With a Wildcard Weekend behind us, the NFL really starts to get interesting in the divisional round.
The four winners from last weekend, who all proved themselves well worthy of playoff football, go up against the best teams from the regular season, in four match-ups which are almost impossible to pick and almost never turn out as expected.
After a 4/4 Wildcard Weekend from Zero US Sports, we will again do our best to pick four coin toss matches to see who will advance to the Conference Championship games.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots – Sunday, 17th January, 8:35 AM
The Kansas City Chiefs were arguably the most impressive team last weekend, shutting out the hapless Houston Texans in their own building 30-0. On form, if there’s a team that none of the bye teams wanted, it’s Kansas City.
Unfortunately for Kansas however, they draw the New England Patriots in the next round. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have done it all before – four Super Bowls, six AFC championships and a litany of individual awards between them make them just about the most relevantly feared duos in all of American sports. With New England’s health issues getting better, and Kansas still without arguably their best player – running back Jamaal Charles – coming into Foxborough and beating the Patriots is just too tough an ask, even for a team that’s won 10 games in a row. The Chiefs are no doubt an impressive outfit, but are they this good? Not just yet.
Tip: New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals – Sunday, 17th January, 12:15 PM
Like a ticking time bomb, everyone knew The Green Bay Packers were going to look like themselves again sooner or later, and they started to again last weekend, taking down the Washington Redskins at home 35-18. After a nervy opening to the match, Aaron Rodgers reminded viewers why he won the MVP last year, piling on 35 points to 7 in the second half. The beating they took at the hands of Arizona 38-8 just a few weeks ago is now just a distant memory.
However, facing one of the best teams in the league is a far cry from facing Washington in Washington. Arizona earned their week off – they are a legitimate Super Bowl threat, and have been all season. There’s no ignoring that this is easily Zona’s toughest test yet – beating a seasoned Green Bay side with a lot more playoffs experience than themselves. But they will need to beat better teams than this if they want to prove to the league how good they really are.
Tip: Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers – Monday, 18th January, 5:05 AM
The Seattle Seahawks have had a dubious season – at times they have looked average, at other times brilliant, and last week they should’ve been beaten. Basically saying, they’re lucky to be here. Nevertheless, no team reaches this point without having greatness within them – this team has appeared in the past two Super Bowls – but as they say, to be the beast, you have to beat the best, and that has not been truer for Seattle than this weekend.
If anything, they’ve gotten Carolina at a good time – the one time this season when they’re on a “losing streak”. But still, that says it all about this fixture. The Panthers have been exactly what The Seahawks haven’t this season – consistent. No matter how many Super Bowls you have or haven’t been to, consistency is the winner nine times out of 10. They may very well make life tough on Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers, but I don’t think they can come up trumps.
Tip: Carolina Panthers
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos – Monday, 18th January, 8:40 AM
The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow came up on top of Cincinnati last week, and it may have come at a cost – their two best players, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, are both uncertain for this matchup. If they don’t play, Pittsburgh are little chance. But if they do, the script becomes a lot more uncertain.
The Denver Broncos have changed a lot the past few seasons – far from the offensive juggernaut they once were, their identity is now defence. However, that defence was breached a few weeks ago, when the Steelers won in Pittsburgh 34-27. Playing at Mile High is no doubt a different story, but 34 remains the most points Denver have leaked all season. Having Peyton Manning back for the playoffs over Brock Osweiler could be invaluable – but The Sheriff has not looked like himself all year. In what could be the game of the round, I’m backing a fully fit Steelers outfit to travel to Colorado and perhaps put an end to Peyton Manning’s career.
Tip: Pittsburgh Steelers