We say it every year, and every year, it gets more true: The playoffs are crazy.
After the Kansas City Chiefs blew the hinges off the Houston Texans, all hell broke loose on NFL Wild Card Weekend. The Cincinnati Bengals did Cincinnati Bengals things, the name “Blair Walsh” will bring more dread to the good people of Minnesota than “Blair Witch” for decades to come, and Vontaze Burfict forever will be viewed in Pittsburgh as a cross between Satan and Hitler.
It was an eventful couple days, to say the least.
Once again, NESN.com’s panel of experts will pick this week’s slate of games against the spread. As always, all odds provided courtesy of OddsShark.
Here’s how our panel fared last week:
Mike Cole: 3-1. Bursts off the blocks but had too much confidence in Seattle.
Ricky Doyle: 2-2. A .500 start’s not bad, considering where he stood after Week 17.
Michaela Vernava: 2-2. Wants you to know she was 4-0 straight-up. So there’s that.
Ben Watanabe: 1-3. Our regular-season champ limps out of the playoff gate.
SATURDAY, JAN. 16
Kansas City Chiefs at (-5) New England Patriots, 4:35 p.m. ET
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
Ricky: Chiefs. Kansas City’s days of bullying weaker opponents are over. That said, the Chiefs don’t turn the ball over and they get after the quarterback, which is a productive recipe for hanging tough against any team, even the Patriots. Julian Edelman’s return could be season-altering, but there’s still too much uncertainty surrounding New England to feel good about a five-point cushion.
Ben: Chiefs. Kansas City won’t force five turnovers by Tom Brady the way it did Brian Hoyer, but this pass rush is trouble for the Patriots’ decimated offensive line.
Mike: Chiefs. I see this playing out a lot like the Patriots’ divisional-round game against the Ravens last season. The Chiefs match up well with New England, at least defensively, and they should be able to keep it close, even if Brady finds a way to pull one out late.
Michaela: Chiefs. This is going to be a dogfight. Julian Edelman’s return is huge for New England but not enough for a five-point spread when Kansas City’s defense is hammering the Patriots’ patchwork offensive line.
Green Bay Packers at (-7) Arizona Cardinals, 8:15 p.m.
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Ricky: Packers. Carson Palmer has been awesome. He’s an MVP candidate, for sure. But let’s not forget the 36-year-old quarterback has never won a playoff game. This isn’t a gimme, by any means, especially with Green Bay’s defense playing well and the Packers’ offense finally figuring out some things last week against the Redskins.
Ben: Packers. It sure would be cool if Mike McCarthy would give Eddie Lacy more than a dozen or so carries, considering Lacy averaged 5.3 yards per carry against the Redskins and was one of the few Packers to have success against Arizona in Week 16, picking up 60 yards on 12 totes in a 38-8 drubbing.
Mike: Packers. The Packers need another big effort from the defense in order to keep this game close early. If they can do that, the Packers should lean on the run game, which should neutralize the Cardinals’ pass rush. Arizona had one of the NFL’s best rush defenses, but it did allow an average of 150 yards in their three losses.
Michaela: Cardinals. McCarthy might have found his solution at left tackle in JC Tretter, but that won’t be enough to prevent a repeat of Week 16. Even down two defensive starters, the Cardinals should give the Packers’ offensive line some serious troubles. Moreover, Arizona’s offense is just too and consistent while the Green Bay defense has been a mess.
SUNDAY, JAN. 17
Seattle Seahawks at (-2.5) Carolina Panthers, 1:05 p.m.
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Ricky: Panthers. Greg Olsen torched the Seahawks earlier this season — posting seven catches for 131 yards and one touchdown — so the Panthers again could look to exploit that matchup advantage. Home field also figures to be key here, as the Panthers are riding a league-best 11-game win streak in their backyard.
Ben: Seahawks. I think the Seahawks are winning the Super Bowl, so that would necessitate them not losing by at least three points here, correct?
Mike: Seahawks. The Seahawks’ game plan should revolve around two things: not letting Cam Newton run wild and keeping Olsen quiet. It will be a tall task, but it feels like the Seattle defense is starting to hit its stride again.
Michaela: Panthers. Panthers-Seahawks is a great rivalry in the making, and this game probably will go down to the wire. In the end, Carolina will get its revenge for last year’s divisional round. Seattle can’t lean on The 12th Man or pulled fire alarms this time.
Pittsburgh Steelers at (-6.5) Denver Broncos, 4:40 p.m.
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Ricky: Broncos. Ben Roethlisberger might not be able to throw. Literally. That’s an issue for a team that relies so heavily on its passing attack, especially against Denver’s top-ranked pass defense.
Ben: Steelers. Big Ben’s condition is unclear and his favorite target still could be seeing stars, but games get tighter as the playoffs march on. Obviously, Pittsburgh will have trouble scoring, but is Denver’s Peyton Manning-led offense sharp enough to win this by a touchdown?
Mike: Broncos. Peyton Manning, Schmeyton Schmanning. This game will come down to what the Broncos’ defense is able to do against a beat-up Steelers offense, especially if Antonio Brown is unable to go. Denver used the bye week to get healthy, especially on defense, which will make the difference.
Michaela: Broncos. With Roethlisberger’s shoulder in shambles and Brown concussed, I have to go with Denver by default. The Broncos’ defense is too good for a pummeled Steelers offense.
Thumbnail photo via Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Images