WhatIfSports 2014 NFL Divisional Predictions

Throughout the playoffs, WhatIfSports.com’s NFL simulation engine will provide predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including each team’s chance of winning, average score and comprehensive box score.

The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team’s roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team’s game simulation.

To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games when necessary.

Check out our 2014 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week and find Locks and Upsets of the Week.

AFC Divisional: Ravens at Patriots

When the No. 1 seed hosts the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, home field advantage and one week of rest should tip the scales in favor of the top seed. However, that is not the case this week when the Ravens travel to New England.

Baltimore has now won five straight playoff games dating back to January of 2012. John Harbaugh recently said that Joe Flacco is the "best quarterback in football." While the stats don’t support Harbaugh’s statement, Flacco’s postseason resume speaks for itself.

Flacco is 10-4 in the postseason, with a 2-1 record against the Patriots in the playoffs. Sure, Tom Brady is 18-8 beyond the regular season, but he’s only 4-5 since Flacco joined the league.

Flacco and his success can be attributed to his ability to avoid costly turnovers. In the five straight postseason victories, Flacco has not thrown an interception. In his 10 playoff wins, Flacco has only thrown one pick on his resume. Just the same, in Flacco’s four playoff losses, he has thrown a pick in each game (seven total interceptions).

As for Brady, though his Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2005, they have won at least one playoff game in three straight appearances. Since 2009, the Patriots are 4-0 when they score at least 23 points. When they don’t, New England is 0-5.

Both teams are in the top ten in one phase of the offense. New England is ninth in the league in passing (257.6 yards per game), while Baltimore is eighth in rushing (126.2 ypg). Both teams rank in the top ten when it comes to stopping the run. The Ravens are fourth (88.3 ypg) and the Patriots are ninth (104.3 ypg).

Since both teams are weaker against the pass, wide receivers should eat well. For New England, it begins and ends with Rob Gronkowski. He led the Patriots in receiving yards (1,124) and touchdowns (12). Bill Belichick even gave Gronk Week 17 off to prevent any fluke injuries from occurring. In 2014, Brady targeted Gronkowski in the double-digits seven times – that occurred four times in the last five games. Gronk has also scored in three straight starts.

Flacco’s TD-machine has been Torrey Smith. In the last three games, T. Smith has scored four TDs. So, he would likely earn the coverage of Darrelle Revis. That means more targets for Steve Smith Sr. In his last three starts, S. Smith has been targeted 31 times. Don’t let S. Smith’s age fool you. Though he’s 35 years old, Smith caught 79 balls and scored six TDs, the most since 2011.

Will it be the Ravens or Patriots playing in the AFC Championship? According to the WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Patriots advance to the next round 64.4 percent of the time by an average margin of 24-20.

AFC Divisional: Ravens at Patriots
Matchup Win% Avg Score WIS Interactive
Baltimore Ravens 35.6 20 Boxscore
New England Patriots 64.4 24 Simulate Game

NFC Divisional: Panthers at Seahawks

Dating back to late-November, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has strung together a six-game stretch of positive production not seen since the 2010 season. Fighting back from a variety of injuries the past few years, J-Stew has averaged more than 110 total yards per game with three touchdowns over the past six Panthers games.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Cam Newton averaged less than 30 rushing yards per contest. Over his past five games (missed one week after car accident), Newton has averaged 56.2 with three rushing touchdowns.

During a seven-game stretch where they went 0-6-1 (tie vs. Bengals), the Panthers’ once-dominant defense yielded more than 30 points per game. Yuck. However, during their current five-game winning streak, the defense has flipped the script allowing only 11.8 points per game.

The formula to Seattle’s success is once again run over/around you on offense and lean on the "Legion of Boom" to lock you down on defense. The Seahawks’ current six-game win streak includes the LOB holding opponents to 6.5-points-per game. WHAT?!

The Seahawks at Panthers regular season contest was ugly with both teams committing two turnovers and converting only six of 21 third downs combined. It took a Russell Wilson to Luke Willson touchdown pass with less than a minute to go in the game for the Seahawks to eke out the road win in Carolina. It was Willson’s only reception of the game and only his seventh reception of the season.

So who advances to the NFC Championship? According to the WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Seahawks are victorious 74.3 percent of the time, winning by an average margin of 26-18.

NFC Divisional: Panthers at Seahawks
Matchup Win% Avg Score WIS Interactive
Carolina Panthers 25.7 18 Boxscore
Seattle Seahawks 74.3 26 Simulate Game

NFC Divisional: Cowboys at Packers

While Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff matchup between the Cowboys and Packers won’t be considered "Ice Bowl II" with temperatures reaching a toasty 19 degrees, WhatIfSports.com’s NFL simulation engine does allow users to replay the original 1967 Ice Bowl complete with negative 20 degree windy conditions!

The 2014 Packers’ 1-2 start to the season seems like a distant memory. Aaron Rodgers told us all to R-E-L-A-X, Hans, Franz and Olivia Munn whipped him into shape and BOOM, Green Bay rattled off an 11-2 record to finish the season.

Rodgers, with the assistance of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, helped lead the Pack to the eighth-best passing offense in the league at 266 yards per contest. After what some considered a slow start to the season compared to his impressive rookie campaign, Eddie Lacy finished with a strong kick averaging 106 rushing yards per game with six total touchdowns in his final six games of the regular season.

The Pack’s Achilles’ heel is against the rush where they allow nearly 120 yards per game. So, depending on the health of DeMarco Murray, who continues to produce despite a busted arm, the Cowboys’ ground and pound will once again take center stage.

Over his past five games, Tony Romo has averaged 256 pass yards with 14 touchdowns and only one interception. His offensive line has rightfully earned the kudos as Romo has remained upright most of the time.

As is the case most often, turnovers will play a pivotal role not only within the actual game, but within the simulation results as the Packers own an NFL-best +14 turnover margin – they take care of the pigskin and force their opponents to cough it up. Not great news for the Cowboys who ranked 20th in the NFL in turnovers with 25 (14 fumbles – 29th in NFL) during the regular season.

So which team wins in Green Bay? According to the WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine, the Packers come out on top 55.8 percent of the time by an average margin of 26-24.

NFC Divisional: Cowboys at Packers
Matchup Win% Avg Score WIS Interactive
Dallas Cowboys 44.2 24 Boxscore
Green Bay Packers 55.8 26 Simulate Game

AFC Divisional: Colts at Broncos

One team has a future Hall of Fame quarterback and the No. 1 passing offense in the league, and the other team has Peyton Manning.

Andrew Luck has been in the NFL for three years and each season his team has reached the playoffs. In his rookie campaign, the Colts lost in Baltimore. Last year, Indianapolis trailed by 28 at home to Kansas City, but then rallied to victory. The next week, Luck’s horseshoe rusted as they fell to the Patriots on the road. This year, Indy defeated Cincinnati at home and now must travel to Denver.

If the Broncos want to not only make it back to the Super Bowl, but avenge their blowout loss, defense is the key. In the four playoff games Denver has played with Manning as their quarterback, they are 0-2 when the opposing team scores more than 20 points and 2-0 when they don’t.

In the regular season, Denver’s defense is ninth against the pass (225.4 yards per game) and second against the run (79.8 ypg).

As mentioned above, the Colts had the best passing offense in the league in 2014 (305.9 ypg). However, in the last two road games of the regular season, Luck threw for an average of 134.5 ypg. He also threw six total interceptions in the last five regular season games.

The Colts rushed for only 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 yards per attempt), but Luck threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns when the two teams met in Week 1.

Though playoff teams tend to rely heavily on the running game, don’t expect the Colts to hand the ball off with frequency. Ahmad Bradshaw earned the starting role after Week 1, but broke his leg in November against the Patriots. Trent Richardson tallied the most rushing yards in the first meeting (20 yards on six carries), but he was held out of the Wild Card game against the Bengals. Montee Ball was Denver’s main back in the season opener. He carried the ball 23 times for 67 yards and a TD. Now, Ball is out with a groin injury.

Daniel Herron and C.J. Anderson now occupy the starting jobs for the Colts and Broncos. Herron caught 10 balls for 85 yards last week, while Anderson has rushed for over 80 yards in three straight games.

Both quarterbacks also like to utilize their TEs. Julius Thomas recorded seven receptions for 104 yards and three TDs in Week 1. However, lately, Thomas’ targets have dwindled significantly. He hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game, or scored a TD, since Week 10. The combination of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener equated to seven catches and 85 yards as well as a touchdown. When both play in the same game, they average a combined five receptions, 10 targets, and 52 yards in the past three contests.

Which team keeps its Super Bowl hopes alive? According to the WhatIfSports.com NFL engine, the Broncos are favored, winning 57.9 percent of the time by an average margin of 28-25.

AFC Divisional: Colts at Broncos
Matchup Win% Avg Score WIS Interactive
Indianapolis Colts 42.1 25 Boxscore
Denver Broncos 57.9 28 Simulate Game

For additional statistics, view our sortable weekly NFL predictions.