While I think the Saints are the much better team and the Saints have a great home-field advantage, I think this game will be much closer than many might expect. Considering the expectations we generally have for the Saints at home, their offense wasn’t at their most explosive last week. Had the Eagles scored a single touchdown after the 1st quarter, they would’ve won. I trust the Saints to win this, but I won’t be shocked if the Rams pull off the upset.
Prediction: Saints win
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes showed up in his first playoff game in a way that most 1st-time playoff quarterbacks do not and Andy Reid couldn’t find a way to blow that game against the Colts. But, as great as Andrew Luck and the Colts have been lately, playing the Patriots in the playoffs is going to be a next-level challenge. The Chiefs do have a great home-field advantage, but the weather won’t be something this Pats team isn’t already used to, so that advantage might be minimized. Obviously Mahomes is unbelievable and this Chiefs team is legit, but there’s no way I’m picking against Brady and Belichick against Andy Reid and a young quarterback.
No one really knows what’s going on with Brady’s hand and there is no reason to believe Belichick doesn’t have whatever magic it might take to get Brian Hoyer to win and AFC Championship game. I think people make too much of Tom Coughlin’s influence on the Jaguars and how it might mean they’ll beat the Patriots like the Giants have in the past. That said, are Blake Bortles and Eli Manning that much different? So, just for fun, I’m going to buy the Jaguars hype, believe Brady is actually hurt, and assume Hoyer is just as bad on the Pat’s roster as he has been since he left the team… and predict that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be going to Super Bowl 52.
Prediction: Jaguars win
Vikings @ Eagles
Well, I didn’t trust Case Keenum nor Nick Foles to win last weekend and they both did. I guess I trust Keenum more. The Eagles’ defense seems to play better at home and if they can keep the Vikings under 20 points, they might be able to pull this off. That said, I still think Keenum having so much confidence and a whole season of experience with this team and coaching staff will make a difference. I think the Vikings win, but only if they can put points on the board. If the Eagles can make it an ugly game, it’s theirs.
I want to believe in the Falcons, and I don’t want to believe that the Seahawks are back. But, I just can’t bring myself to feel confident in the Falcons, and the Seahawks have been there. On the other hand, the Seahawks haven’t been great on the road this year. Yet, one of their three road wins was against the Patriots, so maybe they’ll get up for a big game. The Seahawks beat the Falcons in Seattle in Week 6 26-24, but the game ended in a controversial Pass Interference no-call. Considering the Falcons offense will be going up against the Seahawks defense on the road without Earl Thomas, I think the Falcons have a good chance to win. But still think they can find a way to blow it. I’ll say Falcons win this, but don’t feel super confident.
This game isn’t the only one that could go either way. But, I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this is actually a blowout either way. The Chiefs have been the more consistent team, by far, but lost to the Steelers43-14 in Pittsburgh in Week 4. The Chiefs have the better defense, but the Steelers’ offensive ceiling is so much higher than the Chiefs, it’s likely the Chiefs just won’t be able to score nearly enough to keep up, assuming Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and effective. The Chiefs definitely have a chance, but I think the Steelers are more likely to get the win.
Prediction: Steelers win
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday January 15 at 1:40pm PST
The Cowboys definitely had the better regular season, and beat the Packers30-16 in Week 6 in Green Bay. That said, I fear the Cowboys should’ve gone back to Tony Romo as soon as he came back from injury. Dak Prescott has had an incredible rookie season and will likely be the quarterback of the future for the Cowboys, but this could be a tough game for the Cowboys to have to lean on two rookies in Dak and Ezekiel Elliot to carry their offense. Maybe the rookies will rise to the occasion (and maybe Dez will have a great game), especially since the Packers’ defense isn’t great. But, I’ll lean towards Aaron Rodgers finding a way to win this game for the Packers against a rookie QB.
There are plenty of melodramatic things to say about what might be the last time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady compete in an NFL game, but the real competition in this game is the Brady/Gronk duo vs. the Broncos‘ defense. The Broncos’ defense has been great, and the Patriots have had trouble running the ball. So, I suspect the Broncos’ defense will have to find a way to keep Brady from getting the ball to Gronkowski if they want to win this. That said, I really hope Peyton can pull off a fantastic performance, but even in his prime, he has rarely been a great post-season quarterback. Another ting to keep in mind: the Patriots have had trouble playing in Denver in recent years. The Patriots lost in Denver this season on November 29, 2015 and lost their last playoff game in Denver on January 19, 2014. I think this will be a close game, but the Broncos just won’t be able to put enough points on the board to keep up with the Patriots.
Prediction: Patriots win
NFC Championship Game
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Sunday January 24 at 3:40 PST (6:40 EST)
This is, by far, the toughest game to predict of this post-season. Partly because I really like both teams, and mostly because both of these teams have been fantastic this season. The records speak for themselves, the Panthers‘ 15-1 record speaks for itself. Their only loss coming against the Falcons, which was clearly a fluke. The Cardinals have also had some funky losses: losing first to the Rams, then losing to a Pittsburgh Steelers team with Landry Jones at quarterback, and ending the regular season with a 36-6 loss to the Seahawks. The Cardinals and Panthers last met in the first round of the playoffs last year on January 3, 2015 in Charlotte. The Panthers won, but Ryan Lindley played quarterback for the Cardinals, in place of an injured Carson Palmer. Thankfully, Palmer will be available to play this time. Both Palmer and Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton, have had unbelievable seasons. I worry that Palmer’s finger is still injured, which may have led to his struggles in their game last weekend against the Packers. While Cam has been stellar, the rest of the Panthers’ offense isn’t quite as consistent as the Cardinals, who have Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington, and Troy Niklas. The Panthers are totally reliant on Cam on offense. On the flipside, the Panthers’ defense is superior to the Cardinals’. Both Bruce Arians and Ron Rivera have had fantastic seasons. I can see either of these teams winning, but give the slight edge to the Panthers, as I think Cam has proven to be a better playoff quarterback, even if there isn’t much of a sample size.