NFL Playoff Predictions 2014: B/R's Expert Consensus Divisional Picks
Week 1 of the playoffs was just about everything an NFL fan could ask for.
If the next week follows suit, higher seeds like the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots shouldn't be too confident, since home-field advantage didn't seem to matter much in the Wild Card Round. For the divisional round, "rematch" is the name of the game.
The Saints head back to Seattle, where the Seahawks beat them down earlier in the season. They'll be bringing a little more swagger this time around, however, after a road victory in Philadelphia last weekend. San Francisco gets a rematch with Carolina but will look to have a little more success than it did previously. The Chargers have actually beaten Denver at home and will look to do so again.
Only the Indianapolis Colts and Patriots haven't faced off this season, but both have clearly seen each other enough in recent years.
We'll cover each of these games—just a few clicks ahead. Don't like our picks? Give us yours in the comments below!
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
B/R Consensus Pick: Seahawks (10-2)
Bowen: Saints, 24-20
The Seahawks defense can create some matchup issues for the Saints up front, but New Orleans slows down the Seattle pass rush with Mark Ingram and the running game to control the tempo. I'm sticking with my Super Bowl pick of Sean Payton's club. Expect Payton to use the tape from their first meeting to pull off the upset here.
Schalter: Seahawks, 27-21
The Saints should be able to make this one a little closer than the last matchup, but I can't see them overcoming the home-field advantage (which may have as much to do with the officials as the players).
Hansen: Seahawks, 27-20
Despite falling to the Arizona Cardinals at home in Week 16, the Seahawks rarely lose in Seattle. Russell Wilson is building his legacy.
Frenz: Seahawks, 31-17
The Seahawks have lost one home game in the past two years, so it’s hard to imagine them losing two in a one-month span. The matchups favor them as well. Their secondary has the physical style of play necessary to stop the Saints receivers, and the Seahawks would love to run against the Saints’ light front seven. Those exotic Rob Ryan blitzes could leave the Saints vulnerable to Russell Wilson on the run. Look for the Seahawks to win running away.
Bardeen: Saints, 23-21
Sean Payton is one of the best strategists in the NFL, and no team plays better with a chip on its shoulder than the Saints. There’s no way New Orleans, which was embarrassed in Week 13 in Seattle, is going to get manhandled again. Plus, the Saints are coming off a road win versus the red-hot Eagles.
Langland: Seahawks, 27-24
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Saints after their gritty performance in Philadelphia last week. New Orleans’ run game ran wild to the tune of 185 yards and picked up the slack for a struggling Drew Brees. Yet don’t expect similar results this weekend in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks possess the No. 1 defense in the NFL and average 2.4 takeaways a game. As long as Russell Wilson protects the football, Dan Quinn’s defense will do the rest.
Other Picks: Seahawks (Schottey, Freeman, Miller, Hangst, Gagnon, Kruse)
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
B/R Consensus Pick: Patriots (11-1)
Miller: Patriots, 35-24
I have one firm rule: Never pick against Tom Brady at home in the playoffs. So I'm not. New England's offense will do what Kansas City's couldn't—close this game out.
Freeman: Patriots, 38-22
If Alex Smith can light up that Indy defense, just what exactly do you think Tom Brady will do to it? As magical as Andrew Elway is, not even he can overcome that horrid Colts defense two weeks in a row. Don't misinterpret me: The Patriots can be beaten at home. But the teams that can pull it off are well-rounded and play excellent defense. That's not the Colts.
Hangst: Patriots, 31-21
The Colts have been bona fide giant killers this year, but in Foxborough, Mass., against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots, Indianapolis will come up short. Look for Belichick's game plan to neutralize Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, thereby stalling the whole Colts offense. Andrew Luck won't be able to drive Indianapolis to victory in that situation.
Frenz: Patriots, 27-20
Bill Belichick is legendary for his ability to neutralize a team's best weapon. The Colts are one of the most one-dimensional teams in football on both sides, with their offensive attack focused primarily on T.Y. Hilton and their pass rush centered around star outside linebacker Robert Mathis. If the Patriots can find a way to take both of them away—bracketing Hilton over the top with a safety and doubling Mathis in the pass rush (and running the ball right at him)—they should pick up the win.
Gagnon: Patriots, 35-27
Andrew Luck is Mr. Comeback, but Tom Brady led the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks this season. This isn't a home game against the overrated Chiefs. The Colts can't get away with sloppy first-half play in New England, and the veteran Patriots should take care of business at home off the bye.
Kruse: Colts, 35-28
The Colts have already proven an ability to beat any team, anywhere. The question here is, can Indy get an even performance from a team playing more and more inconsistent late in this season? I think Andrew Luck rides the wave of momentum from Wild Card Weekend and tears through the Patriots defense.
Other Picks: Patriots (Schottey, Bowen, Schalter, Hansen, Bardeen, Langland)
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
B/R Consensus Pick: 49ers (10-2)
Bowen: 49ers, 23-17
Two of the top defenses in the game in what should be a physical matchup in Carolina. Keep an eye on field position and third downs. That's the reason the 49ers advance.
Schottey: 49ers, 20-16
Michael Crabtree gives the 49ers far more balance on offense than they've had most of the season. Although the Panthers defense is formidable, the 49ers should be able to find a little room in the secondary.
Schalter: Panthers, 21-20
It's hard to pick against a 49ers team that's playing its best ball of the season right now, but the Panthers defense is even better than the 49ers'. Cam Newton makes enough plays in this one to carry Carolina to the victory.
Bardeen: 49ers, 20-17
The 49ers might be playing better football than anyone in the NFL right now. The Panthers are playing well too, and give them a ton of credit for beating the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 10. But that was before the Niners defense really jelled and before wide receiver Michael Crabtree returned to the team.
Langland: 49ers, 27-21
The 49ers' Week 10 matchup with the Panthers was a good old-fashioned dogfight. The defense beat up the offense, and both quarterbacks struggled mightily. However, Colin Kaepernick is primed for a big game this time around because wide receiver Michael Crabtree is back in his groove. In four playoff games together, Crabtree has three 100-yard receiving games and three touchdowns. The Kaepernick-Crabtree connection will lead the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game.
Hangst: Panthers, 24-17
To say the Panthers win at home against the 49ers this week does not discount anything the Niners have done this season. Instead, it's a commentary on just how much has gone right for the Panthers. Steve Smith told the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person, "I will play Sunday." He will be the X-factor if he does in fact suit up.
Other Picks: 49ers (Freeman, Miller, Frenz, Hansen, Gagnon, Kruse)
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
B/R Consensus Pick: Broncos (11-1)
Miller: Broncos, 31-24
Peyton Manning against the San Diego secondary seems unfair. Now, things will get interesting if Denver cannot protect No. 18, but I like Manning to carve up the Chargers at home.
Schottey: Broncos, 30-20
Have to pick the better quarterback in this one, but that's closer than people think. If Manning's been the best QB in the league, Rivers has been close to No. 2 or No. 3. Don't be surprised if the Chargers make this a game, but don't expect Manning to lose to the same team twice in a row.
Hansen: Broncos, 28-24
This game comes down to which team executes its offensive game plan better. The Broncos will want to score early and force the Chargers to abandon the running game. The Chargers will try to keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands by controlling the clock while being just a little more efficient on offense. The Broncos are too explosive on offense in this one against an average defense.
Hangst: Broncos, 30-21
The Chargers defense looked the best it has all season last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, thanks to a few gifts from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and running back Giovani Bernard. The Broncos, however, won't be so generous this week. These two teams are well matched at quarterback, but Denver's stacked offense will be too much in this one.
Langland: Chargers, 31-27
Peyton Manning and the Broncos are the obvious pick, yet you can’t discount San Diego's Week 15 win at Sports Authority Field. Philip Rivers is playing his best football of the season, the offensive line is controlling the line of scrimmage and the defense is forcing turnovers. That is the recipe for winning playoff games on the road.
Frenz: Broncos, 31-30
Peyton Manning is not Andy Dalton. The Broncos are simply superior in too many ways for the Chargers to really stand a chance of pulling off the upset in Denver twice in a month's time.
Other Picks: Broncos (Freeman, Bowen, Schalter, Gagnon, Kruse, Bardeen)