RotoBaller Evan Okulanis brings you NFL Playoff Previews and Daily Fantasy Football Matchup Advice for each of the divisional matchups this weekend. His analysis of the Saints vs. Seahawks matchup can be found here.
NFL Playoffs Divisional Matchup Preview
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
This is going to be a great defensive matchup. These two teams faced off during the season, with Carolina prevailing by a score of 10-9. While we most likely won’t see a score that low, it could be pretty close.
San Francisco is clicking right now. Colin Kaepernick has his favorite weapon back in Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis is healthy and rolling, and Anquan Boldin doesn’t seem to be wearing down. Frank Gore is still finding holes and the offensive line is relatively healthy. The ‘9ers are going to have to be at full strength when they roll into Carolina this weekend, as they face a defense that has flat out dominated this year. With the additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short and the emergence of Greg Hardy and Luke Kuechly, the defense has become one of, if not the most feared in the NFL. Very few teams have had success against them throughout the season, and the 49ers aren’t one of those teams. Frank Gore pounded the rock in their previous outing, but Kaepernick couldn’t get anything going. This time around, he has Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis (Davis missed most of the previous matchup with a concussion), but it’s fair to wonder if that's going to be enough to beat the Panthers. Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine, and will be used to plug up holes and keep Kaepernick from getting any big gains on rollouts. Carolina plays very disciplined football, and that’s something that will give San Francisco a lot of trouble. Kaep must get rid of the ball quickly when he drops back to pass and use Anquan Boldin a lot as he tries to take away the pass rush of the Panthers. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will be breathing down his neck, and even with an elite offensive line, there will be times when Kaep has no time. If Frank Gore is able to find some rushing room again, look for the 49ers to go big with play action passes and see if Vernon Davis can find room in the middle of the field. For DFS leagues, the only sure fire bet this week is Anquan Boldin, although he is only a good pick in a cheaper salary league.
Cam Newton is finally in a playoff game, although the main reason for being here is because of his defense. He still had a good year, but Netwon's challenge this week is that he will likely be without Steve Smith. If Smith does plays, he won’t be at full speed. It could be a crushing blow for the Panthers, as their only legitimate weapon outside of Smith in the passing game is Greg Olsen. The 49ers may be able to take full advantage of this opportunity and really put some pressure on Newton and the offensive line. Cam struggled in their last outing, as he couldn’t find any open receivers or running lanes. With or without Smith, we predict that Newton won’t find much room and may come up short in a game where he really needs to put the team on his back. He’s still a player in development, and he doesn’t have the weapons to really space out the ‘9ers defense. DeAngelo Williams was solid in their previous outing, and he’s also coming off a strong season. We expect Williams to get a few solid gains, but in the long run, he’s unlikely to have a major effect on the game. The 49ers linebackers and interior line will be devoted to stopping the run in this game as the outside backers attempt to keep Newton inside. Even the return of Jonathan Stewart does little to help Carolina out in this game. In the end, we don’t see any players on the Panthers as safe bets for daily fantasy football leagues.
Prediction: In a low scoring game, the 49ers top the Panthers on their home turf 16 - 10.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
We're really excited for this game because Andrew Luck has another opportunity to prove how good he really is. While Luck had his moments in the last game, I think this will be the first matchup that truly tests him, as heads to Foxboro to face one of the, if not the best quarterback of this generation in a big playoff matchup.
Andrew Luck is the heart of this offense, as was Peyton Manning when he was a Colt. While they have similar characteristics, the fact is that Luck is a completely different quarterback than Manning was. While Manning was a coach sitting in the huddle that could take advantage of any defensive weakness, Luck is instead a smart, athletic thrower that can hit his speedy receivers in stride. It’s an awesome sight to see, as Luck is truly a franchise quarterback and has the demeanor of someone that’s been in the league for 10 years. The Colts should find a lot of room against the Patriots in all different aspects. New England was average vs the pass, and horrible vs the run this year. Aqib Talib has been by far their best defensive player when healthy, and he should be used exclusively on T.Y. Hilton. While this bodes poorly for Hilton, the odds are that other Colt receivers will find some open room. Look for Coby Fleener, LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers to all find some holes in the defense en route to a few big plays. The running game, however, has really helped the Colts as of late. Donald Brown has come on this year, motivated in a big way by the presence of Trent Richardson. With Brandon Spikes, the Patriots best run defender, most likely missing this game, the odds are that Donald Brown will see a few big holes. Look for Richardson to even sneak in a few tough yards and maybe a touchdown. Donald Brown is a decent buy in salary leagues, and Andrew Luck is one of the top quarterbacks to own this week.
Brady and the Patriots survived an up and down season, and finished with a first round bye. However, it’s fair to wonder if their offense is truly elite. Brady just came off his worst statistical season since 2006. Granted his offesnsive weapons were injured all year, but he's still without them this critical week. Julian Edelman has really stepped up as of late, but without Rob Gronkowski, its fair to wonder if this Patriots offense can keep up with the Colts. It’s impossible to bet against Brady, however, and Shane Vereen should find some open looks in the passing game against an nonathletic defense, while Julian Edelman is likely to shred the middle as well as the outside of a secondary that is completely banged out. Greg Toler is officially on injured reserve and Vontae Davis is hobbled. Even Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson could show up to play today, although both are not likely to have a substantial impact. The running game has been suspect all year, and now is lead by castaway LeGarrette Blount. While Blount has run well, he has his issues of being slow and fumbling on occasion. Steven Ridley is impossible to trust, and Shane Vereen is used primarily as a receiver. The offense may have to be one dimensional this week in order to win. Bill Belichick is one of the best game planners in the NFL, and he will find a way to take advantage of the Colts mediocre defense.
Prediction: Each of these offenses are upper echelon, while their defenses rank in the middle. Look for a lot of points and a game that may come down to the last drive. New England over Indianapolis 33 - 27
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
This is the 3rd time that these teams have faced this year, and if the previous matchups are any indication, it’s going to be a battle.
Philip Rivers and his bolo tie reemerged this year after falling into the abyss in 2012. The passing game is back as the likes of Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead have come on big time, while Ryan Mathews has single-handedly become one of the most dominant runners in the NFL over the last few weeks. Rivers and company should be able to take full advantage of a Denver defense that is decimated by injuries. Denver's three best players, Derek Wolfe, Rahim Moore and Von Miller, will all miss this crucial matchup for Denver. Champ Bailey is also a shell of his former self as he struggles through a foot injury. This bodes well for Rivers and the Chargers, as the Broncos have been a well below average defense with their 3 stars out. Keenan Allen should dominate in this game as he goes up against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Bailey. While Rodgers-Cromartie has improved this year, he still struggles from time to time. Allen is coming off an explosive rookie year and has all the tools to continue that run in the postseason. Philip Rivers won’t face much of a pass rush, and should have plenty of time to hit some of his speedy receivers in Eddie Royal and Ladarius Green deep downfield. Danny Woodhead should even find some room to make some plays. The big question for this team is, however, if Ryan Mathews will play or not. He hasn’t practiced yet this week and his ankle clearly bothered him against the Bengals. It would be a huge blow for the Chargers as Mathews has been dominant during the second half of the season. While Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown have been solid in backup roles, neither is going to have the same impact that Mathews will. Even if Mathews plays, he won’t be at full strength and may not receive a lot of work. Rivers and Allen are both great plays in daily leagues, but you have to sit out Mathews unfortunately.
There is one word to describe Denver’s offense: dominant. While Peyton Manning has struggled at times in the playoffs, it’s still impossible to bet against him. The Chargers failed to stop Manning the first time these teams squared off, but they did keep him from taking over the game in the second half by managing the clock and stopping him from seeing the field. Without a dominant Ryan Mathews, we can’t see that happening this time. The Chargers have been abysmal against the pass this year, coming in 29th vs the vertical attack. Manning should take full advantage of a weak secondary, and use the NFL's top receiving corps in Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker to his great advantage. All four players are strong bets in daily fantasy football leagues, and should be started, especially Demaryius Thomas. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball will have a tough going against a decent run stopping unit, but Denver will find a way to use both of them, as Ball has really come on as of late.
Prediction: San Diego held up well against Denver the last two games, but in the game that matters, Denver will take advantage of a Ryan Mathews-less Chargers team. Denver over San Diego 35 - 24