What will Bill Belichick do this time?
The New England Patriots head coach is known for his ability to come up with a wrinkle that might throw opponents for a loop and get them off their game. It happened last year against the Baltimore Ravens, when the Patriots attempted to and successfully confused the Ravens by disguising their eligible and ineligible receivers.
At the time, Belichick and the Pats unleashed their ploy against the Ravens in the divisional playoffs, they were down by two touchdowns, and it was just enough to help New England start a comeback and ultimately record a 35-31 victory.
If the Pats had been ahead by two touchdowns, it seems likely Belichick would have kept that formation in his back pocket and would not have pulled it out until his team needed a boost.
The Patriots will likely have their hands full with the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that has won 11 straight games. The Chiefs haven't played the Patriots since Week 4 of the 2014 season, and they registered a shocking 41-14 victory over the visiting Pats.
This time, New England is at home and the Patriots are getting healthier. The return of slick wideout Julian Edelman (foot) should give Tom Brady back his security blanket. Brady knows Edelman (61 receptions for 692 yards and seven TDs in nine games) can get open and do it quickly, and that will give New England's offense more bite.
While Edelman is expected to have an impact on his return, superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee and back) is listed as questionable. When he's healthy, Gronkowski is a nearly unstoppable weapon, but if he is limited in any way, the Pats are not as intimidating.
The Chiefs are going to have to overcome an ankle injury to wideout Jeremy Maclin if they are going to win in Foxborough. Maclin got hurt in the latter stages of the Chiefs' win at Houston in the wild-card game, and he will be limited if he can go Saturday afternoon.
Maclin caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, and he gave the Chiefs a downfield dimension they had not had in the past. Quarterback Alex Smith needs a productive Maclin in the lineup to have his best chance to lead the team to a victory.
It won't be impossible without him, but it will be a much tougher assignment. The Pats are five-point favorites, according to Odds Shark. Expect them to keep the Chiefs in check and pull away in the fourth quarter and get the win and the cover.
|Divisional Playoffs TV Coverage, Point Spreads and Predcitions|
|Game||Date, Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread||Over/Under||Prediction|
|Kansas City at New England||Jan. 16, 4:35 p.m.||CBS||New England (-5)||43||NE; Under|
|Green Bay at Arizona||Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m.||NBC||Arizona (-7)||49.5||Arizona*; Over|
|Seattle at Carolina||Jan. 17, 105 p.m.||Fox||Carolina (-2)||44||Carolina; Over|
|Pitttsburgh at Denver||Jan. 17, 4:40 p.m.||CBS||Denver (-7.5)||40||Denver*; Under|
|*-Will win game but will not cover point spread.|
|Odds Shark; Silverman selections|
The biggest issue for the Arizona Cardinals when they take the field at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Green Bay Packers may be overconfidence.
The Cardinals had no trouble when Green Bay came calling in Week 16, rolling to a 38-8 victory. The Arizona defense pressured Aaron Rodgers throughout the game, and Carson Palmer riddled the Packers with his accurate throws (265 yards and two TDs vs. Green Bay).
It seemed like an easy win for the Cardinals, and why would they not believe they could repeat the performance three weeks later?
The Packers seemed to find their offensive rhythm in their wild-card victory over the Washington Redskins. After falling behind 11-0 in the second quarter, Rodgers led the Packers to a 35-18 victory in which they moved the ball with ease and seemed to rediscover their offensive mojo.
The pressure is clearly on the Cardinals, who had a brilliant 13-3 regular season record and come into the game with the top-ranked offense in the league. They were also the fifth-ranked defensive team in yards allowed.
The overconfidence factor should be neutralized by head coach Bruce Arians. He has one of the sharpest minds in the game, and he is a blunt speaker who knows how to get through to his team. He won't allow his team to take the Packers lightly.
We expect the Packers to play a much better game this time around and stay competitive against Arizona. However, the Cardinals have too much talent and depth, and they will find a way to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The Cardinals should expect to go on the road for that game. The Carolina Panthers were 15-1 during the regular season and came through in the clutch with big plays every time they needed them. As a result, they earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Regular-season honors are nice, but Newton is focused on leading his team on a postseason run, and that begins with their divisional playoff game at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle surged to a spot in the playoff with their 6-1 run during the final seven weeks of the season that saw quarterback Russell Wilson take a major step up the ladder. Wilson fired the ball with confidence and accuracy during that seven-game stretch, compiling a 24-1 TD-interception ratio and building a tremendous rapport with wide out Doug Baldwin. Previously a serviceable receiver, Baldwin caught 14 TD passes this year.
The Seahawks are expected to have running back Marshawn Lynch back in the lineup. He has been troubled by an abdomen injury throughout much of the season, but Lynch declared himself ready to play on Friday.
Lynch can be formidable when he gets on a roll, but the Panthers have one of the nastiest and most physical defensive teams in the NFL. Linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly fly to the football and punish running backs and receivers.
It should come down to Newton's ability to make big plays. He threw 35 TD passes this season and ran for 10 more. He has a superb clutch receiver in tight end Greg Olsen and a big-play threat in speedy wideout Ted Ginn Jr.
The Panthers have been too strong and too consistent this year. They will get everything the Seahawks have to offer, but Newton will take charge in the fourth quarter and lead his team to an emotional win.
The final game of the weekend features an aggressive and nasty Pittsburgh Steelers team going to Denver to take on the top-seeded Denver Broncos.
While the Steelers were fortunate to make the playoffs in Week 17 because the New York Jets lost their season finale at Buffalo and then advance to the divisional round when the Cincinnati Bengals imploded in the final seconds of the wild-card game, they are up against it here.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are coming off a week of rest and they have the top-ranked defense in the league. The Steelers are not going to be close to their best, and that makes this assignment quite challenging.
The Broncos have issues at quarterback with Peyton Manning, who returns to the starting lineup for the first time since a Week 10 game at Kansas City when he was pulled for ineffectiveness.
Manning's time on the bench gave him time to recover from injuries, but there's no guarantee he will get it together for this game. Manning had a 9-17 TD-interception ratio this season.
A healthy Pittsburgh offensive team would give the stout Denver defense everything it could handle. That's not the case this time around. Look for Broncos linebacker Von Miller to set the tone and make life miserable for Roethlisberger.
The Broncos will find a way to pull this game out and advance to the AFC Championship game.