NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Predictions

The blog is back after a couple of weeks of rest and it’s better than ever (well, not really – it’s the same as it always was. Which was awesome. Maybe not. Back off – I’m being indecisive today).

My indecisiveness has rolled into my NFL picks for this week, so I’m going to yammer about Black Monday for a second. No, Black Monday has nothing to do with the stock market (at least this one doesn’t), it’s the first 24 hours after the end of every NFL regular season. On this day various coaches and their staffs are shown the door – how quickly this happens is usually in inverse proportion to how the team’s season went. (Therefore many of us were all a little surprised with Mike Shanahan made it until1 10am the next morning).

The Browns firing their head coach Rob (here comes a copy and pasted last name from Google) Chudzinski was nothing short of shocking, given that the Browns seemed much more competitive for much of the season, that they had one of the NFL’s better coaching staffs and he hadn’t been there a year yet.

I had thought this might be a play to promote defensive coordinator Ray Horton to head coach – his name comes up often in head coach interviews. But, seemingly not – the Browns now seem likely to bring in Josh McDaniels for reasons completely passing understanding. Maybe they’ll draft Tim Tebow somehow.

In addition to the Redskins and Browns, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Houston and Tennessee shows their coaches the doors. Of these, only the Bucs and the Texans have made hires. While the Texans coaxed Bill O’Brien out of Penn State and into the NFL, the Bucs went the safe route, bringing back NFL vet Lovie Smith.. Smith, recently of the Bears, brings two other former head coaches with him. Leslie Frazier (Minnesota) signed on as the defensive coordinator, which should mesh well with Lovie’s Tampa 2 philosophy. Smith also made the inspired choice of former California head coach Jeff Tedford as offensive boss. Tedford is a professional developer of quarterbacks, and there’s no question that’s what Tampa needs.

No, I don’t really plan to break down anymore NFL Coaching staffs – it’s time to get down to it. Eight teams, four games, second round. I went 2 for 2 last week (damn Saints and their last second field goal). Lets see if I can do better in the NFL Playoffs Divisional round.

New Orleans at Seattle
I picked New Orleans to lose last week. I could say that that this was due to New Orleans’ lack of a road playoff victory – ever – but I really didn’t know that. It was more because the Saints went 8-0 at home and only won three games away. Of those three games, they beat Tampa in September, Chicago in October and Atlanta in a dome. This is a long way to saying that the Saints don’t do well in cold weather. Seattle’s a horrible place for visiting teams to go – the stadium is loud, it’s a long trip and it’s cold in January. Plus the Seahawks are a better team than Philly.
Prediction: Seattle 31, New Orleans 24

Indianapolis at New England
If the Patriots were coached by anyone other than Bill Belichick, they’d have fallen off the map a long time ago. The talent base of this team has been slowly eroding for years (really since the loss of top NFL personnel man Scott Pioli), but somehow Belichick comes back with some new wrinkle which allows the team to continue to win with less each year. All of that said, the Colts have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year – dropping a 40-11 decision to Arizona, then whipping Kansas City 23-7 less than a month later. The Patriots, especially with all of their injuries, can be beat – but which Colts team will show up?
Prediction: Indianapolis 24, New England 14

San Francisco at Carolina
This matchup is between two of the hottest teams in football. The 49ers and QB Colin Kaepernick have clearly figured some things out since their 10-9 loss to the Panthers on November 10, though their seven game winning streak came on the back of the defense. Meanwhile, the light came on for Cam Newton and the cats have only lost one game since October 6. The 49ers are a better NFL team overall and the squads have identical records – the 49ers only becoming a wildcard due to the success of division rival Seattle. I like Newton and the Panthers, but I’m banking on experience to carry the day.
Prediction: San Francisco 20, Carolina 14

San Diego at Denver
San Diego’s another team that got hot at the right time. On December 7, the Chargers were 5-7 and fading fast from playoff relevance. The team had losses to Houston, Tennessee and Washington, all of whom did so well this season that their coaches are now looking for “alternate employment” in the NFL. But down the stretch the Bolts came with big wins over Denver and Kansas City to snag the last AFC playoff spot. Then they upset the Bengals last weekend to make it five straight victories. Can the Chargers take out the Broncos? Denver’s defense has been weakened by injuries and they lack a consistent running game. But they have Peyton Manning. So probably not.
Prediction: Denver 30, San Diego 21

Here’s a quick look ahead to next week and, as promised, my ultimate Super Bowl pick:

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Indianapolis at Denver
Let the media story lines begin! But the Colts just don’t have the horses (pun both intended and not).
Winner: Denver

San Francisco at Seattle
I’m going to be boring and pick another #1 seed. The 49ers are a solid team, but Seattle won’t lose a game like this at home.
Winner: Seattle

SUPER BOWL
Yes, I did promise a Super Bowl pick, didn’t I? Since I picked the Broncos and the Seahawks into the big game and neither played in the first round of the playoffs, I’m still counting this as a pre-playoff choice (Did I mention this is my blog and my rules? Back off).

Here it is: SEATTLE. The Seahawks are the more complete team; they can hurt you through various dimensions on offense while their D is solid and steady. The Broncos’ offensive prowess depends on the aforementioned Manning – and he has been known to press a bit hard in big games. Without a consistent running game to fall back on and Von Miller to help keep Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson in check, I’m picking the Birds over the Horses.

The blog will be back in full force next week – a non-NFL post on Monday (resuming that weekly schedule), whereas next Thursday’s feature will give an update on the NFL Conference Championships (no doubt correcting this week’s picks).