|Peyton Manning has enjoyed having Wes Welker to throw to in Denver this season|
The final eight teams in the NFL square off this weekend in the Divisional round of the play-offs, the stager where each conferences number one and two seeds enter the post-season fray. Here are my predictions for each of the four games, starting with tonight’s match-ups in Seattle and New England.
New Orleans @ Seattle
The Saints overcame Philadelphia on the road last week and their impressive effort sees them rewarded with a trip to the best team in the NFC. Seattle have a near impregnable defense led by cornerback Richard Sherman and Drew Brees will face a far stiffer test than the one the Eagles secondary posed him a week ago. As well as the Saints played in Philly, and their defense especially stepped up to the challenge, the Seahawks are on a different plane to the Eagles and if Russell Wilson continues to play as efficiently as he has so far this season Seattle should be able to control the clock and the game on their way to the NFC championship game.
Saints 17, Seahawks 27
Indianapolis @ New England
Andrew Luck squares off against Tom Brady in a classic battle between the master and the so called apprentice. Luck has had an incredible first two seasons in the NFL and is well on the path to becoming an elite QB in the league while Brady obviously has three Superbowl wins on his resume, so if you want to see stellar play under centre look no further this weekend. Luck appears to have adapted to losing Reggie Wayne to injury halfway through the season and with Trent Richardson phased out of the offense the Colts are now putting up the points totals they were during their fast start to the season. Unfortunately their defense appears to be heading in the other direction and by allowing Kansas City to put up 44 points last weekend they showed that they’re not quite good enough to keep Brady in check, even if #12 doesn’t have Rob Gronkowski to throw to. It promises to be a classic game but when it comes to Brady, Belichick and the play-offs you simply have to back the dynamic duo.
Colts 34, Patriots 35
San Francisco @ Carolina
These two defensive powerhouses are set to contest a low scoring affair in Carolina, with both teams also boasting dual threat quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. Both have played well down the stretch and Kaepernick once again tore Green Bay to shreds last week in frigid temperatures as he added to his impressive post-season portfolio. While the Indy – New England tussle features two top quarterbacks this game features three of the best middle linebackers in football, with San Francisco boasting Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis while the Panthers can call on the services of Luke Kuechly. Both defenses have earned my respect but on the offensive side I’m taking Kaepernick and clutch receiver Anquan Boldin over Newton and the aging Steve Smith.
49ers 21, Panthers 17
San Diego @ Denver
San Diego may be nicknamed ‘the Bolts’ but unfortunately for them I can’t see lightening striking twice after they defeated the Broncos on the road just a few short weeks ago. Phillip Rivers will fight and give the Chargers a chance against the high powered Denver offense but with the record breaking Peyton Manning under centre it figures he’ll make the necessary adjustments to turn the tables after the last meeting between the two sides. Wes Welker is set to play after trouble with concussions this year and along with Eric Decker and Demetrius Thomas he gives Manning some fantastic targets in the passing game. The way things are shaping up it’s looking likely we’ll have yet another Manning/Brady classic next weekend, which is never a bad thing.
Chargers 20, Broncos 31
Have your say on these games in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley. Enjoy what should be another fascinating weekend of football while it lasts – after Sunday just three games remain of the 2013/14 NFL season (not including the Pro Bowl).