This week's playoff slate features three rematches from the regular season, including the doozy between the Seahawks and Panthers, who, yes, meet in the Divisional Round for the second straight year. Meanwhile, the one non-2015 rematch is Kansas City at New England -- the real gem of this weekend, if you ask me. It's the first game on the sked and it features the hottest team in pro football vs. the defending Super Bowl champions. Who would've thought the 2015 Chiefs could have jumped from 1-5 to 12-5? Unreal.
Real doubt lingers about whether the Packers played over their heads at Washington or have legitimately snapped out of their aerial funk. Meanwhile, the Steelers will be lucky to produce any aerial works, much less fireworks, given the quarterback situation. All games are previewed below, with a nod toward matchups, injuries and, of course, NFL history. And, of course, feel free to share your take on any of the elimination games this weekend: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Now, let's get to it!
Elliot Harrison went 3-1 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, giving him a record of 154-106 so far this season. How will he fare in the Divisional Round? His picks are below.
The most important aspect of Seahawks- Panthers is Marshawn Lynch's availability. He was a full practice participant on Wednesday, but obviously, as evidenced last week, his status remains uncertain. Let me tell you, if we had a bit more clarity on the bruising RB at publishing, the pick in this one could be different. That said, the fact that Jonathan Stewart appears to be returning to the fold for Carolina is huge -- as discussed in this week's Power Rankings.
Meanwhile, Seattle's offense has been mostly unstoppable -- even with Lynch (and Jimmy Graham) out. That doesn't mean the 'Hawks won't miss Beast Mode; the guy's averaged 91.7 rushing yards over 10 postseason games for Seattle. Please forgive me if Christine Michael doesn't elicit as much confidence. What garners football faith in Carolina -- besides Cam Newton, of course -- is the Panthers' defense over the last 11 home games. They've allowed a scant 16.5 points per game while boasting a plus-13 turnover differential. Throw in the fact that Riverboat Ron's D was tops in takeaways this season, and it gets harder to pick the Seahawks. Carolina advances. #SEAvsCAR
On a different note, Steelers- Broncos has been a sneaky-good playoff series over the decades. The Orange Crush were one of the few teams to derail the Steelers in their domination of the mid-to-late '70s (back in 1977, to be specific). In 1984, Pittsburgh got payback by upsetting Denver in the Divisional Round. The Steelers almost pulled off an upset again in 1989 against a Broncos team that ended up in the Super Bowl. (Tim Worley fumblaya!) How about Elway-to-Sharpe on third down in the 1997 AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers? Or Tebowmania taking down Dick LeBeau's defense in OT on Wild Card Weekend? All of those games were fantastic. In other words, NFL history is cool. #PITvsDEN
The meat and potatoes of this matchup really boils down to the meat-and-potatoes guys: the Patriots' O-line. They have started a different group multiple times, and thus the offense struggled late in the year (especially sans Julian Edelman). How they fare against a now-healthy Chiefs pass rush will determine the outcome of the game. With Edelman back in the fold, Tom Brady should be able to get the ball out quick to mitigate the pressure. Still, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford will be a pressure cooker. (Over/under on cooking analogies in this article was set at eight. Will we get there??? Stay tuned!)
**Fun Fact 1:** New England has more sacks this season than Kansas City.
**Fun Fact 2:** The [Patriots](/teams/newenglandpatriots/profile?team=NE) and [Chiefs](/teams/kansascitychiefs/profile?team=KC) were the top two teams in terms of *not* turning the ball over in 2015. [#KCvsNE](https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/%23KCvsNE) </content:weekly-predictions>
Are we maybe focusing too much on one quarterback in this game? Is Carson Palmer being underestimated, despite his MVP2 campaign? (MVP1 = Cam.) Palmer has been a machine going vertical this season, which is why he has 65 completions of 20-plus yards ( third in the NFL), averages 8.7 yards per attempt (best among qualified QBs) and 10.7 air yards per attempt (the highest figure in the pro circuit). The young Green Bay secondary -- guys like Ladarius Gunter, Damarious Randall and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (all of whom are 23) -- will be challenged vertically quite regularly. What I love about Arizona, and specifically Bruce Arians, is the willingness to throw the deep ball early and often, thus forcing the defense to play the whole field. While I don't foresee a 38-8 shellacking, I like the Cardinals to advance to the second NFC Championship Game in franchise history. #GBvsAZ