Following last week’s exciting Wild Card Round, there are several very intriguing games this weekend. Starting at 1:35 p.m. PST on Saturday, when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the New England Patriots, it is sure to be a weekend of can’t-miss football. Here is a preview of each matchup this week:
Number five seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) @ Number two seed New England Patriots (12-4): 1:35 p.m., Saturday, January 16, CBS
The Chiefs and Patriots face off in a matchup of teams going in different directions. The 12-win Chiefs have reeled off 11 straight wins, including last week’s 30-0 thrashing of the Texans in Houston. In contrast, the normally imposing Patriots have lost two of their last six after starting the season 10-0. The team has been devastated by injuries, and coach Bill Belichik has been forced to sign several skill position players off the street. Luckily for the Patriots, dynamic receiver Julian Edelman will return from a leg injury this week. For the Chiefs, it is the opposite. After suffering a high ankle sprain in last week’s game, Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (1088 yds, 8 TD) is unlikely to play this week. Without Maclin, the Chiefs offense will be weakened against a stout Patriots defense (tenthth in points allowed), and while the Chiefs boast the NFL’s third best defense, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has consistently been one of the best in the league at tearing up top defenses. Additionally, the game is being played in Foxborough, where the Patriots have not lost a playoff game since 2012’s AFC Championship. I do not foresee that changing this week.
The Pick: Patriots 26 Chiefs 22
Number five seed Green Bay Packers (11-6) @ Number two seed Arizona Cardinals (13-3): 5:15 p.m., Saturday, January 16, NBC
These teams met just three weeks in Glendale. The Cardinals emerged victorious, by the brutal score of 38-8. However, I would not expect such a blowout this time around. At the time of the first game, the Packers were mired in an offensive rut. However, after scoring over 30 points for the first time since Week 3 last week at Washington, the Packers have once again shown they are capable of being an offensive juggernaut. After all, the offense is anchored by the defending MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Also, the last time the Cardinals played, they were trounced by the Seattle Seahawks 36-6 at home. It was 30-6 at halftime. However, even with the team seemingly jumping off a cliff for that game, they still ranked 8th in points allowed and 2nd in points for. Meanwhile, the Packers finished a middle of the pack 12th in points allowed. One other thing, this is the perfect defensive matchup for the Cardinals. Although they lost All Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu for the season, their stretched secondary will find it easier to compensate for his absence against Green Bay, as Packers receiver Davante Adams is unlikely to play. Look for this game to be much closer than the first one.
The Pick: Cardinals 30 Packers 25
Number six seed Seattle Seahawks (11-6) @ Number one seed Carolina Panthers (15-1): 10:05 a.m., Sunday, January 17, FOX
The Panthers breezed through the NFL this season, losing only once en route to the best record in the NFL. They even defeated these same Seahawks in Seattle in Week 6. However, this is not the same Seattle team as then. Since that game, the Seahawks’s offense has exploded, finishing 5th in points for, to go along with a defense that finished 1st in points allowed for the fourth straight season. This is also a team that will have star running back Marshawn Lynch is in the lineup for the first time since Week 10. And although Carolina boasts the 1st ranked offense and 6th ranked defense, they lost two time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman for the season, as well as third stringer Bene Benwikere. Additionally, the Panthers only played four teams with winning records, two of which were 9-7, so the stats are bound to be a little weighted. When looking at the Panthers matchups against top ranked pass offenses, such as games against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants, one sees that those games turned into shootouts. Similarly to those two teams, the Seahawks also boast a top ranked passing attack, but in contrast to those teams, the Seahawks have the top ranked defense. That will prevent this game from turning into a shootout, and turns the game to Seattle’s favor.
The Pick: Seattle 27 Carolina 19
Number six seed Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) @ Number one seed Denver Broncos (12-4): 1:40 p.m., Sunday, January 17, CBS
The Steelers come into this game fresh off one of the most exciting playoff games in history. The Broncos are working an old man back into the offense. The Steelers boast the 3rd best passing offense. The Broncos the 1st ranked passing defense. The Broncos boast the 19th ranked offense, the Steelers the 11th best defense. On paper, these teams are pretty evenly matched, but there are several factors that could affect the outcome. One is health. Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, running back, and wide receiver are all on the mend. QB Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in last week’s game, and is day-to-day. RB DeAngelo Williams has been dealing with a foot injury, but will miss this week’s game. Lastly, WR Antonio Brown is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after a nasty illegal hit from Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and will not play. The Steelers need all three to have a reasonable chance. Antonio Brown is a transcendent talent, dominating the NFL this year, to the tune of 136 catches and 1834 yards. Williams has 14 touchdowns this year. Without Brown and Williams, receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton will have to take a huge step up and challenge the best corner combo in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., and running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will need to have otherworldly games. I don’t think they can do it.
The Pick: Broncos 24 Steelers 16
All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com Thumbnail photo courtesy of Q13FOX