NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview

Avi Sholkoff

Staff Writer

The NFL playoffs are now in their second week. After an eventful first round, the Divisional Round should have even more great games. To start, here is a review of the Wildcard Round.

Wow. Marvin Lewis still has not coached well in the playoffs. Lewis is 0-5 in his years of coaching the Bengals in the postseason. Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ year ended after a devastating loss to the Colts. Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense allowed the Eagles to score 27 points per game in the regular season, but ultimately, the defense failed the Eagles. After an exciting wildcard round, NFL fans are anxious to see what happens next. After the Wildcard Round of the NFL playoffs, many fans are anxious to see if the addition of Deion Branch help the Colts defeat the Patriots, how far Can Philip Rivers take the Chargers, how much has Michael Crabtree helped the 49ers, and if the Seattle fans, dubbed the 12th man, can disrupt the Saints offense with their noise. All these questions should be answered Saturday and Sunday.


Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

After 11 years of facing each other in the regular season, the Patriots and Colts did not play each other this season. Although Coach Chuck Pagano states it is a coincidence, there must be a reason that the Colts recently signed receiver Deion Branch to play against his former team. The Colts likely hope he will provide some strategies for cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Darius Butler on covering the Patriot receivers. Although Brady has struggled mightily this season, the Patriots have won many comeback wins. The Colts however, have momentum following their comeback win over the Chiefs. Ultimately, this game will come down to experience. Though the Patriots no longer have their Super Bowl veterans from years past, the Patriots still have Brady. Brady has won three championships and has demonstrated his prowess in the fourth quarter this season. Quarterback Andrew Luck will keep this game close, but expect a late Stephen Gostkowski field goal to seal the deal for the Patriots.

Pick: Patriots 24 Colts 21


New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll, since his arrival in 2010, has taken the Seahawks from 7-9 to 13-3 including a 24-8 record at home. Led by Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have scored 26 points per game this season, while their opponents have scored just 14 per game, the least in the NFL. Anchored by cornerback Richard Sherman, the Seahawks’ secondary has intercepted a league high 28 passes. The Saints have improved greatly from last season, finishing 11-5. Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints’ all pass and no rush attack, while unconventional, has proved to work this year. The Saints’ defense, while not as astounding as Sherman’s mates, have played well in Sean Payton’s return. While Brees has been great this season, the most important member of the Saints may be newly signed kicker Shayne Graham. Replacing inconsistent Garrett Hartley, Graham kicked the game winner against the Eagles last week. When these teams last played, the Seahawks decimated the Saints. Expect more of the same, though more field goal conversions by Graham.

Pick: Seahawks 31 Saints 16


San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Philip Rivers has shown tremendous growth this season as a quarterback, leading the NFL in completion percentage. After four years of absence, Rivers has led the Chargers back into the playoffs. With the help of a solid running back group of Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead, and Ryan Matthews, the Chargers triumphed over the Cincinnati Bengals last week. San Diego is 1-1 this season against the Broncos. In those games, Rivers has thrown for 384 yards, 3 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Denver leads the NFL in scoring by 10 points, averaging 37 per game. The main stat that may prove the difference in this game is that the San Diego Chargers have the 29th worst passing defense in football. Peyton Manning has shown this season that he has many different receivers that he can throw to such as proven veteran Wes Welker to previously unknown Julius Thomas. Five players on the Broncos had at least 60 catches and four of those five had 10 touchdowns. The Chargers should be happy. The team won its first playoff game since 2008, but this will also be their last game this postseason. Expect Denver to have some long passing plays en route to victory.

Pick: Broncos 35 Chargers 24


Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers

The decision by Panthers’ management to retain Coach Ron Rivera proved to be a good decision. Rivera has led his team to a 12-4 record. Quarterback Cam Newton has orchestrated the Panthers to their first NFC South title since 2008, and a first round bye. The 49ers, after a rough start, have started to resemble last year’s Super Bowl team. With the return of Michael Crabtree to the lineup, Colin Kaepernick now has the deep threat that he desperately needed. However, this matchup will be decided by the defenses. These two teams have two of the best defenses in the NFL. Navorro Bowman leads the San Francisco 49ers defense with 145 tackles this season. Carolina’s Greg Hardy who has 15 sacks, anchors the Panthers’ defensive line. Cam Newton’s speed will ultimately prove too much for the 49ers, as the Panthers will prevail, going back to the NFC Championship Round for the first time since the Jake Delhomme era.

Pick: Panthers 17 49ers 14