One half of the divisional round is in the books as the 2014 edition of the NFL playoffs makes its way toward conference championship weekend.
In a not-so-shocking development, some of the NFL's best quarterbacks made it to this point. Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks scored a 23-15 victory over Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to open the divisional round.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots followed suit via a 43-22 triumph over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
The remaining action set to occur on Jan. 12 features more top signal-callers. Here is one final look at how the games will play out.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers
Of all the quarterbacks left in the postseason, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick has to be considered the weak link.
This is especially the case considering his epic collapse in a Week 10, 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers, which ESPN captures perfectly:
The last time 49ers/Panthers faced each other, Colin Kaepernick had one of the worst games of his career. pic.twitter.com/Cj32tUyzts— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 8, 2014
When you have a quarterback of Cam Newton’s ability in this type of game, I think he’d be apt to run maybe a little bit more than he would normally. They may even call more of the quarterback runs for him, the quarterback powers and lead draws.
We’re anticipating more of those from them. So, yeah I think Newton’s a playmaker and we’ve all got to be aware of him.
Both Kaepernick and Newton will be engulfed once more against top-five defenses from the regular season, but it is Kaepernick who will struggle on the road in the face of pressure from Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy (15 sacks in 2013) and others.
While it is true Kaepernick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl last year and has weapons who were absent from the regular-season loss to the Panthers back (such as receiver Michael Crabtree), Newton at home paired with an elite defense will be too much to overcome.
Prediction: Panthers 13, 49ers 10
San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Thanks to the arrival of head coach Mike McCoy (who actually came over from Denver last season), San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is back in the realm of football's elite at the position.
Rivers has had a superb year, and it in turn has resulted in some jarring success for his team:
The @chargers are 6-2 vs teams that finished with winning records this season, including 4-0 on the road.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 11, 2014
Now add in some strange history, and one gets a recipe for an exciting upset:
The last 4 teams to face the Eagles in Philly's home opener have gone on to win the Super Bowl. That team this year? - The @Chargers.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 5, 2014
In fact, it was not that long ago that these two met at the same locale in Week 15 and the Chargers knocked off the Broncos by a 27-20 margin. The Broncos managed just 18 rushing yards in the collapse, and Peyton Manning was merely human with 289 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
More of the same is a reasonable expectation here. The Chargers are playing at a high level in all regards—including on defense thanks to the recent return of talented linebacker Melvin Ingram.
The Chargers have played better as the season has worn on, while the Broncos have taken a few losses in that same span. San Diego is on a roll and has the look of an underdog that can win the whole thing.
Prediction: Chargers 30, Broncos 28