Even though the Bengals were eliminated last week (I'm still not over it either), the playoffs will continue into the Divisional Round. The teams that earned a bye-week last week will host the winners of Wild Card weekend. Four teams remain in each conference, and the pressure is on with every team knowing that they are two wins away from a trip to the Super Bowl.
This week will see the opposite of last week as each of the home teams will be favored, and each team has a quarterback with playoff experience. Although Carson Palmer is the only quarterback seeking his first playoff win. He was knocked out of his first, lost his second, and was put on I.R. midway through last season when the Cardinals went on to lose in the Wild Card round without him.
Here's a look at the Divisional Round of the playoffs:
Saturday, January 16
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (CBS 4:35 P.M. EST)
The last time these teams met everyone pronounced Tom Brady's career over when the Chiefs blew out the Patriots 41-14. It was the game that sparked the Patriots' run to winning the Super Bowl last season, but will it be an indication for how this game will play out?
The Chiefs have quietly won 11 straight games, and the Patriots quietly stumbled into the bye-week. New England lost three of their last five and looked off on offense. They will get a boost from Julian Edelman returning for the game, but they should be worried about keeping Brady standing with that Kansas City defense, which has been the best scoring defense during their 11 game win streak. A large part of the Kansas City defensive success is owed to Justin Houston, who will be questionable for the game, and his pass rush. He has led a pass rush that has routinely put pressure on quarterbacks, forcing them into bad throws. Rookie defensive back , Marcus Peters, who Bill Belichick would normally try and take advantage of, has taken advantage of opposing offenses with eight interceptions during the regular season. The Chiefs could also be without Jeremy Maclin who is questionable with an ankle injury. The run game could be even more of a focus if Maclin can't go, but that shouldn't be a problem as Charcandrick West has 634 yard rushing on 160 carries in 12 games played.
Overall, this game should be far closer than you might realize, and the upset isn't far-fetched. Brady struggles with pressure in his face, and the Chiefs are capable of keeping drives going and the clock running with their rushing attack.
Odds: New England is a 5-point favorite.
Prediction: Kansas City 20, New England 17
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Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (NBC 8:15 P.M. EST)
Three weeks ago the Cardinals poured it on against the Packers 38-8 in Arizona during Week 15. The Cardinals shot out to a huge early lead due to the pressure they put on Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers lost two fumbles and threw an interception in the game, but since the lead was so big, and with both teams knowing the outcome wouldn't really matter, they sat their quarterbacks in the second half.
The Cardinals' defense knew the secret to slowing Rodgers down, and that is to keep him in the pocket. That isn't to say Rodgers can't hurt you from the pocket, but he makes a lot of his big plays when he escapes the pocket to give his receivers more time to get open. The Cardinals designated a spy to keep Rodgers where he doesn't want to spend all of his time, while they took advantage of the turnovers forced on the Packers and looked to be in control from the start.
This is a new game though. The Packers kicked off the dust defensively against Washington by putting constant pressure on Kirk Cousins, and Rodgers, after a shaky start, started dropping dimes like last year's Rodgers. If this offense and defense can play like it did last week they might be in good shape. On the other side of things the Cardinals have been one of the best teams all season long. However, Carson Palmer is still seeking that first playoff win. It still feels like with the emergence of David Johnson on top of their three headed receiving monster in John Brown, Michael Floyd, and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, Palmer should have everything he needs to be successful against this Green Bay defense. It was one thing for the Packers to stop Cousins and the Washington offense, but this Arizona offense is a different beast.entirely.
Odds: Cardinals are a 7.5-point favorite
Prediction: Arizona 31, Green Bay 21
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Sunday, January 17
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (FOX 1:05 P.M. EST)
Last time these teams met was fairly early in the season. The Panthers win was supposed to be a crushing blow to the Seahawks' season, knocking them down to 2-4 while the Panthers improved to 5-0. Seattle gave away the game-winning in the final minute after having a 13 point lead in the third. Cam Newton finished the game with two straight touchdown drives to win the game 27-2. But, the Seahawks are a different team now.
Seattle has seemed to come alive offensively to close out the season. Now that they don't have to worry about feeding Jimmy Graham's ego it seems like the offense is back to the team first mentality. The emergence of the Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin connection has certainly fueled their offensive fire and the defense is still one of the best around. The pass-rush is top notch and secondary has been much improved with the return of Jeremy Lane.
The Panthers, who don't have to worry about the pressure of an undefeated season anymore, are focused on sticking to their winning formula. Their formula is simple, play great defense, and hope Cam Newton carries the offense. Although the second part might be hard against this Seattle defense. Carolina's defense should be able to hold its own though given that the Vikings were able to contain them as well.
This game will be decided by whoever wins the turnover and field position battles. One big return could be the difference, and that easily favors Seattle with Wilson and the Seahawks special teams.
Odds: Carolina is a 3-point favorite
Predictions: Seattle 17, Carolina 13
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Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (CBS 4:40 P.M. EST)
This game is also a rematch from the regular season, and in the first edition, it was a tale of two halves. The Broncos dominated the first, but were dismantled by the Steelers in the second. The teams could look mighty different from that game though this week.
The Steelers will be without Antonio Brown, one of the league's best receivers, who is going through the concussion protocol. DeAngelo Williams still is dealing with an ankle injury, and Ben Roethlisberger will be playing with pain in his shoulder, and that's putting it lightly. Which Steelers' defense will show up on Sunday? The one that shut down Denver in the second half, or the one that got ran over in the first?
Denver's defense is really good. They have a nice rotation of pass rushers, athletic linebackers, and a super talented trio of cornerbacks. Now that the obvious is out of the way, let's move on to what will decide this game, and that is how Peyton Manning will play. It's pretty simple, really. If Manning comes out and plays like he did midway through the season and turns the ball over in bunches, the Broncos will have no shot at winning. If he can come out, throw the ball well, manage the offense and maybe make a play or two, the the Broncos could easily win this game.
Depending on the injuries, this could be a rough one for Pittsburgh.
Odds: Denver is a 6.5-point favorite
Prediction: Denver 27, Pittsburgh 17
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