#6 New Orleans Saints @ #1 Seattle Seahawks – Saturday, 9.35pm GMT
Preview: FOR JUST THE second time since the NFL switched to a 12 team playoff, Seattle Seahawks are the NFC’s number one seed. Having won 15 of their last 16 games at CenturyLink Field, Pete Carroll will be confident his team can continue the NFC’s top seed’s recent dominance at this stage. Indeed, since 1990, the top ranked team in the National Football Conference is 19-4 in the divisional round.
The Seahawks have already tasted home success against New Orleans this season, downing the Saints 34-7 on Monday Night Football thanks to Russell Wilson’s three touchdown passes and, more impressively, a Seattle defence that limited New Orleans to 188 total net yards of offense.
The defence has been phenomenal all year and led the NFL in points allowed (231), total defense (273.6 yards per game), passing defense (172.0 ypg), takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover differential (+20).
New Orleans though, have been clutch when it comes to the playoffs under Sean Payton and have won five of their last seven postseason games, including Super Bowl XLIV. Last week, they also secured their first road playoff win and key to their success this Saturday will be how often they get the ball into the hands of Jimmy Graham.
The tight end had 86 catches for 1,215 yards & 16 TDs to become the first TE in NFL history with 1,200+ yards & ten or more touchdowns in two different different seasons. However, in week 13 the Seahawks limited him to just three catches for 42 yards, his third worst performance of the season.
Random fact to impress your mates: Drew Brees’ 67% completion rate in postseason is the highest in NFL history.
Line: Seattle are eight point favourites.
Verdict: After losing just once in two years, it’s difficult to see Seattle do it twice in the space of a few weeks, especially against a team that has struggled on the road as much as the Saints. Seahawaks by 7+
#4 Indianapolis Colts @ #2 New England Patriots – Sunday, 1.15am GMT
Tom Brady has had more Super Bowl winning seasons (three) than Andrew Luck has seasons playing professional football (two) and while it’s true that quarterbacks don’t play each other, the New England Patriots will call on their experience at this stage of the season as they look to overcome the Colts this Saturday.
Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have a league leading 17 playoff wins together and have only lost three games at Gillette Stadium in the postseason. They will, however, be wary of the fact that six of the last 11 teams to go 8-0 at home during the regular season — as the Pats did this year — lost their first home game in the playoffs, the most recent being the Bengals last weekend.
As you know by now, Andrew Luck led the Colts to a remarkable 28-point comeback against the Chiefs last week, the first time a team has ever won in regulation after trailing by so much. However, Colts fans will worry that a repeat of Andrew Luck’s three interceptions — which resulted in just 10 points for Kansas City — would be punished much more by the Patriots.
It’s over a year since these two teams met, New England putting 59 points on the Colts with wide receiver Julian Edelman scoring on a 68 yard punt return and a two yard catch.
Random fact to impress your mates: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri owns the NFL-postseason record in made FGs (49) & points (205). He also spent ten years with the Patriots.
Line: The Colts are seven point underdogs.
Verdict: Andrew Luck has nine fourth quarter comebacks in just two seasons but even he won’t muster a win in Foxboro. Patriots by 7+
#5 San Francisco 49ers @ #2 Carolina Panthers – Sunday, 6.05pm GMT
Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Press Association Images
Are there two more alike teams in the NFL than the 49ers and Panthers? Both are built around the run with mobile quarterbacks and stingy defences and, when they met in week 10, Carolina just edged it 10-9 in the joint lowest scoring game of the season.
While the 49ers will be brimming with confidence after overcoming Green Bay in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field last week, their record against the Panthers leaves an awful lot to be desired, losing eight of the last ten including four straight.
Carolina’s defence has been remarkable this season and ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (241), total defense (301.3 ypg) and rushing defense (86.9 ypg). It’s a defence led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the only linebacker teammates to each record at least 120 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions this year.
The key to this game for the 49ers though could be the return from injury of Michael Crabtree. He missed the week 10 match-up but had eight catches for 125 yards last week as he Kaepernick re-established one of the leagues most profitable partnerships.
Random fact to impress your mates: Vernon Davis has six postseason touchdowns in six postseason games.
Line: San Francisco are one point favourites
Verdict: It would be very easy to sit on the fence on this one but the 49ers laboured — albeit in hellish conditions — against an injury ravaged Packers defence. Panthers by 3+
#6 San Diego Chargers @ #1 Denver Broncos – Sunday, 9.40pm GMT
There are few more dangerous positions to be in in the NFL than the number one seed in the American Football Conference. Since 1990, the top dog has been knocked off no fewer than 10 times in 23 divisional games. Coupled with the fact the Chargers have already won in Denver this season, Broncos fans have every reason to be nervous.
Another reason for the Denver faithful to fret is that, while Peyton Manning’s regular season numbers this year (and most years) are astronomical, there are still serious questions over his performance in the postseason, especially in cold weather. Manning is 0-3 in temperatures under 4.5C and 1-7 in temperatures below 15.5C. The temperature on Sunday night is expected to be around 3C.
While the Chargers may have just sneaked into the playoffs, few could question whether or not they deserve to be there, especially after going to Cincinnati last weekend and beating the previously undefeated Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has returned to his earlier career form, thanks in large part to new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
His record in the playoffs is patchy at best though, with four wins and four losses, and the Chargers 29th ranked pass defence is a definite worry against an air attack as potent as the Broncos.
Random fact to impress your mates: The Broncos and Chargers have played each other 108 times but this will be their first meeting in the postseason.
Line: San Diego are nine point underdogs.
Verdict:A cold playoff game against a team that have won six times in their last eight visits to Denver; what’s not to like about the Chargers? San Diego by 3+