This Sunday the NFL Divisional Playoffs continue with a rematch between the San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers and the third meeting this season between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. The winners advance to their respective conference championships and the losers hit the couch for the remainder of the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers, 1:05 PM ET, FOX:
The first game between these two defensive-minded squads ended in a 10-9 Panthers victory in Candlestick Park. I expect a similar game, but this time on the East Coast. Look for both defenses to stop the very mobile opposing QB’s. Neither quarterback wants to win the game with his arm, but if the game does come down to a pass-first drive, I give the edge to San Fran’s Colin Kaepernick. Not only does he have the better arm, but he has the better supporting cast. I predict that Kap will throw for only 200 yards, but with 2 TD’s. Michael Crabtree is in full stride and will reel in one of those TD’s. I predict Carolina’s Cam Newton to run for a TD but also throw two interceptions on a pesky 49ers’ defense. If the Panthers want to beat San Fran again, they need to ride DeAngelo Williams successfully to do so.
Prediction: It is extremely difficult to beat an NFL team two times in a row, and despite the home field advantage, I see the 49ers’ Offense outplaying the Panthers’ Defense. Kap leads his squad to another road playoff win, and the 49ers reach the NFC Championship for the second year in a row, 17-14.
Match-up to watch: San Fran’s CB Tramaine Brock vs. Carolina’s WR Steve Smith. Looks like CB Carlos Rogers won’t play, and I expect Steve Smith to be in Brock’s face all game long. Expect at least one fight. With many rounds.
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos, 4:40 PM ET, CBS:
He may not be the most popular quarterback, but there is something magical about the San Diego Chargers’ gunslinger Philip Rivers. Not only does he have a new favorite weapon in WR Keenan Allen, but there is something magical about him late in the season. But then again, is there a more explosive offense than the Denver Broncos, led by Hall of Famer Peyton Manning? The key to this game for both teams is the running game. Whichever team can stop the run (and consequently run the ball better) should have the edge. I give that edge to the San Diego Chargers. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt knows what it takes to beat the Broncos and plays to the Chargers’ strengths. Not to mention the Chargers are playing with more energy and spunk than any team in the league. Look for Manning and Rivers to go over 300 yards each, and I predict a total of 6 TD’s and 3 INT’s between them combined. The real stat-line of the game: the San Diego running backs combine for over 150 yards and 2 TD’s. Not a lot of defense in this one.
Prediction: The Chargers continue their magical run to the Super Bowl. Bolts win (again) in Denver 41-33.
Match-up to watch: Denver’s Peyton Manning vs. San Diego’s Eric Weddle. Weddle may be the best at his position in the league. He can stop the run and read QB’s like nobody’s business. Weddle + cold weather = Peyton Manning’s worst nightmare.
I expect these two games to be completely different. In Carolina, a defensive standoff between two top 5 defenses. Out West, two of the league’s most explosive and high octane offenses. Four teams left, and only two playoff spots remain.