For fans who thought the NFL regular season was crazy, the Wild Card Round of the playoffs probably seemed tame.
Whether it was the Cincinnati Bengals dropping another playoff game due to Andy Dalton's three turnovers, Colin Kaepernick dissecting the Green Bay Packers again or the Philadelphia Eagles failing to take advantage of two interceptions thrown by Drew Brees, the road teams ruled the first round of the postseason.
With only one higher seed taking advantage of being the home team—and man, did the Indianapolis Colts need one hellacious comeback—the divisional round of the playoffs is officially set.
Here is a look at the entire schedule for the divisional round, which begins on Saturday, Jan. 11, followed by a breakdown and predicted outcome of each game.
|Jan. 11||4:35 p.m.||New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||Fox|
|Jan. 11||8:15 p.m.||Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||CBS|
|Jan. 12||1:05 p.m.||San Francisco 49ers||Carolina Panthers||Fox|
|Jan. 12||4:40 p.m.||San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||CBS|
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Jan. 11, at 4:35 p.m. ET
Of the NFC teams that made the playoffs, the New Orleans Saints arguably had the most to prove on the road. Despite finishing the season at 11-5, all five of those losses came on the road.
After defeating the Eagles to win their first road playoff game in franchise history, the Saints are now looking to exact some revenge against the Seattle Seahawks, who handed them one of their worst defeats of the season by a final of 34-7.
Following the first meeting, Brees made a prediction that the two teams would meet again in the playoffs and said his team would have to play better when that time came, according to Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com:
We know they are a team we are going to have to deal with in the future. We are going to have to find a way to play better against these guys when that time comes [...] Nothing we did offensively was right, we really couldn't get anything going.
In that matchup, Russell Wilson finished with three touchdowns and led the Seahawks in rushing yards. The key for the Saints will be finding a way to shut down Wilson, but there might be more reinforcements in this game that New Orleans will need to be concerned with.
As if the Saints didn't already have their hands full the first time these teams faced off, now the return of Percy Harvin looks imminent for the Seahawks, according to Pro Football Talk:
Russell Wilson believes Percy Harvin is "ready to go" http://t.co/yJzVyuyPjq— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 3, 2014
While the game might not be as lopsided as the first time these teams faced one another, the Seahawks will once again defeat the Saints and move on to the NFC Championship.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Saints 20
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 11, at 8:15 p.m. ET
When referring to epic comebacks in the NFL playoffs, Andrew Luck and the Colts put their name at the top of the list after staging a 28-point comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs. After being down 38-10 early in the second half, Luck led the charge along with T.Y. Hilton to cap off the second-largest comeback in playoff history.
The Colts' reward for the epic turnaround? Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium. Not exactly the prize they were hoping for.
What this game offers is more than just two great teams in an AFC showdown between two old rivals. Tom Brady versus Andrew Luck marks one of those rare matchups that signifies the potential changing of the guard if the second-year quarterback can somehow defeat the three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP.
But for fans looking to find out what Brady thinks of his counterpart, ESPN's Field Yates reveals that Brady isn't concerned with Luck heading into the game:
Truthfully, I'm not worried about the opposing quarterback. I'm thinking about the defense and what I need to do to play against them. [...] I didn't watch one snap of Indy's offense, nor will I this week. I'll be focused on the defense and what we need to do score points, because that's what my job is.
First on Brady's priority list instead is Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, who finished the regular season with 19.5 sacks and had another sack-forced fumble against the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round. Brady is quite familiar with Mathis, being sacked by the Colt five times in his career.
Brady also spoke to Yates about Mathis prior to the matchup this weekend:
And like I said, it all starts with Robert Mathis and being the defensive player of the year, basically, 19.5 sacks, he kind of wreaks a lot of havoc. We've got to be able to figure out how to slow him down and then we've got to be really balanced on offense like we've been. We've got to run it, and when we throw, we've got to throw it good.
With offense being the big story in this game, it will be the Colts defense that comes up biggest. With Luck facing a Patriots defense that ranks last out of the AFC playoff teams in total defense in terms of yards allowed, Luck will outduel Brady to take on either Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers in the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Colts 34, Patriots 31
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Jan. 12, at 1:05 p.m. ET
In yet another matchup from earlier in the season, the San Francisco 49ers will travel to take on the Carolina Panthers in a game that will be dominated by the two teams' defenses.
Following the win over the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round, Kaepernick spoke about San Francisco's next matchup, according to ESPN:
"We owe them for the last time they came to our house." Colin Kaepernick on the Panthers— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 6, 2014
It's not a game that Kaepernick remembers fondly as he struggled, to say the least. Going just 11-of-22 with 91 passing yards, an interception and only 16 rushing yards, Kaepernick was not able to get anything going for the 49ers offense against the Panthers.
The Panthers have a front seven that includes the likes of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Star Lotulelei—each of whom is capable of having a breakout game.
While Kaepernick has made a name for himself in the playoffs over the last two seasons, winning three of four games he's played in, it will be Cam Newton and Carolina's defense stealing the headlines and moving forward to the NFC Championship.
Prediction: Panthers 20, 49ers 13
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos, Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:40 p.m. ET
If this season were a heavyweight fight for the Broncos and Chargers, it's currently a split decision. But with the two divisional opponents once again meeting in the AFC playoffs, the third round is by far the most important.
As with the other playoff matchups, the headliners will be the two quarterbacks. The only difference is that this one features two of the best signal-callers from the regular season.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report put it best when talking about the matchup of Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning:
There's only one QB playing better football than Philip Rivers right now...and they'll go head-to-head next week.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 5, 2014
Rivers has been on fire for the Chargers during their current five-game winning streak. During that stretch, Rivers has compiled a stat line of 86-of-126 (68.3 completion percentage) with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Which Team Will Upset the Home Team?
As for his counterpart, Manning has put together the best statistical season for a quarterback in the history of the NFL. The 16-year veteran threw for a record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns during 2013 and appears to be on a mission toward winning one more Super Bowl.
The Chargers may be one of the best stories in the playoffs, but they are facing a Manning on a mission against the Broncos. The Broncos will take care of business and move on to play one of two rivals in the AFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Broncos 30, Chargers 24