After an exciting wild card week that saw two blowouts and two games that came down to the wire, the league enters the NFL Divisional Playoffs with the best eight teams ready to decide the respective division championships on the way to the conference finals.
If the wild cards games are any indication of what to expect in the NFL Divisional Playoffs, football fans are in for a real treat and gamblers are going to be challenged to make their divisional round picks. We have already seen controversy surrounding the referees, record cold temperatures, and a missed “chip-shot” field goal that allowed the Seahawks to advance. With all this in mind, here is the NFL Week 19 predictions for the division championships.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
With all due respect to the Carolina Panthers, the Chiefs are arguably the hottest team in the NFL. As winners of 11 straight, including a Wild Card shutout victory 30-0 over the Houston Texans, the Chiefs are aiming to destroy the NFL record books. After an awful start to the season, no one would have thought they would be in the mix when divisional round picks were being made. In fact, they became the first team in NFL history to start 1-5 and still make the playoffs. While most of the credit goes to a defense that only allowed 17.9 PPG and 316.5 YPG, the offense did manage to score just over 25 PPG despite picking up only 310 YPG of total offense, 8th worst in the league.
After week 11, the Pats stood at 10-0 and looked to be the class of the AFC. Unfortunately, injuries took its toll on the receiving corps and the Pats looked rather pedestrian over its last 6 games, going 2-4. It’s worth noting that over the last three games, future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady only passed for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns, well below his normal performance levels. Without a reliable running game, Brady is going to need to figure out how to avoid KC pass rushers.
Prediction: In the NFL, defense wins games and the Chiefs have one of the best passing defenses in the league. In a close one, Kansas City 20 – New England 17
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Injuries and issues on the offensive line created problems for the Packers all season long. Even after a 6-0 start, there was a feeling something wasn’t right. Statistically, QB Aaron Rodgers had the worse year of his career since he took over the starting job in 2008. In fact, his QB rating of 92.7 put him in the bottom half of the league. Overall, the Packers had the 9th worse offense and the 7th worse passing game. While a 10-6 record is more than respectable, it isn’t representative of the kind of football this team has played over the past 6-7 years.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the NFL was the Cardinals’ offense that led the NFL with just over 393 YPG. Much of the credit goes to veteran QB Carson Palmer who had the best year of his career with 4,671 yards passing and 35 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. His favorite target was a resurrected Larry Fitzgerald who had a career high 109 receptions for 1,215 yards, his first thousand yard receiving season since 2011. Throw in a solid defense that ranked #8 in the NFL and it’s easy to see why they ended the season 13-3.
Prediction: In week 16, the Cardinals destroyed the Packers 38-8. For the best division winner prediction of the day, there isn’t much of a reason to expect a different outcome in this one. Arizona 31 – Green Bay 19
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
In week 6, the Seahawks lost a tough one at home to the Panthers with a final score of 27-23. At the time, the Seahawks were struggling on both sides of the ball. Since then, the team has found it’s best stride to finish the second half of the season 6-2. The Panthers will be lining up against the best defense in the NFL as the Seahawks topped the league in points allowed (17.3 PPG) while finishing second for yards allowed (277 YPG). With QB Russell Wilson maturing into a top-level QB, the team beating up on opponents by season end. It is worth noting that had it not been for a botched 27-yard FG attempt by the Minnesota Vikings in the wild card game, the Seahawks would be watching at home this week.
Who would have thought that the Carolina Panthers would be sitting at 15-1 when the NFL week 19 predictions were being made? Before making this division winner prediction, a prognosticator needs to look closely at the numbers. While the Panthers led the NFL in scoring with 31.3 PPG, they were only 10th in total offense with just over 344 YPG. That points to an opportunistic ball club that made the most of its league high 44 turnovers. MVP candidate QB Cam Newton was simply awesome all year, accounting for 4,473 all-purpose yards and 45 touchdowns passing and rushing. On defense, the team ranked 6th in scoring at 19.3 PPG. It was good enough to keep games close enough for Newton to work his magic.
Prediction: Panthers just might have too many weapons on offense while the Seahawks might have trouble running the ball. Carolina 27 – Seattle 19
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
At press time, QB Ben Roethlisberger’s playing status is up in the air due to an injury sustained in the Steelers’ controversial victory over division foe Cincinnati. With him, the Steelers have arguably the best offense in the NFL. Without him, they have to hope the rushing attack can find a way to get past the best rushing defense in the league. Assuming he suits up, the game rests on his shoulders and that of All-Pro WR Antonio Brown who caught 136 passes, 1,834 yards (both career highs) and 10 TDs.
The Denver Broncos enter the game as the AFC’s top seed at 12-4 despite an injury and sub-par performances from future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. With a QB controversy brewing, it looks like the Broncos are going with experience (Manning) over youth (Osweiler). While the offense continually sputtered all year long (22.2 PPG), it was a stellar defense that kept the team in games. They led the league in rushing defense (76.7 YPG) and total defense (263.3 YPG). If the offense has issues finding ways to score, this game will come down to the defense’s ability to stop the Steelers’ passing game.
Prediction: In a close low-scoring affair, the Steelers look to have a slight advantage should Big Ben be on the field. Pittsburgh 20 – Denver 16