NFL Playoff Preview – Things to Watch for in the Divisional Round
The Super Bowl dreams of eight teams remain alive entering the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Here are three things to watch for in each of this weekend's games:
Saturday, January 11
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 2:35 p.m. (MT) on FOX
• Home Field Advantage - The Saints proved they could win on the road in the playoffs by squeaking past the Eagles in Philadelphia last Saturday. Seattle fans will be even louder - just like they were during the Seahawks' 34-7 blowout win over New Orleans on Dec. 2. Can the Saints cope?
• Revenge or More Beast Mode? - Last time these teams met in the post-season, the then defending Super Bowl champion-Saints were upset 41-36 by a 7-9 Seahawks team in 2011. Marshawn Lynch went 'Beast Mode' for 131 yards in that game. If New Orleans can't contain Lynch, they'll likely be in trouble.
• Pressure on Drew Brees - Seattle held opponents to a passer rating of 63.4 and had a league-high 28 interceptions during the regular season. Defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas get the credit, but the Seahawks' defensive line helps force many of those picked-off passes. If New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees has time, he can move the ball on any defense.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.; 6:15 p.m. (MT) on CBS
• Spotlight On QBs - The quarterbacks are the marquee names in this game. New England's Tom Brady is among the greatest post-season quarterbacks in NFL history, and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck led the miraculous comeback win over Kansas City last week. One will go home with a loss.
• Staying With Hilton - Colts' receiver T.Y Hilton' held his national coming out party during last week's win over the Chiefs by catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two scores, including the game-winner. The Patriots defense often bends; Hilton wants to break it.
• The Running Games - New England's Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount can give their offense an added threat. The same can be said for Indianapolis' Trent Richardson and Donald Brown. The more successful duo could find itself victorious.
Sunday, January 12
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.; 11:05 a.m. (MT) on FOX
• Protect Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times by Carolina in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers on Nov. 10. If he's under that type of pressure from the Carolina defense again, the 49ers will likely be doomed.
• Cam Newton's Nerves - Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton will be starting his first NFL playoff game. Part of a national championship squad at Auburn, Newton has certainly seen bright lights before, but not while an angry Niners' defense is trying to send him to the golf course early.
• Travel Weary Niners - San Francisco will be playing its third straight road game in its third different time zone. Head coach Jim Harbaugh must guard against his team fading in the second half.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 2:40 p.m. (MT) on CBS
• Stopping the Point Machine - Denver averaged 37.9 points per game this season, but San Diego held the Broncos under 30 twice: a 28-20 Denver win in Week 10 and a 27-20 Chargers triumph on Dec. 12. Denver must get its high-powered offense rolling so that momentum doesn't swing to the underdogs.
• Fiery Philip - Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers is his team's unquestioned leader. If he is flustered by the Broncos' pass rush, his temper could be a concern around a team that is still learning how to win games.
• Ghosts of Playoffs Past - It almost seems silly to discuss Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's failures given the numerous NFL records he holds and his Super Bowl ring, but he has lost his last three post-season games. Manning also lost to San Diego in both the 2007 and 2008 post-seasons while with the Colts.