The Wild Card Round was an amazing way to kick off the 2014 NFL playoff schedule, but the excitement is building exponentially as the divisional round approaches.
With the top teams in the NFL going head-to-head with last weekend’s survivors, the ensuing battles are sure to become must-watch television.
Whether you’re a hardcore football fan or just enjoy the NFL’s postseason matchups, here is all the vital viewing information and the players to watch during the divisional round.
|Date||Time (ET)||Home Team||Away Team||TV|
|Saturday, Jan. 11||4:35 p.m.||Seattle Seahawks||New Orleans Saints||Fox|
|Saturday, Jan. 11||8:15 p.m.||New England Patriots||Indianapolis Colts||CBS|
|Sunday, Jan. 12||1:05 p.m.||Carolina Panthers||San Francisco 49ers||Fox|
|Sunday, Jan. 12||4:40 p.m.||Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers||CBS|
AFC’s Biggest X-Factor: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
The biggest key for any team left in the AFC playoff hunt is Tom Brady’s value to the New England Patriots. With a mediocre defense, an inconsistent rushing attack and injuries galore, Brady has managed to keep the franchise heading in the right direction.
While Brady has not enjoyed the same statistical domination he had in the past, amassing only 4,343 yards and just 25 touchdowns, the veteran quarterback has kept his team in contention with little help from the skill players around him.
Injuries to stars like tight end Rob Gronkowski (out for the season), wide receiver Danny Amendola (missed four games) and running back Shane Vereen (missed eight games) forced the offense to lean heavily on the decision-making of the veteran quarterback.
After going 12-4 and winning the AFC East, Brady’s unmatched experience controls the Patriots’ fate:
Tom Brady has won 17 playoff games, the most by any starting QB in @NFL history.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 8, 2014
Brady has Vereen and Amendola healthy now, and the emergence of Julian Edelman as a viable possession receiver has taken more of the pressure off. The Pats signal-caller will need all his weapons on the same page as the Indianapolis Colts travel to New England.
Kansas City and QB Alex Smith proved that the Colts can be torched defensively. With the knowledge that injuries have taken their toll on the defensive side of the ball for his team as well, look for Brady and the Patriots offense to put up points fast on Indianapolis.
Predicted Stat Line: 28-of-38 for 360 yards and three touchdowns
NFC’s Biggest X-Factor: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The best team in the NFC is the Seattle Seahawks, and the most pivotal piece to the team’s success is running back Marshawn Lynch.
Everyone knows about the team’s vaunted defense, but with Russell Wilson not having the weapons to be an elite passer this season, Seattle has been forced to keep the ball on the ground on a more consistent basis.
The veteran racked up 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns on 301 carries. While his yards-per-carry average of 4.2 was not his career best, it came against defensive units that could stack the box against the Seahawks’ one-dimensional offense.
Given the space against a smaller defense like the one he’ll square off against when the New Orleans Saints visit Seattle in the divisional round, Lynch has the ability to go Beast Mode and utterly dominate his competition.
The Seahawks dominated New Orleans when the teams met in Week 13, but Lynch was held to just 57 all-purpose yards. With the rushing attack taking precedent in the postseason, expect a much better output from the physical back.
Predicted Stat Line: 21 carries for 90 yards and one touchdown; three receptions for 35 yards and zero touchdowns.
*All stats via NFL.com.