There is no better NFL slate than Divisional Playoff weekend. Four winners get one step closer to the Holy Grail, and four losers ponder what could have been. This year, all four games should be thrilling. The eight teams remaining — Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay, Arizona, Seattle, and Carolina — have staked tremendous claim during this NFL season. All eight teams have the knack to win Super Bowl 50; there is not much separation.
Defending NFL Champ New England and runner-up Seattle are back in familiar territory, and it seems like the Seahawks had some luck. Thanks to two huge mistakes by Minnesota — a fumble by Adrian Peterson and a horrific shank by Blair Walsh on a 27-yard game-winning field goal attempt — Seattle’s chances for a third-consecutive Super Bowl appearance remain intact. As the football went wide left in Minneapolis last week in negative-three-degree weather, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer threw his arms up and said, “Are you shittin’ me?!?” Pittsburgh is also lucky to be in the Divisional Round, thanks to an unfortunate fumble by Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill (He was super close to being down) and an epic emotional melt down by the Bengals’ defense that gave the Steelers an extra 30 yards. Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis is now 0-7 in the playoffs, but NFL insiders are saying that his job is safe. Like Adam “Pacman” Jones said this week, the NFL is life without a seat belt. Crazy shit happens.
There was a lot of fuss made over the physicality of the Steelers/Bengals game last week, and players and coaches got fined and suspended, but there are no saints in the NFL, especially during the playoffs. Battle hard or don’t battle at all. Fans appreciate the effort put forth, and these players get paid millions of dollars. Now, on to the Divisional Round picks:
New England (#2 seed, AFC) vs. Kansas City (#5 seed, AFC):
Yes, Kansas City has won 11 straight games since beginning the season 1-5; it’s scary. And yes, New England lost four of its last six games; it’s not great. Difference: the Chiefs have had good health, the Patriots have not. New England needed a bye-week more than any team ever, and after two weeks off, all the key players seem ready to go. Regardless, the Patriots don’t want the Chiefs; nobody wants the Chiefs. Kansas City demolished Houston last week (30-0), but received plenty of bad-quarterbacking gifts from Brian Hoyer, Tom Brady’s former back up; Brady won’t be giving gifts to the Chiefs this week. Alex Smith, who has become one of the better quarterbacks in the league this season, doesn’t make mistakes, but his receiving options might be limited if Jeremy Maclin can’t play well (ankle). New England’s stout defense can shutout Travis Kelce and try to make Smith’s night a living hell. Kansas City should make things very interesting in Foxboro, and a victory is probable, but I can’t go against the Patriots at home in the playoffs as defending NFL Champions. And I can’t ever go against the Patriots; I am a member of the old guard. Lot’s of people like to doubt New England or call them cheaters, but they probably shouldn’t — the Patriots are the master class of football engineering.
New England 31, Kansas City 27.
Denver (#1 seed, AFC) vs. Pittsburgh (#6 seed, AFC):
Antonio Brown, the best receiver in the NFL (136 catches for 1,834 yards), will not be playing for Pittsburgh in Denver due to a concussion…so, umm, yeah, the Steelers are fucked. Also, Ben Roethlisberger has a bummed throwing shoulder after being slammed into the turf by Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict last week. Denver may want to send Cincinnati a card saying something like, “Thanks, we appreciate your efforts in getting Pittsburgh prepared for us, we’ll take care of the rest.” The Bengals suffered an excruciating loss to the Steelers, but at least Cincinnati can rest easier on the fact that its hated-beyond-belief rival won’t be winning any more football games this season. And for as much of a blabbering psycho Adam “Pacman” Jones is, he comes off as endearing for speaking the truth, and he should not have to apologize for his hit on Brown. Indeed, it looks bad in slow motion, but the NFL happens in non-slow-quite-fast motion. And it’s the playoffs. Anyways, Peyton Manning is back, and he’s apparently the hero again. Von Miller and Denver’s defense is out to kill. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Denver’s year. At least for now.
Denver 34, Pittsburgh 7.
Arizona (#2 seed, NFC) vs. Green Bay (#5 seed, NFC):
Arizona already blew Green Bay out once this season, but it won’t again. Nonetheless, Arizona will prevail this week; Aaron Rodgers doesn’t function well in a box. Carson Palmer and the Cardinals have all the confidence. YOU LIKE THAT!?!? Yes, we like that.
Arizona 40, Green Bay 27.
Carolina (#1 seed, NFC) vs. Seattle (#6 seed, NFC):
It’s an NFC Divisional Playoff rematch from last year, but the situation is reversed — Carolina is the better team playing at home. And Seattle will be like Carolina last year, keeping the game close most of the way, but losing traction in the forth quarter. Although, the Russell Wilson/Doug Baldwin combination is on fire, and if the Panthers’ defense can’t stop the big play, then an upset could be in the making. But is it really an upset if the Seahawks are the team with all the experience and two straight Super Bowl appearances? It’s about time that some other team knocked Seattle out; Minnesota had the chance, and Carolina definitely should. This is an immense position for the Panthers. Don’t get scared now.