Wow! What a weekend of games we had! Starting off on Saturday with the Kansas City Chiefs dismantling the Houston Texans 30-0 in Houston, I have to say it got embarrassing for Texan fans by the end of the second 3rd quarter. Later on we saw an aggressive game between the Steelers and the Bengals that will unfortunately be remembered for a late meltdown by the Bengals’ defense giving the Steelers an easy field goal to win the game. Then on Sunday we had the 3rd coldest game between Seattle vs Minnesota that ended with a 10-9 win for Seattle after a missed 27 field goal with only 26 seconds left by Minnesota. After that we had a matchup between Green Bay and Washington, where Aaron Rodgers gave his best performance in a while as the Packers won 38-15. This leads us into the divisional round games this weekend and with the two best best teams in each division hosting a game: it should get interesting.
Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots
Kansas City last weekend put on a show, starting off with a 106 yard kickoff return for a TD by Knile Davis, giving them the scruff of the neck then they never letting go and forcing 5 turnovers from the Texans on their way to a 30-0 win. Amazingly the Patriots have had six first-round byes in a row, which is the longest streak since 1990 (when it was introduced) for two teams. Another mind blowing stat is that for Tom Brady, this game will tie him for the most playoff games in NFL history (30) with Adam Vinatieri!
However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for both teams. The Chiefs, last weekend, lost their dynamic wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with a knee injury, who this season along with tight end Travis Kelce has been the only passing attack for Alex Smith. So his return to 100% is essential for the Chiefs because without his presence, the Patriots’ secondary will erase Kelce, forcing their other receivers to make a play. Meanwhile for the Patriots, they are waiting on their own star receiver as Rob Gronkowski is questionable for this weekend as he’s received a knee injection, for his bruised MCL in week 12.
I’m going to predict a New England victory over Kansas City. This is due to the fact that if Justin Houston and Tamba Hali don’t play for Kansas City due to injury or aren’t 100% healthy, then Brady will have all day in the pocket to surgically dissect the Chiefs’ defense as he so usually does in the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers vs Arizona Cardinals
This is a Green Bay team that has blown hot and cold this season, demonstrated by their comprehensive win last weekend over the Redskins and their pummeling loss by the Cardinals in week 16. The key for Green Bay is their core of receivers needs to create some separation: I think that having James Jones and DeVante Adams gives them the slowest group left in the playoffs from both conferences, not a key to winning the Super Bowl.
It is hard to tell with Arizona, because their Head Coach Bruce Arians said that his team will always play hard and won’t rest starters for the sake of doing so. This is why their mauling by the Seahawks in week 17 was so surprising, especially as Arizona possess one of the most complete rosters in the NFL and have stuck to Arians’ mantra all year, having ridden a nine game winning streak before playing Seattle.
I believe that Arizona will win this game comfortably at home, due to the fact that Green Bay doesn’t have the offensive firepower to even distract this Cardinals secondary, with James Jones of all people leading their passing attack. This gives Green Bay effectively no other option than to try and establish the run, which I’m afraid, Green Bay fans, isn’t happening because Arizona is ranked 6th in the league in run defense.
Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers
It was hard to decipher the Seahawks’ performance last weekend against the Vikings. I think the -25 wind chill affected their offence as they only ran for 97 yards whilst throwing for just 129 yards. Russell Wilson as per usual did enough to win, by leading his team down the field to get the winning score. This time though against the Panthers, it could be difficult for the Seahawks to get their offence up and running. As their offensive line has given up 46 sacks this season which is tied for the 6th most in the league, while the Panthers’ defensive line has 44 sacks, the 6th most in the league.
The Panthers then will need to replicate their performance from week 6 when they beat the Seahawks in Seattle 27-23, to get anywhere near a win. Greg Olsen was their catalyst last time these two teams met as he grabbed the winning touchdown score with only 32 seconds left and he needs to be back to his best for Carolina to have any downfield threat and win the game.
Ultimately I think the Panthers – who are at home for this game where they haven’t lost their last 11 matches dating back to week 15 last season – will win this game in Overtime to reach the NFC Championship. Cam Newton will run in for a touchdown to seal the game and send the home crowd into raptures, as it will be their first championship game in 10 years.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos
The Steelers last week were struck by both sides of the proverbial sword, by winning on the road vs the Bengals, but having their star players injured: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, separated his shoulder in the 3rd Quarter and Wide Receiver Antonio Brown was concussed on a late and dirty hit, by linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Both of them were assessed day by day on whether or not they will play: if they don’t it will seriously hinder Pittsburgh’s offence as both of them have been in the top 5 at their position this season.
Gary Kubiak has decided to start Peyton Manning this weekend over Brock Osweiler. Many other people and analysts are saying that this might be Peyton’s swansong as Osweiler has been a step up from Manning throughout the latter half of the regular season. I do think though that with this being Manning’s first full game since week 11, he will be quite rusty and struggle to move the ball early on. I think that it depends on their first 3 drives: if Manning is able to get into a rhythm and Kubiak establishes the run, then he will be able to manage the game from there – perhaps to a Denver victory.
In conclusion, I believe that everything depends on Brown’s and Roethlisberger’s health. If they play at 100% then the Steelers’ offence will power them to victory, but if not then CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will run all over the Steelers defense for over 120 yards, buffering Manning’s career from riding off into the sunset. But I’m going to back the Steelers for a 10 point win and into the AFC Championship.