By Chris Slone
January 9, 2014
PDT Sports Editor
Anything can happen on any given Sunday in the National Football League, as evident by the action on wild-card weekend. With that being said, I’ll take a 3-1 record into the Divisional Round games slated for this weekend, which doesn’t include the spread since gambling is a no-no.
Unfortunately, the only blemish on my record from the opening round of the 2014 playoffs came from an embarrassing effort thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals. However, I am not about to rehash those painful memories, instead, let’s look at the weekend ahead.
New Orleans at Seattle
Saturday, 4:35 p.m., Fox
The New Orleans Saints took care of business on the road last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. The “Saints cannot win a road playoff game” perception should have been silenced with last week’s victory. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is as good as it gets in the NFL. With a strong commitment to the running game and the creative play calling of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, the Saints are more than capable of leaving Seattle victorious.
Seattle will come into Sunday’s game as the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC by winning a conference-leading 13 games and have predicated their whole season on defense and a physical running attack led by Marshawn Lynch. Add those two elements with the advantage of having the 12th man, which is how Seattle references it’s home fans because of the noise level, and the Seahawks are in a prime position to reach the NFC Championship Game.
The Seahawks are eight-point favorites over the Saints. I like the Saints; just not against the Seahawks. The game will be close for three quarters before the Seahawks eventually pull away in the end.
Indianapolis at New England
Saturday, 8:15 p.m., CBS
Against all odds, the Indianapolis Colts are still playing football. After an improbable 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts travel to Foxboro to battle Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck is a star in the making. On the defensive side, pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis recorded 19.5 sacks this past season, which is a franchise record in Indy.
The New England Patriots are looking to advance to their third-straight AFC Championship Game with a defensive unit that is patched together with a piece of chewing gum and duct tape. On the offensive side of the ball, Brady has found ways to get the ball in the endzone all season long.
At the end of the day, New England is a seven-point favorite. The game will be much closer than the spread suggests. I will not be surprised if the Colts win this contest. As a life-long Pats fan, I’ll be disappointed but I won’t be surprised. With that being said, I’ll take New England in a three-point affair.
San Francisco at Carolina
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Fox
One week ago, the San Francisco 49ers went to Lambeau Field and knocked the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs, which is never an easy task.
The 49ers made life miserable for Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and they will be looking to do the same to Cam Newton as the vaunted San Francisco defense will square off against the Carolina Panthers.
On the other side of the coin, who would have ever envisioned the Carolina Panthers as the No. 2 seed in the NFC? But after 16 regular-season games, that is exactly where they are. I like the Panthers as a team. They have a solid quarterback, a great rushing attack and a defense that makes life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. The one thing Carolina lacks is experience, which is a valuable ingredient in a single-elimination tournament.
This game is a true toss up. Neither team is favored. Just like last week, I like the 49ers on the road. San Francisco will find a way to beat Carolina, which will set up a championship game between the Seahawks and the 49ers.
Just like the NFL, I look at ratings and storylines, and it is hard to find a better storyline than having two division foes square off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
San Diego at Denver
Sunday, 4:40 p.m., CBS
The Denver Broncos are nine and a half point favorites to beat the San Diego Chargers and rightfully so. The Chargers squeaked into the playoffs after rubbing a lamp and having a Genie grant the team three wishes, and even after the three wishes, San Diego needed help from the officiating crew in their Week 17 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, who played mostly backup players after having their playoff position decided before the contest began.
That was a bit of a mouthful but the bottom line is simple — the Chargers were extremely lucky to have reached the playoffs. Then, on wild-card weekend, San Diego played a Cincinnati Bengals team that couldn’t seem to get out of it’s own way. And once again, against all odds, the Chargers are playing in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, with an opportunity to reach the AFC Championship Game.
Denver is a different story. The Broncos were the best team all season. In fact, they were so good, Peyton Manning decided to rewrite the record books as his team claimed their second straight No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Broncos, behind Manning’s record-setting season, are in a prime position to win this game, but that is not a great storyline. So, at least for one more week, San Diego finds a four-leaf clover and advances to the AFC Championship Game.
Seattle over New Orleans
New England over Indianapolis
San Francisco over Carolina
San Diego over Denver
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Chris on Twitter @crslone.