Last week’s marquee matchups in the NFC turned out the way that I expected them to. In San Francisco, the 49ers were able to hold off division rival Seattle and pick up a crucial ninth win. That night, the Saints took care of their division rival Carolina to retake sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
If we learned anything from these contests, it’s that the NFC is almost assured to go through Seattle and New Orleans. They’ve held the top seeds in the conference since the start and will likely earn first-round byes in the playoffs.
The question on the minds of the other four playoff teams may be how they can go into Seattle or New Orleans and leave with a victory. It’s seemed impossible up to this point, as both teams are unbeaten at home. But we see this same story nearly season and the world-beaters usually end up stumbling in the postseason. Take a look at the last five #1 seeds to go unbeaten at home and how they fared in January and February:
- 2011: Green Bay (lost in divisional round)
- 2010: New England (lost in divisional round)
- 2007: New England (lost in Super Bowl)
- 2066: San Diego (lost in divisional round)
- 2005: Seattle (lost in Super Bowl)
Simply put, losing home playoff games can (and does) happen. One interesting note in the case of Seattle, who will probably have home-field throughout the playoffs: since the start of the 2005 season, they’re 5-0 in home playoff games. The 12th man will be rowdy come January, but even they can be beat.
Coverage Maps (courtesy of 506 Sports)
What a pleasant surprise! I did not expect Panthers-Jets to get airtime here, especially as the late game and with New England-Miami playing early. That’s CBS’s single game. Over on Fox, we’ll get Green Bay-Dallas late and the only Fox matchup between two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, Washington vs. Atlanta.
Now let’s pick. Last week was my best of the year, as I went 14-2, bringing my record to 141-68 for the season.
Denver over San Diego
Well who saw that one coming? It seems that the Chargers defense is finally got the memo about their dwindling playoff hopes.
Washington over Atlanta
Washington is a mess right now, but the Falcons aren’t exactly riding high themselves. It’ll be Kirk Cousins under center for the remainder of the season with Robert Griffin III shut down. The loser here will be one step closer to the first overall pick in May, but Washington’s failures are only helping St. Louis, who own their first round pick. I think that Cousins will play a safe game and mostly let Alfred Morris go to work on the ground. It may be enough to win this one.
Cleveland over Chicago
Another disappointing season for the Browns has produced two very bright spots in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The wideouts have given Cleveland their most potent weapons on offense since Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, Jr. With a formidable secondary to boot, they keep the Bears passing attack in check today.
Indianapolis over Houston
In their first game since the firing of Gary Kubiak, one thing is certain — barring injury, we won’t be seeing Matt Schaub today. This season is now dedicated to growth and development of Case Keenum. If they don’t find some defense outside of J.J. Watt, Andrew Luck and the Colts could end it early.
Miami over New England
The loss of Rob Gronkowski will certainly hurt the Patriots in the postseason, but they are still in a position to gain home-field advantage if they win out. But with two teams fighting for their playoff lives still to come, I think that they’ll lose one of them. I don’t see them leaving Miami with a win.
Philadelphia over Minnesota
I’m sure the Eagles are happy to play indoors after last week’s Blizzard Bowl. They’ll be even happier with Adrian Peterson sitting out today. Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy should have big days against this porous Vikings defense.
Seattle over New York Giants
The key matchup here will be Seattle’s corners against the receivers of the Giants. The loss of Brandon Browner, possibly for an entire year, is huge for the Seahawks and creates a viable weak spot in their world-class secondary. But if Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can get going against the below average run defense of New York, it may not matter much.
Tampa Bay over San Francisco
No seriously, hear me out. This Bucs team is much better than their 4-9 record indicates and ever since they jumped out to an early 21-point lead in Seattle, I’ve been taking notice. One player that we should all take notice of is linebacker LaVonte David, who should be garnering DPOY consideration.
Buffalo over Jacksonville
The Jaguars are still playing hard to end the season, but I think they meet their match today against the Bills defense. Running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have had decent games lately and today should be more of the same.
Carolina over New York Jets
Expect the Panthers to have a few early troubles against an underrated Jets defense. But the front seven of the Panthers should prevent Geno Smith from testing their leaky secondary.
Kansas City over Oakland
As the old adage goes, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback.” With both Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor expected to see playing time today, the Raiders are fully aware of their situation. But splitting their snaps may be the only thing preventing Pryor from being sacked 10 times by the Chiefs again.
Dallas over Green Bay
Arizona over Tennessee
I originally had Arizona losing this, but I don’t see how the Titans are going to score any points. With the Cardinals just a game behind San Francisco and Carolina, they can’t afford to slip up.
New Orleans over St. Louis
The Rams have played well in short bursts this season and they could certainly start another win streak at home, but I don’t believe in them enough to bet against the Saints.
Cincinnati over Pittsburgh
Their division title is almost in the bag now, but the Bengals are also still in play for a first-round bye. I still believe in Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but I can’t say the same about the rest of the Steelers team. Cincy clinches tonight.
Detroit over Baltimore
Record (Week): 7-7
Record (Season): 148-75