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NFL Divisional Playoff Picks and Predictions

NFL Divisional Playoff predictions, including box scores and stats

WhatIfSports.com
UPDATE: January 9, 2014

Throughout the NFL playoffs, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.

The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.

To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games on Thursdays throughout the 2013-14 NFL playoffs.

Check out our 2013 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week.

Gridiron Dynasty - College Football Game

AFC Divisional: Colts at Patriots

The most revered non-divisional rivalry of the past decade will be renewed this weekend in Foxborough. Admittedly, the departure of a certain 6'5” signal caller may damper the buildup to this clash of conference titans. On the other hand, Indy's new man under center ain't too shabby himself, and dismissing the virtue of this matchup strictly on one's absence disparages the rest of the characters in this must-watch spectacle. With a new twist on a celebrated conflict, the Patriots welcome the Colts in the AFC Divisional Round.

Andrew Luck had quite the shoes to fill for the Horseshoes, playing in the shadow of the franchise savior. The former No. 1 overall pick is constructing a legacy of his own, already hurdling an obstacle that took his predecessor six years to accomplish: winning a playoff game. And in what fashion: 443 passing yards, another 45 yards on the ground and four trips to pay dirt against a Chiefs defense that held opponents to fewer than 20 points per game in the regular season. The fact that Luck led the charge without the services of bull's-eye Reggie Wayne or a competent backfield further enhances his aura. After a strong first-half showing, the Colts defense has been extremely vulnerable in the winter months, and Trent Richardson's no-show is reminiscent of the Monstars pilfering talent from NBAers. Despite these flaws, Luck's residence at the helm gives the Colts a fighting chance.

Of course, the presence of T.Y. Hilton certainly assists in this undertaking. Viewed as the de facto primary target for Luck in Wayne's vacancy, Hilton scuffled in this enterprise, failing to insert the consistency that the role demands. Yet on the season's biggest stage, Hilton answered, and answered with vigor in 13 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns. Although New England is susceptible on the ground, Indianapolis will likely attack from the sky, putting the onus on Hilton to display such prowess again this week.

Speaking of air assaults, Tom Brady's passing figures have seen a precipitous drop from the past, but in no way does that indicate decline from the 36-year-old arm. If anything, quite the contrary, as in many ways this was perhaps Brady's finest campaign. Working with a depleted, neophyte receiving crew and a set of turnover-prone running backs, the two-time MVP still guided his offense to the third-best scoring average in the league, posting 27.8 points per outing. This scoreboard outbreak was especially important given the rash of injuries suffered by the Patriots defense.

Alas, it's this defensive damage that puts this Patriots squad under question. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will be on the sidelines Saturday, and the New England resistance has not fared well without its playmakers, ranking 30th against the run and 26th in total defense. This dubious shield was bestowed a generous slate down the home stretch, taking on feeble clubs in Houston, Cleveland, Miami, Baltimore and Buffalo in December, and the week off for this maligned bunch was needed. Unfortunately, with all remaining opponents flaunting some semblance of proficiency on offense, the Patriots defense will need to rise to the challenge to facilitate a February trip to New York.

So which team will survive this Boston battle? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Patriots make it out alive 56.6 percent of the time by an average margin of 24-21.

AFC Divisional: Colts at Patriots
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Indianapolis Colts43.421Boxscore
@ New England Patriots56.624Simulate Game

AFC Divisional: Chargers at Broncos

One demon will be expelled on Sunday. One will wreak havoc for another offseason. The playoff phantoms of Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning vie for a Mile High deposition in the AFC Divisional Round.

Perhaps Rivers is excused from such condemnation. Granted, the side-arm signal caller has historically shriveled in January, at least compared to his distinguished production during the fall. However, unlike past journeys where the Lightning Bolts entered the postseason as favorites, this iteration of the Chargers comes draped as the underdog beneath the AFC's No. 6 seed. Moreover, Rivers' efficiency against a stout Bengals defense is one of the chief reasons why San Diego punched its ticket to Denver. (Although some would argue Andy Dalton might have been the Chargers' MVP last weekend.) In the midst of a career rejuvenation, a loss on Sunday won't belittle the feats by the 32-year-old this season.

The same cannot be said of Rivers' quarterback cohort. Instead of celebrating his record-breaking campaign in 2013, critics are accenting detractions like “9-11 playoff record,” “can't win in cold weather” and “Rex Grossman” toward the revered Manning this week. In truth, Manning hasn't been as bad as believed at this juncture of the calendar; in that same breath, if a “Peyton Manning Greatest Hits” hour-long DVD was released, approximately three minutes would be dedicated to playoff exploits (with 150 seconds of said duration showcasing the 2006 AFC Championship). Individual statistics don't hold the same gravitas in football as other sports, providing further merit to Manning's cynics. With a weakened Patriots team serving as the only (perceived) viable opponent in the Broncos' path to the Super Bowl, the pressure for Manning to avoid another winter shortcoming is paramount.

Not to say these field generals will be alone in their endeavors. Dormant since the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson, the San Diego backfield has proven to be a dynamic complement to the aerial game. This sentiment was evident in the team's victory in Cincinnati, where the trio of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown combined for 183 rushing yards and two scores and accounted for half of Rivers' targets in the receiving game. Coupled with the emergence of rookie wideout Keenan Allen and a reinvigorated defense that's allowed just 16.3 points per contest over the last six games, the Chargers possess a formidability usually unseen by a No. 6 seed.

The Broncos' complementary parts are well-known, with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas profiting from the exposure of Manning's regular-season conquests. Furthermore, Knowshon Moreno, the once-believed bust of the Denver backfield, finally fulfilled his first-round promise with nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 13 total scores. Conversely, the Broncos are far from infallible, with the resistance looking like an Achilles' heel. The defense finished the year ranked in the bottom third in points allowed, and were especially vulnerable against air raids (254.4 passing yards per outing, 27th in the NFL). Worse, the unit is without All-Pro Von Miller for the rest of the season, and the esteemed Champ Bailey is a shell of his former shutdown self. Concededly, these vices have been negated by the offense's fireworks this season; nevertheless, if the Broncos plan on venturing to the Meadowlands this February, a defensive stand will be called upon at some interval. A proposition, based on 16 weeks of testimony, that Denver's D may be unable to answer.

So who comes out on top between these AFC West rivals? According to the WhatifSports.com football simulation engine, the Broncos emerge victorious 69.7 percent of the time by an average margin of 30-23.

AFC Divisional: Chargers at Broncos
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
San Diego Chargers30.323Boxscore
@ Denver Broncos69.730Simulate Game

Gridiron Dynasty - College Football Game

NFC Divisional: Saints at Seahawks

After listening to national pundits bash Drew Brees and his inability to play on the road and in the cold, the ending couldn't have been sweeter last Saturday night.

With the game on the line, the Saints got the ball with 4:54 left in the fourth quarter, trailing by one. Instead of being pressured by time restraints, Brees was able to drain every second off of the clock and provide Shayne Graham solid field position to boot a chip-shot 32-yard game-winning field goal.

The next challenge for Brees is the dreaded Seattle Seahawks … at home.

In 2010, Seattle won the NFC West and became the first 7-9 team to make the playoffs. The Saints finished the season 11-5 and were forced to travel to the home of the 12th-man.

In a one-possession game, it was told by local scribes that Marshawn Lynch was handed the ball and caused an earthquake with each broken tackle en route to a 67-yard touchdown run.

The allure of home field advantage grew larger when Seattle hosted the Saints this season. Brees threw for a season-low 147 yards and lost 34-7.

Russell Wilson has reached the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. However, the top-seed comes with a bull's eye.

In Week 13, Wilson threw 30 passes and racked up 310 passing yards with three touchdowns in the defeat of New Orleans. Don't expect the passing game to be as successful this week.

Seattle and New Orleans finished the season one and two in passing yards allowed per game (172 yards for the Seahawks and 194 yards for the Saints).

Seattle won 13 games for the second time in franchise history. In 2005, the Seahawks went 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl.

Back then, Shaun Alexander led the charge by winning MVP honors. While Lynch won't find his name on any MVP ballots, his 1,257 rushing yards and 14 total TDs were an essential part of his team's season.

New Orleans ranked 19th in rushing, allowing 111.6 yards per game and 11 TDs. Seattle finished the year seventh against the rush. The squad allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league (four).

The Saints aren't known for their running game, but with Pierre Thomas questionable the responsibility falls on Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Thomas accounted for 37 percent of the ground attack this season.

It's the pressure of becoming one dimensional that tilts the scales in favor of Seattle. Our computer simulation projects that the Seahawks will win 64.7 percent of the time by an average score of 25-20.

NFC Divisional: Saints at Seahawks
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
New Orleans Saints35.320Boxscore
@ Seattle Seahawks64.725Simulate Game

NFC Divisional: 49ers at Panthers

Colin Kaepernick's postseason narrative is very similar from a season ago. Last year, CK7 beat Green Bay in the playoffs, then went on to defeat the NFC South champs (Atlanta) on the road. After knocking the Pack out of the playoffs again, the 49ers head Charlotte to tackle the 2013 NFC South champion Carolina Panthers.

Fellow third-year quarterback, Cam Newton, is playing in his first NFL postseason game. The Panthers' 10-9 win over the 49ers in early November held considerable weight because Newton was 6-13 (31.6 percent) in games decided by one score. If you remove the Panthers' 21-point win against the Buccaneers, the team's average margin of victory in the five wins that followed the win over San Francisco was 4.6 points.

A common thread between the four remaining teams in the NFC is the rank amongst passing defenses. The Seahawks, Saints, Panthers and Niners are tops against the pass in the NFC. Not to be overshadowed, Carolina and San Francisco are also listed among the NFC's top three rushing defenses.

For the Panthers, Luke Kuechly led the team in tackles (156) and interceptions (four). NaVorro Bowman was San Francisco's leading tackler with 145. Both teams rely on the strength of the linebackers, who have the ability to spy on opposing quarterbacks.

Last week, Kaepernick ran for 98 yards on seven attempts. During their meeting in the regular season, Kuechly and Thomas Davis spied on CK7 and held the QB to 16 rushing yards. Though Newton is only averaging 36.6 rushing yards per game, he ran for 72 yards on 12 attempts in his last outing. When Bowman and Patrick Willis kept tabs on Newton, he rushed for 15 yards on eight carries.

Expect another close finish in the divisional round of the playoffs this weekend. San Francisco is projected to win 57.0 percent of the time by an average score of 19-17.

NFC Divisional: 49ers at Panthers
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
San Francisco 49ers57.019Boxscore
@ Carolina Panthers43.017Simulate Game

Please note: The Colts-Patriots, Saints-Seahawks and 49ers-Panthers games were resimulated on 1/9 to account for injuries and roster updates.

Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

Adam Meyer is a Contributor for WhatIfSports.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FOXSportsMeyer.

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