Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
After rolling past the Texans last Saturday, the Chiefs will have a much tougher task ahead of them this week as they face the 12-4 Patriots in Foxborough. With Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman expected to play, the Patriots appear much more dangerous than the team that lost four of its last six games. However, the Chiefs match up well because of their propensity to rush the quarterback and rack up sacks (4th in the NFL during the regular season). History shows that the best way to beat the Patriots is to put pressure on Tom Brady and control the clock, two things that Kansas City does very well. Of course, these are also areas that New England excels at and you have to believe that their offense will be good enough to force the Cheifs to score over 20 points to win the game. The Chiefs have a top-ranked defense and have been red hot since mid-October, and for those reasons, I’m predicting that they’ll be able to pull off the upset.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
For much of the last decade, the Packers have dominated on offense and have rarely been out of a game. This season hasn’t been quite the same, but they stepped up in Washington last week to put up 35 points, thanks to Aaron Rodgers playing the best he has in over a month and solid rushing performances from Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The Cardinals are a much better team than the Washington team they beat last week, and we can’t forget the 38-8 pounding that the Packers took from the Cardinals in Week 16. Arizona has among the best combinations of a potent offense and shutdown defense in the entire league. The Cardinals should take care of business at home, and it might not be very close.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks have blowing out their opponents in the second half of the season. With Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham sidelined for a significant part of the season, Russell Wilson has stepped up and played at an MVP-caliber level. Last week, the Vikings gave them a good fight, but Seattle was able to edge them out in a defensive battle. The only player in the NFL that has been as good as Wilson in the last two months is Cam Newton, whom he will face off against tomorrow, in what should be a great matchup of top-tier defenses, superstar quarterbacks and solid rushing teams. Lynch is expected to return for Sunday’s game, which gives Seattle’s offense an added dimension. I’m going to give the edge to the Panthers for their dominant and consistent play the entire season, and because of their proven ability to excel late in the fourth quarter this year, but this one could go either way.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
The outcome of this game depends a lot on how the two quarterbacks play. Ben Roethlisberger injured his shoulder during last week’s game in Cincinnati, but returned to the game to lead his offense down the field on Pittsburgh’s final drive, albeit with a little help from a couple of Bengals defenders. It was revealed after the game that Big Ben could not throw the ball deep on that final drive, resulting in the Steelers calling only shorter passing plays. He will play Sunday, but even if he is at 100%, the team will be without two of their best offensive players in DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown. On the other side, Peyton Manning will be starting for the first time since mid-November. While his return gives Denver much more experience and superb playcalling ability, Manning did not play very well this season, finishing second in the NFL with 17 interceptions despite only playing eight full games and parts of two others. The Broncos are the top seed in the AFC because of their defense, not their offense, and that defense will be tasked with stopping a Steelers team that was tied for fourth in the league during the regular season in points per game. I’m picking the Broncos to win this game because, due to the injuries for Pittsburgh, the Broncos will be able to contain their depleted offense, and Peyton Manning will be able to do enough to outscore the Steelers.