Eight teams remain with four matchups set for the divisional NFL playoffs. Here is a bold prediction for each contest.
New Orleans will beat the Seattle Seahawks with defense and power running
Rest assured I’m prepared for the firestorm sure to come from Seattle Seahawks fans for making such an audacious prediction. So here it goes. The last time the New Orleans Saints went into Seattle they tried to play their typical game, riding the hand of Drew Brees. It failed miserably. The Seahawks suffocated his receivers and trounced the Saints 34-7. It’s no surprise both Seattle’s fans and players are extremely confident the same result will come about when the two teams lock up again. However, things have changes since that last meeting. Sean Payton clearly saw the problems and has enacted some adjustments. During that last outing the Saints managed a pitiful 44 yards rushing. Since then they’ve made a bigger commitment to the ground game and it’s begun to bear fruit. Against Philadelphia they piled up 185 yards and a touchdown. This helped them control time of possession and in turn allow their defense to hold the highest scoring offense in the league to 24 points. If they play the same, physical style in Seattle and stick to it, the Seahawks could and I believe will eventually break.
Peyton Manning will use Bengals lesson to top San Diego Chargers
Everybody expects the same thing. The Denver Broncos went 13-3 and have their best shot at a Super Bowl to date because of the right arm of Peyton Manning. The most touchdown passes and yards in a single season in NFL history. Why would Denver not want to throw the ball, especially against a San Diego Chargers pass defense that finished the regular season 29th? For the same simple reason that generals don’t launch front assaults even though they know they can: because the opponent knows it’s coming. If Manning is a film junkie as everyone keeps hearing, he will see that Cincinnati averaged 4.7 yards per carry against the Chargers defense but only ran the ball 25 times. Instead Andy Dalton threw it 51 times and ended up with two interceptions and a fumble. Manning knows what the Chargers will expect, but he also knows he has a very competent ground game of his own led by Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Part of winning in the playoffs is catching the other team by surprise. Dishing out heavy doses of the run despite fielding a record-breaking passing attack would qualify.
Michael Crabtree will make the catch that will beat the Carolina Panthers
Getting back missing pieces for a rematch tend to yield huge results. The last time the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers met, Colin Kaepernick did not have wide receiver Michael Crabtree on the field. As a result the Panthers were able to control Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, thus suffocating the 49ers offense. They will have a much harder go it this time. Crabtree looks fully healthy since returning in week 13 and made his presence felt at Lambeau Field a week ago. It will still be a physical, low-scoring affair between two of the best defenses in the league but when it comes down to that critical moment of the game, the x-factor is typically that one thing the opponent couldn’t game plan for. In the case of Carolina that is Crabtree, who will make a huge catch in the waning moments to set his team up for the win.
Andrew Luck will use Donald Brown and Trent Richardson to topple Patriots
This is probably the most exciting matchup of the divisional playoffs. The old master Tom Brady and his Patriots host the young gun and comeback kid Andrew Luck and the Colts. The second-year quarterback certainly will have vivid memories of Foxborough. The last time he paid a visit New England intercepted him three times and ended up demolishing Indianapolis 59-24. It’s clear that the Pats will do everything in their power to make sure that happens again, which is why Luck must resist the urge to throw the ball. Bill Belichick will be hoping and game planning for that. Instead Luck must play the percentages and the chess match. The Patriots can mask many things but not the 30th ranked run defense. As important as Luck is to winning, it may be the dual backfield of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson who actually decide the outcome.