NFL divisional playoffs previews: Going from eight to a final four
The NFL playoffs are sawed in half this weekend with the Seahawks, Broncos, Panthers and Pats hold home field advantage. Three of four games are rematches from the regular season.
More playoffs: Bracket | Wild-card lessons | WC Weekend Observations
The divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, to me, is the best weekend in sports -- eight teams to get to four.
But it will be tough to top what we saw this past weekend in the three of the four wild-card games.
To get a jump on what to expect, here's a quick look at each of the four games this weekend.
NFC: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks , 4:35 p.m. Saturday (Fox)
The skinny: The last time the Saints went into Seattle in early December, the Seahawks blew them out 34-7. The Saints didn't even compete. But they went on the road and beat the Eagles last Saturday night, which shows they can win on the road, to earn another shot. The Seahawks earned the top seed in the NFC, and lost only once at home. The Cardinals beat them in Week 16 in Seattle.
Interesting stat from first game: The Saints won with running back Marshawn Lynch rushing for only 45 yards and 2.8 per rush. They won because Russell Wilson threw for 310 yards and three touchdown passes.
Key matchup: Saints left tackle Terron Armstead vs. Seahawks pass rushers -- Armstead wasn't starting the last time they met, but he has the past three weeks. He did a heck of a job against Trent Cole last week. Seattle will come at him in waves on passing downs.
Saints player on the spot: Running back Mark Ingram . Yes, Ingram. Why? The Saints showed last week that he could help take the pressure off Drew Brees with the running game. They have to run it some to keep the Seattle pass rush from teeing off on Brees.
Seahawks player on the spot: Cornerback Richard Sherman . He talks a big game, but against a passing attack like the Saints he has to back it up. He did in the first game.
Saints assistant who should be concerned: It's offensive line coach Bret Ingalls. He has to keep Brees clean, which won't be easy because of all the different looks the Seahawks throw at an offense in pressure situations.
Seahawks assistant who should be concerned: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. This will be his first playoff game as a coordinator. And he gets Brees? That's tough.
AFC: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots , 8:15 p.m. Saturday (CBS)
The Skinny: The Colts come into this one off their impressive 45-44 come-from-behind victory against the Chiefs. They were down 28 points and rallied behind Andrew Luck . The Patriots are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and were resting last week. These two didn't play in the regular season.
Key Matchup: Patriots tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon vs. Robert Mathis -- Mathis is the key to the Colts defense, especially against good passing teams. He has to be able to get pressure on Tom Brady .
Colts player on the spot: It has to be Luck. He lost his only road playoff game as a rookie last season, but now knows what playoff winning feels like. Is he on a roll with what he did against the Chiefs?
Patriots player on the spot: Defensive end Chandler Jones . He had 11 1/2 sacks during the regular season. He has to be able to pressure Luck.
Colts assistant who should be concerned: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. His team is coming off a lot of points when they went up-tempo. Now what does he do against Bill Belichick and all his schemes?
Patriots assistant who should be concerned: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has a defense that was 26th in the league in third-down defense and now has to face a hot Luck.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers , 1:05 p.m. Sunday (Fox)
The Skinny: The 49ers earned their way here with a tough 23-20 victory at Green Bay on Sunday. The 49ers won behind the passing and running of Colin Kaepernick and tough defense. The Panthers earned the week off as the No. 2 seed. They went to San Francisco earlier this year and beat the 49ers 10-9 in a game dominated by their defense.
Interesting stat from first game: Kaepernick was limited to 107 total yards, 91 passing and 16 rushing.
Key Matchup: It's Panthers defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson vs. 49ers tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis . Hardy and Johnson had 2 1/2 sacks the last time they played.
49ers player on the spot: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree . He didn't play in the first meeting and he's coming off a 100-yard receiving day against the Packers. He is key to the passing attack.
Panthers player on the spot: Quarterback Cam Newton . He's had a nice season, but this is playoff time. Can he take it to the next level in the postseason?
49ers assistant who should be concerned: 49ers O-line coach Mike Solari has one of the best units in the league. But his guys face a tough challenge this week in that Carolina front.
Panthers assistant who should be concerned: Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula has done some good things with Newton. But what does he have in store for his first playoff game?
AFC: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos , 4:40 p.m. Sunday (CBS)
The Skinny: The Chargers earned their way to face the Broncos for the third time by going to Cincinnati and upsetting the Bengals. They did a great job on defense against the Bengals, getting four turnovers. They also ran the ball on offense. The last time these two teams met, the Chargers won 27-20 on Decl 12. The Broncos won at San Diego early in the season. The Broncos earned the bye by being the top seed in the AFC with Peyton Manning putting up record passing numbers.
Interesting stat from last meeting: The Broncos ran for 18 yards on 11 carries when San Diego beat them in early December. Knowshon Moreno averaged 2.4 yards per carry.
Key Matchup: I will go with the Chargers pass rushers vs. the Broncos tackles. It's up to Melvin Ingram and Co. to get pressure on Peyton Manning. Can Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin keep him clean?
Chargers player on the spot: Safety Eric Weddle . He is the guy who lines up the secondary and can blitz and cover. He will be key against Manning and his receivers.
Broncos player on the spot: Manning has had an unreal season throwing it, but we know he is defined by what happens in the playoffs.
Chargers assistant who should be concerned: Secondary coach Ron Milus has an inexperienced group for the most part, and now has to face that passing game again? He did work on the Broncos staff last season, so he knows what's coming.
Broncos assistant who should be concerned: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Where does he get the pass rush without Von Miller ?
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