LOS ANGELES, January 11, 2014 — The 2013-2014 NFL Wildcard games are in the history books.
The matchups for the Divisional Playoffs are set (all times EST).
Saturday, January 11:
NFC: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, 4:30 p.m. on Fox
How we got here: The 11-5 Saints as the lowest wildcard will have only road games. The 13-3 Seahawks won the NFC West and home field throughout the playoffs. The Saints finally won a playoff game on the road, and in cold weather, against Philadelphia. Seattle had a bye week.
Prediction: The Saints are a very good football team, but Seattle is not Philadelphia. This game would be very different in the Superdome, where the Saints were 8-0 this year. A few weeks earlier, Seattle thrashed New Orleans 34-7 in Seattle. The Seahawks may have a tougher time the second time around, but they are the better team at home and will win again.
Sean Payton has the offensive wizardry, but Richard Sherman and the rest of the Legion of Boom will bring the defensive hammer down.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots, 8:00 p.m. on CBS
How we got here: The 11-5 Colts won the pathetic AFC South and then shocked Kansas City at home by rebounding from a 28-point third quarter deficit to win a 45-44 thriller. The Patriots, at 12-4, won the slightly less pathetic AFC East and had the first round bye.
Prediction: This is no longer the matchup that fans salivated over. The rivalry died when a certain quarterback went to Denver. This is the reality check game that restores NFL order. The Patriots have lost home playoff games, but the teams that beat them in recent years had physical defenses. The Colts have an offense with young playmakers in Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton. The experience rests with Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick, who right now is devising schemes Luck has never heard of. The Colts won in the dome.
The frozen Northeast will be far less hospitable. Brady is licking his chops at facing a defense that gave up 44 points in the wildcard round. If and when the Patriots take a multi-score lead, there will be no further comebacks.
Sunday, January 12:
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m. on Fox
How we got here:
Both teams are 12-4 in tough divisions. For the 49ers, that meant one game out in the NFC West and a wildcard. They went on the road and slugged it out with Green Bay, winning on the final play. For the Panthers, winning the NFC South gave them a first round bye last week. These teams are mirror images of each other, with nasty defenses and quarterbacks who can do more than manage the game but often just need to avoid mistakes. Midway through the season these teams played an old-time street fight won by the Panthers 10-9 in San Francisco.
Wild Card Weekend preview: Chargers-Bengals The Panthers have the home field and the 49ers have the experience. It is imperative for the Panthers to have Steve Smith and his swagger in the game. This should be another bare fisted slobber knocker. The Panthers are young, but they are ready. In a squeaker that could go either way, Carolina has the slightest of edges at home having already beaten the 49ers on the road.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos, 4:30 p.m. on CBS
How we got here: While the 9-7 Chargers lucked their way into the playoffs as the last wildcard, they went into Cincinnati in the cold and stomped on the Bengals. The warm-weather Southern California boys also went into Denver a few weeks ago and shocked the Broncos. The 13-3 Broncos won the tough AFC West and with home field throughout the playoffs had the bye week last week.
Prediction: Philip Rivers is paying well, but this is where fantasyland ends. Peyton Manning has lost playoff games before at home, including to San Diego in 2007. This is not your father’s Peyton Manning. The Broncos are the far superior team, and Manning is playing like a demon possessed. Lightning will not strike twice, and the Chargers are out of fluke miracles.