Saints at Seahawks
The New Orleans Saints were able to stop the talks that they can’t win on the road with a victory in Philly last weekend. However, this weekend the task will be even harder against a Seattle Seahawks squad that has won 15 of their last 16 games at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC and have gotten there with their defense, which leads the NFL in least amount of yards given up per game. That defense also happened to hold Drew Brees to only 147 yards passing on December 2, when the Seahawks were able to beat the Saints 34-7. Brees, who has a 126.3 passer rating at home, only has a rating of 84 when on the road. And despite Brees being the focal point of the Saints offense, the Seahawks defense holds opposing quarterbacks to a 63.4 passer rating average.
On the other offense will be Russell Wilson. In just his second year, Wilson has made a name for himself and has also found himself included in MVP talks. When the Seahawks had that win in early December, Wilson threw for 310-yards and three touchdowns. He’ll look for repeat success, which would lead the Seahawks to a matchup in the NFC Championship game against either Carolina or San Francisco.
The Seahawks are listed as 8-point favorites for Saturday’s matchup.
Colts at Patriots
The second game on Saturday will be played in Foxboro, Massachusetts as the visiting Colts take on the Patriots. Coming off an improbable comeback over the Chiefs at home last weekend, Andrew Luck and the Colts will look to equal the level of improbability by winning at Gillette Stadium in January.
Luck has only played against New England one other time, which was in an embarrassing 59-24 loss in November 2012. In that effort, Luck was 27-50 for 334 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with three interceptions. However, Luck now has more targets to utilize this weekend, especially after the Colts signed former Patriot Deion Branch this past week. He’ll also have TY Hilton, who had six catches for two touchdowns and 100-yards in the 2013 meeting between these two teams.
For the Patriots, Tom Brady hasn’t had the same type of reputable experience with his receiving core. Without Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, this will be a completely different staff that Brady will be passing to than from last year. In that game, Brady was 24-31 for 331 yards, including three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he’ll have to make the most of Julian Edlelman and Danny Amendola at receiver and the rushing core of Stevan Ridley, LeGarratte Blount.
The Patriots are a 7 ½ point favorite for Saturday night’s game.
Free Pick is to take the Colts plus 7.5
The Colts have now won and covered their last four, and still are the only team that can claim to have beat Denver, Seattle and San Francisco. After mediocre performance during the middle part of the season, they appear to have gained their second wind. The Patriots have won and covered their last two and appear to have righted the ship after struggling a little in life without Rob Gronkowski.
The Colts should give the Patriots all they can handle, and Andrew Luck’s mobility will give the defense some trouble. Oddsmakers constantly put the Patriots in an elite class because the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick combination has been so lethal, but let’s face it, in their last 11 playoff games they are only 2-9 ATS and have covered only twice in their last 10 home playoff games in Foxborough. PATRIOTS, 31-28.
49ers at Panthers
The first game on Sunday will be the second NFC Divisional game between the 49ers and Panthers. The 49ers will hit the road for the second straight week, after beating Green Bay at home last weekend on a last second field goal. The Panthers will happily welcome them after their bye week and as the second seed in the NFC.
Despite a slow start to the season, Colin Kaepernick has started hitting his stride in previous weeks. This was on display last weekend when he threw for 227-yards and ran for an additional 98. Despite the cold temperatures at Lambo, Kaepernick was able to utilize his receiving core that consists of Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
As for the Panthers, this will be Cam Newton’s playoff premiere. After having a struggling 2012 season, Newton was able to lead the Panthers to a 12-4 record, including a eight-game winning streak that ran from the middle of October until early December. Part of that streak was a 10-9 win over the 49ers, which was a huge NFC showdown. That game was also in San Francisco, so the Panthers should feel even more comfortable playing at home this weekend. The Panthers also boast one of the top defenses in the league, ranking 6th in passing yards and 2nd in rushing yards allowed, at 214.3 and 86.9 respectively.
Despite the 10-9 win in November and the Panthers being the home team on Sunday, the 49ers are favored by a field goal in this one. They have looked to be one of the hotter teams in the NFL as of late, and the spread shows that.
Chargers at Broncos
The last game on the schedule for divisional games will be between AFC West opponents Denver and San Diego. These two teams split their regular season meetings, as the Broncos took the first game in San Diego with a score of 28-20, while the Chargers returned the favor in Denver with their own 27-20 win. That loss by the Broncos was their third on the season, which is the number they’ll hope their losses stay at for the next month.
The Chargers needed everything to go in their favor over the last month of the season. Not only did teams like the Dolphins and Ravens fall apart, but the Chargers were able to finish the season on a four-game winning streak that got them into the Wild Card in the AFC. Part of that surge for the Chargers has been the efforts of Phillip Rivers, who has thrown for 4478 yards on the season, as well as 32 touchdowns.
Those numbers aren’t bad for Rivers, but they are nothing close to what Peyton Manning was able to do in his second year in Denver. This year Manning put up 5477 yards passing with 55 touchdowns. He spread the ball around to a core of receivers including Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julian Thomas.
There has been a lot of talk about the Broncos and whether or not they can win in cold temperatures. They’ll look to prove that they can on Sunday night. It’s easy to argue that Phillip Rivers may be one of the most hated men in all of Denver, and he’ll look to give Denver fans another reason to add to that reputation.
The Broncos are a 9-point favorite, but don’t forget they gave the Bengals their first home loss on the season last year, and have already beaten the Broncos in Denver once this season.