by Ryan Meehan and Coach Ryan
The best week of the NFL season is here, with four games on the schedule featuring the last remaining participants of the year fighting it out until it gets whittled down to four. This is my favorite week because it’s the last week there are games on multiple days, and you really get to see what a lot of the teams are made of. Very little BS sneaks through this round, and this year we know we will have a new Super Bowl champion. And it will likely be an exciting team to watch, at least more exciting than last year’s champion Baltimore Ravens. There’s a lot to dig into, so let’s get started and kick off NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend here at First Order Historians…
New Orleans Saints (12-5) +8 at Seattle Seahawks (13-3) (47.5) 3:45PM Saturday
The New Orleans Saints: The Case For
It’s hard for me to do a genuine “case for” about the Saints because I still don’t believe that they are here. I thought that with the way they played in the last half of the season they were looking more like the 2012 team that started out 0-4 than the team that brought the Lombardi trophy to the Big Easy. They did win a road game last week in cold weather, which I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about because it’s up to the NFL to sell you on the idea that they’re the same team they were during said Super Bowl run four years ago. They are 2nd in the league in overall passing yards, and somewhat convincingly also second in total passing yards given up. But the real gridiron stats (when it comes to running the football and preventing other teams from doing so) show that when the game becomes a grind they won’t know what to do with themselves. If anybody can do it it’s Drew Brees, but I say that sentence with such little enthusiasm that even I don’t believe it by the time his name finally comes out of my mouth. So let’s discuss why that may be the case…
The New Orleans Saints: The Case Against
The Saints had some puzzling looks that allowed the Eagles to get back into that game and still looked lost at times. And that is what’s so weird about the Saints – They have the established quarterback. They have the guys who can make the big plays at wideout. They have a lot of the same things that the Seahawks do, but you just get the feeling that even without the experience Seattle has the upper hand here. The Saints start Drew Brees, a first ballot Hall of Famer yet you still get the feeling he’s more Bryan Adams than Lemmy Kilmeister. If the Saints lose this game, no matter who wins the other matchup this becomes a very different conference that has the read option as the earmark for success. And yes, these teams all have better defenses than New Orleans does but guys like Drew Brees and Eli Manning are going to get passed by if this thing is more than just a fad in the NFL. And I don’t even know where that leaves guys like Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco, unless it’s some contest where we see who can burn bigger piles of money. Even with last week’s win, this still doesn’t elevate the Saints to .500 on the road this year. Now they are headed to the one place in the country that no NFL team wants to visit any time of the year. Break out the bodybags – They are going to effectively need 130 yards rushing in this one to even have a shot at winning, which is about forty yards more than they are currently averaging.
The Seattle Seahawks: The Case For
Seattle is a team that will not be satisfied with simply a postseason visit. Seventy thousand screaming people might not always be right, but I’ll take that versus the opposite any day of the week. The Seahawks are very, very close to their quarterback taking the next step and becoming a perennial conference championship level of guy. And if he can’t, he always has Marshawn Lynch next to him ready to do his dirty work. Either way the Seahawks are just too balanced for most of the teams in the league at the moment, and light years better than the team the Saints will be putting on the field Saturday afternoon. While you may be hearing a lot of about Richard Shermann due to his Sports Illustrated spread at the beginning of the year all the wall through the way he’s dominated the game up until this moment, let’s not forget that Earl Thomas is equally as dangerous & clingy and can really wreck a guy like Drew Brees’ day. The totality of the Seahawks is the most important part of their game, and facing them in that stadium just adds to the complications of trying to get out of there with a win. There’s a reason that they are favored by eight points against a former Super Bowl MVP.
The Seattle Seahawks: The Case Against
While there aren’t a whole lot of negative things you can say about Seattle, you can’t help but think about how completely flawless that backfield would be if they hadn’t had all of the drug suspensions. The only real place where they falter is in the passing game, but thankfully for them they have a smart guy in Wilson in charge of making enough big plays and being able to move with his feet so his inefficiencies should be sparse. Another weakness they seemed to have during the beginning of the season was that it took them a while to get going in the first half of some of their games. This of course was a concern dating back to their last playoff loss this very weekend in Atlanta at the end of the 2012-2013 season. So if you can nail these guys by getting up early and staying up (remember that’s how the Saints are known for dominating games) then maybe you could get out of the state of Washington with a win, but I doubt it given all of the elements combined.
The Bottom Line according to Coach:
If last week’s game between the Chiefs and Colts taught us anything it’s don’t trust what happened earlier in the season. When the Saints played in Seattle earlier this year they were handed their most lopsided loss of the season and no matter what happens this week rest assure that they don’t want that to happen again. Does that mean that the Saints are going to win? Probably not. I still have to give the edge to Seattle as they are just too talented and balanced to lose the game, especially at home. I do think that this probably is going to be the most entertaining back and forth game we see all weekend that will have highs extending from the 12th man to big plays featuring Drew Brees vs.Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham vs. Marshawn Lynch. The bottom line to me is the dominant defense of Seattle that should be able to come up with a couple big plays (like a late turnover) that should secure the victory for the Seahawks. One thing to keep in mind while picking this game is that defense wins championships and Seattle has the best secondary in the league and a run defense ranking seventh.
Coach’s Pick: Seahawks 30, Saints 24
The Bottom Line according to Meehan:
If one team remaining could challenge the Seahawks at home, it would probably be the 49ers but it definitely wouldn’t be the Saints. I know that Drew Brees has the experience to make things happen in tight spots, and I realize that’s how they got through last week. But this is in a totally violent environment where they will be giving him no quarter, dime, nickel, or penny. And for a guy whose arcade is getting more soda spilled on it with every passing week, eventually you have to tear up the carpet and this will be the week that happens. Although I have this looking close, keep in mind that 75% of this year’s playoff games have been decided by three points or less. I don’t have them covering the spread (I believe this game will be 27-13 until the last couple of mintues) and I see most of the points in this game being scored in the second half.
Meehan’s Pick: Seahawks 27, Saints 20
Indianapolis Colts (12-5) +7 at New England Patriots (11-5) (53) Saturday Night 7:15PM
The Indianapolis Colts: The Case For
The Colts scored forty-five points last week, which is always a good place to start looking for positive things to cite. Like I said last week, their strongpoint is their resume which shows that they have beaten Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and now Kansas City twice – once on the road and once at home. If something happens to Andrew Luck, they can put in Matt Hasselbeck who is hardly the most athletic QB in the world but is experienced and possesses good mental football skills. They signed an extra wide receiver in Deion Branch who if nothing else will act as a quality decoy, and Coby Fleener has had a good year as well. TY Hilton is coming off of a career-best 224 yard game against the Chiefs last week, so he has to be feeling like a million bucks and on top of the world.
The Indianapolis Colts: The Case Against
The only reason Indy won that game was because the Chiefs got so banged up in the second half. Luck suddenly wasn’t throwing picks because there was nobody of NFL starting caliber back there to bait him. And much like the afternoon game, this will be played in a very tense building that has a long history of laying waste to teams from Indianapolis. Let’s not forget how far from behind the Colts had to come in order to win last week, and let’s also not forget how Luck threw three interceptions before every played on the opposing squad who would have boosted that number to at least five got knocked out for the rest of the season. They lost their first playoff road game last year, and this season they don’t have the momentum going from the Chuck Pagano thing. Not to mention the absence of Bruce Arians, who given his success with the Arizona Cardinals isn’t going to be returning to the team anytime soon. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: When Peyton Manning went up to New England back in week 12, he had the game in the bag on several occasions. But as the Patriots’ 8-0 home record has proved to be the case, there is something about how the Patriots play in Gilette Stadium that vaporizes opposing teams, and I see no reason why Andrew Luck shouldn’t be the next victim in that series of public executions. I see no reason after it took them that long in order to beat the Chiefs that they will magically knock the Patriots off of their home saddle, especially when they don’t even average 110 yards a game on the ground.
The New England Patriots: The Case For
To be rolling into this game 12-4 for New England is nothing short of a serious achievement, not only because they have been able to do so while decimated on offense but because one of those four losses is to the Jets. The only other losses that they had were against Carolina (a tough game with a questionable last play) and the Bengals who were eliminated this week. Other than that, they’ve taken everything else that the league’s thrown at them and won so their primary motivation is they aren’t intimidated by anybody. Julian Edelman is now their main offensive focus, but they can run when they need to as well. If I were to tell you back in 2009 after he punched Byron Hout in that Boise State game that LeGarrette Blount would be averaging 5.0 yards a carry half a decade later for what might be the last dynasty of the free agency era I’d still be trying to chew my way out of my straight jacket.
The New England Patriots: The Case Against
Even though they’ve been able to get this far with limited weaponry, you have to wonder how long they can stretch that out. Sure they’ve got the guy to do it, but let’s be honest if the Patriots lost this game fair and square due to Tom Brady not having enough options when it comes to open men – I don’t think it would be shocking. They likely won’t have to worry about finding themselves in that predicament, but I can see it happening without it being the end of the world. And Brady did have a game this season against Cincinnati where his offense didn’t score a single touchdown, so I’m not saying it can’t be done. They also lost at home against Baltimore in the AFC Championship last year, so we’ll see…but it’s not likely.
The Bottom Line according to Coach:
I have to be honest I really want to pick the Colts in this game, it’d be the ultimate irony that although Peyton Manning can’t win in New England Andrew Luck can. There’s plenty of reasons to think that this game will be tight but in the end I just couldn’t find myself picking against Bill Billichick and Tom Brady at home during the playoffs. Certain quarterbacks just keep cool in those situations, and the play and experience of Brady along with rest of the Pats is going to be my bottom line. Although New England’s secondary isn’t the best in the league they should be good enough to be able to limit T.Y. Hilton with double coverage all but eliminating Indy’s big play receiver. It’s really too bad that Reggie Wayne isn’t playing right now or there’s a decent chance the Colts would be my AFC Super Bowl pick, but he’s not and although Brady is lacking weapons as well I still have to go with experience over youth. Let’s be honest nobody thought the Pats would be any good this year and here we are picking them to head to the AFC Championship. I do think (let me emphasize ‘think’) that this will will be Brady’s last real shot at winning another title and I expect him to play like he knows that, advantage Brady.
Coach’s Pick: Patriots 33, Colts 28
The Bottom Line according to Meehan:
I’m picking this to be a high scoring game because neither of these teams have really played great defense lately unless you count the Baltimore game for New England. (which by the way, I don’t…) The Colts will get a couple of really big plays and make either one big special teams play or create a turnover which they turn into a touchdown, but other than that I expect the Patriots to have total control over this football game.
Meehan’s Pick: Patriots 38, Colts 33
San Francisco 49ers (13-4) -1.5 at Carolina Panthers (42) (12-4)
The San Francisco 49ers: The Case For
San Francisco is stacked. They have a defense that up and down can waste possessions for the offenses it faces, and seemingly not break a sweat while doing so. They took out Green Bay in Wisconsin last week and even though Rodgers looked good at times, none of these guys lost their confidence and you always felt like they were going to take this game. I saw an internet meme that referenced the matchup between these two teams earlier on this season that showed a picture of Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree, with the caption “That Moment when yu realize neither of these guysplayed in week ten”. That’s the problem with facing the 49ers, especially this late in the year – They have so much depth you can play them one weekend, and then two months later a whole different set of players will get healthy. San Francisco has had more recent playoff success than the Panthers, and even if you hate the Niners if nothing else hopefully Colin Kaepernick wins here; thus improving his postseason record so that in three years hopefully we’ll never have to hear about Joe Flacco’s playoff record for the rest of our adult lives. But seriously, I look for Crabtree to have a big game here…I think Colin will be able to manage the offense well enough to make it happen. The defense should be able to prey on Carolina’s inexperience as well.
The San Francisco 49ers: The Case Against
The biggest problem for SF is the NFL playoffs is a one and done tournament. If it were a best of three I don’t think there is any question that the Niners would win easily. Therefore, one bad half (like Seattle’s bad half against the Falcons last year) is all it could take to do them in and with the league thirtieth ranked passing attack that could very well happen this weekend. They will be heading out on the road for the second straight week, and the Green Bay game could have really gone either way. If Carolina can force turnovers, those same turnovers can lead Kaepernick into making some poor (and more unlike his style) conservative decisions and therefore create some real issues for San Francisco’s offensive strategy. Also with Steve Smith playing in this game, we could really see Carolina going long on a couple of plays to try and burn the Niners secondary for some big plays.
The Carolina Panthers: The Case For
The Panthers are this year’s surprise playoff team. While San Diego may be the Cinderella story of the season, Carolina has done the most with the least available. They won the first matchup between these two teams, and like I just stated Steve Smith is expected to play in this one. Cam Newton has led an offense that although may not look the most well-polished at times, has been able to play good enough to get a first round bye. Their 38-0 victory over the Giants in week three at home shows just how dominant they can be when everything is firing on all cylinders. DeAngelo Williams will never be a two thousand yard back, but that’s not what he’s there for. He’s there to wear down opposing defensive lines, and that’s exactly the direction the Panthers are going to need to head in if they come out and the passing game is getting shut down by that formidable secondary of the Niners. Greg Olsen is going to be key in this one, as the middle of the field may be the only space available for business. On the defensive side Carolina plays a lot of zone coverage and could challenge Kaepernick to sucker himself into some easy picks, or it will have the adverse effect and could very well end up in the following section.
The Carolina Panthers: The Case Against
The difference in the first matchup was just one point, and that’s because technically the Niners are way over the Panthers’ head when it comes to talent level and overall experience. Newton still doesn’t average over 200 yards a game in the air, and they rely on him to run the ball way too much. The Panthers have a bunch of guys with the skill level of Brandon LaFell to count on when it comes to scoring, including Brandon LaFell himself which ain’t much. Their offense is far from potent, and they are going to find out quickly that the San Francisco 49ers are not the New York Giants. And while their resume is full of legitimate wins like to these Niners and the Patriots, it’s also jam-packed with wins where they doubled up on teams like Atlanta and Tampa Bay – not to mention a loss to Buffalo which is probably worth noting. “Too Young” just like that Phoenix song. Can you hear it calling? Maybe next year…
The Bottom Line according to Coach:
Finally the rematch I’ve been waiting for. I rank the Niners and Panthers matchup in week 10 as one of my favorite football games of the regular season. The thing that makes me the most excited about this game is just how tight the last matchup was from a defensive standpoint, and how much that game seemed to mean to both teams. For the Panthers that game was their coming out party as an elite team in the NFC, and led to a second half run of complete dominance where the Niners loss (followed by a loss to the Saints) seemed to snap them back into shape to start being looked at as they were last year topped off with a win against the Seahawks. The bottom line in this game will be who makes the least amount of mistakes, which is really hard to call. Both Kaepernick and Newton are young quarterbacks capable of great plays and backed by powerful defenses. As much as I hate to say it, to me the advantage has to go to the Wild Card Niners due simply to the fact that they were able to beat the Packers in Green Bay last week in such horrific conditions. Yes the Panthers are a much more talented team than the Packers, but wins like that are ones that teams tend to rally around and take on deep playoff runs which is the reason so many Wild Card teams upset teams on the bye every year. For me this is a game that really could go either way and in my heart I will be rooting for the Panthers but in my head I just can’t pick against the Niners.
Coach’s Pick: 49ers 27, Panthers 24
The Bottom Line according to Meehan:
San Fran just has too much going on right now for me to pick against them. It was a great run for Carolina but they aren’t built to win a Super Bowl just yet. They still need a running game that doesn’t put so much pressure on their quarterback to do absolutely everything, otherwise you run the risk that his skill level will drop the following season with no additional help. And you know what you get when that happens? A pair of partially used Washington Redskins season tickets and all offseason to wonder what Kirk Cousins would have done.
Meehan’s Pick: Niners 27, Panthers 22
San Diego Chargers (10-7) +9.5 at Denver Broncos (54.5) (13-3)
The San Diego Chargers: The Case For
I can’t believe that I just typed above that the San Diego Chargers have ten wins. I thought Phillip Rivers’ kids would be coming out of college before I wrote that again, and it’s not hard to blame me because they have had a rough stretch out there recently. But they have taken the back end of the 2013 NFL season and wiped bacon grease all over it, and it’s been a total team effort. They play with heart, and although they are still led by a guy who looks like a bloated chipmunk he seems to really know what he’s doing. Ryan Mathews (although still listed as questionable) has had a hell of a year on the ground, and you have to think that he’s their number one back from here on out. But they’ve also got guys like Danny Woodhead who can run these little slant routes that can extend drives on 3rd and 6/7 situations, and Antonio Gates is still valuable although his production has decreased in rcent years. On defense this squad isn’t going to be remembered twenty years from now for much of anything, but can stop the run when needed.
The San Diego Chargers: The Case Against
And although that defense looked very good Wild Card weekend, don’t forget that the defensive star of that game for the Chargers was none other than Andy Dalton. So perhaps part of their recent defensive prowess might be a mirage, and if there’s any litmus test to see if it will it would be Uncle Charley Horse himself. They have the 29th ranked secondary in the league when it comes to yards allowed, and could get ripped apart long before even heading into the locker room for halftime. There’s a reason that nobody expected San Diego to be in the playoffs to begin with, just like there are reasons that nobody believed in them after giving the Washington game away to a team that only had two other wins. You kind of almost forget that they are still in it because there is such little coverage on them – They’re like the vibrator that your girlfriend forgets about until you finally have to pack up the boxes on moving day. So keeping in that theme, it’s quite possible that either the batteries are dead or you have to come to terms that there are some things that you just can’t wash the smell out of.
The Denver Broncos: The Case For
Peyton Manning passed for 5477 yards this year, and all other stats aside if you have a guy who can do that you will be in awesome shape when that half of your team is on the football field. He’s had a lot of options, and DeMarius Thomas is becoming one of the most solid NFL players of our time so make sure you don’t take your eye off him in this one. They don’t have much of a running game, but who needs it? Knowshon Moreno is good enough for their needs, and they can manage around it if it’s simply not working at all. And aside from the New England game, they played much better on defense the second half of the year. It’s not like they will be up against an invincible force when that defense is on the field either – They know San Diego very well and they aren’t going to simply lay down here.
The Denver Broncos: The Case Against
They lost the last matchup between these two teams and it is still fresh in their minds. It was a Thursday night game, so they had ten whole days to think about that loss in which they were originally favored by double digits. And they do have the fact that Von Miller just had knee surgery looming over their head, so the urgency of making this year’s playoff run count is more important than ever. So what it really comes down to is going to be if Peyton Manning makes the mental mistakes that he has been known to do this time of the year, and those metal mistakes could come from any of these things in addition to the defensive fronts that he sees on the field. Like I said earlier, these games have been really close so far and remember when the Broncos are up by only a touchdown, they’re always one muffed punt courtesy of Trinidon Holliday from not moving on to the next round. Just remember, 55 touchdowns don’t mean shit now…so we’ll see what happens and Denver is just as vulnerable as any of these other teams regardless of being 13-3.
The Bottom Line according to Coach:
To me the best thing about writing about the postseason is just how hard it is to predict. In this rematch from week 15 we have two division opponents fighting it out for the third time this season in an ultimate rubber match. Since last season Denver has been everyone’s darling of the AFC only to have their Super Bowl hopes dashed by the eventual Champion Ravens and this year they were embarrassed in their last home game of the season to this same team. There’s so many story lines going into this game from Peyton winning a Championship with Denver to can Phillip Rivers finally get over the hump and cement his fame in NFL history. As I was trying to analyze this game I kept thinking of how Peyton Manning is notorious to playing bad football in the cold which got me thinking is it the cold that affects him or the pressure. Cold weather only seems to hit NFL around playoff time which could be a direct correlation to his bad play; remember a lot of Manning’s playoff exits have come in Indy in a dome but he is still known to struggle in ‘bad weather.’ If you take away Manning’s Super Bowl run during the 06-07 season Peyton has a playoff record of 3-7 where funny enough they were a Wild Card team. It’s really hard for me to pick against the Broncos especially when this is their third time playing a team but each year a team comes out of nowhere to shock the football world, last year it was Baltimore and I’m going against the grain and am going with the Chargers this year. They have now won five in a row: three straight in the division to end the season (including at Denver) and last week at Cincinnati who were undefeated at home this year. The only reason last week’s game didn’t look as impressive was because Andy Dalton took the brunt of the play which has deflected attention from the Chargers, I’m pretty sure the football world will pay them a little more attention after this game.
Coach’s Pick: Chargers 30, Broncos 27 (In Overtime)
The Bottom Line according to Meehan:
I can’t think that the Chargers can win two straight against a team that is in theory, far superior to them when it comes to almost everything. We often talk about the “football gods” on this website – those deitic magnets beyond the stratosphere that set things right when things have wronged football fans. And let’s face it, due to that awful call in the Chiefs Chargers game which cost Kansas City another shot at a field goal they would have easily made we’re probably sitting here discussing whatever team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. But then again, maybe the that was the way that the football Gods were getting Mike Tomlin back for the Jacoby Jones thing. Whatever is is, it ends here – I have to go against Coach and take the Broncos. San Diego will be out of gas by the time they really need it most.
Broncos 34, Chargers 23
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Meehan and Coach Ryan