Well, I didn’t win the Powerball, so there’s goes my chance to get Led Zeppelin to reunite for a private party. Oh well, that’s the way the ball bounces. In speaking of balls, specifically footballs, the 2015-16 NFL playoffs have started, with last weekend’s Wild Card weekend. In the first Wild Card game on January 9th, the Kansas City Chiefs destroyed the Houston Texans. In the second game, viewers saw the Cincinnati Bengals collapse, allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to squeak by with a victory.
On Sunday, January 10th, in the third game of Wild Card weekend, the Seattle Seahawks dodged a bullet, when K Blair Walsh missed a 27 yard FG , with 26 seconds to go in the game, 10-9. In the final game of Wild Card weekend, after stumbling out the gate, the Green Bay Packers defeated Washington by a score of 35-18. For the Divisional Round playoff games, being played on January 16-17, 2016, the (6)Steelers travel to Denver to play against the (1)Broncos. The (5)Chiefs go to Foxboro to face the defending Super Bowl Champion (2)Patriots. The (5)Packers face the (2)Arizona Cardinals in Arizona, and the (6)Seahawks have a re-match of their regular season meeting with the (1)Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
These are very fascinating match-ups. Divisional Round playoff games are incredibly intense, and from looking at these pairings, I don’t see these games being any different. I expect four amazing games and tons of drama. There’s always an upset in this round of the playoffs. In which game will it happen? Which of the four heavily favored teams will wind up going home? Will Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady end up having their usual Affirmed/Alydar style rivalry in the AFC Championship game? Will the Kansas City Chiefs continue their 11 game winning streak? Will any of the top players on the Pittsburgh Steelers be able to play? Will Peyton Manning be one and done again?
Because of all the intrigue, I love Divisional Round weekend. Therefore in this blog, I will discuss these issues and more. I will preview, and make my predictions for the 2015-16 NFL Divisional Round games on January 16-17, 2016. In my Wild Card prediction blog, I went 4-0. Let’s see how well I do this weekend. I hope that you will enjoy this blog.
2015-16 DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFF GAMES
TEAMS: (5)Kansas City Chiefs at the (2)New England Patriots
DATE : January 16, 2016
KICKOFF: 4:35PM, EST
LOCATION: Foxboro, MA
STADIUM : Gillette Stadium
The defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots face a pretty tough match-up against a Kansas City Chiefs team, with an 11 game winning streak. As most of you know, the Patriots have been playing through the off-season drama, and major injuries to key players like WR Julian Edelman, TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Dont’a Hightower, etc. The team has lost players, like LT Nate Solder and RBs Dion Lewis and LeGarette Blount to IR. QB Tom Brady suffered a mild high ankle sprain in Week 17, but has been practicing since, so fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be a disaster. Even though the team lost 4 of its last 6 games of the NFL regular season, much of it due to some strange game planning, injuries, and some poor play, I think that this team will be ready for this weekend’s game, especially with many of the injured players expected to return.
The Chiefs come in red hot. QB Alex Smith I’d taking care of the ball. The Chiefs have an amazing pass rush, which could give the Patriots problems. Will pass defender Justin Houston be effective? He is still adjusting to the knee brace. Will Knile Davis be able to make another 100 plus yard return? A huge question for the Chiefs is the availability of WR Jeremy Maclin, who suffered what head coach Andy Reid described as a “mild high ankle sprain” against the Houston Texans. Maclin hasn’t practiced, as of this writing, but is a game time decision.
I don’t see a high scoring game. I see a defensive struggle at first. Patriots WR Julian Edelman’s been practicing for a few weeks, but how effective is he going to be? That will be key to the Patriots’ passing attack. With the Chiefs’ aggressive pass rush, combined with a injured and struggling offensive line, Tom Brady’s going to need to get that ball out quickly. Edelman is going to be crucial. TE Rob Gronkowski has missed a couple of days of practice, and got treatment for a knee injury, but is expected to play. ( http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14569445/rob-gronkowski-new-england-patriots-not-seen-practice-second-week ) I expect Gronkowski and Edelman to be ready and effective. The team is getting back crucial players on defense as well, Hightower, DB Devin McCourty, and DE Chandler Jones, among others. As for Jones, who apologized for his “mistake,” I suspect coach Belichick will handle this situation his own way
Kansas City will have to see if they can replicate that 41-14 destruction of the Patriots in 2014. They have an aging, but potent Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston. Their secondary is excellent . Can Bill Belichick take away TE Travis Kelce, or stop Kansas City’s running attack, and make Alex Smith beat the Patriots? Can coach Andy Reid get out of his own way? Will Jeremy Maclin play? This should be a great game.
While the Chiefs have an amazing 11 game winning streak going, I think it stops at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady has not lost a playoff game in Foxboro, since 2012. With the Patriots becoming healthy at the right time, and becoming motivated by another “scandal,” I see a Patriots team ready to play. I realize that the Chiefs demolished the Houston Texans, 30-0. The problem is that Tom Brady is not Brian Hoyer, and the New England Patriots are not the Houston Texans.
Winner: New England Patriots by a score of 27-20.
TEAMS: (5)Green Bay Packers at the (2)Arizona Cardinals
DATE: January 16, 2016
KICKOFF: 8:25PM, EST
LOCATION: Glendale, AZ
STADIUM: The University of Phoenix Stadium
This is a rematch of the Week 16 game between these two teams, where the Arizona Cardinals just laid waste to the Green Bay Packers, by a score of 38-8. That game saw Packers QB Aaron Rodgers being sacked multiple times. The Cardinals had a field day. Now, do I think viewers are going to see the same thing? My answer would be, “No.” I think we’re going to get a fairly high scoring game, but I don’t think there will be a blow out.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has been having an MVP-like season. I expect him to play well. He has WR Larry Fitzgerald, and his other weapons. The Arizona, Cardinals have a great pass rush. I am expecting coach Bruce Arians to call a pretty aggressive game. To win against this Packers team, the opponent must get to Aaron Rodgers. The opposing defense must make sure Rodgers can’t get out of the pocket, either.
This Green Bay Packers team has been Jekyll and Hyde almost all season. Even though they had a good game against lowly Washington, the Packers still started slow. The Packers running game was inconsistent. The passing game still looked off. The defense was able to take advantage of an inept Washington offense, though.
I think we’ll have a closer game, than the last time these two met in the regular season. Even though the Cardinals got spanked by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17, I think they were letting the foot off the gas, because they knew they were stuck with the #2 seed. The Cardinals play well at home. I think Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will have a good game, but I don’t think that the Packers defense will be enough to stop the Cardinals. I don’t think the possible return of Sam Shields will help the Packers enough to win.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals by a score of 35-28.
TEAMS: (6)Seattle Seahawks at (1)Carolina Panthers
CONFERENCE : NFC
DATE: January 17, 2016
KICKOFF: 1:05PM, EST
LOCATION: Charlotte, NC
STADIUM: Bank of America Stadium
After escaping Minnesota with a 10-9 victory, thanks to Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh blowing a 27 yard FG, which likely would have won the game for the Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks travel to Charlotte to play the top-seeded Carolina Panthers. This should be a hard hitting, low scoring affair, as these two met earlier in the regular season in Seattle. The Panthers scratched out a victory by a score of 23-16. Can the Seahawks get revenge?
The Seattle Seahawks defense did a great job in shutting down Adrian Peterson in the Vikings playoff game. With Panthers QB Cam Newton as a run threat, and the return of RB Jonathan Stewart, we will see how the pass rush handles this Carolina running game. As my readers know, the Seattle secondary gave up several 4th quarter leads, including Super Bowl 49. That habit nearly bit them in the rear end in Minnesota, had not Walsh shanked that kick. The Seahawks were fortunate that their QB Russell Wilson was able to get out of that scramble drill, and throw to WR Ricardo Lockette, as well.
As for the Carolina Panthers, they have to play great defense, and keep Wilson in the pocket. When the Carolina defenders tackle Wilson or sack him, they have to have both of his arms pinned, or he’ll make a play. Terrible use of situational football hurt the Vikings. The Panthers have to protect Cam Newton. Fortunately, WR Ted Ginn should be playing in this game. Newton must be the game manager, and I hate using the term, but with this aggressive defense, Newton can’t take any chances.
This will be a hard hitting game. I don’t see a blow out. This will come down to the defenses. This will be a close game. Will Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch be back? If he does return, I see a huge advantage for Seattle, depending upon his effectiveness. Does the two week layoff hurt Carolina, or will all the traveling hurt Seattle?
Winner: Seattle Seahawks by a score of 16-13.
TEAMS: (6)Pittsburgh Steelers at (1)Denver Broncos
CONFERENCE : AFC
DATE: January 17, 2015
KICKOFF: 4:40PM, EST
LOCATION: Denver, Colorado
STADIUM: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
I don’t know what’s going to be more difficult, handicapping this game, or having to hear CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms gush over Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning. Those two announcers remind me of John Madden , and his man crush on Brett Farve. I am like, “Get a room!” Horse racing station TVG announcer Todd Schrup was like that with 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta. Enough, already about Peyton Manning, Nantz!
Anyway, it is becoming obvious that injuries on both teams may be the deciding factor. The Pittsburgh Steelers have their QB Ben Roethlisberger dealing with an AC joint sprain. WR Antonio Brown is dealing with a concussion. Both of these men were injured by Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfect in the Wild Card game in Cincinnati. Burfect sacked Roethlisberger clean, but was seen kneeing into Ben’s already injured shoulder. Burfect also was flagged for the kill shot on Antonio Brown. Burfect has been suspended for 3 games next year. RB D’Angelo Williams, who missed the Wild Card game with an ankle sprain, is likely out for Denver. Barring a miracle, I don’t see Antonio Brown in the game, either. Roethlisberger didn’t practice on Wednesday. He is still dealing with the pain and the swelling. Unless the Pittsburgh Steelers defense makes some big plays, I don’t give the Steelers that much of a chance.
The Denver Broncos have Peyton Manning, who is dealing with Plantar Fasciatis, and his backup, Brock Osweiler, who is dealing with an MCL strain. The Broncos have DeMarcus Ware retuning from his back injury. The Broncos defense is one of the top remaining defenses in the playoffs. With Von Miller and a healthy DeMarcus Ware, and a top flight secondary, the Broncos defense won’t make it easy for the injury-riddled Steelers offense.
I realize that Peyton Manning’s not all that great in the cold weather. I know Peyton Manning’s likely to go one and done in the playoffs. I know that the Steelers beat the Broncos earlier this season. If the Steelers were at full strength, I would pick them, hands down. However, I think Denver has the better defense. The Broncos are the healthier team. I still predict a close game.
Winner : Broncos by a score of 20-17.