Older QBs vs. Younger QBs… This Saturday… Youth Will Prevail
Wild Card Record: 2-2
After a hard fought Wild Card Weekend, we are fast approaching perhaps the greatest weekend in sports. The eight best teams in the NFL remain and each of the matchups is very enticing, as four teams look to punch their tickets to Championship Weekend.
After an average 2-2 start last weekend, I’m back for more punishment as I make my Divisional Round playoff predictions. I’m hoping to improve on my X-factor predictions as well, considering that save Michael Crabtree, I was way, way, way, way, way off last week. Trent Richardson had one carry (and one fumble) for zero yards. I’m not sure I heard Brandon Boykin’s name called all night long against New Orleans, and Giovanni Bernard was relatively quiet all game long and lost a key fumble on the goal line at the end of the first half that cost the Bengals seven points.
Let it be known that in my humblest of opinions, this weekend is the best and most competitive weekend in all of sports. And with the eight teams involved in this weekend’s showdowns, this year should be no different. Let’s not waste any time… here is how I see this weekend shaking out.
New Orleans (11-5) @ Seattle (12-4)
The Saints shocked the world last week, overcoming a fate that has plagued the franchise since its establishment in 1967. Last week, New Orleans finally won a road game in Philadelphia 26-24, an outcome that not even the superstitious Pat Solitano, Sr. could have ever imagined. Last week proved two things: any time you have Drew Brees at quarterback your team has a chance to win and that the Saints are better than they were getting credit for. Let’s not forget that in week 13, the Saints faced a Monday Night Football game sitting at 9-2 (when you’re 9-2 through 11 games in the NFL, you’re very, very good) with a chance to hop into the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the NFC with a win. The only problem, New Orleans rolled into the most hostile environment in the league, CenturyLink Field – in Seattle.
Let’s call a spade a spade… the Saints got their doors blown off, as Seattle rolled 34-7, cementing their perch atop the NFC. New Orleans would go on to split their last four games 2-2, including two losses on the road at St. Louis and Carolina, that ultimately sent them to the six-seed, meaning to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, the “who-dats” would need three straight wins… all on the road. That’s a pretty tall order for a franchise that prior the 2013-2014 postseason, had NEVER won a playoff game on the road.
Well, the Saints are a third of the way there. Winning one road playoff game doesn’t change the facts, however. They are traveling to Seattle once again, a little over a month after they were embarrassed on Monday Night Football. They are still better at home in the comforts of the dome (8-0 this season), where Drew Brees can work his magic on the Superdome turf. Had New Orleans won the week 13 showdown and this matchup was being played in the bayou, I might forecast a different outcome. But I don’t see a way that the Saints offense can withstand the noise of the 12th man with a ferocious Seattle defense playing as physical as ever.
Some quick notes on Seattle: notwithstanding a Week 16 home loss to the Cardinals, Russell Wilson is 15-1 as the starting quarterback at CenturyLink Field. Seattle was the number one ranked defense in both yards and points (2nd straight year) allowed per game. It’s been the offense that was the wild card this season. Despite averaging 26.1 PPG (8th best in the NFL), the Hawks dealt with bouts of inconsistency at times during the regular season. New Orleans will have to contain Russell Wilson’s legs and make him earn a victory with his arm. One thing to watch for is the return of Percy Harvin, who vows to play after seeing limited action during the regular season. He will no doubt be itching to prove his worth, justifying the first round pick that Seattle paid to bring him over from Minnesota last offseason. Look for Harvin on kick and punt returns, catching passes, and even some read-option designs out of the backfield. The Saints defense better find #11… and fast.
As a Niners fan, I’ll be rooting hard for New Orleans. I just don’t see it happening. Seattle has the strongest home field advantage in the NFL and too many weapons on both sides of the ball for New Orleans to match.
X-Factor: Percy Harvin
Prediction: Seattle 37 New Orleans 20
Indianapolis (11-5) @ New England (12-4)
Death, taxes, and Brady/Belichick are better and smarter than you. These things are the only certainties in life. I don’t care that the Giants and Steelers each won two Super Bowls, the New England Patriots have clearly been the team of the 21st century and have been a model of consistency for almost 15 years. New players filter in and out each season, often star players, but this year was probably Bill Belichick’s best coaching job to date. To think of what the Patriots lost before and during the season, a 12-4 record and another AFC East title is mind-blowing. Wes Welker to rival Denver, Danny Woodhead to San Diego, and Aaron Hernandez to the confines of a jail cell would be significant enough losses. Throw in season-ending injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and now Brandon Spikes (hmm, possibly not to injury?) and it was a recipe for a 6-10 down year. But why should I be surprised at the 12-4 triumph? This is the same team that managed an 11-5 record after losing Tom Brady in week 1 in 2008 and was forced to be led by Matt Cassel. Every team is inflicted with injuries, especially at this point in the season. But counting the injuries, free agent departures, and incarcerations, the Patriots played all or most of the 2013 season without what was/would have been arguably seven of its ten best and most important players.
So, after all that they have overcome this season and throughout the entire decade, why do I sit here thinking that there is no way the Colts do not win this game. Am I going “media-style” and falling too much in love with Andrew Luck’s game too quickly? Is the hangover from the wild comeback win last week against Kansas City still lingering in my mind? Do I know there is no way the defense allows 44 points again this week? Or did I have a little too much to drink when I wrote this? I think what it comes down to is far simpler than any of that… I just think that this time, these injuries might just be too much to overcome. I cannot get past it. I mean… we’re talking the top pass catcher, the top run-stopper and the two best tacklers on the team here.
It pains me to say it… but the Patriots are going down (sorry Pops). I think the Patriots will actually have a great defensive game plan, complete with Aqib Talib minimizing T.Y. Hilton. That being said, look for Coby Fleener to kill New England in the middle of the field and become Andrew Luck’s favorite target Saturday night. Ultimately, behind Luck, the Colts pull a shocker in Foxboro and set up a date in the AFC Championship Game next weekend with Colts legend, Peyton Manning (DAMN!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!!!)
X-Factor: Trent Richar… haha just kidding. Coby Fleener
Prediction: Indianapolis 27 New England 23