NFC Divisional Round Playoff Preview

Unless you are really into the Masters, Wimbledon or Daytona, the weekend of the divisional round playoffs in the NFL is probably near the top of the list of best sports weekends of the year. Eight good teams, four of which will move on for the right to play in the Super Bowl, four of which will be heading to the golf course after the final whistle blows.

Fans from New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco and North Carolina all have reasons to watch the matchups in the NFC and, for everyone else, there’s always gambling. Even if you don’t have someone locally, there’s this little town out west in Nevada that will sometimes take a wager or two in addition to the thing you’re using to read this right now — the Internet — if you feel like betting. If you do, here are a couple things to consider about the games in the NFC.

 

New Orleans Saints (+7.5) at Seattle Seahawks

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks

CenturyLink Field, 4:35 p.m. ET, Fox

The case for the Saints: The Saints shouldn’t look at the game tape of their whipping at the hands of the Seahawks earlier this season and should instead review the film of when the Arizona Cardinals arrived in Seattle and handed Russell Wilson and the ‘Hawks their first home loss in two years. Wilson is good but he does have a tendency to turn the ball over at times and the Saints defense can be opportunistic (at the very least). Drew Brees and the offense should be fine so if the Saints can slow Wilson down, they’ll have a fighting chance.

The case for the Seahawks: For those that watched the Seahawks destroy the Saints on Monday Night Football at the beginning of December, this line probably doesn’t seem large enough. Seattle dominated New Orleans in every phase of the game and held Drew Brees to only seven points while putting up 34 against him. With the advantage of having a home field crowd that is probably going to be more jacked-up than usual just a game removed from the Cardinals loss, the Seahawks seem to have an advantage everywhere except maybe quarterback – and even that is up for debate.

The smart play: There’s no arguing that 7.5 points is a pretty large spread in the NFL, especially for a playoff game, but the Seahawks covered that number three times over the last time the two squads played. That game was only about a month ago and not all that much has changed for either team except Percy Harvin has had more time to get healthy for the Seahawks. They were good enough to squeak by a shaky Eagles squad, but look for the Saints to go marching out of Seattle with a double-digit defeat.

 

San Francisco 49ers (-1) at Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers

Bank of America Stadium, 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox

The case for the 49ers: Steve Smith is banged-up, Carolina QB Cam Newton has never played in an NFL playoff game and the weather is supposed to be manageable, meaning that San Francisco’s veteran squad should come in confident and competent after a gutsy road win in Green Bay. If the version of quarterback Colin Kaepernick that showed up in Green Bay is on the field in Charlotte, the 49ers should roll the Cats.

The case for the Panthers: San Francisco’s biggest asset –Kaepernick – could also be the team’s Achilles heel. When the Panthers won in San Fran earlier this year, Kaepernick was awful as he gained only 16 yards on the ground and 91 yards through the air (a career low in passing yards). The third-year QB failed to throw a touchdown but he did toss a pick and get sacked six times. The Panthers probably won’t put up a lot of points, but if they can hold Kap back, they won’t have to score that much in order to win at home.

The smart play: The 49ers have the advantage on offense, have a more proven coaching staff and have been here before, but for some reason there seems to be something a little off with this team. Off-field issues, mental lapses and up-and-down QB play have plagued San Francisco and the second round of the playoffs seems like a prime opportunity for all those issues to bubble to the surface. Carolina is at home and Newtown hasn’t been here before, but the Panthers seem like they should win this one – the points are a bonus.

Evan Bleier is a freelance writer based out of wherever he can plug in his laptop. You can send him questions, comments and Buffalo wing suggestions @itishowitis or "like" CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

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