The number of teams in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy is down to eight after a Wild Card Round that did much to eliminate the pretenders.
The Kansas City Chiefs were criticized all year for not beating quality opponents. Andy Reid's team responded by being outscored 34-13 in the second half by the Indianapolis Colts to lose 45-44.
The same goes for Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has routinely failed in the postseason. Lewis' team went undefeated at home in 2013 but was embarrassed by the San Diego Chargers 27-10.
With the jokers out of the deck, the postseason is about to get good. Two games in particular stand out as must-see action.
|Round||Date (Time)||Visitor (Seed)||Home (Seed)||Broadcast/Stream Info|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (4:35 p.m. EST)||New Orleans Saints (6)||Seattle Seahawks (1)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (8:15 p.m. EST)||Indianapolis Colts (4)||New England Patriots (2)||CBS|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (1:05 p.m. EST)||San Francisco 49ers (5)||Carolina Panthers (2)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (4:40 p.m. EST)||San Diego Chargers (6)||Denver Broncos (1)||CBS|
|AFC Championship||Jan. 19 (TBA)||TBA||TBA||CBS|
|NFC Championship||Jan. 19 (TBA)||TBA||TBA||Fox|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Feb. 2 (6:30 p.m. EST)||TBA||TBA||Fox|
New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks
As fate would have it, the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks are set to meet at CenturyLink Field for the second time this year.
The first encounter between the two sides saw the Saints go home with a humbling 34-7 loss. Quarterback Drew Brees said shortly afterward that he knew his team would see the Seahawks again, per Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune: "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."
Fans should not be fooled by the lopsided outcome—this is going to be one of the best games the 2014 playoffs have to offer.
Best divisional-round matchup?
The Saints are red hot. New Orleans went to Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round and grounded the Eagles' high-flying attack en route to a 26-24 victory. The Saints racked up 434 total yards, while Chip Kelly's team managed just 256.
Defense is surprisingly what makes this matchup so interesting. Seattle touts the NFL's best pass defense. In a surprise to some, New Orleans comes in at No. 2.
The odds say this will be a bad game:
The Seahawks open as 7.5-to-10-point favorites over the Saints this weekend. Realize SEA routed the Saints last month but still seems high.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) January 6, 2014
Savvy fans know otherwise. Seattle may be prone to an upset after resting for a week. New Orleans has all kinds of momentum and just won on the road. Be sure to catch this one.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers
In another tale of potential revenge in the NFC, the Carolina Panthers will play host to the San Francisco 49ers, otherwise known as the team on the best roll at the moment.
The 49ers have now won seven straight, including a victory in the Wild Card Round after a trip to Green Bay. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers showed resiliency in the 23-20 win, but now the Nevada product has his eyes set on revenge, per 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
Kaepernick's comment refers to the 10-9 loss at home at the hands of the Panthers in Week 10.
But things have changed in a big way since then. For one, the 49ers are simply a better team at this point. Two, they will have receiver Michael Crabtree back this time around. He caught eight passes for 125 yards against the Packers, prompting some lofty praise from his coach:
The Panthers should also be a well-known commodity at this point thanks to quarterback Cam Newton and an elite defense led by linebacker Luke Kuechly. He leads what was the NFL's second-best scoring defense in 2013, which allowed an average of 15.1 points per game. The 49ers were right behind at 17.
Coach Ron Rivera says his team is ready for the spotlight against last year's NFC champs, per Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer:
On Panthers' lack of playoff experience, Ron Rivera said: "We've played in big games. We played on Sunday night, we played on Monday night."— Joe Person (@josephperson) January 6, 2014
Expect a gritty defensive struggle between two teams enveloped in a budding rivalry. Impressive dual-threat quarterbacks Newton and Kaepernick will put on a show, but the defenses will steal the spotlight as one team scores the victory and gains serious momentum.