Danny O’Neil’s NFL postseason picks: The divisional round
Road woes? More like road warriors.
All four road teams won in last week’s wild-card round, the first time that has happened in the NFL playoffs. That means four teams have a chance to become the fourth team since 1990 to win the Super Bowl after winning three road games in the conference playoffs.
Who’ll still have a shot after this weekend’s divisional round? Here’s a look at what will be:
Pittsburgh at Denver
The fact that the biggest question about quarterback health in this game isn’t about Peyton Manning tells you everything you need to know. If Ben Roethlisberger were healthy, watching Pittsburgh’s passing attack go against this Denver defense would really be something. But Roethlisberger isn’t healthy. His shoulder is all wonky after suffering an AC-joint separation in the second half last week in Cincinnati, and unless Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones don Denver uniforms and start handing Pittsburgh field position in 15-yard increments, the Steelers aren’t going to have enough horsepower in Denver.
Pick: Broncos 23, Steelers 16
Kansas City at New England
The Chiefs got their first playoff victory since Joe Montana was quarterback last week, and it’s tough to decide which is harder to believe: That Montana played quarterback in Kansas City or that the Chiefs went more than 20 years without winning a playoff game. The Chiefs are missing receiver Jeremy Maclin, but they haven’t lost since Week 6 and now play a New England team that is beat up from quarterback Tom Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowksi, whose knee required an injection this week. The Patriots lost their final two regular-season games. More concerning, they scored 30 or more points only once in the second half of the season after hitting that mark in six of the first eight games of the year. And as good as Bill Belichick is at game planning, how he’s going to counteract the pass rush of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston with that Patriots offensive line is a scenario more suited for Mission: Impossible than an NFL game.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Patriots 20
Seattle at Carolina
Two of Cam Newton’s four worst single-game passing totals have come against the Seahawks. He is 1-4 against Seattle, including the playoffs, and up until the fourth quarter of the Week 6 meeting this season, he had been singularly stymied by Seattle’s defense. Yet all he did in that fourth quarter was complete 12 of 15 passes for 162 yards while leading two scoring drives of 80 yards, and his 26-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen keyed Carolina’s comeback. Was that a turning point against Seattle’s defense or was that the case of Newton finding the holes in a defense that was missing Bobby Wagner that game and still playing Cary Williams? Seattle’s defense has allowed one touchdown over its last six road games, including the playoffs.
Pick: Seattle 20, Carolina 13
Green Bay at Arizona
No player has more on the line this weekend than Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer given that the next playoff game he wins will be his first. He’s like the NFL equivalent of the “best golfer never to win a major.” Only it’s not just a major he has failed to win, but any pro tournament. The Cardinals blasted the Packers 38-8 and that was just three weeks ago, and while the Packers found their offensive rhythm in the second half at Washington, is that enough to carry them to a road win against the No. 2 seed especially when you consider Green Bay receiver Davante Adams isn’t expected to play?
Pick: Cardinals 27, Packers 23