NFL Playoff Picks: Why Lower Seeds Will Dominate NFC's Divisional Round

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  (R) Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 and guard Josh Sitton #71 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after fullback John Kuhn #30 scorers on a nine-yard catch and run in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In the AFC, it's popular to stick with chalk, as both the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos seem highly unlikely to lose their Divisional Round games. 

But in the NFC, it's the underdogs that will rule the day.

It took me awhile to come to this realization. I liked the Seattle Seahawks almost immediately against the Atlanta Falcons, but I had a much harder time deciding to select the Green Bay Packers over the San Francisco 49ers. It promises to be a tight game, and one that will likely come down to the wire.

So how did I decide to stick with the underdogs? What convinced me that the two road teams in the NFC would win?

I'm glad you asked.

Why the Seahawks Will Beat the Falcons

Oh, let's see.

The Seahawks are the NFC's hottest team, having won six straight. They have a superior defense, physical corners that match up well with Julio Jones and Roddy White, a dual-threat quarterback in Russell Wilson that comes into this game playing well and a bruising running game led by Marshawn Lynch, who has been known to cause earthquakes in the playoffs.

Plus, the Seahawks come into this game with little to no pressure. They're better than people expected, they're on the road and the Falcons are favored. If they lose, everyone will still consider this season a success.

But if the Falcons lose, Matt Ryan will be questioned, the team will be looked at as a squad that chokes in the postseason and a 13-3 season will be rendered meaningless.

This is a tough matchup for the Falcons schematically to begin with. But the fact that the Seahawks are red hot and have nothing to lose makes it all the more difficult to envision the Falcons coming away with a win.

Prediction: Seahawks win, 24-21

Why the Packers Will Beat the 49ers

My first inclination was to pick the 49ers. They have the better defense, they're playing at home (6-1-1 at home, while the Packers are 4-4 on the road), and at times, have looked like the NFL's best team, hands down.

So what made me change my mind?

Could it be that the Niners went 3-2 down the stretch, and nearly blew a 31-3 lead to the New England Patriots? Could it be since starting 3-3, the Packers are 10-2? Or maybe because Aaron Rodgers comes into this game smoking hot?

And I mean smoking hot, for what it's worth. He hasn't thrown an interception in five games, he's had at least 270 passing yards in four straight and has 11 touchdown passes in those four games. Plus, his full array of weapons is healthy.

Oh, and the defense is playing solid football, having held opponents to 20 or less points in five-of-six games. Very quietly, the Packers have been playing excellent and well-rounded football since starting sluggishly over the first six weeks of the season.

But still, I was on the fence. After all, the 49ers won the first meeting between the teams, and I got burned when I doubted the Niners in the playoffs a year ago. Then I read something Bill Barnwell of Grantland wrote, and I finally was convinced to switch my pick to Green Bay:

In the dramatic Week 15 victory over the Patriots, Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury that cost him most of the second half of that game and each of the contests in Week 16 and Week 17. You may also remember that the Patriots came back from a 31-3 deficit to tie that game up in a matter of minutes, something that happened while Smith was being checked out for his injury. The 49ers then followed that with a stinker against the Seahawks offense before slowing down a Cardinals offense led by street free agent Brian Hoyer in Week 17. Put it this way: Before Justin Smith got hurt, the 49ers hadn't allowed more than 26 points in any one game all year. Immediately after Justin Smith got hurt, the 49ers allowed more than 26 points in consecutive halves to the Patriots (31) and Seahawks (28).

Oh, but there's more. Smith's presence in this game might also determine how Aldon Smith plays:

Smith had 19.5 sacks at the end of the third quarter of the Patriots game in Week 15. He finished the year with 19.5 sacks. Not only has Aldon Smith not recorded a sack since Justin Smith suffered his triceps injury, Aldon Smith hasn't even knocked down a quarterback once.

If Smith doesn't play—or even if he's less than 100 percent—the 49ers will be a much less effective defense and have a much more difficult time pressuring Rodgers. 

I think the Packers are basically a push to win even if Smith is completely healthy, but without him at peak health I think the 49ers are sunk.

Prediction: Packers win, 23-17


Follow TRappaRT on Twitter