New Orleans Saints (+9-1/2) at Seattle Seahawks: In week 13 of the regular season, the Saints were absolutely pummeled in Seattle 34-7. Against the top flight Seahawks defense, QB Drew Brees and company could muster only 188 yards total offense.
Last week, the Saints won their first ever road playoff game by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24. What impressed me most was the Saints actually played a little defense, holding NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy to 77 yards (the New Orleans' D yielded only 256 yards total offense). However, the Saints' D will face another formidable RB in Marshawn Lynch, who, just three years ago versus the Saints, had one of the more memorable touchdown jaunts in recent playoff history.
The Seahawks offense, led by 2nd year QB Russell Wilson, was nothing spectacular during the regular season (no receiver had even a 1,000 yards for the year). With that in mind, the news that offseason acquisition Percy Harvin will return may well provide a much needed jolt. Combine that with the best defense in the NFL, you would think that would be enough for the Seahawks, who have perhaps the most lopsided home field advantage in the NFL.
I have nothing to base this on, other than a gut feeling.
New Orleans 24 Seattle 20
Indianapolis Colts (+7-1/2) at New England Patriots: Last week, the Colts pulled off the second biggest comeback in NFL postseason history. Trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 38-10 in the second half, the Colts rallied to win 45-44. What impressed me most about the performance of Indy QB Andrew Luck was his ability to overcome three costly interceptions to lead his team all the way back. While Luck has incredible physical ability, his poise is what sets him apart.
The Colts' reward for that incredible win last week is traveling to Foxboro, MA, where the Patriots are 11-3 in the postseason under coach Bill Belichick. However, the Pats have lost those three games over the past four seasons. And injuries continue to plague an already porous Patriots' defense (ranked 26th in yards allowed) as LB Brandon Spikes was recently lost to a knee injury. This means the Pats will have to outshoot their opponent. Their own elite QB, Tom Brady, has proven many a time that he is up to that task.
New England 38 Indianapolis 35
San Francisco 49ers (-1) at Carolina Panthers: For those who like gritty, hard-nosed defensive play, the week 10 regular season matchup of these two teams was for you. The Panthers went in to San Francisco and beat the Niners 10-9, with their second-ranked defense holding San Francisco to a paltry 151 yards total offense. However, it should be noted that 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick was without WR Michael Crabtree the entire game and TE Vernon Davis for most of the contest. Crabtree's performance last week (8 receptions for 125 yards) in frigid Green Bay shows just how much he elevates the play of Kaepernick et al.
This will be the first playoff game for 3rd year Panthers QB Cam Newton. While Newton was solid this season, he has benefited greatly from a staunch defense that allowed the second fewest points in the NFL. Therefore, the team's identity wasn't solely tied into Newton, who shouldered that burden nicely his first two seasons. Nevertheless, Newton has his detractors, and he is eager to perform on a national stage against the reigning NFC champs. He would certainly be aided by the return of WR Steve Smith, who his questionable with a bad knee and hamstring.
In the end, I think the Niners will have just enough to prevail on the road.
San Francisco 20 Panthers 14
San Diego Chargers (+9) at Denver Broncos: The Chargers appear to be the chic pick here, given they've been in "win or go home" mode for a couple of weeks now. They barely beat the Kansas City Chiefs at home in week 17 just to get in the postseason, and then followed that up with a thorough beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals. What also fuels this Chargers mania is the fact they beat the Broncos in Denver week 13. In addition, QB Philip Rivers is 2-0 lifetime vs. Peyton Manning in the postseason.
Speaking of Manning, he will always have his doubters when it comes to his postseason prowess. Despite having a record breaking 2013 season in terms of single season touchdown passes and yardage, Manning still endures questions about coming up short in the postseason. While Manning did lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl championship in 2006, he is 5-11 in all other years where he guided his clubs to the playoffs. Being an ultra competitor, Manning is likely more fueled to make a deep postseason run. The fact one of his favorite WR targets, Wes Welker, probably returns for this game doesn't hurt either. On the defensive side of the ball, All Pro CB Champ Bailey will also make a return, which is good news given he's had an injury plagued regular season.
While I'm impressed with the Chargers' seemingly inspired run, I just can't quite buy into the hype.
Denver 31 San Diego 21
2013 Postseason record:
Straight up: 1-3
Against the spread: 2-2