by Mitchell Lockhart, Sam Weiser, and Patrick Hynes
Riveting finishes last week resulted in matchups this week that will not disappoint. Cincinnati blew a lead in the final minute and a half to fall to the Steelers. Two personal foul penalties by Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones doomed Marvin Lewis’ squad as their playoff woes continue.
Minnesota suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses in recent memory as Blair Walsh hooked a 27 yard field goal in the blistering cold weather to fall to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
The other two Wild Card games were slightly less exciting and ended as we expected. Kansas City extended their 11 game win streak with a 30-0 win thanks to Brian Hoyer’s five total turnovers, and Aaron Rodgers got out of his slump vs Washington as the Packers advanced 35-18.
Two of the league’s most exciting offenses scraped into the divisional round, and now face defenses that have stifled the rest of the league all season long.
Let’s only hope we can be rewarded with the same edge-of-our-seat endings as we saw last week. With Rodgers, Manning, Wilson, Brady, and Palmer all in the mix, the road to Super Bowl 50 should be one for the books.
Green Bay vs Arizona: Saturday, Jan. 16 @ 8:15 p.m. on NBC
Mitchell: There is no doubt that Green Bay vs Arizona will be a clash between two of the league’s most elite quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers. But the X-factor will be defense. Arizona ranks fifth in the league in yards allowed, and top ten in pass and rush defense. With Green Bay’s offense struggling as of late, the NFL’s best defense will surely pose a significant threat to the inconsistent Green Bay offense. Prediction: 27-17 Arizona
Sam: Arizona entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl and they did not disappoint going 13-3 and finishing second in the NFC. The Packers also entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite but they couldn’t find consistency on offense and struggled against the more elite teams in the league. The Cardinals are top ten in the league in rushing and passing defense, look for them to dominate the inconsistent Packers offense. Prediction: 31-20 Arizona
Patrick: Arizona has one of the most efficient and effective offenses in the league, despite the losses of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington for a good part of the season at RB. Rookie David Johnson has stepped in and made a huge impact for Bruce Arians on offense. Johnson has taken full advantage of his opportunities, scoring eight rushing touchdowns. Johnson is a back who thrives catching passes in the backfield, and Carson Palmer is utilizing Johnson’s pass catching abilities by hitting Johnson for four touchdowns through the air. The Cardinals rank in the top 10 in both passing and rushing offense, and are first in total offense. Green Bay’s defense ranks a mediocre 15th, and their rush defense is all the way down at 21st. Expect David Johnson to torch Green Bay’s linebacking corps and break a few big runs en route to a 100+ yard game with 2 TD. Palmer will outduel Rodgers and break cheesehead hearts once again. Prediction: 38-24 Arizona
Seattle vs Carolina: Sunday, Jan. 17 @ 1:05 p.m. on FOX
Mitchell: Seattle and Carolina will no doubt be the game to watch this week. Both teams appear to be identical. Both teams hang their hat on defense but also have elite run games. However, there is one key difference between these two teams. The difference is Cam Newton. Russell Wilson is a great quarterback, but there is no hotter QB in the league than Newton right now. Newton’s diversity at the quarterback position will give the Seattle trouble on the defensive side of the ball. Prediction: 24-17 Carolina
Sam: When you look at these two teams, they’re almost identical. Both Carolina and Seattle have elite defenses and league leading rushing attacks. Both teams have elite quarterbacks who have led their teams to great seasons. But the hottest QB during the second half of the season was Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Since their week nine bye, Wilson has thrown 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton, who many think is the MVP, also had a spectacular season. Because Seattle has the hotter QB they have the slight edge in this one. Prediction: 20-17 Seattle
Pat: The X-Factor in this one will almost certainly be the probable return of Beast Mode (Marshawn Lynch). Lynch will most likely return to action after missing 11 total games this season, giving the Hawks more flexibility in the backfield. The Seahawks have had to rely on a hodgepodge of running backs in Lynch’s absence. Thomas Rawls was the short term solution until a broken ankle cut his season short. Christine Michael now anchors the Seattle backfield, but if Lynch is ready to play, coach Pete Carroll will almost definitely feed the beast to give them a chance against a stout Carolina run defense. Luke Kuechly and Co. will be ready for Lynch’s power run game and will thwart his comeback attempt, holding him to under 50 yards. With Russell Wilson struggling to produce against Minnesota last week, who knows if he can make plays against Josh Norman and the Carolina secondary. Carolina has been the most consistent team in the league since Week 1, and they will continue to roll at home vs Seattle behind the soon to be league MVP, Cam Newton. Prediction: 34-21 Carolina
Denver vs Pittsburgh: Sunday, Jan. 17 @ 4:40 on CBS
Mitchell: There’s no doubt in Denver’s defense toughness and Pittsburgh’s high powered offense. However, there is doubt in Denver’s offense and Pittsburgh’s defense. So now the question is, does Denver’s offense or Pittsburgh’s defense step up. With a healthy Peyton Manning back at the helm of Denver’s offense, it is hard to believe that the Broncos won’t make slight work of the Steelers defense. Prediction: 27-13 Denver
Sam: Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger were undoubtedly the best QB/ WR duo in the NFL this season. But during their Wildcard victory against the Bengals, both got banged up. Roethlisberger tore ligaments in his shoulder and Brown got a concussion after getting hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict at the end of the game. Denver has the best defense in the league and with a healthy Peyton Manning, they look as good as ever. Look for Denver’s defense to control the game and impose their will against the hurt Steelers. Prediction: 24-13 Denver
Patrick: Somehow, some way, Pittsburgh clawed into the Divisional round. It wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger, it wasn’t Antonio Brown, but it may have been the result of a trainer who got into a verbal battle on the field with Pacman Jones late in the game, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jones. That penalty, coupled with Vontaze Burfict’s illegal hit on AB84, allowed Chris Bowell to drill a short field goal to end the high hopes of Bengals fans yet again. The luck is over. Denver is first in total defense, and they have held opponents to under 20 points nine times this season. With Brown questionable, Big Ben not 100%, and DeAngelo Williams out, the Pittsburgh offense has no firepower, and Denver’s suffocating defense will drain whatever life radiates through Mike Tomlin’s squad on Sunday. Prediction: 17-7 Denver
New England vs Kansas City: Saturday, Jan. 16 @ 4:35 on CBS
Mitchell: New England is at it again. Once again Bill Belichick’s Patriots enter the playoffs a top two seed with Super Bowl or bust expectations. So beating a wildcard team that started off the season 1-5 should be an easy task, right? Wrong. The Kansas City Chiefs are riding an 11 game winning streak and have put up an impressive showing on both sides of the ball. For the Chiefs to add another game to their streak they will need to run the ball effectively. However, New England’s bread and butter on defense is stopping the run. They are one of only ten teams in the NFL that allow less than 100 rushing yards per game. Kansas City won’t dominate the run game. Tom Brady will not waste a possession anytime he has the ball. Kansas City’s run game simply will not be able to keep up with Tom Brady. The Chiefs win streak will stop in New England. Prediction: 31-17 New England
Sam: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are at it again. Once again they have led the Patriots into the playoffs as a top two seed. This was expectation for this team the whole season. The Chiefs, on the other hand, are in a place no one expected them to be. They started off the season 1-5 and are on an 11 game winning streak heading into this divisional game. But with the Chiefs potentially losing their number one WR in Jeremy Maclin, they’re going to have to lean on the run game, unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Patriots specialize in stopping the run. The Chiefs have too much to overcome to extend their win streak to 12 games. Prediction: 27-20 New England
Patrick: Halfway through the season, New England was absolutely murdering teams, a la Aaron Hernandez. They looked like a team that couldn’t be touched on either side of the ball. But now, after losing four out of their last six games, Bill Belichick’s team is searching for answers. Maybe if they pop in the tape of KC practices, they might get back on track. But barring another SpyGate, Kansas City looks more complete. New England has been plagued with injuries, and Tom Brady has gone dormant the past few weeks. Jeremy Maclin looks to be in semi-good shape after only suffering a high ankle sprain last week, which the Chiefs feared was a torn ACL. Alex Smith is revitalizing his career with a breakout season, and Charcandrick West is filling in quite nicely in place of Jamaal Charles. Look for West to beat New England on the ground, and Alex Smith to hit Maclin and Travis Kelce for three total TD’s. Cairo Santos will outkick Stephen Gostkowski and win it for the Chiefs on a last second FG. Prediction: 31-28 Kansas City
Photo by Braden Schroeder