After a week that included a missed 27-yard field goal, the end of “YOU LIKE THAT?!” and the strangest 4th quarter of football I’ve ever watched, we now have our final eight playoff teams. The Patriots get things started against the Kansas City Chiefs at 4:35pm on Saturday and, if we’re being completely honest, I’m happy that I can be emotionally invested in a game again. I missed that last week.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots…Saturday 4:35pm
This matchup conjures memories of the last time these two teams met on Monday night last season at Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs demolished the Patriots and Trent Dilfer declared the Patriots dead. In that game, Kansas City ran for over 200 yards with Knile Davis totaling over 100 yards rushing and a now injured Jamaal Charles rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown in addition to his two receiving touchdowns.
The Patriots front seven, allowing just under 100 yards rushing per game this season, will have to shutdown Spencer Ware who carried the ball 16 times for 67 yards and a touchdown for the Chiefs in their 30-0 Wild Card win over Houston last weekend. They cannot allow him to have the cutbacks and misdirection runs that Charles killed the Patriots with a year ago. This task will fall on linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo as Jamie Collins will have his hands full with tight end Travis Kelce who, with Jeremy Maclin being hobbled, is Kansas City’s best weapon in the passing game. A synthetic-mariujanaless Chandler Jones will put pressure on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and keep him contained in the pocket.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offense will have to revert to its old self that we saw in the early weeks of the season as their third ranked offense goes up against Kansas City’s third ranked defense. Chiefs safety Eric Berry has had a phenomenal season and his story of beating cancer is truly inspirational, but Marcus Peters has been the star of that secondary. Peters totaled 53 tackles and eight interceptions in the regular season.
The x-factor in the game is the Patriots banged up offensive line against Justin Houston, Tambi Hali, and the Chiefs interior defensive line. Tom Brady (shocking that I went this long in a Patriots post without mentioning Brady) will have to get the ball out early to a (hopefully) healthy Julian Edelman and a (hopefully) healthy Rob Gronkowski to help out Sebastian Vollmer and the offensive line. If the Patriots can neutralize the Chiefs defense line and give Brady at least 2.5 seconds to throw, I think Kansas City’s win streak will come to an end at 11 games.
Quick baseball digression. Remember when the 2007 Colorado Rockies won 21 out of 22 games to make their unprecedented run to the World Series and then got swept by the Red Sox? Yeah, Boston teams don’t take kindly to win streaks.
As if you thought there was any doubt, I’m taking the Patriots.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals…Saturday 8:15pm
The Arizona Cardinals’ defense singlehandedly won me third place in my fantasy league this year. In Week 16, Arizona’s defensive unit recovered three of the five fumbles they forced and picked off Aaron Rodgers twice for a whopping 35 fantasy points and a victory for Notorious B.A.G. in the league’s consolation game. Thank you Arizona.
Last week Green Bay visited the Washington Redskins who’s defense was amongst the worst in the league as they allowed almost 400 yards per game during the regular season. A protected Aaron Rodgers was able to make all kinds of adjustments and throw for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Even bigger for the Packers was their running game in that win over Washington. Eddie Lacey and James Starks each totaled over 50 yards and each found the end zone with Lacey only putting the ball on the ground once.
Arizona’s defense is light years better than Washington’s. The Cardinals defensive line got to Rodgers and only let the 2014 MVP throw for 155 yards and an interception in their Week 16 matchup. Lacey ran for 60 yards on 12 carriers in the game as the Packers could never really get the running game going.
Led by Carson Palmer, Arizona’s offense torched Green Bay as the veteran quarterback from USC threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Cardinals running back David Johnson has been key in the absence of Chris Johnson and I think this is going to be a break out game for the rookie. More importantly, out of all eight starting quarterbacks left in the playoffs, I think Carson Palmer is the most determined to win a Super Bowl (yes, even more than Brady). After his injury last season and the injury/turmoil in Cincinnati, I think Palmer knows that this is his best chance to win a championship. He also knows that a championship is the only thing that is keeping him out of the “elite quarterback” conversation.
I’m taking the Cardinals.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers…Sunday 1:05pm
How about the NFL just sticking it to Pete Carroll and the 12’s? Two weeks in a row Seattle gets the 10am Pacific Time game on Sunday morning.
This is by far the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. If angry Vikings fans weren’t enough, Blair Walsh also must be getting hate tweets from Carolina fans who now get the Seahawks instead of Green Bay.
Carolina defeated Seattle 27-23 back in October as Seattle and Russell Wilson were amidst their early struggles. And then all of a sudden wide receiver Doug Baldwin came along and redefined the Seahawks. Josh Norman on Baldwin will be an intriguing battle and I fully expect a decent amount of trash-talking between the two.
Marshawn Lynch, after holding himself out of last weeks freezing game against Minnesota, will play this week in the more mild temperatures. Lynch will take on former Boston College linebacker and catalyst for the Carolina defense, Luke Keuchly as well as veteran linebacker Thomas Davis. Carolina’s defense held Lynch to only 57 yards on 17 carries in their first meeting this season.
The thing that scares me most with Carolina is the culture around the team and I think that lack of true chemistry was displayed in their game against the New York Giants. There have been games this season where most of the team can’t hold it together and Cam Newton is able to pull them out of the hole, but I think this is the week where we see Ted Ginn become the true Ted Ginn and drop a crucial pass just like he did in that close game against Indianapolis.
I’m taking the Seahawks.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos…Sunday 4:40pm
The lack of arm strength. The interceptions. The injury. The HGH. This has been Manning’s toughest season in his 14-year career, yet the Broncos still hold the first overall seed and home field advantage in the playoffs.
Now they get a gift in the banged up Pittsburgh Steelers. Antonio Brown has officially been ruled out for this game and the right-handed Ben Roethisberger allegedly dislocated his right shoulder in their Wild Card game against the Bengals. The Steelers went from being the most feared team in the AFC to, in my opinion, the worst team out of the remaining eight playoff teams after dealing with a rabid Vontaze Burfict and a crazed Adam “PacMan” Jones.
The Steelers do have a chance though. Their fifth ranked rush defense held Bengals’ running backs Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill to a total of 78 yards rushing (granted that Ryan Shazier hit on Hill should’ve at least warranted a penalty). That defense will once again have to step up against the Broncos’ twin headed running game in C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.
I think The Sheriff will do just enough to win this game for the Broncos and we’ll have yet another Manning-Brady showdown (maybe the last?) in the AFC Championship game.
I’m taking the Broncos.