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Close contests should continue in Divisional Round

By: LANCE REED
Sports Editor

After an amazingly wild weekend of wild card games, the NFL Playoffs move on to the next round. The Divisional Round will now allow the top two seeds from each conference to get involved. That means a whole lot of different scenarios will happen, and some rematches to go with it.
All of the action begins Saturday in the game that all of Louisiana will be watching. The sixth seed, the New Orleans Saints (12-4) will make the trip back to Seattle to do battle on FOX at 3:25 p.m. This is a chance for the Saints to get revenge at the highest level against the Seahawks (13-3). Seattle practically owned the Saints with a 34-7 rout five weeks ago.
The Saints have the ultimate chance at revenge as they could end the NFC’s top seed’s dream of reaching the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played in New York in early February. New Orleans Head Coach Sean Peyton has been doing whatever it takes to get the Saints going. This week, he painted a pair of Seahawk logos on the practice field in Metaire. He said his goal was to simulate the game environment as best as possible. Peyton learned his tactics from one of the best ever, Bill Parcells.
This time around, the humbled Saints know it’s going to take a whole new game plan to unseat the 7.5 point favorite. The Saints will focus on stopping Russell Wilson and the passing game, instead of just stopping running back Marshawn Lynch.
Realistically, I sincerely think the Saints are up against a steep wall in this game. Both mentally and physically, the Saints were dominated in the first meeting. Even for professionals, that is hard to overcome. However, the Saints have overcome obstacles that would have destroyed most teams.
I look for the Saints to try and come out with a big series of punches. Either with big pass plays or trick plays, the Saints will try and put the Seahawks against the ropes early, as did the Cardinals three weeks ago when they handed the Seahawks their first loss at home in two seasons.
On the flip side, I expect the Seahawks to rebound and make a comeback. Seattle’s defense may be just a bit too good in the end for the Saints to win this game with an offensive onslaught.
Rob Ryan will have to earn his paycheck. It will take the best defensive performance of the year from the Saints. They will need to force turnovers and limit the home team. The Saints D-unit will surely have to play outside and above their ability.
The weather could also play a factor in this game. Temps are expected to be in the mid to upper 40’s and there is a chance of rain. Weather has always been a great neutralizer.
At the end of the day, I hope I am wrong with this, but ... SEAHAWKS 28-27.
The late game on Saturday features two of the AFC’s best quarterbacks. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) head to New England to meet legendary quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots (12-4). With a kickoff of 7:15 p.m. on CBS, the weather is expected to be near 50 degrees with a slight chance of precipitation. However, don’t expect the weather to be a major factor.
The Colts had to battle back and got lucky to beat the Kansas City Chiefs last week. If they come out slow and turn the ball over in this game, they won’t last very long.
On the other side, expect Brady and company to keep the football for long periods of time and keep Luck on the sidelines. With a ton of undrafted free agents and rookies, the Pats have become used to winning by all means necessary. In their final significant game of the year, the Patriots destroyed the one team that always had their number in the past, the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots will surely take Ty Hilton out of the game and force Luck to do something different. If Indy has no answers early, this one could get ugly.
PATRIOTS... 35-7
The gridiron action starts Sunday at 12:05 p.m. on FOX. One of the best defensive units in the NFL heads to Carolina to meet an equally strong defensive unit. The San Francisco 49ers escaped the horrid environment of Green Bay last week with a three-point win. This week, it may not be so easy.
The 49ers were not overly impressive in their win against the Packers. Offensively, they made plays here and there, but did not dominate. Colin Kaepernick, the team’s best runner, did not carry the ball enough. Had he done that, it would have put the Packers out of the game early. He will have to run the ball more this week if the 49ers expect to take the win, despite being a two-point favorite.
The Panthers have not been dominant on offense at all this year. However, they did out score the 49ers 10-9 when they met earlier this year in San Francisco. This game could easily go down in the same fashion.
The Panthers have been playing great on defense lately and I expect Cam Newton to be the difference maker in this game. I expect the Panthers to run the ball and run it often, bringing up the defensive backs and allowing Steve Smith and the Carolina receiving core to get open. This will allow Carolina to not only take the win, but hold and keep the momentum. PANTHERS .... 17-10.
The late contest on Sumday features two teams from the same league. The San Diego Chargers (9-7) are heading on the road again to meet the AFC number seed, the Denver Broncos (13-3). The Broncos and Peyton Manning split with the Chargers in league play. San Diego lost to Denver 28-20 in San Diego, but turned around and won 27-20 in Denver in week 15.
Just how did the Chargers pull off the win? They kept the ball away from Manning by putting together long drives that consumed more than seven minutes and resulted in touchdowns. Pretty much the same tactic they used against the Cincinnati Bengals. Steven Rivers was more than impressive with his guidance in the upset.
Manning will not overlook the Chargers and he is a man on a mission. Manning and the Broncos came up short last year against the Ravens. Look for them to use that as motivation as they begin their quest to get to Super Bowl 48.
While people talk of a possible upset in this game, I just can’t see it. I by no means will be shocked if the Chargers win, but I think Denver will be ready this time. The Denver defense is the variable. If they play, the home team wins. If they allow the San Diego offensive line to move them around and nickle and dime them on offense, it’ll be an interesting upset. I find it hard to predict, but I will go with Manning.
Kickoff is set for 3:40 p.m. on CBS, and despite being a 10-point favorite .... BRONCOS 21-17
I stick with my Super Bowl Prediction. I think at the end, it will be the Seahawks and the Patriots in New York. However, this has been a season where any team can beat any team on a given day. No team has a definite shot.

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