NFL Division Series Predictions

NFL 2015 Season Division Series

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 7.53.17 PM

(Stats from pro-football-reference.com)

AFC Matchups

CharlesKrupa
Photo by Charles Krupka

Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots

Saturday January 16 at 1:35pm PST (4:35pm EST)

The Kansas City Chiefs have won 11 in a row now, including their first playoff win since their January 16, 1994 win over the Houston Oilers. The Patriots, on the other hand, won only two of their last six games of the 2015 season. It’s entirely possible that, given the Patriots’ capabilities in gamesmanship, they may have been jockeying for the 2-seed to avoid the Steelers. But, in any case, going 2-4 to end the season doesn’t look great heading into the playoffs. The team will have the dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, likely in good health. Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson (yup) and James White should be able to help them run. If Julian Edelman can play too, the Patriots will be close enough to their early season offense to win this. If Jeremy Maclin can’t play, that will certain hurt the Chiefs. But Alex Smith has been winning with Travis Kelce, Spencer Ware, Chris Conley, Knile Davis, and other members of a The Chiefs surprisingly effective offense. I would like to see the Chiefs pull off an upset here. But, as we saw with the Washington professional football team, the playoffs tend to expose teams that haven’t beaten great teams. The Chiefs brutalized the Texans, but their only wins over a other teams with winning records this season were against a Landry Jones-led Pittsburgh team on October  25, 2015 and, of course, their season opener against the Houston Texans. I have a feeling the Patriots will prove they’re back and end the Chiefs streak on Saturday.

Prediction: Patriots win

RonChenoy-USAToday
Photo by Ron Chenoy/USA Today

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos

Sunday January 17 at 1:40pm PST (4:40pm EST)

There are so many variables to consider here. Can Peyton Manning play a full playoff game against a good team? He might be able to pull it off on two weeks rest. Will Ben Roethlisberger be cleared to play? If so, can he? And the questions aren’t just at quarterback, will the Steelers also be without their stars Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams after Brown suffered a concussion and Williams’ current foot injury? Beyond Manning, the biggest question for the Broncos is whether or not their defense can perform at their early season levels. DeMarcus Ware‘s status and overall health will certainly be a factor. While the Steelers’ were billed as the most-feared Wild Card AFC team coming into the playoffs, they may just be too banged up to make it out of this round.

Prediction: Broncos win

NFC Matchups

MikeRoemer-AP
Photo by Mike Roemer/USA Today

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

Saturday January 16 at 5:15pm PST (8:15pm EST)

Are the Packers back? After a rough first quarter, they seemed to have no problem exposing a Washington team that, much like the Texans, just happened to be the team that won their division. It’s tough to say if the Packers are actually back to being able to perform at the level they could in the first 6 games of the season, or if they were simply able to exploit an easy opponent and their just a better-than-average team. Better-than-average certainly won’t be able to beat the Cardinals. That’s not to say the Cardinals didn’t have a bizarre ending to their own season. While the December 27 matchup between the Cardinals and Packers was a 38-8 blowout by Arizona, the Cardinals saw a similar fate against the Seahawks, who beat them 36-6. It’s possible this Arizona team saw no real reason to try (or expose anything in their playbook), considering they likely knew they would be the 2-seed. Nonetheless, it was a weird note to end such a great season on. As we saw with the January 10 Wild Card matchup between the Seahawks and the Vikings, I think despite a regular season blowout, this ends up a much closer game, but still a victory to the previous winner, in this case, the Cardinals (although probably not quite the same circumstances).

Prediction: Cardinals win

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today

Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers

Sunday January 17 at 10:05am PST (1:05pm EST)

The Seahawks had to overcome a lot of disadvantages in their Wild Card matchup with the Vikings: an early away game in extreme weather, without Marshawn Lynch. But they got the ultimate stroke of luck when it really mattered on a missed 27-yard field goal. This weekend they’ll see another early away game, but likely mild weather. Their third away game in a row might be a bit much and Lynch’s status is unknown. But, overall, this matchup will likely be a better indication of who the better team is, this week at least. In their October 18, 2015 matchup, The Panthers came from behind in the 4th quarter and we able to beat the Seahawks 27-23. Despite last year’s playoff matchup between these teams, the teams have generally been close since Cam Newton and Russell Wilson have been the quarterbacks for these teams, despite the Seahawks winning most of the games. Cam has been unbelievable this year, and could be the league MVP. Wilson may not have been as impressive early in the season, but has been fantastic in the last couple months and has clearly proven himself in the playoffs. I can see this going either way, but find myself doubting the Seahawks just a little bit, as they may have a limited offense going up against Carolina’s excellent defense. Regardless, this should be an exciting and competitive game.

Prediction: Panthers win

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