Passing Judgment: NFL Playoff Predictions (Divisional Round)

We are now down to eight teams remaining in the NFL playoffs on the way towards Super Bowl 47.  I correctly picked all four games during the Wild Card round, so now I must maintain the momentum in order to fulfill my prediction of a Green Bay Packers championship after they defeat the Denver Broncos.  Not surprisingly, the Broncos and Peyton Manning are the favorites to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy according to Super Bowl 47 odds.  But I believe this magical renaissance will not have a happy ending for Denver.

Before we get to the Super Bowl, we must first get through the Divisional Round.  Here are my thoughts and predictions:

1. Denver Broncos over Baltimore Ravens.  The return of Ray Lewis in what was his final home game in Baltimore certainly helped inspire the Ravens as they handily beat the upstart Indianapolis Colts in the first round.  Now they must go to Denver and take on the hottest team in the NFL.  Peyton Manning is playing at an elite level and has made everyone around him better.  Baltimore’s defense is healthier now then it has been in quite some time, but their secondary is still suspect (especially if they cannot get enough pressure on Manning).  Don’t overlook Denver’s defense either as they will be able to contain Ray Rice.  Not only will this game be remembered as Manning’s first playoff win since his triumphant return, but this will also be the last game of Ray Lewis’s Hall of Fame career.

2. Atlanta Falcons over Seattle Seahawks.  We are all familiar with Atlanta’s recent playoff struggles as they have blown advantageous seeding in the past.  For all of Matt Ryan’s success he has had thus far in his career, he needs to win a playoff game to go to the next level.  Seattle comes into this game on absolute fire in all aspects of the game.  Russell Wilson is the last rookie standing and Marshawn Lynch is definitely in Beast Mode.  But this is Seattle’s second consecutive cross-country trip in a couple weeks and they will be in a hostile environment in the Georgia Dome.  If the Seahawks secondary can cover Roddy White and Julio Jones, then this will be an extremely close game.  In the end, I think Atlanta has too many weapons and Seattle’s magic is about to run out.

3. Green Bay Packers over San Francisco 49ers.  There is no question that Colin Kaepernick took the NFL by storm when he supplanted Alex Smith as the starting quarterback in San Francisco.  He is extremely athletic and has a very strong arm.  But he is also young and inexperienced, and he has yet to prove he can light up the scoreboard with an aerial attack when playing from behind.  I think Aaron Rodgers is going to have a huge game since he will have his full receiving core healthy and on the field together for the first time all season.  Granted, Green Bay has no running game.  But they will likely line up four wide receivers and a tight end to diffuse the strength of San Francisco’s strong run defense.  Look for the Packers to come flying out of the gate with the 49ers’ attempt at a comeback falling short.

4. New England Patriots over Houston Texans.  Of all the games this weekend, this one has the highest probability of a lopsided outcome.  Houston started out the year as the favorite to obtain the #1 seed in the AFC, but they faltered down the stretch including a bad loss to the Patriots.  Houston’s offense has stagnated as Andre Johnson cannot get the ball consistently.  The Patriots are loaded with experienced veterans who know how to win playoff games.  Houston has had a problem all season stopping elite offenses, so Tom Brady and company could be in for a big day.

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