By: Shawn Davis
You just have to love how Andy Reid, having a 28-point lead at the beginning of the second half, responded by calling 23 passes and 11 runs the remainder of the game. That’s why the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t playing this weekend. Reverse those numbers and the Indianapolis Colts run out of time to stage their tremendous comeback; just pointing that out.
New Orleans @ Seattle
Playing in Seattle is a house of horrors for many (ask the San Francisco 49ers) so I’m not going to kill the Saints too much for getting beat 34-7 in Week 13, that’s pretty pointless. Of course the elephant in the room is that they are just not the same squad on the road as they are in their dome.
Earlier in the week I found that most “experts” easily pushed the Seahawks into the NFC Championship because they picked apart that Week 13 contest. But I thought the regular season needs to be tossed out, was I wrong? Over the last two days or so I’ve seen a shift in that there is a groundswell of support backing the Saints for the upset. Compelling. What caused the shift? I think there are two reasons.
One, last week’s game saw the Saints rush 36 times – averaging 5.1 yards per attempt – while only passing 30 times, which is low for Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Secondly, the Arizona Cardinals punching the Seahawks in the face (at Seattle) in Week 16 has garnered some attention. But wait…that’s still the regular season, right? It is, yet the Seahawks started slow, caused four Carson Palmer turnovers but were still handled by a nasty Cardinals defense. Sean Payton is determined to control the tempo by keeping the ball with his running backs while Brees will take his shots against a secondary that can be attacked. Yeah, you read that right. (Ask them about T.Y. Hilton!)
Another nugget: I’m sure that the Saints have a huge chip on their shoulders from losing up there in 2011 (the beginning of “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch) and would love nothing more than to close that field for the winter. I think this will be the most exciting game to watch from beginning to end. I think Brees has the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
Pick: Saints over Seahawks, 34-30.
Indianapolis @ New England
In my heart I understand why the Colts are being picked to win this game. Last week’s theatrics were a joy to behold (sorry, Kansas City fans) but there is a major difference between the Chiefs and Patriots: Bill Belichick.
What is the main reason why the Colts are even playing this weekend? (Besides Andy Reid and Andrew Luck?) Eugene Hilton, well, you may know him by the initials “T.Y.” Any head coach worth anything is paid to be aware of the best weapon that the opposing team can use to cause damage. Simple enough, I think.
The Colts, namely Luck, will have to spread the ball around because Hilton will have Patriots defenders in his jersey all evening long. It is vital to take away the best threat a team has and force them to take chances with players that may not be ready for an increased workload. Luck will have his moments but Tom Brady is listed to start for the home team, right?
Pick: Patriots over Colts, 31-20.
San Francisco @ Carolina
The Panthers went into Candlestick and beat the 49ers in Week 10 by a score of 10-9. This is going to be the “Last Man Standing NFL Divisional Round Bloodbath” sponsored by WWE. This will be a throwback style game and as I just typed that I’m not sure if that’s going to be good or bad, aesthetically. Scoring will be scarce but purists will love the in-fighting at the line of scrimmage, the tackling and the power rushing attacks that both teams feature. This game will not be for the squeamish and I have a bad feeling that a good number of players will be needing medical attention.
Steve Smith is still recovering from an injured left knee that he suffered during Week 16 versus the Saints – which also forced him to miss the regular season finale in Atlanta – and it’s almost a certainty that he’ll dress to play. (He will but he won’t be at his peak.) Once the whistles blow he’ll warrant two or three defenders on every route he runs as he is the sole receiving threat the Panthers employ.
San Francisco seems reborn with the return of Michael Crabtree and he opens up the entire 49ers playbook when he’s on the field. Candlestick may host another game after all, eh?
Pick: 49ers over Panthers, 24-13.
San Diego @ Denver
The overwhelming narrative surrounding this game is focused solely on Peyton Manning and his playoff shortcomings. No matter which side of the fence you’ve chosen in regards to him holding a claim as the “Greatest Quarterback Ever” you must know that he has to win a second title. Has. To. It should have come last year – or any of the years he led the Colts into the postseason…only to pack for vacation earlier than expected. (There’s blame to lie everywhere and I don’t put it all at his feet. Historians of the game and the media have a different point of view, I’m sure.)
The Chargers were not great, defensively, the last time these teams met but they were formidable when they absolutely needed to be. “When was that?” you may ask, well, it was on third down. The Broncos were two-for-nine on third-down attempts which allowed the Chargers to get that very popular win during Week 15 in Denver. Having Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson back shores up their run defense while Richard Marshall at least tries at defensive back (unlike the guy he replaced, Derek Cox, who served as a turnstile that led opposing receivers into the end zone) and competes well enough to avoid being a liability in the secondary.
Phillip Rivers will make sure to test the Defense That Keeps Drives Alive while also making sure to control the clock to keep the Broncos offense in the chilly weather…watching from the sidelines. It’s hard to generate a rhythm offensively when you’re not getting the repetitions. Time of possession in both games was won by the Chargers by holding the ball for 38 minutes in the two-game split during the regular season. I see a similar trend…and a Denver defense that will let its leader down after taking the field with a lead in the game’s last three minutes.
The greatest statistical (regular) season by a quarterback is rendered irrelevant Sunday evening. His career is going to be judged in the weirdest way. Personally, I don’t think it’s entirely his fault but the quarterback gets all the glory…and the blame.
Pick: Chargers over Broncos, 38-34.
Last week: 2-2