After an exciting start to the 2014 NFL postseason, the talk has shifted from the Wild Card Round to the schedule for this weekend’s divisional playoff matchups.
With two can’t-miss matchups in both the AFC and the NFC, football fans from every market will have a vested interest in the action.
Even if your team has been eliminated or was never in contention, there is no denying the potential excitement surrounding these four marquee showdowns.
Here is all the vital viewing information for each game, a quick preview and the predicted final score.
No. 4 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) vs. No. 2 New England Patriots (12-4)
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
When: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 8:15 p.m. ET
The Indianapolis Colts completed one of the greatest comebacks in NFL postseason history when the team defeated the Kansas City Chiefs after trailing by 28 points in the Wild Card Round, but they will run into one of the most experienced teams remaining in the playoffs.
With the home-field advantage and plenty of rest, the stage has been set for the New England Patriots to win this game and end the Colts’ dream run in Andrew Luck's second season.
Despite winning against the Chiefs, Luck played one of the most inconsistent games of his short career, starting hot on the opening drive then cooling down while throwing three costly interceptions. However, he still managed to put up the numbers necessary to steal the victory and stepped up when it matter most in the second half.
As long as New England avoids the injury bug that bit Kansas City, the offense led by Tom Brady will be able to exploit the defensive weaknesses Alex Smith exposed.
If a journeyman like Smith can throw for 378 yards and four touchdowns, Brady will put up monster numbers and help his team advance to the next round.
Predicted Final Score: New England 34, Indianapolis 24
No. 6 San Diego Chargers (9-7) vs. No. 1 Denver Broncos (13-3)
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:40 p.m. ET
The San Diego Chargers have built serious momentum after stunning the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round, but a matchup with AFC West foes the Denver Broncos will be the ultimate test for Philip Rivers and the entire roster.
Denver was able to win the first meeting between these two teams, 28-20 in Week 10, but San Diego bounced back in Week 15 to defeat Peyton Manning and the Broncos 27-20. With the series even, the organization with more talent and experience will advance to the conference championship.
As well as the Chargers played to close the regular season and then move beyond the Wild Card Round, the Broncos are the superior team.
Led by Manning and the league’s top-ranked pass attack—amassing an impressive 340.3 passing yards per game—Denver will exploit San Diego’s 29th-ranked pass defense and rack up the offensive numbers needed to advance in the playoffs.
Predicted Final Score: Denver 37, San Diego 27
No. 6 New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs. No. 1 Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
When: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 4:35 p.m. ET
The New Orleans Saints were able to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on a last-second field goal in the Wild Card Round, but Drew Brees and the rest of the team will be forced to travel to CenturyLink Field and play the vaunted Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle is almost unbeatable in its own building. While Arizona was able to end the team’s undefeated streak at home in Week 16, the Seahawks were mailing in their effort and likely had their eyes on the postseason.
New Orleans will not walk into Seattle and steal a win.
With the 12th Man on their side, the Seahawks will lean on the consistent rushing attack of Marshawn Lynch to control the pace of the game and the smart decision-making of quarterback Russell Wilson to ensure the team advances to the next round.
For Seattle, it’s Super Bowl or bust.
Predicted Final Score: Seattle 27, New Orleans 24
No. 5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) vs. No. 2 Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 1:05 p.m. ET
In what could be the most exciting game of the entire second round, the San Francisco 49ers will once again hit the road to take on the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
Just as San Francisco traveled to Green Bay in the Wild Card Round, the 49ers have the talent and game plan to stop Carolina before the team gets red hot. Using the stout defense and the rushing attack to depict the tempo of the game, San Fran can limit the damage Cam Newton and the Panthers offense is capable of.
As tough as Carolina’s defense has been this season against the pass and the rush, the week off and the lack of playoff experience could backfire and give the 49ers the physical edge to start the game.
If Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore can keep drives alive by running the ball against the stingy Panthers defense, San Francisco will give its defense the chance to stifle Newton and force Carolina’s offense off the field.
With the Panthers’ defense its biggest strength, tiring the unit out with a consistent rushing attack will open up holes in the latter stages of the game and give the 49ers the chance to milk the clock.
Predicted Final Score: San Francisco 27, Carolina 17
*Stats via NFL.com.