Another Saturday Divisional Playoff Game in Foxboro, with the New England Patriots taking on the red hot Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs coming off their first playoff win in 22 years have won 11 straight and are playing well on both sides of the ball. The Patriots meanwhile limped to the finish line, losing four of their last six games. One issue that hampered the Patriots towards the end of the season were injuries. The Patriots expect Julian Edelman to be back for Saturday’s Playoff game, but can he reach full strength that is another issue all together. Nowhere have the Patriots been more effected than in their running game, as Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount are both on injured reserve. The Patriots offensive line has also been beset by injuries with both Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder lost as the Patriots defend their Super Bowl crown. The Patriots line should get a boost with the return of Sebastian Vollmer, but after a leg injury he too may not be 100%. With no run game the Patriots will need Tom Brady to carry them and he is more than capable of doing that with four Super Bowl rings. However, with a banged up offensive line he will be under heavy fire. The Chiefs defense is solid at putting pressure on the quarterback and have an exceptional secondary with Eric Berry and Marcus Peters. Last week they forced five turnovers in their shutout win over the Texans and while Tom Brady is much better than Brian Hoyer when the Chiefs last faced the Patriots the result was a 41-14 blowout that had some question if Tom Brady was done. Of course that loss in Week 4 last season was the season’s turning point for the Patriots but some can wonder do the Chiefs have the formula for beating Brady and the Pats. Making matters for New England is the Chandler Jones situation. Reports of an overdose of pills for a pro bowl pass rusher is not what they need as they prepare for a playoff game. The Patriots are the champs but they are vulnerable and a mistake here and there and it could be a big upset to start the best weekend of the year for the NFL.
These two teams are meeting for the second time in three weeks, having played at the same site in Week 16. That game did not work out so well for the Packers as they were taken apart by the Cardinals 38-8. The game was an even bigger blowout than the score indicates as the Packers only points came after the Cardinals had a 31-0 lead in the third quarter. The Cardinals dominated the game on both end of the ball as they scored 14 points of defense, while Carson Palmer passed for 265 yards with two touchdowns while most of the second half saw the Cardinals run the ball with a big lead. Things got so bad for the Packers that Aaron Rodgers was benched in the fourth quarter after taking a day long beating two days after Christmas in Arizona. It is hard to pick a team that is better than the Arizona Cardinals as the playoffs begin. With Carson Palmer having the finest season of his career helped by three solid long threat receivers with Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd. All of the Cardinals three pass catchers can break a big play at any given time. This leads to a strong balanced attack that is hard to stop. The Cardinals have even begun to establish a strong running attack behind Rookie David Johnson who had a breakout game in Week 15, rushing for 189 yards against the Eagles. The Packers one advantage may be Aaron Rodgers, who under most circumstances is the best quarterback in the NFL. However, Rodgers has been without his best receiver all season, and nobody has risen to give him the big catches supplied by Jordy Nelson. The Packers offensive line despite a solid performance last week in Washington has also struggled, with their running game being virtually non-existent all season. The Cardinals defense is strong and are particularly good in the secondary led by Patrick Peterson, without a run game to keep the Cards off balanced it is a tall order to expect Aaron Rodgers to have enough answers to what the Cardinals can do.
These two teams have gotten to know each other quite well, meeting for the sixth time since 2012, as they play each other in the Divisional Playoff round for the second straight season. After losing for frustrating low scoring games the Panthers finally broke through and beat the Seahawks 27-23 in Week 6. In that game the Panthers rallied from down 20-7 in the third quarter to stun the Seattle faithful as Cam Newton connected Greg Olsen on a 26 yard touchdown with 38 seconds left. The Seahawks have won a game in Carolina every season since 2012, as they have had Cam Newton’s number until that fourth quarter comeback in the early part of the season. After a 15-1 season in which Cam Newton had a MVP year the Panthers enter the playoffs with a heavy burden of being the Super Bowl favorites. Some of the best quarterbacks of all-time have struggled with those burdens as it is often easier to come from the outside than being there at the top spot on the way to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have had the burden of the top spot in NFC the last two years and went to the big game. After escaping Blair Walsh’s laces in shank they are more than a live dog heading into this battle. The Seahawks know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl and perhaps the return of Marshawn Lynch could be a big boost as they take on the Panthers. The Seahawks expected Lynch to be in beast mode in Minnesota but before heading to the arctic like weather Lynch suddenly pulled himself out of the game. No doubt his time in Seattle is at an end, but can he carry them one more time? If he plays that will be another factor in favor of the Seahawks. Russell Wilson knows how to win these big games and while Cam Newton showed the ability to pull games out of the fire all season, when the game is tied later I would take Mr. Wilson over just about anybody. This is a game that will come down to the end and come down to a field goal, it will be low scoring and it will be another Seattle win in Carolina.
Several centuries ago in medieval England Ben Roethlisberger’s ancestors fought a gallant fight against King Arthur in his quest for the Holy Grail. Guarding a bridge Knight Roethlisberger would not give up the fight, not after losing one arm claiming it just a flesh wound. He would later lose his other arm and kept on fighting until he lost both legs. With that in his DNA you can make book that Big Ben will take the field with the Steelers on Sunday despite a separated shoulder and torn ligaments. I don’t think there has ever been a tougher NFL quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger as he has played with foot sprains, ankle sprains, broken hands and god knows what else. He even seems to play well when he is hurt but this time against a solid Steelers defense in Denver the task may be too tall of order for Steelers. Making matters worse is Antonio Brown their top receiver is questionable to play after sustaining a game winning concussion against the Bengals when he was hit reaching for a Roethlisberger pass in the final seconds of their Wild Card game. DeAngelo Williams is also questionable with a sprained ankle leaving the Steelers with their quarterback, top receiver and top rusher all hurting. The Broncos meanwhile are getting healthy. After returning to the field in Week 17, Peyton Manning is getting the start in what could be his final run at a second Super Bowl ring. With the road to the Super Bowl going through Denver, expect Manning to be at the top of his game as he no longer has to carry the team by himself. The Broncos now are a team that wins on defense as they were tops in the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks. Even if the Steelers were healthy they would have a tough time in these circumstances. The two teams did meet in Week 15 and the Steelers won 34-27, but only after trailing 27-10 late in the second quarter when Brock Osweiler suffered an injury leading to his second half struggles as Roethlisberger and Brown had a big second half in Pittsburgh. Unless Big Ben can heal magically it is hard to see how the Steelers can win this game.