Sunday NFL Divisional Playoff Previews

THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS – HERE’S THE SUNDAY GAME PREVIEWS AS NINERS-PANTHERS & CHARGERS-BRONCOS CLASH

By Jim Hurley

Editor’s Note:

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Now, let’s dig into the NFL Divisional Playoff Games on Sunday:

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS –
SAN FRANCISCO (13-4) at CAROLINA (12-4) – 1 p.m. ET, Fox

You’re right …

It seems as if the Carolina Panthers haven’t won a playoff game in “forever” as this NFC South club last copped a post-season “W” way back in the 2005 season when they won a pair of playoff games before eventually getting beaten in the conference championship game in Seattle.

So, here comes a veritable “novice” to this so-called Super Bowl Tournament and there’s got to be immediate questions as to whether or not the big stage and bright lights will get to the likes of Carolina QB Cam Newton and third-year head coach Ron Rivera … perhaps just one of the reasons the Panthers are the only playoff home team this weekend not to be laying points at this very minute (it’s pick ‘em at press time) while San Fran revenge is another reason after Carolina snagged a 10-9 win in Frisco back in Week 10 action.

If Newton (3,379 yards passing and 585 yards rushing while accounting for 30 overall TDs this year) wishes to steer clear of his interception bugaboo (he threw 13 of ‘em this season), then the return of WR Steve Smith helps, and we’ll fully expect Smith and TE Greg Olsen (73 catches and 6 TDs) to be targeted anywhere between 15-to-20 times here – ideally the Panthers want a balanced attack but something tells us running up the gut against the likes of DE Justin Smith and friends won’t be easy.

The quickie forecast here:

For Carolina to win, Newton must be highly accurate with his medium-range chucks, and he must make some big plays with his legs on third down – just as San Fran QB Colin Kaepernick has done more often than not the past year-plus.

Note that San Francisco’s getting ready for its seventh post-season game under third-year boss Jim Harbaugh, and just like his big bro’ John in Baltimore until this year (his sixth), the younger Harbaugh has won at least one playoff game in each of his prior campaigns. Last week’s frosty 23-20 NFC Wild Card win/push in Green Bay featured Kaepernick getting it done big-time with both his arm and his legs as evidenced by his 227 passing yards and 98 yards rushing.

Mr. Clutch, indeed. And remember Kaepernick’s been telling folks all week long that the 49ers “owe” Carolina for that Nov. 10th home loss.

No ifs, ands or buts about it, if the Panthers wish to advance to a conference title tilt this year, then keeping Kaepernick contained on those mad scrambles is key plus may we suggest the league’s leaders in sacks – Carolina had 60 of ‘em in all – send in the occasional odd-man rush with hopes Kaepernick chucks the ball away in a hurry.

No doubt Niners’ WR Michael Crabtree (8 catches for 125 yards last week at Lambeau Field) has elevated the play of this entire offense, but if Kaepernick is pressured here, then TE Vernon Davis and even RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter must move the chains with some key safety valve receptions.

One number to toss your general direction here:

Both the Niners and the Panthers are plus 10 in the all-important turnover margin category – but strangely enough Carolina LB and tackling machine Luke Kuechley has not forced a fumble all year long … that’s odd!

Spread Notes – San Francisco is 10-5-2 ATS (against the spread) overall this year including last weekend’s 3-point win/pointspread push in Green Bay. The Niners are a collective 32-18-4 vig-wise under Harbaugh (a sizzling .640 winning rate) and that includes a strange 2-2-2 ATS mark in post-season games. San Fran’s a very healthy 6-1-1 spreadwise away this season. On the flip side, Carolina is 9-6-1 against the Las Vegas prices this year and note the Panthers are 5-4-1 ATS against non-divisional foes. Note that Carolina has covered 10 of its last 15 games when placed in the underdog role dating back to the start of last season and that includes a pair of home dog outright wins last year versus New Orleans and Atlanta.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s San Francisco 49ers and note all home teams are in CAPS below:

WEEK WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
1 SAN FRANCISCO - 5 Green Bay 34-28
2 SEATTLE - 3 San Francisco 29-3
3 Indianapolis + 10.5 SAN FRANCISCO 27-7
4 San Francisco - 3.5 ST. LOUIS 35-11
5 SAN FRANCISCO - 4.5 Houston 34-3
6 SAN FRANCISCO - 10 Arizona 32-20
7 San Francisco - 3.5 TENNESSEE 31-17
8 #San Francisco - 16 Jacksonville 42-10
9   Bye    
10 Carolina + 6 SAN FRANCISCO 10-9
11 NEW ORLEANS - 3 San Francisco 23-20
12 San Francisco - 5 WASHINGTON 27-6
13 SAN FRANCISCO - 7.5 St. Louis 23-13
14 SAN FRANCISCO - 2.5 Seattle 19-17
15 San Francisco - 5.5 TAMPA BAY 33-14
16 SAN FRANCISCO - 14.5 Atlanta 34-24
17 San Francisco + 3 ARIZONA 23-20
WC San Francisco - 3 GREEN BAY 23-20

# = in London (a Jacksonville home game)

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s Carolina Panthers and note all home teams are in CAPS below:

WEEK WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
1 Seattle - 3 CAROLINA 12-7
2 BUFFALO + 3.5 Carolina 24-23
3 CAROLINA + 2.5 Ny Giants 38-0
4   Bye    
5 ARIZONA + 3 Carolina 22-6
6 Carolina + 2.5 MINNESOTA 35-10
7 CAROLINA - 7 St. Louis 30-15
8 Carolina - 7 TAMPA BAY 31-13
9 CAROLINA - 9 Atlanta 34-10
10 Carolina + 6 SAN FRANCISCO 10-9
11 CAROLINA - 3 New England 24-20
12 Carolina - 4.5 MIAMI 20-16
13 CAROLINA - 7 Tampa Bay 27-6
14 NEW ORLEANS - 3 Carolina 31-13
15 CAROLINA - 5.5 Ny Jets 30-20
16 CAROLINA - 3 New Orleans 17-13
17 Carolina - 6 ATLANTA 21-20

SAN DIEGO (10-7) at DENVER (13-3) – 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS

You tell us what’s more stunning:

The fact that the San Diego Chargers – who won at Denver 27-20 as 10-point underdogs back on 12-12-13 – have won four of their last five trips into the Mile High City or the fact the host Broncos have scored 33-or-more points some 12 different times this year and (surprise, surprise) they won all of those dozen tilts.

So, a Denver offense that averages a whopping 37.9 points per game this year – yes, the highest of any NFL team in the Super Bowl era – may have that magic number of 33 points written on a chalk board somewhere in the team’s locker room, and QB Peyton Manning (5,477 yards passing with a league-record 55 TD passes this year) is itching to have his Broncos get off somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 offensive snaps.

Hey, the Cincinnati Bengals got off 79 offensive plays, but four turnovers doomed ‘em in last week’s AFC Wild Card Game that SD won going away 27-10 and that’s got to be part of the Chargers’ game plan here … get Manning (who threw just 10 INTs in the regular season) to rush some throws here and maybe flip field position with key picks.

Also, the Bolts – who are averaging 144 rushing yards a game the past five weeks while on this current five-game winning streak – must “shorten” this game with lots of runs and so the health and well-being of oft-injured RB Ryan Mathews is key one week after he was limited to 13 carries for 52 yards while battling ankle woes last weekend (take note Mathews sat out Wednesday’s practice).

Note that in the aforementioned Chargers’ victory in Denver last month, Mathews rushed for 127 yards on 29 carries and scored a key 23-yard TD and the Bolts are 7-1 SU (straight-up) whenever Mathews carries the ball at least 19 times in a game.

So, there’s immediate revenge here for the AFC’s top-seeded Broncos and there’s the matter of that Divisional Playoff loss in two OTs versus Baltimore last year – now that one’s still a sore subject in the Rocky Mountain region – and so expect Denver to try and get off lightning-fast here to get rid of that most recent playoff loss. It won’t surprise anyone if Manning – who ended his regular season two weeks ago with a four-TD performance while playing just the first half in Oakland – goes up-tempo, hurry-up early and tries to rattle a Chargers team that that’s held five of its last six foes to 20 points or less.

Hey, much is being made of the fact that San Diego didn’t get its offense untracked in the rain in Cincy last week until the Chargers went “tempo” to begin the second half and QB Philip Rivers (32 regular-season TD passes and one more last week against the Bengals) loved the quicker pace but not sure that’s the answer here if it’s eventually gonna get Manning and Company more snaps.

Want a cool Manning-related stat for this year?

How about the fact the Broncos had five different players catch 60-or-more passes led by WR Demaryius Thomas’ 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 TDs? Scary stuff, indeed.

Spread Notes – Denver is 10-6 ATS overall this season and the Broncos are a collective 11-6 spreadwise at home since the start of the Manning Era last year. Did you know that Denver’s just 2-5 against the odds overall in post-season games the past 10 years? Meanwhile, San Diego is 10-6-1 vig-wise this year including last week’s 27-10 AFC Wild Card Round triumph in Cincinnati. The Chargers – who are now 5-3-1 ATS away this season and 10-6-1 ATS away since the start of last season – own a 34-22-4 ATS mark against fellow AFC West rivals dating back to the start of 2004.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s San Diego Chargers and note all home teams are in CAPS below:

WEEK WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
1 Houston - 6 SAN DIEGO 31-28
2 San Diego + 7.5 PHILADELPHIA 33-30
3 TENNESSEE - 3 San Diego 20-17
4 SAN DIEGO + 1 Dallas 30-21
5 OAKLAND + 5 San Diego 27-17
6 SAN DIEGO + 1.5 Indianapolis 19-9
7 San Diego - 7 JACKSONVILLE 24-6
8   Bye    
9 WASHINGTON - 2 San Diego 30-24 (OT)
10 Denver - 7 SAN DIEGO 28-20
11 MIAMI + 2.5 San Diego 20-16
12 San Diego + 3.5 KANSAS CITY 41-38
13 Cincinnati - 2.5 SAN DIEGO 17-10
14 SAN DIEGO - 4 Ny Giants 37-13
15 San Diego + 10 DENVER 27-20
16 SAN DIEGO - 10 Oakland 26-13
17 SAN DIEGO - 14.5 Kansas City 27-24 (OT)
WC San Diego + 6.5 CINCINNATI 27-10

DENVER BRONCOS

Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s Denver Broncos and note all home teams are in CAPS below:

WEEK WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
1 DENVER - 7 Baltimore 49-27
2 Denver - 3.5 NY GIANTS 41-23
3 DENVER - 16.5 Oakland 37-21
4 DENVER - 10.5 Philadelphia 52-20
5 Denver - 7.5 DALLAS 51-48
6 DENVER - 26.5 Jacksonville 35-19
7 INDIANAPOLIS + 6.5 Denver 39-33
8 DENVER - 10 Washington 45-21
9   Bye    
10 Denver - 7 SAN DIEGO 28-20
11 DENVER - 7.5 Kansas City 27-17
12 NEW ENGLAND PK Denver 34-31
13 Denver - 5.5 KANSAS CITY 35-28
14 DENVER - 12.5 Tennessee 51-28
15 San Diego + 10 DENVER 27-20
16 Denver - 9.5 Houston 37-13
17 DENVER - 10 Oakland 27-24 (OT)
WC San Diego + 6.5 CINCINNATI 34-14

 

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