NFL Divisional Playoffs
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
Okay, so the NFL's Wild Card Weekend turned into a win-fest for the road teams as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Green Bay each won away games to survive-and-advance in this year's post-season (the first time in NFL Playoffs history that all four road teams won on the same weekend) but they didn't exactly all post "W's" in similar fashion. We'll explain as we get you the "first look" at this weekend's NFL Divisional Playoffs that feature the #1 and #2 seeds in both the AFC and NFC:
On Saturday, it's ...
#5 KANSAS CITY (12-5) at #2 NEW ENGLAND (12-4) - 4:35 p.m. ET, CBS
Everybody loves a little NFL history lesson, right? Well, the New England Patriots enter this week's game off back-to-back regular-season-ending losses and that's never - ever - happened in the brilliant career of Pats' QB Tom Brady and in order to stop the skid there's little doubt that New England's tattered offensive line must keep Brady in the upright position and must do enough on defense to rattle steady Kansas City QB Alex Smith.
In last weekend's take-no-prisoners 30-0 Chiefs' wild card win at 3-point home underdog Houston, Smith threw just one interception and took advantage of the short passing game that featured TE Travis Kelce (8 receptions for 128 yards). Expect the Patriots' defense to jam Kelce plenty at the line of scrimmage and delay his pass routes - something the weakling Texans were unable to do - and look for Smith to tuck it and run a few times especially if WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) is declared out for this tilt.
The Patriots should have a goal in mind: That's 25 combined receptions by TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman (the latter is expected to get green-lighted for this game) plus Brady, naturally, must steer clear of "picks" after Houston QB Brian Hoyer airmailed four INTs in that white-flag loss the other day.
#5 GREEN BAY (11-6) at #2 ARIZONA (13-3) - 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
As playoff fate would have it, this marks Arizona's first home post-season game since the 2009 season when those year-after-Super Bowl 43 Cardinals - topped QB Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay 51-45 in a wild overtime affair.
Okay, so it's been a long time between playoff drinks at home for the Redbirds but they surely earned their #2 seed and keep in mind Bruce Arians' crew bested eight teams by twin-figure margins and averaged a whopping 30.6 points per game as only Carolina (500 points scored) registered more than Arizona's 489 regular-season points.
No doubt it's the Arizona offense starring Pro Bowl QB Carson Palmer (4,671 yards passing with 35 TDs and 11 INTs) that gets all the glory in the desert while he whips the ball 'round the yard to WR Larry Fitzgerald and friends, but if the Cards are gonna make it to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2008, then it's this sticky defense that must harass Rodgers and get 'em out of the comfort level he hit in Sunday's 35-18 wild card win at 1.5-point favorite Washington.
Rodgers and Company started in an 11-0 hole and slept-walked through the first quarter against the 'Skins but the "discount double-check" dude got into a real rhythm while throwing for a modest 210 yards and two TDs and his pinpoint passers resembled the Rodgers of the season's first six weeks.
On Sunday, it's ...
#6 SEATTLE (11-6) at #1 CAROLINA (15-1) - 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox
We know, we know. Wacky endings are the norm and not the exception when it comes to the Seattle Seahawks who are chock full of drama at the conclusion of these wild post-season games and so who knows what we're all in store for this weekend when the two-time defending NFC champions square off with the NFL's winningest team this year ... care to venture a guess how this one will end?
We do know that the Panthers - starring QB/league MVP Cam Newton and a defense that makes opponents sweat for their points - know plenty about the Seahawks (and vice versa) considering this is the third time these teams will clash in just over a full year and perhaps none of the bye teams needed a "mental break" week off more so than Carolina after the Panthers won their first 14 games out of the chute but sported plenty of late-year melodrama (see the CB Josh Norman versus New York Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. junk, etc.) while Seattle zooms into this game off the high of "stealing" that 10-9 win at 5-point underdog Minnesota ... your fruit basket is on the way, Mr. Blair Walsh!
Later this week we'll tell you what Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and staff should do with RB Marshawn Lynch here ... and it ain't nice!
#6 PITTSBURGH (11-6) at #1 DENVER (12-4) - 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Here's the real skinny when it comes to these Denver Broncos: They were absolute life-or-death in each of their final four regular-season games when fighting for a) the AFC West Division crown and b) the #1 seed that wound up theirs more by default than anything else.
Now, head coach Gary Kubiak officially throws a king-sized monkey wrench into this game by announcing albeit way ahead of time that QB Peyton Manning (9 TDs and 17 INTs this injury-ravaged season) and not Brock Osweiler will start here against a Steelers' defense that both bends and breaks when you apply a little pressure on 'em (especially that lousy secondary!) but isn't this gonna cause an unnecessary distraction to the top-seeded Broncos ... why not start Osweiler and then go to Manning if things get scary?
On the flip side, everyone knows there mucho injury discussions surrounding this Pittsburgh team that had more than a little help in bagging that 18-16 maniacal win in Cincinnati last Saturday night.
Okay, so maybe we won't completely get up on our soap box here but the Steelers sure got away with a couple of personal fouls - can we please have CBS ex-referee Mike Carey just cease and desist from these broadcasts already! - and assistant coach Joey Porter never should have been on the field there to agitate the hot-headed Bengals but what's done is done and so it's the Steelers with or without a banged-up QB Ben Roethlisberger that goes against the league's #1 defense here and we're making an over/under of sacks at 5.5 for this Denver stop unit!
Finally, last year three of the four Betting Favorites LOST spreadwise in the NFL Divisional Playoffs ... let's jog your memory as we print last year's games in this very post-season round (note all home teams are in CAPS below). We list the SU winners/losers here but you can see who covered the Las Vegas price tags:
2014 POST-SEASON DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS IN REVIEW
NOTE: Plenty of NFL Divisional Playoff News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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