team spent much of the season with the defense looking like a shell of the 2013 squad, the Panthers rebounded and began to play well late.  They have not given up over 20 points since being embarrassed by the Minnesota Vikings in week 13.

Needless to say, in order to win the Panthers will have to play well in all facets of the game.  Luckily for them, they have looked good against Seattle in recent seasons, including this middle of this one when they lost just 13-9 in the middle of a bad run of games.  Moreover, Jonathan Stewart has strong performances in 3 of his last 4 games.  If the Panthers can find room to run and the defense holds up its end of the bargain, the load will fall to Cam Newton.

Much as I would like to see the Panthers win, I do not think it is likely.  I don’t think the Seahawks will win by a blowout, but should handle the Panthers comfortably.

Predictions

Colts 27, Broncos 31

Panthers 10, Seahawks 20