WhatIfSports NFL Divisional predictions: Home teams hold serve

BY foxsports • January 12, 2016

Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine generates predictions and box scores for every NFL game for the coming week. Our highly sophisticated algorithms simulate every play of every game to produce each team's likelihood to win. Each matchup is simulated 501 times.

To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating games on Thursdays through the postseason.

Note: Our predictions use the latest available team and player information, while NFL SimMatchup includes all players that were or will be available at any point during the 2015 season so that theoretical and "what if" scenarios can be simulated.

Kansas City at New England

The Patriots are a perennial powerhouse and a staple in the NFL postseason. Since 2003, New England has missed the playoffs only once (2008). In that infamous season, Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Chiefs in Week 1. The Patriots still went 11-5.

When it comes to the quarterback position, no one has appeared in more playoff games than Tom Brady. He has played in 29 postseason contests and has a 21-8 record (.724) in the process. In fact, in the 12 seasons his Pats have played postseason football, New England has failed to win a playoff game just twice (2009 and 2010).

Kansas City is in the postseason for the 18th time. However, until last week, the Chiefs hadn't won a playoff game since 1993.

Both teams have sustained plenty of injuries. New England will finally get Julian Edelman back into the lineup. The Patriots' No. 1 wide receiver has been out since Week 10 with a broken foot. Yet, he still finished the regular season second on the team in targets, yards and touchdown catches. In his absence, New England went 3-4 to end the year. Before the injury, they were 9-0.

As for Kansas City's main receiver, Jeremy Maclin might miss this game after leaving the Wild Card game on a cart. It was feared that Maclin tore a knee ligament, but an MRI revealed only a high ankle sprain. The Chiefs are 6-1 in games when Maclin scores a touchdown.

Out of all four matchups this weekend, our simulation engine predicted that this game would have the biggest margin of victory. New England won a whopping 70.7 percent of the simulations by an average score of 26-19.

Kansas City at New England
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
Kansas City Chiefs 29.3 19 Box Score
@ New England Patriots 70.7 26 Simulate Game

Green Bay at Arizona

Green Bay's offense finally woke up in the second half of a 35-18 Wild Card win over Washington, but keeping it rolling against the Arizona Cardinals could be a tough task. 

Recent history certainly plays in Arizona's favor. In a Week 16 regular-season matchup between the two teams, the Cardinals cruised to a 38-8 victory at home. Fueled by Carson Palmer and a vaunted passing attack, the Cardinals finished the regular season with the second-best point differential in the NFL. With rookie running back David Johnson adding even more explosiveness as the starter, the Cardinals could light up the scoreboard in this one.

More likely than not, Aaron Rodgers will have to be on his A-game for the Packers to pull off the road upset. The Packers have been relying more on the run game as of late, but the Cardinals sport the sixth-best run D in total yards and allowed less than four yards a carry during the regular season. 

Do the Packers have enough to upset a tough Cardinals team? According to our NFL simulation engine, the Cardinals will advance to the NFC Championship 70.5 percent of the time, winning by an average score of 25-19. 

Green Bay at Arizona
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
Green Bay Packers 29.5 19 Box Score
@ Arizona Cardinals 70.5 25 Simulate Game

Seattle at Carolina

After surviving in the Wild Card round thanks to a 27-yard missed field goal, the Seattle Seahawks will look to continue their miracle run by beating the Carolina Panthers at home. That's something no team was able to accomplish this year, as the Panthers rolled to a 15-1 record and averaged 33 points per game in their eight home wins. 

The Panthers haven't advanced past the Divisional round since 2005, but they're favored to do so against the Seahawks. In a Week 5 meeting between the two teams, the Panthers pulled off a 27-23 win in Seattle.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The Panthers sport the league's best point differential thanks to their dominant rushing attack, but the Seahawks were first in the league against the run this season. Though it was hard to find two better quarterbacks than Russell Wilson and Cam Newton down the stretch of the regular season, this should be a low-scoring, defensive battle. 

So who will come out on top in this marquee matchup? Our NFL simulation engine has the Panthers narrowly edging out the Seahawks 56.1 percent of the time by an average score of 21-19. 

Seattle at Carolina
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
Seattle Seahawks 43.9 19 Box Score
@ Carolina Panthers 56.1 21 Simulate Game

Pittsburgh at Denver

Let's not bury the lede. Last week's game between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals drastically impacted this matchup.

Pittsburgh's offense was a juggernaut between Weeks 9-16. During that time, the Steelers averaged 35 points and were 5-1 in the process, including a win over the Broncos. In Week 17, Pittsburgh lost RB DeAngelo Williams to an ankle injury. Against the Bengals, QB Ben Roethlisberger sprained his right throwing shoulder and WR Antonio Brown suffered a concussion in the final drive.

Roethlisberger is expected to play. Though he missed some time in the Wild Card game, Roethlisberger did return and did enough to put his team in field-goal range, thanks to a couple personal-foul penalties, of course. Brown, however, appears doubtful for the contest.

In the game against Denver in Week 15, the Broncos led 27-10 toward the end of the first half. Then, Pittsburgh rallied to score 24 unanswered points. Brown scored two of those touchdowns.

It's brighter news on the Broncos' sidelines. Peyton Manning was shelved for six weeks while he dealt with plantar fasciitis. In the final week of the regular season, Denver needed to win to secure a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. After five turnovers, Gary Kubiak knew his team needed a spark. He produced one by reinserting Manning into the lineup. Manning would respond by driving his offense down the field as smooth as one of his trips in a Buick.

When the numbers were crunched, Denver was donned the victor. The Broncos won 58.7 percent of the simulations by an average score of 23-21.

Pittsburgh at Denver
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
Pittsburgh Steelers 41.3 21 Box Score
@ Denver Broncos 58.7 23 Simulate Game

For additional content, view our NFL archive or sortable weekly NFL predictions.



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