The divisional round of the 2014 playoffs is underway and has continued the trend of highlight-worthy affairs first started in the Wild Card Round.
The New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks started the round off right in a contest primarily dominated by the home team. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks put their home-field advantage to good use in a 23-15 victory.
After that, the Indianapolis Colts visited the New England Patriots in a game that featured another classic quarterback battle—but this time between Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. New England was carried by LeGarrette Blount's four scores en route to a 43-22 ticket to the AFC Championship.
The divisional round still has two contests to go before the field is officially reduced to four and the conference title games are set.
FanSided provides a look at the playoff bracket thus far (updated after Sunday's games):
|Round||Date (Time)||Visitor (Seed)||Home (Seed)||Broadcast/Stream Info|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (1:05 p.m. EST)||San Francisco 49ers (5)||Carolina Panthers (2)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (4:40 p.m. EST)||San Diego Chargers (6)||Denver Broncos (1)||CBS|
|AFC Championship||Jan. 19 (3:00 PM EST)||New England Patriots (2)||Denver Broncos (1)||CBS|
|NFC Championship||Jan. 19 (6:30 PM EST)||San Francisco 49ers (5)||Seattle Seahawks (1)||Fox|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Feb. 2 (6:30 p.m. EST)||TBA||TBA||Fox|
The remaining contests in the divisional round are sure to continue the streak of highly entertaining games suitable for postseason play.
On the NFC side of things, the San Francisco 49ers will visit the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Week 10, which saw the Panthers escape with a 10-9 victory.
The contest will be a more traditional one with power running and elite defenses—both units ranked in the top five in scoring defense during the regular season.
This time around, the Panthers will be at home for their first playoff game since 2008, as NFL.com's Chris Wesseling points out:
If Panthers D and raucous crowd are at the same level as Week 16 vs. Saints, it's going to be hard for even NFL's hottest team to win.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) January 8, 2014
The 49ers better come ready, because Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (15 sacks in 2013) is on the prowl and not too happy his team is not the favorite to win, per Wesseling:
If you don't stop me, I'm going to break your quarterback's face... That's just people talking. Naysayers, people jabbing, even old analysts and old players talking about a game that they're too slow to play. Congrats to them. That's what they get paid for.
Well alright then. Hardy and the Carolina defense sacked San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times and held him to 91 passing yards in Week 10—both career worsts.
The remaining AFC matchup is the polar opposite and will be a high-scoring affair between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
The two sides split the season series, the most recent being a San Diego win in Denver via a Week 15, 27-20 outcome. Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers have not lost since that point, with the most recent triumph a win over the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in the Wild Card Round.
But Denver has had plenty of time to study what coach Mike McCoy's offense does well, and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton says the team is ready for the versatile attack, per Stuart Zaas of the Broncos' website:
First down, they're getting three yards; second down, they're getting four yards, and they're giving themselves third-and-3, third-and-4, and it's manageable. When you've got somebody like (Antonio) Gates and (Danny) Woodhead, those guys are capable of getting three or four yards every play.
Knighton and the defense better have a big day against the rejuvenated Rivers, because they may not be getting much help from Peyton Manning and an offense that has struggled against San Diego this season, as NFL.com's Marc Sessler details:
The Chargers defense has held the Broncos to under 400 yards twice this season -- the only team to do so.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) January 8, 2014
As the playoffs have already shown this year, the unexpected will happen without warning, so do not think for one moment that the Broncos will coast simply because of a high seed.
When the dust settles, it will either be Rivers or Manning who advances to clash with Brady for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Notice the trend? Elite quarterbacks continue to make this postseason one for the ages.