After an exciting first round, the postseason moves to the next stage and our team is ready with their picks and some brief bits of insight into the thoughts that led to their selections.
The Charger win over Cincinnati took Rick to 3-1 and the only winning record from Wild Card Weekend while four of our guys finished with sub-.500 marks (anchored by an impressive 0-4 by one, sorry Steve). So, eager to improve, the lot have buckled down, thought long and hard, and are sure to fare better with this second chance. We’ll see.
We did all come to the same conclusion on one contest as our first consensus pick of the playoffs comes in the weekend’s finale — all of our eight see the Charger run coming to an end. While Gordon opts for the Saints in Seattle and Neil calls for a Colts win in New England, the team is split down the middle on the mirror-image 49er-Panther matchup.
Ah, the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Ben - The first encounter was a letdown thanks to the Saints shooting themselves in the foot and throwing away the game in the first quarter. I don’t expect the same self destructive start but I also don’t expect them to be able to pick up the franchise’s second road playoff victory a week after their first. The Seahawks will be rested and ready to defend their home field on both sides of the ball.
Gordon - After the last matchup between these two in Week 13, it looked like Seattle was going to coast their way to the Super Bowl. Since then though they’ve gone 2-2 including doing the unthinkable and losing in Seattle to the Cardinals in Week 16. Meanwhile, the Saints’ running game looks as good as I can remember in recent times and they’ve got the ever-fantastic Drew Brees at quarterback. With that in mind, I think Russell Wilson and the Seahawks see their season end at the hand of NFC South opposition for the second straight year.
Khaled - Crazier things have happened than a team getting their backsides handed to them and then turning that on it’s head in the rematch. Only I don’t see that happening here. The Saints will be more competitive for sure and their offense will be better prepared for what’s coming their way, but Seattle is just too strong at home.
Nathan - While I think it will be closer than the 34-7 game in Week 13, I think the Seahawks’ defense can shut down Drew Brees a lot more than the Saints’ defense can stop the Seahawks’ offense. The Saints will also be without two of their best defenders from the first matchup in Kenny Vaccaro and Parys Haralson.
Neil - While the Saints may have been able to overcome a lackluster defensive display by the Eagles, I don’t think they’ll have the same degree of success here. It’ll certainly be closer than the last game, but I see the Seattle having more success running to the perimeter and also Russell Wilson’s ability in the option opening up the middle of the run D too.
Rick - It’s been fun to see the Saints field a defense worth watching this year and their seam-attacking offense is always a joy, but it’s exhausting getting up for another big road test just after finally conquering one. That’s going to leave them a few steps short against the real deal Seahawks playing in their insane home environment.
Sam - The league’s biggest home field advantage together with arguably the league’s best team I just can’t look beyond the Seahawks here. The fact that they can deploy Percy Harvin, one of the league’s most dynamic weapons, again only helps. Never write off the Saints, but this should be a Seattle win.
Steve - While I think it will be closer this time around, the Seahawks are just loaded on defense and so difficult to beat in their building. The Saints’ offense has to find a way to get Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles inolved in the game, so I’ll be watching closely to see how to deploy their playmakers.
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
Ben - A spectacular comeback by the Colts last weekend but if they start the same way against the Patriots lightning will not strike twice. LeGarrette Blount’s excellent form to end the season has added an extra feather to their bow on offense and the defense will do enough to allow Tom Brady and the offense to take the Patriots to another AFC Championship game.
Gordon - For as good as that comeback against the Chiefs was, the first half (and first play of the second half) wasn’t far off calamitous for the Colts. That being said, there was something really special about the way Luck played in the second half and it makes for a fantastic matchup this week. Both quarterbacks have pulled out late game heroics this year and I get the feeling that whichever quarterback has the ball last will lead his team to victory. Still, given that it’s in New England, I think the Patriots and Brady win it late.
Khaled - Against Alex Smith and a crippled Chiefs outfit you might get away with playing one excellent half of football. Against the Patriots? No dice. New England will give up some points but I can see them controlling things on the ground, keeping hold of the ball and in the end forcing the mistakes from Andrew Luck.
Nathan - The Patriots seem to be getting hot at the right time with players like LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower playing very well recently. While there are a few match-ups that favor the Colts, I think there are more that favor New England.
Neil - An upset? Well I think it may happen. New England has issues on the defense that have been papered over with clever coaching all year and who better to highlight them than Andrew Luck. He’ll need to take less time to get into his stride, though, because Tom Brady will make short work of finding the clear weakness in the linebackers’ underneath coverage.
Rick - The Colt defense is going to be picked apart in this one and there just won’t be the door left open for them to crawl back in. I’m expecting a marching win for New England getting up by the half and showing some ‘step on the throat’ ability to ride on to the AFC title game from there.
Sam - Honestly I’m far from enthused by either of these sides. I think they’re both pretty flawed, but the Colts showed last week the depth of those problems and owe their spot to an epic choke job (which they took full advantage of) from Kansas City. The Patriots for all their flaws keep finding ways to hide them just enough.
Steve - I’m not sure the Colts can win if they turn the ball over as they did last week and Andrew Luck isn’t as careful with the football as his nine regular season interceptions would have you believe. The matchup to watch will be the Patriots’ pass defense trying to find a way to contain T.Y. Hilton who is easily the Colts’ most dangerous receiver.
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers
Ben - I’ve been waiting and waiting all season for the 49ers to re-discover their best form of a year ago and I’m going to chance going away from them just as they find it. I’m nervous about this young Panthers team being the most at risk of a letdown of this week’s home teams, but I just think their defenses matches up well against a San Francisco offense that isn’t quite executing with the precision that carried them to the Super Bowl last season.
Gordon - While it was the win over the Patriots on Monday Night Football that seemed to spark everyone’s belief in the Panthers, it’s worth remembering that the week before they were able to squeeze by the 49ers on the road. Both quarterbacks have been better running than they have been throwing the ball so it may come down to which can avoid mistakes and make the biggest play with his legs. Just like they did earlier in the year, I think Carolina scrapes by and sets up an All-NFC South NFC Championship game.
Khaled - That defeat earlier in the season stung and it’s time for the 49ers to exact their revenge. They’re better up front than they showed that day and I can see them wearing down the Panthers before Michael Crabtree comes up the difference in these two teams. Of course a lot depends on the play of Cam Newton because if he plays lights out, I’m not sure even the Niners can stop him.
Nathan - I think this is basically a toss up. The biggest difference from the first matchup is Michael Crabtree, but Crabtree has only gained a lot of yards against below average cornerbacks. When in doubt, I go with the home team, and this case it is Carolina who is also coming off a bye.
Neil - The Panthers have been threatening to run out of steam for some time while the 49ers are only just getting going. Momentum will carry them through and I see Colin Kapernick playing far better than he did in the previous encounter.
Rick - While San Francisco’s goals were loftier, the Carolina fight this year was to prove themselves as a legit contender. Job done for the Panthers but the 49ers are eyeing something bigger and they’ll get their dream date with Seattle the week after. A great matchup and sure to be another slugfest, but even Ric Flair knows where the smart money goes in this one.
Sam - I have a theory that come crunch time you just pick the team with the better quarterback. That would have put me 3-1 last week in picks with the only loss coming in Arctic Green Bay, but this week it leads to a lot of coin flips still. These two teams are so much alike it’s eery. When in doubt, choose the home team!
Steve - This is going to be an entertaining trench battle, but it should still come down to which quarterback makes more plays in the end. Kaepernick dodged a bullet last week when Micah Hyde was unable to haul in the would-be interception, but he bounced back and found a way to move the chains. Newton still misses too many throws for my liking so I’m taking the 49ers to advance.
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Ben - A repeat of the Chargers’ Week 15 win at Mile High on the cards? I don’t think so, the Broncos’ offense rebounded with two big games to end the season and though the Chargers’ defense has played better down the stretch this is still a unit that Peyton Manning and his passing game can light up if they hit their marks. My only concern is how much pressure Denver can get on Phillip Rivers, the onus is on the likes of Robert Ayers to hit form for the playoffs.
Gordon - A week ago the Chargers were lucky to have even made the playoffs, scraping past the Chiefs’ backups at home in the final game of the season. Fast forward past their win over the Bengals in Cincinnati last week and they suddenly have that “Team You Don’t Want to Face” tag again. Meanwhile we’ve got the PFF MVP in Peyton Manning trying to prove that he can lead the Broncos to a win in January after falling at this stage last year. I think the Broncos put up enough points and, more importantly, avoid any embarrassing coverage slip ups late to set up a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning AFC Championship in Denver next week.
Khaled - Yep the Chargers have Manning’s number. And he sucks in the playoffs. I’ve heard all the narratives out there but I’m not buying that perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time doesn’t have it in him to shut more than a few people up. Andy Dalton capitulated when pressured, but Denver will learn from their TNF mistakes and with Wes Welker back working over Marcus Gilchrist, this one promises to deliver a lot of points.
Nathan - The Chargers have seemed to play up or down to the level of their opponent, so I could see them certainly keeping this game close. I just don’t think the San Diego defense who is average at best can slow down Peyton Manning for a third game in just over two months.
Neil - It was nice while it lasted but I don’t think John Pagano has another game plan to stop Peyton Manning with this defense. He’s done a superb job so far to stop Luck, Manning and Dalton with a very suspect secondary. The Broncos pass rush though will struggle to get much pressure on Philip Rivers so it will be a higher scoring game with the Broncos simply outscoring the Chargers
Rick - Rivers is one of my favorite players to watch but this will be the last time we see him and the Chargers take the field this year. They did well for me last week with their win in Cincy, but here Peyton & Co. will put up 40 while San Diego just tries to stay in the frame. The Denver win on Sunday afternoon is the final piece to cement my ideal Final Four of Manning vs. Brady and San Francisco at Seattle.
Sam - The Broncos should be the AFC’s representative for the Super Bowl. They should be, and yet until they actually get there I won’t believe it. At this point Peyton Manning’s legacy as the greatest regular season quarterback of all time is secure, but if he wants to have that italicized caveat removed from his name in history, he needs this run. It starts now.
Steve - I’ve been extremely impressed with the Chargers in recent weeks and Philip Rivers is more than capable of carrying this team to the SuperBowl. They should have a great shot at winning this weekend, but Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense will be too much to handle. Chargers free safety Eric Weddle will be one to watch as he lines up all over the field and his versatility could be a key to San Diego pulling the upset.