NFL Divisional Round Predictions

Last week I went 2-2 during Wild Card weekend, correctly predicting wins by the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts downed the Bengals 26-10, continuing the impressive start to Andrew Luck’s postseason career and keeping Andy Dalton winless in the playoffs.

Dallas got past the Lions by a score of 24-20, but not without controversy due to multiple calls and no-calls in the fourth quarter.

However, the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers also won last week, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, respectively.

Baltimore beat up on division-rival Pittsburgh, winning 30-17 as Joe Flacco once again rose to the occasion in the playoffs.

The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 27-16, Carolina’s fifth win in a row, with the help of three Arizona turnovers.

But lets get to this week’s games. Here are my predictions.

Baltimore (10-6, 1-0) vs. New England (12-4)

It’s another Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco, playoff showdown in Foxborough.

Flacco is 2-1 in those games and, arguably, should be 3-0 considering that in the loss during the 2011 playoffs the Ravens had a chance to potentially win the game when Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone and Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal.

Last week Flacco threw for 259 yards and had a QBR of 85.9 against the Steelers.

It’s evident that Flacco is a different quarterback in the postseason. He is 6-1 in his last seven playoff games.

But I don’t think any of that matters this time around.

The Patriots defense is the best it’s been in the last five years, ranked 13th in the league. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been one of, if not, the best combination in the NFL this season.

And one thing that no one is really talking about, but I think is important, is that the Patriots have already had to deal with adversity this year. Normally that is not the case. Most years real adversity only hits New England in the playoffs.

The Patriots started the season 2-2 after the 41-14 loss to Kansas City, and people were saying the sky was falling in New England. There were talks that Brady’s career with the Patriots was over.

But what happened? New England went 10-2 the rest of the season and won seven games in a row after the loss to the Chiefs.

I think this year is Brady’s best chance to win a fourth championship.

Baltimore will keep it close, but Brady and company are going to be too much to handle.

Prediction: Patriots win 30-24

Carolina (7-8-1, 1-0) vs. Seattle (12-4)

The Panthers got lucky last week, simple as that.

They faced a team starting its third-string quarterback in Ryan Lindley who is now 1-5 in his career with a 2-11 touchdown to interception ration. Granted, the Carolina defense did what it’s supposed to and shut down the Cardinals offense, allowing less than 100 yards of total offense, but Lindley has never shown the ability to be a true threat.

But nothing the Panthers have done this season leads me to believe that they will win this game. During the regular season the Panthers were 1-4-1 against playoff teams.

They went eight weeks without winning a game at one point.

Seattle’s pass defense is best in the league and its run defense is ranked in the top five. Offensively the Seahawks run the ball much better and their total offense is better than the Panthers, as well.

Seattle is one of the toughest environments to play in in sports with the 12th man.

Russell Wilson is more dangerous as a dual-threat quarterback than Cam Newton because he has shown more of an ability to escape pressure and extend plays and has a more accurate arm.

I think Carolina will have the ability to stay in the game early because it is riding a hot streak, but the Seahawks will be too much to handle on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: Seahawks win 28-14

Dallas (12-4, 1-0) vs. Green Bay (12-4)

Is this Dallas’ year? Is this the year that Dallas returns to football glory?

The Cowboys did have their best regular season, record-wise, since going 13-3 in 2007.

Tony Romo had his most efficient season of his career and has, to this point, not been his accident-waiting-to-happen self.

Running back DeMarco Murray set the franchise single-season rushing yards record and Dez Bryant has fully emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the league.

And on top of all of that, the Cowboys are 8-0 on the road and have won their last five games overall, making them one of the hottest teams left still playing.

But they’re going to Lambeau Field – the “Frozen Tundra” – to take on the Packers.

People are calling the matchup the second “Ice Bowl.”

Whereas the Cowboys are 8-0 away from Jerry World, the Packers are 8-0 at home.

Like Romo, Aaron Rodgers had one of the best seasons of his career, throwing 38 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

The big-play threats of Rodgers throwing to either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb, both who caught for over 1,200 yards this season, along with a 1,000-yard rusher in Eddie Lacy, pose big problems for the Cowboys defense.

It is uncertain exactly how healthy Rodgers will be for this game due to his injured calf.

But healthy or not, I believe Rodgers will still be able to carve up the Cowboys pass defense, which ranked 26th in the league.

To me that is the difference in this game.

Yes, the Cowboys have a great offense and a good defense against the run. But this game is going to come down to how Rodgers performs.

Dallas will hang in the game the entire way but Rodgers is going to find both Nelson and Cobb for big plays.

Prediction: Packers win 38-31

Indianapolis (11-5, 1-0) vs. Denver (12-4)

Haven’t we already seen this?

Yes. We have.

Week 1 in Denver.

Peyton Manning and the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter. Andrew Luck threw two touchdowns in the final quarter to pull within seven points.

Indianapolis drove down the field again but the drive stalled on the Denver 39 yard-line.

31-24 Denver.

Aside from the head-to-head matchup, the two teams had similar seasons.

Both quarterbacks threw for 4,700 yards and Luck bested Manning in touchdowns by just one.

Indianapolis went on a five-game win streak, including wins over Baltimore and Cincinnati, after suffering its second loss of the season in Week 2.

Denver had two four-game win streaks, however, both win streaks came to a stop with losses against playoff teams in New England and Cincinnati.

Manning has two 1,000-yard receivers, yet Indianapolis has the best passing attack in the league, averaging 305.9 passing yards per game.

Denver, however, has a much better defense than the Colts do.

Manning in the playoffs, though, is different than Manning in the regular season. The future Hall of Famer is 11-12 in his career in the postseason

Luck is already off to a better start, winning 2 out of 4 games in the playoffs.

However, I think Manning is going to even up his postseason-career record.

To me the thing that sets these two teams apart is the amount of weapons Manning has compared to Luck.

Manning has Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker on the outside, who all pose as deep threats. All those weapons are going to be problematic against an average Indianapolis pass defense.

I think this game will go like the Week 1 meeting.

Denver will get out to a sizeable lead and be able to coast the rest of the game.

Prediction: Denver wins 34-21

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