Tag Archives: divisional round

2016 Season: Divisional Round Preview

The Wild Card round has come and gone and four undeserving teams were written off in embarrassing contests.  There should be some good games this time around though as the final eight teams give it a go over the weekend.  Who will be moving on to the championship game?  Find out with my picks!

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Playoff Record: 4-0

Saturday, January 14th, 4:35 e.t.

#3 Seattle Seahawks (11-5-1) @ #2 Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

This could be a good game.  The last time these two teams met was Week 6 in a contest that went down to the wire.  The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in the divisional round of the 2012 season.  There is an excellent chance that this one will end in thrilling fashion.  I am not very high on Seattle’s offense right now, so they will have to rely on their good defense.  Unfortunately there is a big difference between playing at home against an inconsistent Lions’ offense and on the road against the best attack in football.  I see the Falcons doing enough with the ball in their hands to win the game.

Atlanta 32, Seattle 27

Saturday, January 14th, 8:15 e.t.

#4 Houston Texans (10-7) @ #1 New England Patriots (14-2)

The Texans lucked out by facing a depleted Raiders team at home last week, but let’s face it… they are one of the five teams that made it into the playoffs that were not deserving.  The defense may play well here, but I don’t think they will be able to hold the New England offense down to the point where their own can keep up.  This was a 27-0 drubbing in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett in at QB.  Tom Brady > Jacoby Brissett.

New England 38, Houston 14

Sunday, January 15th, 4:40 e.t.

#4 Green Bay Packers (11-6) @ #1 Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

The Packers looked darn good from the middle of the second quarter on last week against the Giants and were able to slaughter the G-Men at home.  This week they will hit the road against a Cowboy team that beat them in Lambeau 30-16 earlier this season.  However, this time the Pack will have playoff experienced veterans and coaches to rely on versus a team filled with youngsters who have never been there before.  Also, I’m not sure that having (essentially) two weeks off for Dallas is a good thing against a hot Green Bay team.  I like the Packers to continue rolling with their offense in Big D.

Green Bay 31, Dallas 21

Sunday, January 15th, 8:20 e.t.

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) @ #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

This game was pushed back to 8:20 due to inclement weather conditions, which is good news for the Chiefs because the Steelers are more accustomed to playing in the snow/elements than they would be.  The last time these two teams faced off this year it didn’t end so well for Kansas City.  This go-round, however, sees them as the hosting team and that makes this contest that much tougher to choose.  I really want to go with the Steelers here because they are such a hot team, but the Kansas City offense is starting to become a force.  Their defense might have what it takes to slow the Pittsburgh offense and keep them in the game.  Could be one of the best playoff games this season.

Kansas City 23, Pittsburgh 20

Enjoy the games!  I will hop back on next week with my Championship Round predictions.

2014 Season: Divisional Round Predictions

The divisional round of playoff football is upon us and we have a handful of delicious match-ups to sink our teeth into.  First up on Saturday, the Patriots play host to the Ravens in a heated AFC showdown.  These games almost always come down to the final minute.  Later that night the Panthers head up to Seattle to take on the defending world champs in what should be a classic defensive slug-fest.  Then on Sunday we have a rematch of the Ice Bowl when the Cowboys take on the Packers at 1:00.  All of this leads up to Peyton Manning squaring off against his former team in the post-season for the first time in the Mile High City.  These four games should all be competitive and thrilling to watch.  With that, here are my picks.

Last Week: 2-2

Saturday, January 10th, 4:35 e.t.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) @ New England Patriots (12-4)

Ahh yes, it seems as if we get to see the Ravens hitting the road and traveling to Foxboro every January.  And almost every time we get good games.  This time around I see things going a bit differently.  The Patriots have not played in over a week, and even in that game against Buffalo they rested many of their starters.  While some may argue that they may be out of a funk because of this, I say that they will be more focused.  Bill Belichick is the best head coach in pro football right now and his team will be ready for the Ravens.  I see Tom Brady exploiting that secondary that is ravaged by injuries.  Heath Miller gave Baltimore a headache last week, so just imagine what Rob Gronkowski will do.  I see this contest being the most lop-sided of the four this weekend.

New England 37, Baltimore 17

Saturday, January 10th, 8:15 e.t.

Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

I can see the Panthers giving Seattle some problems in this game.  Their defense has been great over the last month and the offense has held its water as well.  However, the Seahawks’ “D” has been even better and I think they have what it takes to smother the Carolina offense.  In a game where defense will be the key to victory, one has to side with the team that has the stronger unit and as of right now I would have to say that title goes to the ‘Hawks.  Going into Seattle is a test that the Panthers may have a tough time getting around.  Either way, the game should stay close due to a shortage of scoring.

Seattle 19, Carolina 17

Sunday, January 11th, 1:05 e.t.

Dallas Cowboys (12-4) @ Green Bay Packers (12-4)

This is probably the most intriguing game of the divisional round.  The Cowboys have been playing their best ball in quite some time and are 8-0 on the road.  They take their game to Green Bay where the Packers have been pretty much unstoppable with Aaron Rodgers under center.  The health of #12 has to be a big concern for the Pack, but I also question the health of DeMarco Murray.  He seems like he has slowed down a bit ever since Thanksgiving.  Perhaps all of the carries he has is factoring into this.  I don’t expect fatigue to be a factor for him, but I don’t see #29 carrying the ball any 25 times.  Unless Dallas can control the clock they will likely be forced into a scoring battle with Aaron Rodgers.  Tony Romo has the guns to do it, but with it all on the line I think Dallas falls a bit short.  The Green Bay offensive line has quietly had an outstanding year and I think they make it tough for the ‘Boys to get pressure on Rodgers.  That said, the potential MVP of the league could stand in the pocket and pick apart a defense that is void of any big play-makers.  Packers win in an entertaining battle.

Green Bay 38, Dallas 30

Sunday, January 11th, 4:40 e.t.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Denver Broncos (12-4)

The Colts simply steam-rolled the Bengals last week at home, but now will face a much greater challenge on the road when they take on the Broncos.  Sure, Peyton Manning has slowed a bit since another torrid start to his season, but C.J. Anderson has been the beneficiary of this.  I think he is primed to help Denver here in the playoffs.  The Broncos should not have much trouble running the ball against an Indianapolis unit that has struggled in that area for most of the season.  Manning plays admirably as well, although I see him making one mistake and turning the ball over.  Andrew Luck will, as he always does, fight his tail off to keep this game close but in the end I don’t see the Colts winning this battle.  I want to pick them but the Broncos’ defense is the better unit while each offense washes each other out.  That will be the difference on Sunday.

Denver 27, Indianapolis 19

Feel free to leave a comment stating what you think will happen in this weekend’s games!

Divisional Round: Denver Broncos 24, San Diego Chargers 17- Post Game Recap

The Denver Broncos defeat their rivals in the Chargers for the first time in the playoffs,  24-17.  The Bolts did a nice job making this game interesting, after trailing 24-7 with 8:12 left in the game.  They scored a touchdown and then recovered an onside kick to bring the score to 24-17, but overall the Broncos really dominated this game from the first quarter.  Their defense completely shut the Chargers passing attack down through the first three quarters and that is really what won Denver the game.  Their suddenly stingy pass defense came a bit of a surprise, as the team has struggled to defend the pass at times this year.  At any rate, the mares did a nice job at overcoming their third game this season where they were held to less than 400 total yards of offense (all against the Chargers).

San Diego had Denver right where they wanted them in this game; they held the Broncos to just 363 total yards of offense and 24 points.  If you had told Mike McCoy prior to the game that the defense was going to do the job that well for four quarters, he would have been ecstatic.  Unfortunately for the road team, their offense was more eclectic than electric for the better part of three quarters, and it was mainly due to poor pass protection.  Denver was hitting home on three-man-rushes and Philip Rivers was not being afforded a lot of time to scan the field.  I thought that D.J. Fluker and Jeremy Clary had poor games in protection.  Guys were shooting up the gut and getting immediate pressure in his face and, let’s face it, Rivers isn’t going to be using his athleticism to run away from defenders, so he was dead to rights most of the time.  His receivers also didn’t help him out all that much.  There were a couple of dropped passes and incomplete routes on the afternoon.  Until Keenan Allen caught fire in the fourth quarter, the receivers were not able to create much separation from the Denver corners and there were not a whole lot of places to go with the football.  My hat goes off to the Broncos for tightening up their pass defense and remaining solid in the run defense.  They really allowed the Chargers almost nothing in the way of rushing yards.  Of course, Ryan Mathews only played a half in this game, but still San Diego only managed 65 yards on the ground and the team went an abysmal 4/12 on third down.  They were unable to sustain drives in this game, and that was what ultimately cost the team the game.

Peyton Manning was pretty good in this game, and it was because his protection was very, very good.  Manning had all day to sit in the pocket at times (partially due to the fact that the Chargers brought a three man rush on many of their defensive plays), and he really frustrated the Bolts with his hard count in this game.  He forced the defensive line to jump into the neutral zone five times in this one, accounting for 35 free yards in penalties.  That, above anything else, was the biggest Achilles heel for San Diego.  By the end of the game, they had a real chance to tie it up when the defense had the Broncos in a third and 17 situation from their own 20 with 3:06 left in the game.  The Bolts decided to play a soft zone and Julius Thomas found the open area and sat along the sidelines for a 21 yard reception.  Then, with 2:12 left and a third and six from the Denver 45, Manning found Julius Thomas for a nine yard completion and a first down.  From that point on Knowshon Moreno ran for a first down and the game became academic.

Now the Broncos gear up for Tom Brady and the suddenly run-happy New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game next Sunday at 3:00 (e.t.).  If their defense can hold its water like they did this week in the running game and play good enough pass defense they should not have much of a problem next week.  Of course this is all a big IF, as we all know that playing well one week does not mean that you will play well the next.  Either way it should be interesting to see what happens since the Broncos now have built some confidence and Peyton Manning has his first playoff victory since 2009.  San Diego did give Denver a bit of a scare at the end of this one, but in all reality the Broncos had this game in their back-pocket for most of the game, mainly due to a great defensive performance and some timely play by Peyton Manning.

Divisional Round: San Francisco 49ers 23, Carolina Panthers 10- Post Game Recap

The San Francisco 49ers go into Carolina and dominate the Panthers en route to their third straight NFC Championship game, 23-10.  The Panthers jumped out to an impressive 10-6 lead early in the second quarter and their defense was holding the 49ers down for a while in the first half, but eventually their offense woke up and Carolina could not hold them back any longer and they just steamrolled their way to the “W”.

San Fran seemed to gain control of the game right at the end of the first half when they scored a touchdown with five seconds remaining.  They ran 12 plays and went 80 yards in 3:36 at the end of the second quarter and did not look back from that point on.  Colin Kaepernick was able to hook up with Vernon Davis for the toe-dragging touchdown (on the one yard line).  As it turned out, this was Davis’s only catch of the game, and it gave the Niners a 13-10 lead at the time.  The offense then found its bearings in the second half and the 49ers ended up scoring another touchdown and pulling out to a 20-10 lead.  From that point forward the team did not look back and the defense shut the Panthers down.

The Carolina offense was not all that bad in this game, but it was ineffective at times that were most inopportune.  For instance, they stalled twice inside of the five yard line.  The 49ers defense stood up and held the Panthers out of the end zone on seven goal-to-goal plays.  Ron Rivera opted to go for it on fourth down on the first play of the second quarter (from the one yard line).  Ahmad Brooks crushed ruined that play when he penetrated into the backfield and stuffed Mike Tolbert for no gain.  The Niners did go three and out and Cam Newton found Steve Smith for a beautiful 31 yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, but that didn’t change the fact that they could not slam it in from the one yard line the series before.  They were barred from the end zone on their next drive as well when Frisco stopped them from scoring at the one yard line again.  The cats had to settle for a field goal after possessing the ball for 8:59.  In the third quarter there was a drive where the Panthers held the ball for 8:20 and did not score anything.  Cam Newton was sacked on consecutive plays and the team fell out of field goal range.  As coach Brian Billick would say, drives were you hold the ball that long and don’t score are kind of like empty calories on a diet.  They don’t do you any good and really only hurt you in the long run.  If you include the drive where Carolina was stopped on fourth down at the one yard line, the team wasted a combined 21:59 to score only three points.  That is the biggest reason why they fell by 13 points.  They simply struggled to capitalize on their time-consuming drives, unlike the 49ers did.

San Francisco’s defense did a good job in the second half getting pressure on Cam Newton.  They rarely allowed him to escape outside of the pocket and when they did the secondary did a nice job chasing him down.  His long run on the afternoon was 11 yards and he carried it 10 times.  The major impact player on the 49ers in this game was Anquan Boldin.  He made eight catches for 136 yards.  Last week, Michael Crabtree seemed to be the go-to guy for Colin Kapernick and this week it was definitely the former Cardinal and Raven.  This bodes well for San Fran down the stretch; the fact that Kap can find different go-to receivers on any given Sunday in different situations.  It is going to be tough for teams to cover the trio of Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree down the road.  Luke Kuechly did a good job blanketing Davis in this game, but later on in the playoffs (like next week against the Seahawks) it is possible that Vernon has a nice game while Boldin and Crabtree are covered.  Simply put, it is looking like the Niners have too many weapons for one team to cover.  When you couple that with the mobility of Kap, the strong running game, and solid defense you have a team that looks primed for a Super Bowl victory, in my opinion.

So the moral of the story for the Panthers is this: don’t waste scoring opportunities.  That near 22 minutes that ran off the clock all turned out to be wasted time for a team that needed every opportunity they could get to score against a stingy defense.  This was a game of missed opportunities for the black cats and the 49ers are too good of a team for you to hope to beat while scoring only 10 points.  Obviously they were able to win against them earlier this year while scoring only 10, but that was in a game when the 49ers didn’t have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the second half.  With all of the weapons in place, San Fran dominated this game.  They won it in typical 49er fashion and they are easily the hottest team going into Championship Sunday.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots 43, Indianapolis Colts 22- Post Game Recap

The New England Patriots turn the clocks back to the mid-80’s and run the ball down the Colts throats for a strong 43-22 win.  All six of the Pats’ touchdowns came on the ground and the team came up one rushing TD short of tying the Chicago Bears for the all-time playoff record.  It certainly was a throwback game and New England was able to impose their will all night long on a weakened Indianapolis defense.

Andrew Luck was good in this game, but not spectacular.  He ended up throwing four interceptions (all though you could argue that two of them were not his fault).  The first one he threw (which came on the Colts opening drive of the game) was the ugliest of them all.  He tried to fit the ball in to Griff Whalen on a third and two situation and Alfonzo Dennard was able to pick it off and return the ball all the way down to the one yard line.  LeGarrette Blount hammered it in for his first of four touchdowns on the night on the first play of the ensuing drive.  Besides his four interceptions, I thought that Luck had another strong outing.  He made a couple of precise throws down the field and completed some of his passes with defenders right in his lap.  The offensive line for Indy did not impress me all that much.  They were beat like a drum in certain situations and the interior pressure became too much to handle.  Jamie Collins was a menace all night long; he came up with a sack and multiple pressures.  He also intercepted Luck down the field in the fourth quarter when he was trying to fit it in to Coby Fleener.  While Blount was the offensive MVP for New England, Collins had to be the defensive MVP for a team that seems to be peaking at the right time.

Tom Brady, after a pretty hot start, seemed to cool off a bit down the stretch, but I thought that he was on on this night.  He made a couple of brilliant throws in between coverage and floated a pretty deep ball to Danny Amendola in the third quarter.  Other than that, he was not really all that great, but with the game-plan in place he didn’t have to be.  The thing about this game for the Pats was that they didn’t need Brady to be a world beater.  If they needed him to light the Colts up, I would think that he could have gotten the job done.  However, the plan going into this game (with the rainy conditions) was to hand the ball off, and that is what Tom did.  The Pats ran it 46 times in this game (out of their 73 total plays).  The commitment to the run was admirable and it was something that the Colts were not expecting.  The identity of this Patriots team is changing and behind the legs of LeGarrette Blount (with an occasional sprinkling in of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen), these guys are becoming a scary team.

Indianapolis has struggled to run the ball for a majority of this season, and not being able to make room on the ground in this one really hurt them.  The receivers on this team are not going to be able to wreck a game each and every Sunday if the running game falters and defense.  I think Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, but there is only so much he can do when the rest of his teammates are not holding their water.  Take, for example, the Patriots.  Tom Brady was without a ton of his weapons for a majority of the season, but he was able too lean on a strong running game (especially down the stretch) for the team’s twelve wins.  Indy did not have that luxury this year and it ended up costing them in the playoffs.

The Patriots are now becoming a team that is built to win in any condition and I would be scared if I were the Broncos.  If they have a good running game and a competent defense to back that, they will be golden since they still have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in this league on their roster.  They are also under the tutelage of Bill Belichick, and with the team evolving its identity, they are still maintaining their winning ways.  There is plenty to be optimistic about if you are a fan of the Pats right now.  As an NFL fan, I am optimistic because I love seeing teams run the ball like there is no tomorrow to win games.  That was, by far the biggest story to come out of this game.  LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns.  Stevan Ridley added two touchdowns in the game, even though the Gillette crowd was clamoring for Blount to pound it in for a fifth time.  Anyways, the Pats had their way with the Colts and were able to dominate this game in the trenches.  That is the mark of a good team.

Divisional Round: Seattle Seahawks 23, New Orleans Saints 15- Post Game Recap

The Seattle Seahawks advance to the NFC Championship Game with a hearty 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints in the Emerald City.  They made it a bit tougher on themselves than it needed to be as the Saints were able to recover an onside kick and threaten to send the game to overtime, but all and all the ‘Hawks dominated this contest from the opening whistle, at least on defense.

Russell Wilson really struggled to make big plays in this game (for the most part).  He was limited to just nine completions and 103 passing yards with a few carries for 16 yards on the ground.  I thought that Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette did a brilliant job in this game, keeping contain on the mobile quarterback.  There were quite a few times where the initial pressure wouldn’t hit home and Wilson would be able to escape to the side of the pocket, but the two would not allow him to get around the edge.  This was key in limiting the Seahawks’ from creating explosive plays down the field.  The running game for Seattle was a bit of a hit and miss throughout the game.  Marshawn Lynch was solid, although not spectacular.  He did run angrily throughout the duration of the game and proved to be a tough tackle (as per usual), but the Saints did do a nice job at stuffing him on various occasions.  The man they call “Beast Mode”‘s numbers looked pretty by the game’s end; 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but many of those yards came on the one 31 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.  I thought the Saints did a good job slowing him down for the majority of this game, but they really shined in pass coverage.  Percy Harvin was knocked out of the game on two separate occasions and eventually left the field in the second quarter due to a concussion.  Keenan Lewis was solid in man coverage for the second straight week and he did not let the likes of Golden Tate beat him deep.  Many of Wilson’s slant routes and short sticks were thrown a bit inaccurately too, which helped New Orleans’ cause, but the coverage was solid nevertheless.

Speaking of solid coverage, what plastering the Saints corners were able to do was overshadowed by what the Seahawks’ secondary was able to accomplish.  Simply put, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were spectacular.  Thomas had an outstanding game with seven tackles and a few pass breakups.  Sherman filled in during the running game on a few occasions and was good in man-to-man, especially with Jimmy Graham.  The big tight end was virtually a non-factor throughout the game, what with his one catch for eight yards.  Marques Colston became Drew Brees’ go-to guy by the end of the game (with eleven catches for 144 yards) but that was because so much attention was being put on Graham and the backs the whole time.  The other Seahawk that stood out was Bobby Wagner.  Wagner was a tackling machine in this game (with nine of them).  He showed great sideline-to-sideline speed and even accounted for a couple of pass breakups, including a deflection that took place on a fourth down in the second quarter.  If it hadn’t been for Earl Thomas’s incredible game, I think Wagner would have been the MVP of this one.  Anyways, Seattle’s defense was great in this game and is the reason why the team will be playing football again next Sunday.

The final series of the game was pretty bizarre.  New Orleans recovered an onside kick with :24 left in the game.  The Shayne Graham kick bounced and ricocheted off of Golden Tate’s arms and rolled right to Marques Colston.  So, with those 24 ticks remaining, the Saints had to go 59 yards for a touchdown (and then they would have needed a two-point conversion just to tie the game and send it to overtime).  With :11 left in the game, Drew Brees was able to hook up with the aforementioned Colston on the sidelines for a 13 yard gain.  He was wide open and could have stepped out of bounds at the Seattle 38 with about :02 left (giving the Saints one last play), but instead he decided to throw the ball across the field to Travaris Cadet.  The ball was thrown forward, though, making it an illegal forward pass which (coupled with the ten second runoff) ended the game for the Saints.  Obviously he should have stepped out of bounds to give his team one last play and with a bunch of tall receivers, who knows, maybe they could have made something out of it.

As it turns out, it will the the Seahawks who advance to the Championship game, and they were the most deserving team out of these two anyways.  They played the most complete game and their defense was phenomenal.  If they can play like this again next week against the 49ers, I would like their chances at making it to the Super Bowl to take on the winner of the AFC Championship game.  My predictions for both contests will come later on in the week.  Be sure to check it to read my two cents with regards to Championship Sunday.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots 41 Houston Texans 28- The Post Game Breakdown

The New England Patriots threw up a fat and juicy 40-burger on the Houston defense for the second time this season, but it really was not the offense that won the Pats this game.  It was their defense.  New England started off the game on the wrong foot by allowing Daniel Manning to return the opening kickoff 90 yards.  However, the hustle play by Devin McCourty was huge because their defense was able to hold the Texans out of the end zone.  Additionally, they forced Houston into a lot of third and long situations and were aggressive enough to get after the ball and force punts.  While they did not get a ton of pressure on Schaub throughout the game, they get some on him and forced him into a couple of errant passes.  The secondary held up very well and Arian Foster found a tough time trying to run against this defense.  Say what you want about Tom Brady’s game (which was good with 3 TDs and 344 yards) or Shane Vereen (who had a total of three touchdowns), it was the New England D that was most impressive in this contest.

With this win, Tom Brady has become the all-time winning-est quarterback in playoff history with 17 wins (surpassing Joe Montana).  He can also become the first player in NFL history to quarterback six times in the Super Bowl if the Pats win next week vs. Baltimore.  While all of these stats are impressive, one blemish that comes with this game is the fact that Rob Gronkowski re-injured his forearm and will be out for the rest of the playoffs.  This is huge considering how much of an impact (or lack thereof) that he had in the Super Bowl last year.  However, New England has proven that it can do just fine without the big guy winning a great majority of their games despite his absence. This Patriots team is looking pretty sharp, and there is no denying just how good they are.

While the Pats continue to be a model of consistency, it is now obvious that the Texans are a step below them.  After getting decimated twice in Gillette Stadium, do not be surprised if Houston makes moves specifically engineered to help their team beat the Patriots in the coming years.  We saw this with the Jets and it was working out for them for a while, but now it should come true for Gary Kubiak’s team.  Although their defense did play well during spurts of the season, it proved to be their downfall down the stretch.  Also, this may be a bit scary for Houston fans to hear, but perhaps their ground attack is a bit out-dated.  Sure, running the ball the way they do vs. inferior teams may be a decent way to go,  but you cannot expect to be a ground and pound team with a solid defense when it comes to the playoffs.  You often need to rely on big play from your quarterback during the second season, and at this point and time, Schaub does not look ready for that role.  Granted, this is his first crack at the playoffs, so it is quite possible that he turns it around the next time his team gets into the tournament.

The Patriots do seem to be the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Tom Brady continues to be the best quarterback in the whole league, and he has literally thrown his way to the Championship game.  The rematch with the Ravens should be an exciting one to watch, but at this point, it is hard to bank against Bill Bellichick and his team.  They just might be the best team in football.