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NFL Playoffs: Picking the Divisional Round Games

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NFL Playoffs: Picking the Divisional Round Games

Divisional Playoffs
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Many call this coming weekend the best weekend of the NFL season. The divisional round of the playoffs is where the best teams rejoin the postseason mix and get into the heat of the hunt for the Lombardi. This weekend promises to have several interesting showdowns between some teams that feature seasoned veterans and others that have youngsters pulling the strings. It’s the variety that keeps things interesting.

Home field advantage proved to be advantageous in Wild Card weekend with three of the four home teams moving on. Four times in the past five years however, the divisional round has been the home to a monumental upset. The number one seed on the NFC side in those instances and this year’s top seed, the Atlanta Falcons, was one of those victims just two years ago.

Hot teams have been the trend in the playoffs over the past handful of years and this time around there are plenty of squads riding significant winning streaks. The Denver Broncos haven’t lost since October 7th while the Seattle Seahawks have been winning since November 25th. That doesn’t mean everything, but getting hot at the right time inspires confidence and that can’t be created by any other factor.

There are teams littered with guys who have been here before in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as well as teams with players who are green to this experience like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of how much experience a player has, pressure has a way of making an impact on those that are under prepared.

Will the teams coming off the bye week be rested or rusty? Can these unfathomable winning streaks stay alive or will they be snapped? The Divisional round of the playoffs will answer these questions and here are some game by game predictions of what will happen in this weekend’s games.

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Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

Ravens vs. Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Emotion and Ray Lewis propelled the Ravens to a win last week, but that won’t be enough against Denver, Peyton Manning and Lewis have met many times before and I’m sure there will be plenty of respect out on that field on Sunday. What there won’t be however is nearly the amount of holes in the secondary for Joe Flacco to throw through. Expect Manning and the Broncos to be efficient and effective in moving the ball however they need to and this game won’t really be as close as the score indicates.

Broncos 27 – Ravens 16

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Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Packers vs. 49ers
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers have revenge on their mind and not against the Niners, but more against the Divisional round of the playoffs. This is where they flamed out of the playoffs a year ago after a hot New York Giants team ousted them. For San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick makes his playoff debut at home and at least there is comfort in that. The fact that Clay Matthews will be rushing hard every snap yields a bit less reassurance. The running game will be critical for each of these teams and for the Niners to keep Frank Gore relevant, they must stay close. I just have a hard time believing they can score point for point with Aaron Rodgers.

Packers 27 – 49ers 20

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Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Seahawks vs. Falcons
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no beating around the bush here. The Seahawks are my Super Bowl pick and rookie quarterback or not, there is something about this squad that screams team. Atlanta has been prone to slow starts in the playoffs off of the bye week and this time around will be no different. Look for Seattle to have success getting pressure on Matt Ryan even without their top pass rusher in Chris Clemons who tore his ACL in the win over the Washington Redskins last weekend. Bruce Irvin will factor in big on defense while Marshawn Lynch goes “Beast Mode” on the Falcons to ice things.

Seahawks 31 – Falcons 24

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Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Texans vs. Patriots
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Houston had plenty of doubters coming into Wild Card weekend and they didn’t silence them emphatically, but they did get a win. Against the Patriots, it won’t be as easy to keep the critics at bay. Tom Brady and company owned Houston in their meeting back in December by a decisive 42-14 margin. Arian Foster is the key to this game and don’t think for a second that Bill Belichick forgot about that. He will again have his defense keyed in on Foster and the Pats will shut down the Houston rushing attack. New England will move on the AFC title game.

Patriots 38 – Texans 20