Top Ten Things to Watch For in the NFL Divisional Round
What Should I Be Looking For During This Weekend's NFL Games?
2014 NFL Postseason
I’ve heard it said that the NFL playoffs’ divisional round offers the best match-ups in all of sports. Many years, I’m inclined to agree. This year, we’re definitely in for a wild ride this weekend. A team unbeaten at home meets a team unbeaten on the road for the first time in postseason history. Peyton Manning will once again take on the team from the midwest that he meant so much to for so many years. Yup, it’s gonna be a good time. Today, we’ll take a look at the top ten things to watch for while you’re couchgating this Saturday and Sunday.
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1. When the Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years during their 1990s dynasty, they had an incredible running back in Emmitt Smith. This season, they’ve got another dynamic back in DeMarco Murray, who recently broke Smith’s single season rushing record. Keep an eye on Murray against the Green Bay Packers' D on Sunday afternoon.
2. While the Cowboys have certainly improved defensively since last year’s sad stats, but there’s still a whole lot of room to fix things. When Week 17 came to a close, they were 26th in the league in passing defense and 28th in sacks. Those numbers won’t work well against Aaron Rodgers and his receiving weapons.
3. When the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos met in Week 1, Broncos TE Julius Thomas had an absolute field day. Thomas scored 3 touchdowns and had 104 yards. If the Colts even want to have a shot at Mile High on Sunday, they’ve got to contain Thomas more than they did last time.
4. The Colts offensive line has been injury laden all season long. You know things are bad when you’re legitimately worked-up about losing A.Q. Shipley. Indy’s ragtag line will have to do battle against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware this weekend, which may be too tough a task for them. And you know how hard it is for me to admit that.
5. Gillette Stadium is not a fun place for opposing teams to play, especially during the playoffs. A lot of teams get intimidated when they find out they’ll be facing the Pats at home and it leads to problems. The Baltimore Ravens, though, are not that team. They’ve had recent postseason success at Gillette and that confidence may give them a little bit of an edge compared to other clubs.
6. The Ravens haven’t had to deal with New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski in their past two postseason appearances in Foxboro. This year, though, they won’t escape the Pro Bowler. It’s been next to impossible for teams to figure out how to contain Gronk this season, so the Baltimore better have something good up its sleeve in order to pull out a W.
7. The Seattle Seahawks have lost 7 games in the past two seasons. Know who they haven’t lost to? The Carolina Panthers. The ‘Hawks have, in fact, overcome two second-half deficits to beat the Panthers recently, in the 2013 season opener and in Week 8 of 2014. Carolina has got to play better against Seattle in the final 30 minutes of the game if they want to have hope of winning.
8. Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin has had an excellent season and had 4 receptions for 94 yards against the Seahawks earlier this year. Benjamin is one of Cam Newton’s favorite weapons, so if the Legion of Boom can figure out how to mess with his head, they might be able to sway the momentum of the game.
9. The ‘Boys and the Pack haven’t met in the postseson since 1967’s famous Ice Bowl (Dallas fans can actually purchase brand new Ice Bowl shirts from their local team shops right now). While the weather isn’t expected to approach the same -13 temperature, it will be cold. It’s Green Bay in January, after all. This could be rough on a Dallas team that is used to fair weather and an indoor field.
10. In case you’ve missed SportsCenter all week long, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera's home burned early Monday morning. While Rivera and his family all escaped unscathed, it’s still a terrible thing to have to deal with, particularly before a playoff contest. The stress could impact Rivera’s game prep and play calling, so just keep an eye out during Saturday’s match-up.