By Doug Halberstadt
The teams are now set for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. In the NFC, San Francisco will travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers, and New Orleans will be on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks.
The AFC match-ups will have the Indianapolis Colts visiting the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers heading to Denver to face the Broncos.
The first game of the weekend is Saturday (Jan. 11) afternoon. Drew Brees and his Saints teammates will have the task of trying to knock off Russell Wilson and the home-field favorite Seahawks. That’s something they couldn’t do a little more than a month ago.
Monday night, Dec. 2, the Seahawks were coming off their bye week and pummeled the Saints 34-7 in front of a national audience. The scenario is much the same for Saturday’s game. Seattle had a first-round bye in the playoffs and will be eagerly awaiting the visiting Saints. New Orleans narrowly edged the Philadelphia Eagles 23-21 in their Wild Card game last weekend.
I look for the well-rested Seahawks to dominate in much the same way they did back in early December. Wilson will have to keep his offense on the field and control the time of possession. If Brees doesn’t have the ball, they can’t score. Look for Seattle to employ the ball-control strategy to pick up the win. I think they can make that work. I’m taking Seattle in a hard-fought 31-17 battle.
The other game on Saturday takes place in the evening. The Colts will face the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. The Colts have (Andrew) Luck on their side, and he lived up to his name in last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He led his team back from a 28-point deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44. If the Colts are to stand a chance this week, they’ll need more of the same from Luck.
The Patriots are one of three teams (New Orleans, Cincinnati) to finish with a perfect 8-0 record at home this season. Instead of relying on luck, they’ll put their fate in the hands of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. I think his experience, combined with the home field, will be more than the Colts can overcome. The Luck stops here. I’m taking the Patriots 41-14.
Sunday (Jan. 12) the San Francisco 49ers will be looking for their third-straight road win and the second in the playoffs when they visit the Panthers. The 49ers are coming off a last-second field goal 23-20 win over the Packers in Green Bay. They are the hottest team in the league right now, riding a seven-game win streak.
These two teams faced one another in San Francisco during week 10 of the regular season. Carolina won that game 10-9. I look for things to be extremely different this weekend. Both teams’ offenses have picked it up a notch or two since that game. Over their last seven games, the 49ers have averaged more than 25 points per game, and Carolina’s offense is averaging slightly more than 21 points per game.
I like the way the 49ers are rolling and look for that to continue. I’m going with them to win in another close game, 35-28.
The final game of the weekend has Denver hosting the San Diego Chargers. This will be the third time these two teams meet this season. They split the previous two games, with both teams winning on the other’s home turf. The Broncos won in San Diego 28-20 in week 10, and in week 15, the Chiefs beat the Broncos in Denver 27-20. That’s about as even as two teams can get.
The Broncos have the benefit of having a bye last week and should be well rested. The Chargers are coming off a road win over the Bengals 27-10 last weekend. I like Peyton Manning and the Broncos at home in this one. I look for Manning to rack up some big numbers and have at least five touchdown passes. This one should end up 45-31 in favor of the Broncos.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue