My predictions last week proved to be a little hit and miss.
The Seahawks beat Minnesota, but it most definitely was a contest, and they needed the Vikings to miss a (usually) relatively easy field goal in extreme cold in order to come out on top.
The Packers beat Washington in a game I said was very tough to call, and it was only because they found great form in the second half they managed to pull the win off.
I said everything pointed to a Chiefs win (but couldn’t bring myself to pick and Andy Reid team to win), and they did. Even more comfortably than anyone really thought. The Texans shut out at home – the only home team to be shut out this season.
And I picked the Steelers to beat the Bengals. I said it was theirs to lose, and they nearly did lose it. However, having thrown away a big lead, the Bengals couldn’t then take advantage as they managed to throw the game away in spectacular fashion later on. In amusement terms, it ranks with the Colts’ miserable excuse for a play on 4th and 3 against the Patriots earlier this season.
So, what’s on the divisional round card for this week?
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Normally, this would be an easy game to call. The Patriots rarely lose at home, and the Chiefs, despite their eleven game winning streak, would not normally be seen as a team to fear in the AFC.
However, having annihilated the Texans last week, and with the Patriots winning only two of their last six, this becomes a tough game to call. On paper, The Patriots have the advantage (2.115 to 1.701). They are third-ranked at home, and the Chiefs are ninth-ranked on the road.
The Patriots have lost once at home this season, to the Eagles (twelfth-ranked on the road) in a game decided by special teams rather than offense and in a game where the Patriots were ravaged by injury.
The Chiefs run the ball well. Alex Smith can scramble and run well, and he looks after the football. They have beaten Denver on the road this season, but Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are very different propositions.
The Patriots will struggle to get many takeaways and may struggle if they fall behind. However, they should play better than in recent weeks, having had a week off. They’ve had a number of players injured who should now be healthier – Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on offense, and Dont’a Hightower on defense.
With New England at home, Edelman back and an extra week to prepare, I think there’s enough here for the Patriots to win. Plus, the last time Brady played the Chiefs, he was benched in one of the worst New England performances in living memory. He’ll be out for revenge.
Edelman is the key. It’s not so hard to beat the Patriots if you only need to focus on one top receiver. However, it’s much harder when you have to focus on two. Brady needs to get the ball out quickly and Edelman is the man he’ll be looking for.
I’d be foolish to go against the Patriots, and I won’t. But I’m not confident about it. Whoever wins, they’ll fancy their chances next week.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
This is an intriguing game. The Packers have struggled in the second half of the season, but they rediscovered their form in the second half against Washington last week. Their success seems to be linked to their ability to run the ball well. When they can do that, they pass the ball better too.
The good news for the Packers is that Eddie Lacy will likely play against the Cardinals. The bad news is that Davante Adams won’t. The Cardinals, of course, have had a week off to prepare and rest…
And that’s probably a good thing. They really struggled against the Seahawks in week 17, so a week to get that out of their system was probably needed. Green Bay’s offense, whilst better last week, is probably still one of the weaker ones in the playoffs overall (unless they show more consistency this weekend), and their defense is not anywhere near as strong as Arizona’s.
The rankings give this to Arizona (2.236 to 1.788) and I’d agree with it. However, Arizona’s loss to the Seahawks does just make me wonder a little, as does Green Bay’s second half performance last week. I still think Arizona will win fairly comfortably – by at least ten points.
But I still don’t give them a hope next week.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
I’ll be straight to the point. This, for me, is the game that most likely gives us this year’s Super Bowl winner. Seattle are the most likely team to beat Carolina out of all the teams left. If Carolina win, they’ll fear no-one. If Seattle win, they’ve beaten the best home team in the league this season. Part of me really wants to see a Patriots – Seahawks rematch, but I think that’s unlikely. Of course, we could see a Denver – Seattle rematch too…
Anyway, the Seahawks have been on fire towards the end of the season, despite their fortunate escape last week. However, their reliance on that fortunate escape was in part down to the exceptionally cold weather they were playing in.
This week, Marshawn Lynch will likely play. Will he play the whole game? No-one knows. But if he plays, he should be fresh. He should be a big presence in the game if he’s on the field.
The Panthers are favoured here (2.267 to 1.719) but the Seahawks have a mean rush defense, and can burn any team through the air or on the ground. It’s strange to say it given Seattle’s history and the Legion of Boom, but I think the key to this game is how the Panthers pass the ball. They’ll need to pass well to win the game, and I think Seattle are vulnerable there. But it’s a very dangerous approach and can go very wrong…
The Seahawks have given up one offensive touchdown in their last six road games. This won’t be a shoot-out. The statistics say Carolina should win. I say Seattle will somehow manage to grind this out. But the winner will go to the Super Bowl, and whoever they play, they’ll be favourites to win it.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
This one, for me, is an easy pick. The Denver Broncos will win, even with Peyton Manning starting. On paper, they have a comfortable advantage (2.042 to 1.375).
The Steelers will be missing their top rusher (Le’Veon Bell) and receiver (Antonio Brown) and the quarterback will be playing with a separated shoulder.
On the other side, the Broncos have one of the strongest defenses in the league, have two healthy rushers who have been competing for carries all season, and a healthy array of receivers.
This will be a comfortable win for the Broncos, even with the second and third-best quarterbacks in the game. And whoever they play next week, it will be an intriguing game.
For reference, the following table shows the rankings for each of the teams still in the playoffs, with their playoff seeding, home and road rankings.
|New England Patriots||2||2.11||1.51
|Kansas City Chiefs||5||2.04||1.70
|Green Bay Packers||5||1.79||1.79