As we embark upon what is, at least in my opinion, the greatest weekend in sports, we have the best slate of Divisional Round match ups that I can remember in years. Both NFC games are virtual toss ups that I don’t think will be decided until the final minutes. In the AFC, while I don’t think the games have as good a chance of being competitive, we get to watch two legendary QB’s, and we should cherish it, because we may not get many more opportunities see them in the playoffs again. It’s been a few years since we had a truly memorable or great Divisional Round weekend, and I think we just may be in store for that this time around. Onto my predictions
Ravens at Broncos
The Broncos are the hottest team in the league. They’ve rolled off 11 wins in a row, the first time they’ve done that since 1998, which just so happens to be the last time Denver won the Super Bowl. They face off at home against a team that, at least for me, is kind of hard to gauge. The Ravens got off to a solid start, beginning the season 9-2 before dropping 4 of their last 5 to finish a mediocre 10-6. They have a quarterback who, believe it or not, now possess 6 wins in the playoffs, which is more wins than either Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees have had in the playoffs. Even with leading his team to 5 consecutive playoff appearances and winning 6 playoff games, Joe Flacco rarely looks like a consistent top tier QB. The only playoff game I recall him impressing me was last years AFC Title Game.
This game seems like an easy call, the Broncos are the hotter team, they have the better quarterback, they’re at home, and they just whipped these guys a few weeks ago in Baltimore. Manning’s past playoff performances do leave me with some concern, he’s gone one and done an unthinkable 7 times in his career, and the Ravens have obvious playoff experience. However, after everything Manning’s gone through this season, with all the neck surgeries, switching teams, and having one of the greatest seasons of his career, I just don’t see him not coming out with a masterful performance.
Broncos 34 Ravens 14
Packers at 49ers
The best game of the weekend slate featuring two teams that completely expected to be playing deep into January. You have the 49ers, a whisker away from making the Super Bowl last year, with coach Jim Harbaugh making an incredibly ballsy move benching Alex Smith, who was having a productive year, for who was essentially an unproven QB in Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has played very well this year, giving the 49ers offense a more explosive element. Meanwhile, the Packers come in just two years removed from winning it all and featuring the QB who I feel has been the best in the league over the past two seasons. As much as there is to like about the 49ers, there is some cause for concern. They’re starting a QB who has never played in a playoff game before, and their defensive anchor Justin Smith, arguably more important than Patrick Willis, will not be at full strength.
With all the rule changes we’ve seen in the NFL, this is clearly a quarterback run league. You can see it with which teams have won the past 9 Super Bowls, and you can see it this weekend, with once again the top QB’s favored to win the Super Bowl again. As good as the 49ers are, even though they are at home and they beat Green Bay earlier this year, I just cannot go against Aaron Rodgers, in a game this close I feel you just have to go with the team with the better QB.
Packers 24 49ers 20
Seahawks at Falcons
Even if you factor in Denver’s 11 game winning streak, I feel the hottest team in football is the Seahawks. They’ve won 6 games in a row, averaging an unheard of 24 point margin of victory during their win streak. They make their second straight east coast trip, this time down to Atlanta to take on a Falcon team that, suffice to say, has a bit of pressure on them to win this weekend. While every team has pressure to win this time of year, especially home teams, you’ll be hard pressed to remember the last time a team will face as much pressure to win as the Falcons do this Sunday. The Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era Falcons have gone 0-3 in the playoffs, including two embarrassing routs the past two seasons. Atlanta finds themselves as the one seed once again, but they are getting no breaks this weekend taking on a surging Seattle team that just has that feel of a championship contender.
The majority of the public loves Seattle this week, they’re the hotter and even arguably the better team, and I guess no one really trusts Matt Ryan and co. to come through with a playoff win yet. I expect this to be a low scoring, very competitive game that will come down to the final minutes. While you’d figure the Falcons would just be due for their playoff breakthrough, I don’t see it happening this weekend. I think Seattle will be the looser, more confident team, and I just feel like we’re due to have a Fail Mary rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when ESPN bombards you with 500,000 replays in the upcoming week.
Seahawks 20 Falcons 17
Texans at Patriots
Like the other AFC game, this one figures to not be too competitive either. The Texans have looked rather mediocre since Thanksgiving, and they won in completely unconvincing fashion over a totally non-threatening Bengals team that, in my opinion, is not even close to being a Super Bowl contending team. Then you have New England coming off another stellar regular season that saw them crack the 500 point barrier for the 3rd year in a row, matching the Greatest Show on Turf Rams for the all time record. Their 3 Super Bowls that everyone associates with New England are now in reality several years ago, and they’re coming off of several disappointing and heartbreaking postseason defeats. Since their last Super Bowl win, Brady and the Pats are almost mirror images of those underachieving Peyton Manning led Colts teams, the ones that would rack up double digit wins and lead the league in scoring, then come out, lose to an underdog opponent in the playoffs and see their offensive production drop significantly.
With that said, there are several promising signs for the Patriots this weekend. For one, the Giants didn’t make the playoffs, which I know must have been a relief to at least a few Pats fans, and second, New England just stomped this team around a month ago. I expect the Pats to win quite comfortably on Sunday and advance to their 7th AFC Title game in the Brady/Belichick era. I feel for Houston to win this is a game where everything has to fall exactly right for them, and with the way they’ve played recently, especially Matt Schaub, I have a hard time seeing Houston truly testing the Patriots this weekend. It just feels like we’re in store for one last Brady-Manning postseason showdown in what would be an epic AFC Championship Game matchup.
Patriots 31 Texans 14
About the Author
Written by Alex Summers
Lifelong sports fan, love the NFL, and big fan of a basketball and baseball