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NFL picks and predictions: Who can silence Seattle's 12th man?

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Here are picks and predictions for the NFC. Remaining NFC teams consist of two defensively dominant and two offensively dominant teams. Which offense versus defense combination will we watch in the Conference Championship game next week?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Although these games have less influence on the Broncos than the AFC games, the outcomes will ultimately determine who the Broncos (might) play in the Super Bowl. The NFC divisional playoff teams consist of two teams that rely almost solely on defense and two teams with quarterback powerhouse offenses. Unfortunately, the way the seeding worked this year in the NFC, the defensive teams are pitted against each other in what is bound to be a pretty big snooze-fest to watch, and the offensive teams are primed for a highly entertaining offensive game. This also sets up an offense versus defense matchup next week, no matter who wins.

Throughout the season I have talked about how strength of schedule can really skew stats and records. How do these teams' offensive and defensive performances stack up against other playoff teams? In a method I have used in several articles, I ranked each playoff team according to how they have performed against their regular season opponents compared to the other teams that have played those opponents based on points scored and allowed.

On offense, a normalized score of 1 is average, greater than 1 means they score more than average, and less than 1 means they score less than average. On defense, a normalized score of 1 is average, but a score greater than 1 is below average (they allow more points than average) and a score less than 1 is above average (allow less points than average). When assessing how balanced a team is, the difference is taken and a normalized difference of 0 is average, greater than 0 is above average, and below 0 is below average.

As you can see, all the bottom ranked teams were eliminated last weekend with the exception of the Panthers. The Panthers-Arizona matchup was a strange playoff pairing as Arizona was playing with their third string quarterback, which was not a situation the rest of the season's statistics represent.

Team

Normalized Offense

Offensive Rank

Normalized Defense

Defensive Rank

Normalized Difference

Overall Rank

Seattle

1.17

7

0.71

1

0.46

1

New England

1.32

2

0.87

5

0.44

2

Denver

1.38

1

1.00

10

0.39

3

Green Bay

1.30

3

0.95

7

0.35

4

Baltimore

1.08

8

0.84

4

0.24

5

Indianapolis

1.20

5

0.97

8

0.23

6

Dallas

1.22

4

1.00

10

0.22

7

Pittsburgh

1.20

6

1.06

12

0.14

8

Arizona

0.90

10

0.80

3

0.10

9

Cincinnati

0.98

9

0.90

6

0.08

10

Detroit

0.83

12

0.76

2

0.07

11

Carolina

0.89

11

0.97

8

-0.08

12

Situations like the one in Arizona show that this method isn't all-telling; injuries happen, rookies master the playbook midway through the season, teams have locker room issues, new star running backs emerge, the offensive line shuffles mid-season (I'm looking at you, Broncos). Anything can change the way a team is playing throughout the season, which in turn can also make other teams look better or worse on paper. Another problem is comparing AFC and NFC teams because many of them don't have any common opponents. Keeping all of this in mind, how do I think the NFC divisional games will go this weekend?

Seahawks versus Panthers:

Coming off of a Super Bowl victory this season, expectations were high for Seattle. Media hailed them to be one of the best teams in history in the off-season, saying they were likely to repeat. The season began, however, and they lost their second game to Chargers, fourth game to the Cowboys at home, immediately followed by a loss to the Rams. Week 6 is when the Seahawks "prolific" defense was outplayed by Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant. Week 6 is also the time when Seattle fell silent, blue and green "12th men" were nowhere to be seen, and the analysts began doubting if the Seahawks would even make the playoffs.

Week 6 is the last time the Seahawks played any team finishing in the top 10 for offense with the exception of the New York Giants (10th) and the Eagles (5th - padded from before Nick Foles was injured).  Lucky for the Seahawks, this year the NFL was plagued with quarterback injuries. The Seahawks rounded out the end of their season playing Arizona (24th) twice- once with  2nd string Drew Stanton and once with 3rd string Ryan Lindley, the Raiders (32nd), the Chiefs (25th) in a game they lost, the Eagles (5th) with Mark Sanchez (18th in QBR), the Rams (28th) with 2nd string Shaun Hill, the Giants (10th), two games against the 49ers (20th) in their struggle of a season, and the Carolina Panthers (16th) when they won by 4 points. Unsurprisingly, the Seahawks statically improved in the later part of their season, to the point that the media is calling them "unstoppable" (to my ire). Call me crazy, but that schedule should make most teams look improved.

Don’t get me wrong here. The Panthers haven’t exactly been worthy of the praise the Seahawks have gotten either. They are the second worst team to ever make the NFL playoffs (ironically the 2010 Seahawks were the worst). This is evident, in that they are the only team with a below average normalized score in the table above. Their end of the year schedule was not much more impressive than the Seahawks’. But last week they proved they are better than people are giving them credit for.

The Panthers are a defensive powerhouse with a talented quarterback suffering from poor-decision making at times. Do I think the Panthers can beat the Seahawks? Yes. They nearly did in week 8. However, that game was in Carolina and this one is in Seattle (likely in the rain).  Do I think the Panthers will beat the Seahawks? Probably not, Cam Newton will struggle in a noisy and cold stadium. As much as I would really love to see an upset in this defensively dominated game, I just don’t think it will happen until the Conference Championship game, when they will play one of the top offenses in the league in Dallas or Green Bay.

My Prediction:
Seattle

Seahawks 17 - Panthers 13


Cowboys versus Packers

Unlike the Seahawks-Panthers game, I predict that this game will hold your attention. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo finished the regular season with the best two quarterback ratings in the league. These two teams deserved the number one NFC seed more than the Seahawks did, but because of the tie-breaker system the NFL uses, they are playing against each other instead of taking down the evil giant with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Tony Romo seemed to set out to prove his critics wrong this season. The Cowboys lost their first game to the 49ers, which ignited a fire under them to tear through the rest of the season. They lost a couple games to division rivals Washington and Philidelphia, but like I always say, those games are the most unpredictable. They also lost a game to Arizona while they were still undefeated. Like Seattle, the Cowboys haven’t had the hardest schedule in the league. However, they have played some teams with tough defenses and completely blown them out, winning by multiple scores. Jerry Jones wants that Lombardi, badly. No, I don’t think they paid the refs last week. Even If they did, Detroit was to blame for allowing that to be a possible scenario (Stafford- that was a bad throw, it probably would have been intercepted if the Hitchens had been watching the ball).

In a situation similar to the Cowboys’, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were set for a comeback season after Rodgers’ collarbone injury caused them to miss the playoffs last year. The Packers had a slow start to their season after losing the NFL season opening game to the Seahawks and in week 3 to Detroit. But after Rodgers told everyone to R-E-L-A-X, the Packers started to gel and scored more than 20 points every week following with the exception of the Bills game (and as we found out, they are a tough defense to pass against. They didn't allow Rodgers or Manning to throw a touchdown pass).

This will be a  fun game to watch to find out who will (hopefully) embarrass the Seahawks the next week. Because it's going to be cold, I think there will be a lot more ground game with Murray and Lacy than we are used to from either of these teams. The Packers should come out victorious with their January-in-Wisconsin home field advantage, despite an injured Rodgers. He has some blue-eyed voodoo going on with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, which will help them prevail.

My Prediction:
Green Bay

Packers 28 – Cowboys 25

In case you want predictions from actual sports analysts instead of a biased die-hard, Broncos obsessed, graduate student, currently suffering in Seahawks country, I provided a table of expert picks. 64% of the experts agree with me that Green Bay will prevail, and 97% agree that Seattle will come out on top. Kudos to Will Brinson for being brave enough to be the lone guy that doubts the Seahawks. I really hope he's right.

AFC Wild Card Predictions

Analyst DAL @ GB CAR @ SEA

Who can silence

the 12th Man?

Ryan Van Bibber - SB Nation
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Stephen White - SB Nation
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Joel Thorman - SB Nation
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
David Fucillo - SB Nation
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Danny Kelly - SB Nation
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
PFT Commenter - SB Nation
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Matt Ufford - SB Nation
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Pete Prisco - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Jason La Canfora - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Will Brinson - CBS
Green Bay
Carolina
Carolina
Jared Dubin - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Ryan Wilson - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
John Breech - CBS
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Dave Richard - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Jamey Eisenberg - CBS
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Allen - ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Golic - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Hoge - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Jaworski - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Joyner - ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Mortensen - ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Schefter - ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Schlereth - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Wickersham - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Jackson - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Johnson - ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Ditka- ESPN
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Carter - ESPN
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Elliot Harrison - NFL.com
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Peter Schrager - FOX Sports
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Mike Garafolo - FOX Sports
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Alex Marvez - FOX Sports
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Brendon Ayanbadejo - FOX Sports
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay
Jimmy Traina - FOX Sports
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Vinnie Iyer - Sporting News
Dallas
Seattle
Dallas
Neil Greenberg - Washington Post
Green Bay
Seattle
Green Bay