And then there were eight. The NFL playoffs continue with the Divisional round this weekend to determine which teams will meet in the conference championship games. The bye teams that sat out last week get their first playoff action, while the Wild Card winners try to keep the good times rolling. SB Nation's panel of NFL experts is here to predict how things will go down.
The first game of the weekend pits the home-team New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City is riding high, ending the regular season on a 10-game winning streak and stomping the Houston Texans, 30-0, on the road. However, it had an injury scare last week when wide receiver Jeremy Maclin went down. He avoided ACL damage, but has a high-ankle sprain and is questionable to play this week.
The Patriots are getting healthy at just the right time. Julian Edelman is coming back from a foot injury, which will surely be a boost to a team that ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak. Our experts favor New England by a slight 5-3 margin.
The Saturday evening game is a rematch of the Week 16 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. Arizona dismantled Green Bay, 38-8, in that game, sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times and returning two fumbles for touchdowns. The Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17 to lose the NFC North, but they found their pulse against Washington in the Wild Card round. The Cardinals' regular season ended on a sour note with a 36-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at home, but they're still one of the most dangerous teams left in the playoffs. They are a unanimous pick by our panel.
The Seahawks were granted a miracle last week, surviving a 10-9 nail-biter against the Minnesota Vikings in sub-zero temperatures thanks to a shanked 27-yard field goal attempt. Now they travel to the much nicer North Carolina climate to take on the 15-1 Carolina Panthers in another regular season rematch. These teams last met in Week 6 when Cam Newton engineered a comeback drive to earn a 27-23 win in Seattle. The Panthers are expected to get Jonathan Stewart back this week, while Marshawn Lynch's status remains a giant shruggie emoticon for Seattle. Carolina gets has a slight 5-3 edge to win among our experts.
The Divisional round closes out with yet another regular season rematch when the Denver Broncos go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers edged the Cincinnati Bengals in one of the most bizarre playoff games of recent memory, but the team has been decimated by injuries. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams are all question marks to play this week. All of those would be gutting losses to one of the most explosive offenses in football this season.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is starting for the Broncos after replacing Brock Osweiler in Week 17. Does he have some late-career magic left in him, or will he be the same turnover machine we saw earlier in the season? Either way, Pittsburgh's injuries may too much for it to overcome. PFT Commenter is the only one picking the Steelers here.
Here are the complete picks for the Divisional round.
|Divisional||Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||Matt Ufford||PFT Commenter||OddsShark|
|KC vs NE||NE||KC||KC||NE||NE||NE||NE||KC|
|GB vs ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ||ARZ|
|SEA vs CAR||SEA||CAR||SEA||CAR||SEA||CAR||CAR||CAR|
|PIT vs DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||PIT||DEN|
And here are the complete results for the season.
|Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||Matt Ufford||PFT Commenter||OddsShark|