NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round Preview


Dec 29, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back

Marshawn Lynch

(24) runs with the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Philadelphia Eagles being eliminated last week, the NFL has made the decision to continue on with their playoffs. I’m sure some Eagles fans are so upset by last week’s loss that they won’t be able to watch any more football, but for those of you who need your football fix even if the Eagles aren’t involved, here’s a quick rundown of this weekend’s games.

Since football is more fun when you’ve got a rooting interest, I’ve helpfully provided a suggestion as to which team Eagles fans should be rooting for in each game.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

The big storyline with the Saints is that they play better at home than on the road.  Some people will say that last week’s road win disproves that theory, but I’m not sure that’s the case.  Despite the victory, the Saints didn’t look especially sharp, and Drew Brees seemed to have some trouble throwing the ball.  It’s also important to note that the “Saints can’t win on the road” narrative is largely based on how poorly they played in Seattle last month.

The Seahawks currently hold the unofficial title of “Best home field advantage in football.”  I’m not sure exactly why CenturyLink field is such a tough place to play, but considering the Seahawks are 15-1 there the past two seasons, there must be something going on.

The Seahawks are led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.  Can anyone explain how Lynch became so good?  Three years ago, he was considered to be somewhat of a bust after being selected in the first round of the 2007 draft.  And then, in a 2011 playoff game against the Saints, he ripped off perhaps the greatest run in NFL history:

Ever since, he’s been one of the best backs in the league.

Who Eagles Fans Should Root For: Seahawks

This is a tough one. Some people subscribe to the “Cheer for the team that knocked you out, so it looks like you got beaten by the best” philosophy.  I’m not really a believer in that.  You can’t say, “We’re the second best!” if you lose in the first round to the Super Bowl champion. Well, you can, but you sound like a loser when saying it.  Did it really make anyone feel better when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011 after defeating the Eagles in the first round?

Eagles fans should be pulling for the Seahawks in this one. Why? Because while Philly hasn’t exactly been on the top of the sports world lately, Seattle’s really had a bit of rough go of it. Remember how upsetting it was for Phillies fans when Cliff Lee was traded away?  Seattle went through something similar, except much worse because they had an ENTIRE FRANCHISE leave town, and they didn’t get Roy Halladay as a nifty consolation prize.

It wasn’t like when the Hornets or Grizzlies relocated. Sure, there were a few fans who were upset by that, but as a whole, those cities didn’t really give a crap about those teams. The Sonics were popular and had experienced actual success. They only moved because the city didn’t give into the latest d***head owner who all of a sudden decided that he wasn’t getting enough luxury box money from his arena and decided to extort the city.

I realize that it may sound trite to talk about Seattle’s suffering when they’re playing a team from New Orleans, but let’s not be greedy, Saints fans. You got your karmic reward in 2011. Give someone else a shot.

Who Will Win: Seahawks

The Saints took advantage of a surprisingly soft Eagles run defense last week, but I don’t see them repeating that this week.  Asking a poor road team to win one game away is one thing.  Asking them to do it for a second straight week (While making them fly across the country to play at an imposing stadium) is probably too much.

Image Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

The Colts pulled off a miracle comeback against the Chiefs last week.  Usually, such comebacks are fueled by an unworldly performance by a quarterback, but Colts’ QB Andrew Luck wasn’t even that good in the second half.  It seems like the win was mostly due to the Chiefs not doing the simple things necessary to put the game away.

The Patriots won the AFC East as they seem to do every year.  While they should get credit for being so dominant, at some point, don’t we have to discount it a bit because of how inept the other teams in their division are?  The Dolphins have seemingly alternated between crappy and barely average ever since Dan Marino retired; The most prominent Jets headlines from recent years have involved Tim Tebow, foot fetishes, and butt fumbles; And the Bills are doing their best to ensure that most of America forgets that they even exist.

Who Eagles Fans Should Root For: Colts

Andy Reid

. Image Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This is the easiest pick on the board. On one hand, you’ve got the Indianapolis Colts who just pulled off an amazing comeback and made the national media say, “Hey, maybe there was a reason why Eagles fans never seemed that happy with Andy Reid. Maybe this guy has some definite weaknesses as a coach.”

On the other hand, you’ve got the Patriots. Do you really want to see the Patriots succeed? Wouldn’t you be happy if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick never won another playoff game in their lives?  Oh, and in case you forgot, last year at this time, the Patriots employed a tight end who killed people.  This is not a metaphor.  He is literally in jail for murdering someone. (To their credit, the Patriots quickly released him once they found out about it. That’s much better than making him into the face of your franchise. *cough* Ravens *cough*)

Who will win: Colts

Are the Patriots actually any good?  Sure, they won a healthy amount of games, but as pointed out, their division-mates made that considerably easier.  Even if they are good, I’m still not going to pick them to win.

I’m always wary of picking a team coming off an improbable comeback, but this just feels like a game that the Colts win, prompting a slew of “Andrew Luck has arrived earlier than expected!” stories next week.  (Bad news for any Colts fans: Once this happens, that player almost always turns in a stinker of a performance the following game.)

Image Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

Both of these teams are considered “up and coming” teams.  The 49ers shouldn’t really be considered in that manner because they have a well-established, strong defense, and oh yeah – they played in the Super Bowl last year.  Then again, as far as I can tell, the only criteria for being considered an “up and coming” team is to have a promising quarterback who has been in the league for fewer than four seasons.

Of course, the biggest story about this game isn’t which team has the better “up and coming” quarterback.  No, the big story is “Which team is professional wrestler Ric Flair rooting for?”

Who Eagles Fans Should Root For: Panthers

Colin Kaepernick. Image Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

For some reason, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick annoys the heck out of me, but I can’t figure out why.  He has never faced the Eagles, and as far as I can tell, he isn’t a huge a**hole.  Yet every time I see him, I get the urge to punch him in the face.  (Note: This would probably end very poorly for me if it happened.)

I thought that perhaps it’s because I want to see “running” quarterbacks fail. Why? Because I’d like to think there’s some truth behind the “You can’t win a Super Bowl with a running quarterback” myth. If that’s true, then that was the real reason why the Eagles never won the Super Bowl with Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, or Michael Vick, not just because they weren’t good enough. (Or maybe they just failed because they had crappy coaches.)

If this was the case, shouldn’t I also want to see Carolina’s Cam Newton fail?  But I don’t really have any harsh feelings about him.

I’m also pulling for the Panthers because their defensive coordinator is former Eagles coordinator Sean McDermott.  I never thought that highly of McDermott, but looking back on it, he probably did about as well as he could have with limited personnel. It’s telling that after they fired him, despite signing a slew of (overrated) free agents, the defense managed to get much worse.  I’d love to see McDermott’s team make the Super Bowl so we could hear a bunch of “Andy Reid screwed up” stories.

Who Will Win: Panthers

The Panthers have been oddly successful this season despite their top rusher being DeAngelo Williams (Yes, I’m serious) and their top receiver being tight end Greg Olsen.  That must mean that Newton and the Carolina defense are better than we think.  If they’re smart, they’ll force Kaepernick to stay in the pocket and try to beat them with his arm.  He’s had sporadic success when forced to do that this season, and he’s bound to fail in the playoffs at some point because of it.

Image Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

The Chargers beat the Bengals last week, although that’s not really much of a resume builder, considering the Bengals have now lost five straight playoff games and haven’t tasted postseason victory since 1991.  The Chargers task will be much tougher this week when they face the top seeded Broncos and superstar quarterback Peyton Manning.

Then again, it hasn’t been all that tough to beat Manning in the playoffs either.  It’s unfair to call Manning a playoff choker since he has won a Super Bowl, and as Eagles fans should know, that’s REALLY hard to do.  But it’s also tough to say that Manning has been an elite quarterback in the playoffs either.

Who Eagles Fans Should Root For: Broncos

Peyton Manning. Image Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos are the favorites to win the Super Bowl, and if they prevail, at least we can shrug it off and say, “They were clearly the best team, and the Eagles probably wouldn’t have beaten them anyway.”  But if a surprise team like the Chargers manages to win it all, it will make me angry wondering why the Eagles can’t ever be that surprise team.

I also feel I owe it to root for Manning after the way he carried my fantasy team the past two seasons.  I know this doesn’t really affect any of you, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  Sure, Manning apparently has his share of personality flaws, but from what I’ve read, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is even douchier than him.

Who will win: Chargers

Bad news, Eagles fans.  Once again, a random team is going to come out of nowhere and reach the Super Bowl, and it isn’t going to be the Eagles.

I think it’s safe to qualify Rivers as a good, but not great quarterback.  He’s someone who can win you games, but not necessarily the guy who is going to lead his team to a championship.

But sometimes, good quarterbacks such as Rivers will inexplicably become great and begin to play at an elite level for a brief period of time.  If teams are fortuitous, this stretch will correspond with the playoffs.  I think we saw it with Joe Flacco and the Ravens last year, and I think it’s happening with Rivers now, and he’s going to carry the Chargers all the way to a title.  Sigh.

Image Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports