2016 NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round
I wanted to begin the playoffs with predictions for the Wild Card round, but time became a factor and the last game of the weekend has just wrapped up. And in all honesty, the Kansas City Chiefs saved me from going winless as they were the only team I picked to win that actually did. But now that the first round of games are over, I will look toward next weekend and make my picks for the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers snuck into the playoffs after the NY Jets could not win there last game. But the Steelers are not your normal sixth seed. They have an explosive offense with a defense that can make a difference. Sure, it’s not the old Steel Curtain defense that helped cement the franchise’s legacy, but they are capable of controlling a game and shutting down an opponent. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Denver Broncos were making the playoffs no matter what but earned their number one seed in the last weekend of the regular season as well. They have been a great team all year and, just like Pittsburgh, have a great defense. The biggest question for the top-seeded Broncos will be their quarterback. Peyton Manning missed a few games due to injury and Brock Osweiler did good in his place. But Manning is back and the question is if he is healthy enough to get the Broncos on to the next round.
If everything was even, I would pick the Steelers in an upset. But Ben Roethlisberger was injured in their Wild Card win over the Bengals and, if he plays, he will probably be extremely limited. If he does not play, I do not believe Landry Jones can get the job done against the Broncos. Their only hope is that the combination of Brown, Bryant, and Wheaton can make enough happen to help whatever quarterback plays. But I just can not see that happening, especially without their starting running backs.
WINNER: Denver Broncos
The Patriots seemed like the favorites in the AFC for most of the season but slipped up and lost some ground to the Broncos, finishing in the second seed. But New England is still a dangerous team and could be even more dangerous if they were healthy. Brady and Gronkowski should be fine for next weekend but their success may hinge on the availability of Julian Edelman. If he is healthy, everyone else should watch out. If he can not play, any other team in the playoffs has a chance.
And the Kansas City Chiefs will have the first chance. They will be confident coming off of a 30-0 beat down of the Houston Texans in their playoff game and will hope to continue their success. The Chiefs used an efficient running and short passing game to put up points while their defense consistently took the ball away from the Texans and kept their offense off of the field. And I will pick the Chiefs to be able to hold off the Patriots and continue on to the Divisional round, setting up an AFC West rivalry game in the conference championship.
WINNER: Kansas City Chiefs
Much like the Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks are a very deceptive sixth seed. The Seahawks started the season off very slow and then exploded offensively to make their way into the postseason. Wilson and the rest of the offense seemed to gel after the loss of their big offseason acquisition Jimmy Graham. Doug Baldwin has turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL today. Rookie Tyler Lockett has progressed into more than just a punt and kick returner. And what can be said about their defense that has not already been said. They are, as usual, one of the best in football.
But the Seahawks will have to face the NFC’s top-seeded Carolina Panthers. The Panthers may be one of the biggest surprises of the season with how they played. Many, including myself, thought they would not have any chance after losing WR Kelvin Benjamin before the season began. But Cam Newton has proved why he is an elite quarterback in the NFL by leading his team to the top. And he did it with a great TE in Greg Olsen and a group of receivers that would never have scared any defense before. Hell, Newton helped Ted Ginn, Jr. have an outstanding year! But, even with their success and a great defense, my instinct tells me to pick Seattle. The Seahawks have been here before and know exactly what they need to do. And I believe they will get it done.
WINNER: Seattle Seahawks
The Green Bay Packers just beat the Washington Redskins to advance to next weekend. They looked shaky for the first quarter but controlled most of the last three to easily advance. And if Rodgers and company play like that again next weekend, we could be in for one hell of a game. These teams have had a great playoff game not that long ago and could easily do the same this year.
The Arizona Cardinals had a great 2014 season even with an injury to QB Carson Palmer. But his absence was felt more in the postseason and the season was over sooner than they hoped for. He returned this season looking better than ever and helped the Cardinals win the NFC West and earn the second seed in the conference. And this year, coach Bruce Arians expects to have a longer postseason run. The offense, led by Palmer and a great group of wide receivers, should be able to score at will on an average Green Bay defense. The emergence of RB David Johnson should also help to balance the Cardinals attack. And Arizona has a great defense as well and will hope that despite missing DB Tyrann Mathieu, they can keep Aaron Rodgers contained and advance, which I believe they will do.
WINNER: Arizona Cardinals
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.