The divisional round wasn’t exactly as exciting as the wild card round, but we saw the best teams advance to their respective championship games, something we don’t actually see too often. The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning host the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, as the two quarterbacks square off in a classic battle. The San Francisco 49ers head to Seattle to try to beat the Seahawks at home in what has become the best rivalry in football. What’s on the line? Just a trip to the Super Bowl.
1. New England Patriots: The Patriots won a playoff game by more than 20 points and Brady threw zero touchdown passes. What? The New England running game has rejuvenated the injury-plagued Patriots and makes them extremely dangerous. LeGarrette Blount piled up 166 yards and four touchdowns, running very hard against the Colts. But what really helps Blount and the offense as a whole is the different running backs. Stevan Ridley’s speed and Shane Vereen’s pass-catching ability makes them so hard to prepare for as a unit. I expect the Patriots’ defense to give more of a challenge to Denver than San Diego did, and I’ll take Brady over Manning any day in the playoffs.
2. Denver Broncos: Unlike last year, the Broncos didn’t choke away a lead and were able to knock off the rival Chargers. The Denver defense was extremely impressive, controlling the San Diego running game and sacking Phillip Rivers four times. Without Von Miller, many expected the defense to be a weak point, but it was a strength for Denver on Sunday. They’ll face a whole new animal in Brady and the Patriots’ high-powered offense that suddenly seems as balanced as ever. The Broncos will need another inspiring performance from their defense, but they’ll also need to be more aggressive with Manning. He’s got Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Julius Thomas, and yet Manning didn’t seem as dominant and prolific as he has all season. Maybe Brady brings out the best in him.
3. San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco was outplayed by Carolina in the first half, which makes it all the more impressive that they could shutout the Panthers after the half. That shows how good of a head coach Jim Harbaugh is by making adjustments. Colin Kaepernick continued to succeed, using Anquan Boldin as his weapon of choice. But the biggest difference from this meeting to the last time these two team’s met was the battle in the trenches. Carolina sacked Kaepernick six times earlier this year. On Sunday, they only got to him once. I expect the 49ers to carry their momentum into Seattle and advance to the Super Bowl. Because right now, they look like the better team.
4. Seattle Seahawks: Why are the Seahawks at the bottom of the power rankings all of the sudden? Because I truly believe that they’re the worst team remaining. In a game where New Orleans had questionable play-calling and bad mistakes, the Seahawks couldn’t separate themselves from the Saints. Russell Wilson completed only 9 passes for 103 yards and honestly, he has been severely less impressive than every other quarterback left. Wilson is good, but he’s not elite, and it’s still up in the air if he will be. But Wilson gets a ton of help from the strong running of Marshawn Lynch and, of course, the 12th man. Seattle’s home-field advantage is big, but a disciplined team like the Niners can handle it. The Seahawks have a tough defense and rushing attack, but they can’t throw the ball the way the other three teams can.