NFL Division Round Preview, Part II

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants

You see, what had happened yesterday was….
What actually happened is I started off pretty good getting my pick for a Seahawks win correct. Then I ran out of luck. Andrew Luck that is. The Colts QB threw four interceptions en rout to a New England victory and ruining my perfect weekend before Sundays games even kicked off. There’s a lot of pressure on me now to get both games right today and avoid another 50% weekend. Let’s hope I don’t Scott Norwood these picks…

San Francisco at Carolina
If you like lots of touchdowns…If you like video games scores…If you like watching Oregon football… then this is not the game for you. This one promises to be a defensive game all the way to the end. The last time these two met, back in week 10, they combined for 19 points. To put that into perspective the Patriots scored 21 points by halftime yesterday. The Panthers won the season game in San Fran 10-9. The 49ers were held without a touchdown in the entire game. The Panthers sealed the win in the final minute by picking off QB Colin Kaepernick. It was a very rough game for Kaep as he went 11 for 22 with only 91 passing yards. He was also sacked six times.

Colin will need to be more the player he was last week in Green Bay when he threw for 227 yards and ran for an additional 98. He doesn’t need to do it all himself though. Pro-Bowl running back Frank Gore is in the backfield to help him. Gore picked up 98 yards on sixteen carries in the regular season meeting. The rest of the team managed only 69 yards. Both of them will need to come up big of San Francisco hopes to knock off the Panthers for the first time since 2001.

It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. The Panthers are hotter than Salma Hayek in “Dusk Till Dawn”. They have won 11 of their last 12 games. Third year QB Cam Newton is a huge part of that. This season the former Auburn Tiger threw 24 touchdowns and ran in another 6. He’s the Ben Affleck of football right now, he does it all. Newton should get receiver Steve Smith back for the game too. While he hasn’t put up great numbers this season he does have seven touchdowns in eight postseason games. Smith also caught 6 passes for 63 yards in the regular season meeting between the two teams. Cam can also turn to DeAngelo Williams in the backfield. Williams, after all, scored the only touchdown in week 10 (a 27-yard run).

The other big reason for the Panthers success has been their defense. Carolina has allowed only 301.2 yards per game (second best in the league), 15.1 points per game (second best in the league) and amassed sixty sacks (tops in the league). The defense is pretty good in case you didn’t get my drift.

Playoff experience counts for something in my book and this 49ers team has more of it. They are looking to advance to their third straight NFC championship game and the big road win last week should carry over. The Panthers are a team on the rise but this isn’t their year. Cam falls just short of becoming the fifth Heisman trophy winner to win an NFL playoff game (extra credit question: can you name the previous four?).

San Diego at Denver
There’s been a lot made this past week of Peyton Manning needing to win this game to justify his record setting season (55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards). If the Broncos lose the “experts” will say that Manning chocked again in the playoffs and can’t win the big one. Wait, what?? If memory and the internet serve me correctly, Manning has made it to two Super Bowls and won the first. Sounds like a winner to me. You dopes!!

These two split the regular season meetings with each team winning on the road. That may bode well for the Chargers confidence. Outside of the loss to San Diego the Broncos went 7-1 at Mile High. That will definitely bode well for their confidence. The Chargers did a good job of stopping Denver’s high powered offense in the week 15 game. By holding the Broncos to 27 points the Chargers have up the fewest point any team did to Denver in the entire season. The Broncos averaged an NFL best 37.9 points per game during the season. Oh, by the way, that is the best in the history of the league.

The Chargers are no slouch in the offensive are of late either. In their last five games (all wins) San Diego has averaged 170 rushing yards per game. In the week 15 meeting running back Ryan Matthews gained 127 yards on the ground. The bad news for the Charges is they don’t know what kind of production to expect from Matthews today. He left last weeks game late with an ankle injury. He expects to play but may not be at full power.

The Broncos have a big injury concern of their own. Reliable slot receiver Wes Welker is expected to return after missing time with a concussion. Welker is a big part of the offense. Not just because he scored ten touchdowns in only thirteen games but because he takes heat off of Demaryius Thomas. When teams double Welker, which they do quote often, it opens up the field for Thomas. You can see why Demaryius tied for second in the league with 14 receiving touchdowns.

The game today marks a dark one-year anniversary for Manning and the Broncos. On January 12, 2013 they blew a late game lead to the Ravens and went on to lose in overtime 38-35. It was more heartbreaking than Jimmy Smits death on NYPD Blue (yea, I’m going a ways back on that one). I understand peoples concern with Peyton. In 20 postseason games he owns a 9-11 record. Not the best by any means. However, he has thrown for over 5,600 yards and you’d have to go back to 2006 in Baltimore to find the last time he didn’t thrown a touchdown in a playoff game. Anyone that tells you they wouldn’t take Manning on their team should submit themselves for drug testing immediately. Hey, they can go with Alex Rodriguez and get a 2-for-1 special.

**Extra Credit Answer**
Jim Plunkett, Roger Staubach, Vinny Testaverde and Tim Tebow
Tebow is the only Heisman winner in the past sixteen recipients to win an NFL playoff game.

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