2016 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview, Part 2

January 17, 2016

If Sunday’s games can match the intensity and excitement of the games played yesterday, then NFL fans will be remembering this weekend for years to come.

As if one answered prayer was not enough this season, Aaron Rodgers threw up another last ditch effort to the end zone as time expired in regulation and was rewarded with a catch from Jeff Janis to send the game into overtime. But the fun wasn’t done yet, because in overtime Larry Fitzgerald brought the crowd in Glendale to its feet with a well-earned 75 yard scamper to put the game away.

Let’s see what these two games have in store.

NFC Divisional Round

#6 Seattle at #1 Carolina (Sunday, 1:05 PM ET – FOX)

The Carolina Panthers have earned the respect of everyone in the league thanks to its 15-1 regular season and the introduction of one of the new faces of the league in Cam Newton. But Seattle comes into this game with more of one thing than every other team left on the NFC side of the bracket: experience. The Seahawks know how to win playoff games, which has Carolina fans worried.

Being that this is Cam Newton’s team now, it is fitting that the Panthers quarterback will need to step up in a big way to avoid one perhaps the biggest upset of the postseason thus far. Carolina’s offense is predicated on establishing the run game, but Seattle’s league leading run defense during the regular season has already proven to be stifling during the playoffs. Just asking Minnesota, which was held to 58 yards on 29 attempts last weekend. Newton’s most deadly weapon is his legs, but this is because he has figured out how to keep plays downfield alive with them. Beating Seattle with the run game alone with the run game won’t be possible for the Panthers – the passing game needs to set it up.

As tough as Seattle is in the playoffs because of the experience factor, it should not even be playing in this game. Missed field goal aside, the Vikings were the better team last weekend and just couldn’t find a way to take advantage of opportunities. Assuming that the Panthers will be keen on capitalizing on chances, they should be able to finish what Minnesota couldn’t. Seattle is hard-nosed, but not great this season. It’s Carolina’s game to lose.

My Pick: 27-16 Carolina

AFC Divisional Round

#6 Pittsburgh at #1 Denver (Sunday, 4:40 PM ET – CBS)

The fact that Pittsburgh is even in this game is amazing, considering what transpired in the last 1:30 of the Wild Card game versus Cincinnati last weekend. Denver surely isn’t thinking about it this way, but the Broncos are probably lucky with the draw they got. The Steelers are banged up more than any team left in the playoffs at key positions, meaning that it will take efforts perhaps from unsung heroes in order to move on to the AFC title game.

After all the talk about Peyton Manning stringing out his career too long, here he is, sitting with the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Statistically he wasn’t great this season, and health-wise he’s probably even worse off, but the Broncos are still a talented football team overall. Defensively, Denver was digging Brock Osweiler out of ruts for several weeks, and the unit was doing it for Manning before his injury as well. Cincinnati’s defense played well enough to beat Pittsburgh, but tempers got the best of them once again. If Denver plays smart, it should be able to shut down an ailing Pittsburgh offense that loses more pieces with every passing week.

In a game featuring Big Ben (probably) and Peyton Manning, it seems odd that defense will set the tone in this one. But, looking ahead to next weekend, the better defensive team is going to have a better shot of making the Super Bowl as well. Not only is Denver going to benefit from the Mile High air, they’re going to benefit from needing to have relied on the defense several times already this season.

My Pick: 20-14 Denver

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