While the Chiefs, the Steelers, the Seahawks, and the Packers were all victorious last week, they now have to face-off against the top ranked teams in their conference to earn the right to play for their Conference Championship. So let’s take a look at an NFL Divisional Round preview to see who’s likely to advance to next week.
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. New England Patriots
The Chiefs went from looking like one of the worst teams in the NFL to winning their last 11 games straight, the Patriots have gone from looking like a team that would go the season undefeated to losing four out of their last six games.
And while the Patriots had last week off, the Chiefs won with relative ease. This means they shouldn’t have too many recovery concerns or be worried by the well rested New England players.
But the Patriots have Tom Brady. Brady will be taking to the field for his 30th postseason game and has had 21 playoff wins as a quarterback. This is the sort of experience that is invaluable in a playoff situation, and the fact that Brady has averaged nearly two passing touchdowns and over 250 passing yards per-postseason game suggests that he will be difficult for the Chiefs to stop.
Meanwhile, this will only be Alex Smith’s fifth ever playoff game. And while his stats in playoff games are impressive, he will be coming up against a defensive line that is number two in sacks in the NFL. This will be a worry for Smith as Kansas City’s offensive line has allowed their quarterback to be sacked 46 times this year which is the equal sixth most in the NFL.
Prediction: Patriots to win – Brady to throw four touchdown passes.
Pittsburgh Steelers Vs. Denver Broncos
The Steelers copped a battering last week against the Bengals and as a consequence there are injury clouds over both Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger has confirmed that he has a sprained AC Joint and torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder, and has only partially trained during the week. Meanwhile, while some have claimed that Antonio Brown was faking his concussion, others have said that Brown’s concussion is extremely serious and that he is unlikely to line-up against the Broncos. If either of these players are missing it would be a devastating blow for the Steelers.
But the Broncos have made their own tough decision this week by announcing that Peyton Manning will be their starting quarterback over Brock Osweiler. Manning was benched during the Week 10 game after an injury caused him to only complete five passes out of 20 attempts. However, he did return in the third quarter of Week 17 after Osweiler threw five intercepted passes.
With question marks over both quarterbacks, the key to this game will be balance. Last week the Steelers proved that both Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint were capable of finding their way through defensive lines. And likewise, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are both capable of explosive runs for the Broncos.
But with so many injury clouds over the Steelers this is a difficult one to pick. Even if both Roethlisberger and Brown play, questions need to be asked of their fitness. Meanwhile, while Manning should have had plenty of time to recover from his injury, the question remains whether he’s playing because he’s at full strength and ready to return, or because of a knee injury that has limited Osweiler over the past few weeks.
Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams have been pronounced out for the game.
Prediction: Steelers to Win – Roethlisberger to throw over 300 yards.
Seattle Seahawks Vs. Carolina Panthers
Should Seattle have won last week? Well, they did come from behind in the final quarter to edge their way in-front, but it was more that the Vikings lost the game rather than Seattle won it.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have only lost one game all season and they have Cam Newton who is likely to be this season’s MVP. In short, this means that the Panthers aren’t going to lose this game like the Vikings did, so Seattle are going to have to win it. If Seattle fall behind against the Panthers, they will not be able to come back this week.
But while Newton has had the best season of his career so far, it’s only his third ever playoff game. If the Panthers are to win, then Newton is going to have to prove that he can continue his form on the big stage.
Russell Wilson however seemingly struggled last week in the cold completing only 13 out of 26 passes for 142 yards. But it was his ability to keep his head and make a big play in the fourth quarter that allowed the Seahawks to edge their way in-front of the Vikings. This will be Wilson’s 10th playoff game and he is definitely the more experienced of the two quarterbacks.
But other than Cam Newton’s inexperience in playoffs, the Panthers are a team that’s difficult to fault. They perform consistently in offence and defence and have shown that they know how to win games. While it’s tempting to look at the playoff histories of these two teams and see the Seahawks as the better pick, this Panthers team have been the best team in the NFL throughout the season.
Prediction: Panthers to win – Russell Wilson to be sacked four times.
Green Bay Packers Vs. Arizona Cardinals
In Week 16 the Cardinals smashed the Packers 8-38. But then in Week 17 the Cardinals were smashed by the Seahawks 36-6. So this is a game where seemingly anything could happen.
The Cardinals beat the Packers in Week 16 because their defensive line annihilated Aaron Rodgers sacking him eight times and holding him to just 151 passing yards. And the Cardinals lost to the Seahawks because they couldn’t find a way of creating rushing opportunities and were held to only 27 yards for the game.
But the Seahawks are the number one team at stopping rushing yards this season. Green Bay on the other hand are rated 21st having allowed 119.1 rushing yards per game and 13 rushing touchdown for the season. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that the Packers are going to be able to stop the Cardinals in the same way that the Seahawks did.
Likewise, the Green Bay offensive line doesn’t seem to have improved all. This was evident by the safety that was allowed to be scored last week by the Redskins. And while the Packers were able to easily score against the Redskins despite a weak offensive line, the Cardinals are on a different level when it comes to defence only giving up an average of 321.7 yards a game. With this in mind it seems that the Cardinals going to be able to put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers and will severely limit Green Bay’s ability to score.
Prediction: Cardinals to win – Aaron Rodger to throw less than 150 yards.