While the opening round of the NFL playoffs was entertaining, the real action starts this weekend as the season's top teams begin their quest for a Super Bowl.
The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers get their first taste of the 2014 postseason, and they all hope that the week off did not slow their momentum. Meanwhile, the winners of the Wild Card Round do not plan on ending their runs just yet.
With four excellent matchups ahead, you want to make sure you do not miss a second of the exciting action. For that reason, here is a look at everything you need to know for the upcoming slate of games over the weekend.
Note: All spread info courtesy of Vegas Insider.
No. 1 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 6 New Orleans Saints
When: Saturday, Jan. 11 at 4:35 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Spread: SEA -8
There was a lot of hype heading into the Week 13 Monday night battle between the Seahawks and Saints. The teams were a combined 19-3, and it was expected to be one of the closest games of the year.
Unfortunately, the Saints barely showed up and were embarrassed in a 34-7 loss. Seattle was dominant on both sides of the ball, and the home crowd caused problems for New Orleans.
Playing on the road had been a problem for the Saints all year until last week's tough win in Philadelphia. As Tony Dungy noted, that victory will help them gain confidence:
Congratulations to the Saints for gutting out a tough road win tonight. Should give them confidence heading to Seattle.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) January 5, 2014
Considering the players have had to answer questions for months about winning away from home, the pressure will be lighter going forward.
That being said, Seattle matches up perfectly against New Orleans based on its ability to stop the pass. Richard Sherman and the elite secondary will make it tough for Drew Brees to complete throws down the field, keeping the Saints from scoring.
This game should be closer than the regular-season battle, but the Seahawks will likely still pull out a win.
No. 2 New England Patriots vs. No. 4 Indianapolis Colts
When: Saturday, Jan. 11 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
Spread: NE -7
The Patriots are a tough team to beat at home. Not only did they finish the year 8-0 at Gillette Stadium this season, but they usually fare well in the playoffs too.
However, ESPN's Trey Wingo pointed out that the team has struggled in recent seasons:
Brady,Belichick & Patriots 11-3 at home in the playoffs. Won their first 8, have gone just 3-3 in their last 6— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 7, 2014
This should create some doubt for New England entering the game, especially since it will be without Brandon Spikes, who was recently placed on injured reserve. He joins a list of injured players including Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and many others.
The Colts can take advantage of this thanks to the red-hot play of Andrew Luck. Although he makes mistakes, he has an impressive ability not to let the errors bother him.
Luck has demonstrated that he can bring his team from behind time and time again, and it gives everyone on the roster confidence that the Colts can win any game. This mindset will be a big help against a more veteran team like the Patriots.
No. 2 Carolina Panthers vs. No. 5 San Francisco 49ers
When: Sunday, Jan. 12 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Spread: SF -2
There are some quarterbacks who only perform when the environment is perfect. Colin Kaepernick proved that he is better than that with last week's win over the Green Bay Packers. According to 49ers.com, his coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game:
We have a good bad-weather quarterback. I think we’ve established that.
The thing I didn’t envision, really even going into the game, and I didn’t envision when we drafted Colin was just how unbelievably effective he would be on a bad field. He was running like a gazelle. At times, just looked like he was running and having fun like he was the only one on the field. That’s what a difference it was between him and the other defenders that were out there. And, because of the bad field, factoring that in, but that was very much to our advantage.
If the weather is cold or rainy in North Carolina on Sunday, Kaepernick will be able to use his arm or legs to move the football, even against a tough Panthers defense.
On the other hand, Cam Newton has a lot to prove in his first career playoff game. The former No. 1 overall pick is in the midst of the best year of his career, but he has never experienced this much pressure.
Against a gritty San Francisco defensive front, Newton could end up struggling and making mistakes.
This will likely be a low-scoring game, but the experienced 49ers should pull out another close win.
No. 1 Denver Broncos vs. No. 6 San Diego Chargers
When: Sunday, Jan. 12 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Who will win?
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Spread: DEN -9.5
San Diego figured out the blueprint to beating the Broncos, earning a 27-20 win in Denver in Week 15. The key was holding onto the ball, as the Chargers controlled possession for more than 38 minutes.
As a result, Peyton Manning and the NFL-leading Broncos offense could not get into a rhythm, which led to season lows in most categories.
The Chargers finished the season with the sixth-most rushing attempts and have only increased that recently. During the current five-game winning streak, the offense has averaged 39.4 rushes per game. Add this to the fact that Philip Rivers led the league in completion percentage, and the Bolts have a great way to control the clock.
In order for the Broncos to win, they will need to get stops on third down and force the Chargers offense off the field. They need to allow Manning to get his chances to score, because he cannot do much while sitting on the bench.
Then again, destiny may not allow the Chargers to lose, based on this stat:
Last 4 Super Bowl champs (Saints, Packers, Giants, Ravens) were visiting teams for Eagles' home opener. Philly opener this year? Chargers.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 5, 2014
Still, San Diego likely will have to take care of business itself in order to advance to the next round.
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