I was 2-2 in my wild-card predictions. Here are my divisional round predictions. Many of these are low confidence.
Saints 17 | Seahawks 24
This will certainly be a closer affair than the Week 13 matchup where the Seahawks blew out the Saints. The Saints will likely run the ball early and often, to get the crowd out of the game and to reduce the probability of turnovers against an extremely good Seahawks pass defense. Still, I think the Seahawks edge out. They are a much more well-rounded team than past NFC 1st seeds, and this is CenturyLink Field. Those fans have to be pumped up.
Colts 31 | Patriots 28
Low confidence in this one. I will take the Colts based on my prior prediction, but the fact that the Chiefs scored 44 points has deflated my confidence about the Colts’ defense. The Patriots could easily win it as well given their home-field advantage and better ground game, in predicted rainy conditions. I can’t get over the lack of red-zone efficiency of the Patriots. The Patriots defense has to contain TY Hilton better than the Chiefs did last week.
49ers 19 | Panthers 14
Two of the best defenses in the league go face-to-face in this one. I give the edge to the 49ers, because of their playoff experience, and the fact that the offense is healthy again compared to the Week 10 matchup where the Panthers won 10-9. But that offensive line has to do better than it did in that game, and the offensive unit has to improve in red-zone efficiency. Those two factors may decide the game.
(P.S. the 49ers have to be glad the Saints won last week; the Panthers are a much better matchup than the Seahawks at CenturyLink.)
Chargers 30 | Broncos 27
This is the one game where I go against everyone elses’ predictions. Here’s why:
(1) Peyton Manning has a poor track record in the playoffs.
(2) Peyton Manning has an exceptionally poor track record against the Chargers: 4-5 overall, 0-2 in the playoffs.
(3) Coach McCoy has a history with the Broncos and knows their schemes.
(4) The Chargers have beaten the Broncos at Denver during the regular season, so it’s not like it’s impossible…
(5) The Chargers’ defensive unit seems to be peaking at the right time.
(6) The Broncos’ defense is porous and many of their stars are injured right now. High-offense weak-defense 1st seeds tend to not do well in the playoffs (see Broncos/Patriots 2012, Packers 2011, Falcons 2010).
Of course, this is still extremely low confidence. Not every day you would predict a 6th seed to beat a 1st seed with a historically good offense. But if there’s a matchup that favors the Chargers it’s this one. For this to come true however, the Chargers’ run game has to be as good as it has been in recent weeks, and Peyton Manning’s time of possession has to be minimized.