By Christian S. Kohl
With the divisional round of the playoffs this Sunday, fans will see their share of hotly contested battles and heart-stopping games resolved just as time expires. As the NFL realizes its dream of extreme parity, the question is, which team is most likely to pull out a tough win on the road?
San Diego draws the toughest challenge of any road team. The altitude of the Denver stadium, in tandem with the ferocious onslaught of Manning's offense presents a brutally tough obstacle for Rivers and company. Expect Peyton to control this game and win going away late.
Of all the road teams, New Orleans is likely the most talented. Drew Brees can light it up against virtually any defense, and Rob Ryan has revamped the D of the Saints to pressure any rival quarterback. However, Seattle sports the biggest home field advantage of any team in the league. Their deafening twelfth man causes constant disruptions, forcing unwanted time outs and costly delays of game. Look for a hard fought defensive battle here and Seattle to squeak past the high flying Saints offense.
Colin Kaepernick continues to serve as the NFL's greatest enigma quarterback. He shows flashes of brilliance along with prolonged streaks of inconsistency, but the brilliant side tends to surface much more in the postseason than in the early regular season. The 49ers and Panthers both sport punishing defenses that will put heavy amounts of pressure on the young, mobile QB's. A late turnover here will likely make the difference. SF has more than a fighting chance against Cam and the Panthers, but not the best of any road team this week.
That honor goes to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, fresh off their miraculous win against Kansas City. While the Chiefs deserve at least half the credit for Indy's advance, Luck displayed phenomenal poise and zero quit when his team absolutely needed him most. As Baltimore offered last year, the postseason is a small sample and frequently rewards the team that simply gets hot and finds ways to win. A postseason road game against Tom Brady is never a favorable draw, but there is no better time to face him than now.
The Patriots are utterly decimated with injuries, and have been finding ways to win in trademark fashion to find themselves in this spot. That run has an expiration date, however. Missing weapons like Gronkowski on the offensive side of the ball absolutely hurt, but it is their defense that will likely cost them their season this weekend. Nearly all of their key starters are injured and inactive, and against a young, confident quarterback accustomed to lighting up the scoreboard, Indy may well just score too many points for New England to compete. Brady will have to play a flawless game, Ridley and their crew of running backs will have to secure absolutely every possession, and special teams may well have to break a big play for New England to stay with them.
Make yourself comfortable this weekend, and brace yourself for four adrenaline-pumping contests. Any or all of these games could come down to the final possession, especially if Rivers comes out firing. Indy and Luck have the best chance of pulling the upset, but in the playoffs, absolutely anything can happen. Enjoy the games.
Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.
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