NFL Playoffs 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Sunday's Divisional Round Action

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field.  San Francisco won 23-20.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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

November 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) scrambles against San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald (91) during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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:

On the opposite side is Cam Newton, a name San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is more than aware of going into the matchup, per Taylor Price of the 49ers's website:

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

Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips (90) watches as San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) reacts in the first quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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:

Now add in some strange history, and one gets a recipe for an exciting upset:

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


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