NFL Playoffs: Previewing and Predicting the Divisional Round
Wild-card weekend in the NFL has come and gone — not without controversy — and the matchups for the divisional round have been set. The home teams are widely considered the top four Super Bowl contenders this year and are all heavily favored in their matchups this week. However, history has shown that the outcomes of playoff games don’t always go as planned.
Here are previews and predictions for all four NFL divisional playoff games this weekend.
All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.
1. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at New England Patriots (12-4)
- Date: January 10, 4:35 p.m. Eastern
- Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
- Point spread: New England favored by 7 points
- Over/under: 47 points
The Ravens are coming off an impressive 30-17 road win in their wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following the win, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh called Joe Flacco the “best quarterback in football.” Flacco will need to play like the best quarterback in the game for the Ravens to have a legitimate chance at upsetting the New England Patriots on the road this week.
The Patriots have been arguably the best team in the league since their blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. They have also had the added benefit of being able to rest several key players for two weeks and should be near full strength this Saturday.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 24
2. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
- Date: January 10, 8:15 p.m. Eastern
- Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
- Point spread: Seattle favored by 10.5 points
- Over/under: 39.5 points
The Panthers took advantage of their homefield advantage and knocked off the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. Unfortunately for Carolina, the team will have to travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in the divisional round this week. The Seahawks have looked nearly unbeatable over the last month and a half, and will have the added benefit of playing this game in front of their enviable “12th Man” fan base at CenturyLink Field. The Panthers’ improbable playoff run will likely come to an end this week.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Panthers 10
3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (12-4)
- Date: January 11, 1:05 p.m. Eastern
- Location: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
- Point spread: Green Bay favored by 6 points
- Over/under: 53 points
In what may have been the most entertaining game of the wild-card weekend, the Cowboys were able to hold on and beat the Detroit Lions, 24-20. The game included one of the most controversial plays of the season and was a huge step in the right direction for a Cowboys team that is desperate to return to its winning ways of the 1990s. This week they will be facing a Green Bay Packers squad that features the likely MVP award winner, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and has looked like one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFL all season.
Green Bay has gone 8-0 at home, while Dallas has gone 8-0 on the road this season. With that being said, it will take a near-flawless performance by the Cowboys to knock off Rodgers and company at Lambeau Field this week.
Prediction: Packers 34, Cowboys 24
4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Denver Broncos (12-4)
- Date: January 11, 4:40 p.m. Eastern
- Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
- Point spread: Denver favored by 7 points
- Over/under: 54 points
The Colts knocked off the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-10, on wild-card weekend to set up a rematch with the Denver Broncos. Denver and Indianapolis met all the way back in Week 1, with the Broncos winning that game, 31-24. Both teams have been among the AFC’s best all year, and this game will have the added storyline of Peyton Manning, the best player in Colts history, taking on his replacement, Andrew Luck.
Manning will be looking to knock his old team out of the playoffs, and Luck will be looking to make his first AFC Championship Game appearance. Luck will have his work cut out for him in this one, as the Broncos have gone a perfect 8-0 at home in 2014. It will take a near-perfect game by the Colts to knock the Broncos out of the playoffs.
Prediction: Broncos 38, Colts 30