It was an interesting first day of the NFL playoffs Saturday, as the Kansas Chiefs registered the first postseason shutout in 10 years with a 30-0 victory over the Houston Texans.
In the second AFC contest, the Pittsburgh Steelers won their slugfest of a rivalry game against the Cincinnati Bengals in typical, old-school fashion, 18-16.
Here's a look at the remaining playoff schedule and predictions through Super Bowl 50.
(5) Kansas City Chiefs at (2) New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 16, 4:35 p.m. ET
(6) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) Denver Broncos, Sunday, Jan. 17, 4:40 p.m. ET
AFC Championship Game
TBA vs. TBA, Sunday, Jan. 24, 3:05 p.m. ET
Wild Card Weekend
(6) Seattle Seahawks at (3) Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Jan. 10, 1:05 p.m. ET
(5) Green Bay Packers at (4) Washington, Sunday, Jan. 10, 4:40 p.m. ET
Minnesota/Green Bay/Washington at (2) Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m. ET
Seattle/Green Bay/Washington at (1) Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Jan. 17, 1:05 p.m. ET
NFC Championship Game
TBA vs. TBA, Sunday, Jan. 24, 6:40 p.m. ET
Super Bowl 50
NFC vs. AFC, Sunday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m. ET
- New England over Kansas City
- Pittsburgh over Denver
- New England over Pittsburgh
While the New England Patriots have been the most dominant team in the AFC this season, the conference is still wide-open.
Denver is the No. 1 seed and looks flawed on offense, while the No. 6 Steelers, when healthy, have an offense that is capable of outscoring any team in the league.
The Patriots have the best quarterback and coach, which give them just enough of an advantage. Sure, they are banged up at running back and receiver, but Tom Brady and Co. still found a way to win 12 games.
Pittsburgh is winning despite injuries as well. The Steelers used their third and fourth running backs against Cincinnati in Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman and lost their only active fullback in Will Johnson to a hamstring injury.
Even worse, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown most likely won't be 100 percent if they are able to play after suffering injuries. It might be enough to beat Denver, but it's nearly impossible to go into New England at less than full strength and leave with a victory.
Prediction: New England beats Pittsburgh 23-16.
Wild Card Weekend
- Minnesota over Seattle
- Washington over Green Bay
- Carolina over Washington
- Arizona over Minnesota
- Arizona over Carolina
The Cardinals and Panthers were the top two scoring offenses in the NFL this year, and they will ride that into the NFC Championship Game.
While both can score, they also played good defense. In fact, they had the two-best point differentials among the top 10 defenses in the league.
|Offense Rank||Team||Points per Game||Points Allowed per Game||Differential|
|3||New England Patriots||29.1||19.7||9.4|
|6||New York Giants||26.3||27.6||-1.3|
|8||New Orleans Saints||25.5||29.8||-4.3|
|9||Kansas City Chiefs||25.3||17.9||7.4|
Carolina ranks slightly higher than the Cardinals but not enough to make a difference. Sure, the Panthers are at home, but they were two years ago in the divisional round before losing 23-10 to the San Francisco 49ers.
Cam Newton is a star—and likely the 2015 MVP—but the Cardinals have so many offensive weapons that they will be hard to beat.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has three talented receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd. The late-season emergence of running back David Johnson puts the Cardinals over the top.
RJ Bell of Pregame.com gives the Cardinals the best chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl:
Super Bowl Champ odds: Arizona +450 NE +450 Carolina +500 Den +600 Sea +650 Pit 11/1 KC 25/1 Cin 25/1 GB 35/1 Min 35/1 Was 58/1 Houston 90/1— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) January 7, 2016
It should be a good game, but look for Arizona to pull out a close one late.
Prediction: Arizona beats Carolina 27-24.
Super Bowl 50
As previously noted, the Patriots have been banged up most of the season, and they're still not 100 percent. However, getting injured wide receiver Julian Edelman back makes them scary.
They certainly can win this game; the problem is New England is having trouble running the ball. The Patriots can usually make up for it by asking Brady to save them, but that's hard to do for three straight games in the playoffs—especially when they are down to their third and fourth running backs.
Arizona is better than any AFC team the Pats will face and will force Brady to throw too much.
The Cardinals will use the same formula of a dangerous air attack, solid running game and smothering defense to hoist their first Lombardi Trophy.
Prediction: Arizona beats New England 31-17.