Saints at Seahawks: So Drew Brees and the Saints proved that a terrible regular season road record means nothing in the playoffs, especially when going against a QB making his first playoff start and a terrible run defense.
Run defense? That’s right, the Saints dominated the Eagles with their run game behind Mark Ingram and managed to somewhat limit LeSean McCoy to 77 yards and a touchdown. It also helped that the Eagles gave Brees the ball last as a field goal gave the Saints the 26-24 win.
But now, it’s back to Seattle where the Saints got thumped 34-7 in Week 13. Seattle’s had a week off to get healthy. Percy Harvin is as healthy as he’s been this season. Russell Wilson is their quarterback. Marshawn Lynch revived his career against the Saints in the playoffs back in 2011. And that defense, especially the secondary, is the number 1 ranked defense in the NFL.
But the Saints got their first playoff road win last week. The discovered the run. Sean Payton, Rob Ryan, and company won’t let the Saints get blown out again. Ingram and Darren Sproles may split time again if Pierre Thomas can’t go. They have the best tight end in the league at their disposal in Jimmy Graham. And, they have Drew Brees.
This should be a game for the ages. It could be high scoring. It could be a defensive struggle if the Seahawks are rusty. It’s really hard to pick against the Saints again…
Winner: …But it’s not that hard. Seahawks should pull it out and advance to their second NFC Championship game in 9 years.
Colts at Patriots: The Colts did me a solid by not losing last Saturday but it wasn’t without help. Six Chiefs were injured, including two of their running backs. A late completed pass by Alex Smith didn’t count thanks to Dwayne Bowe’s foot being out of bounds. It didn’t hurt that the Colts outscored Kansas City 35-13 in the second half either. Regardless, the Chiefs are home crying and the Colts are off to face the Sweatshirt and the Crybaby Quarterback. Hi Tom!
The Patriots did what everyone expected them to by winning the AFC East. Tom Brady still found ways to be clutch when it was needed (see his performance in games against New Orleans, Denver, and Cleveland). Belichick and his staff got the best out of a rag tag group despite massive personnel losses to either free agency, arrests, or injury. But I don’t like this team. I can’t give you reasons this team is good other than the fact that anyone to put on that uniform gains irrational confidence. Well, until the Super Bowl rolls around.
Andrew Luck showed both sides of his game last week. There’s extremely rattled Andrew who throws picks like Mark Sanchez and there’s the Andrew who channeled the spirit of Joe Montana into Lucas Oil Stadium in the second half. When the defense is on, it’s one of the most fearsome in the league. Donald Brown is lethal in this offense, that is, after Trent Richardson gets his required number of touches. And Chuck Strong. Never count out the power of Chuck Strong.
I expect this game to be the snoozer of the weekend. It could be a blowout. Maybe a field goal fest. I just hope it keeps me awake.
Winner: The Patriots always find ways to win these games. Remember what they did to Tebow and the Broncos in 2012 after they had a big playoff win the previous week? Sweatshirt and crew will demolish these Colts. I’d love to see Luck and Indy pull it out but not this time.
49ers at Panthers: I shouldn’t have picked against San Fran, despite my love of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack. The cold made no difference as a late field goal lifted the Niners to the second round and it seems that this team could be peaking at the right time.
Riverboat Ron and his Panthers proved they weren’t a team to be trifled with this season as they bounced back from 2012′s 7-9 record. These same Panthers went into Candlestick Park and won 10-9 as they shut down Colin Kaepernick and the Niners’ vaunted running game. Steve Smith is also 89 percent sure he’s suiting up as well.
Kaepernick found his legs as he led the Packers to another playoff disappointment. Michael Crabtree snagged 8 balls when Kaepernick did opt to pass. The defense held Rodgers to a mere 177 yards passing at home. It’s also the last season for Candlestick Park, a place where they’ve had 5 Super Bowl winning seasons. I’m nothing if I’m not superstitious.
These teams are evenly matched from top to bottom. Mobile QBs with arms? Check. Bruising backs? Check. Big play receivers? Check. Intimidating defenses who don’t take plays off? Check. This could be another one point slugfest but I don’t expect it to bore by any means. This one comes down to who turns over the ball the least.
Winner: Could the Panthers have another fairy tale season like in 2003? Certainly. But Jim Harbaugh has a hard-on for getting back to Super Bowl after losing to his brother last year. And as I said, the Niners seem to peaking at the right time and I expect them to win the game on their final possession.
Chargers at Broncos: I’m going out on a limb here: the Chargers are going to win the AFC this year. Why? It’s been 20 years since the season that landed the Chargers into Super Bowl XXIX. And yes, I know the official anniversary season starts later this year. But they’re 6-1 in their last 7 games, including beating these same Broncos in Mile High on Thursday Night Football. And there’s some rumor about the last four Super Bowl winners all being the first team to visit Philadelphia that season…but I’m not buying it.
The Broncos have all the tools to win this game though. Wes Welker will be back. They’ve had a week to rest. The Chargers could be in for a let down after their demolishing of all things Bengal last week. They would like to exact a bit of revenge for that Week 15 loss. And more importantly, Peyton wants a shot at proving he isn’t washed up in the playoffs by taking Denver to the AFC Championship game against the Pats.
I normally would use this paragraph to talk up what factors the Chargers have in their favor. Two things: fate and Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt made Kurt Warner believe in himself again after the rest of the league discarded him. Whisenhunt almost led the ARIZONA CARDINALS to a Super Bowl victory in 2009. Mike McCoy? We all know who’s really running the show. The next head coach of some team that just fired their coach two Mondays ago.
Winner: Chargers. Why? Almost 20 year anniversary. A late Denver turnover. A critical Denver injury. Phillip Rivers turning clutch after struggling early. Ladarius Green’s 3rd quarter touchdown catch. John Fox’s decision to go for it on 4th down early instead of punting the ball away. Peyton coming up short on a critical 3rd down pass. And Ken Whisenhunt.
San Diego sports curse be damned. Now the Super Bowl? That’s a whole ‘nother matter…