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NFL Playoff rankings: Cam Newton makes first postseason start

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The divisional round of the NFL playoffs will begin on Saturday afternoon. On Friday, three home teams were listed as a touchdown or more favorite, while Carolina was picked to lose by one point. Cam Newton is the only quarterback not to take a snap in the postseason, so every play will be a new experience on Sunday. Last week, three road teams won in more than dramatic fashion. On the surface, that should mean the home teams have a strong chance of advancing. However, each home team might be running into trouble once the ball is kicked.

Three of the four games are rematches from the regular season. The number one seed in the AFC, Denver, split with the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West. The Chargers beat the Broncos by seven on a Thursday night in Denver.

The New England Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts in a game that could be the passing of the torch. The first time Andrew Luck faced off with Tom Brady, things did not go well. That game was over a year ago and both teams will be relying on a whole new cast of characters when they play in the postseason.

The Seattle Seahawks dominated the New Orleans Saints on a Monday night in the beginning of December. The Seahawks were coming off a bye in that game and the Saints couldn’t get going offensively. Well, there’s bad news for the Saints. Seattle is coming off of another bye week.
The Carolina Panthers are the only home underdog in this playoff round. San Francisco and Carolina played a classic “three yards and a cloud of dust” game back in November. The Panthers earned the one point victory on the road. Carolina has only lost one game since the first week of October. Sunday’s game is shaping up to be another brawl won by the men in the trenches.

Here are the playoff rankings entering the divisional round.

1. Denver Broncos: It’s now or never for the Denver Broncos to reach the Super Bowl. After last season’s collapse, it’s only right for Denver to feel the pressure of advancing. Wes Welker is healthy and Peyton Manning still has a chip on his shoulder. Will the defense be able to slowdown the Chargers’ offensive attack? Next game vs San Diego.

2. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have lost two of their last four games. One of those losses came at home. For Seattle to get to the conference championship, they need to score points on the offensive end. If they remain stagnant, it could be a long miserable day in the Pacific Northwest. Next game vs New Orleans.

3. San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco might be the best team in the NFL. Unfortunately, they have to take the show on the road for the second consecutive week. Colin Kaepernick survived the cold in Green Bay, now they are facing a rugged defense. San Francisco is a road favorite this weekend. Next game vs Carolina.

4. New England Patriots: New England finished the season with 12 wins. Two of those wins were against playoff teams and they both came at home. The Patriots have a lot of new pieces for the postseason run. It will be interesting to see how they react on Saturday. Tom Brady must keep his head throughout the game. Next game vs Indianapolis.

5. San Diego Chargers: It feels like San Diego is playing with house money. They were a kick away from missing the playoffs and now they already have one road win under their belt. The Chargers are sure to bring a stout running game and tough defense to Denver on Sunday. Next game vs Denver.

6. Carolina Panthers: Imagine Cam Newton and the Panthers in the conference championship game this season. They started off (1-3) and finished as the hottest team in the league. Still, they are the underdog in a home game. The availability of Steve Smith will be huge. The defense will have their hands full with Colin Kaepernick. Next game vs San Francisco.

7. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were almost booed off of their home turf. Then a miraculous comeback helped the Andrew Luck legend grow. It’s imperative for Indianapolis to keep the game close on Saturday. Let’s see how the Colts’ running game competes early in the game. Next game vs New England.

8. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees has a chance to win another road playoff game. New Orleans has to play well from the beginning, or there will be a repeat of the Monday night game. The Saints have to keep the Seattle defensive line off balanced and out of the backfield. Next game vs Seattle.

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