NFL Sunday Playoff Preview – Things to Watch for in the Divisional Round
The Super Bowl dreams of eight teams remain alive entering the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Here are three things to watch for in each of this weekend's games:
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.; 1:05 p.m. (ET) on FOX
• Protect Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times by Carolina in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers on Nov. 10. If he's under that type of pressure from the Carolina defense again, the 49ers will likely be doomed.
• Cam Newton's Nerves - Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton will be starting his first NFL playoff game. Part of a national championship squad at Auburn, Newton has certainly seen bright lights before, but not while an angry Niners' defense is trying to send him to the golf course early.
• Travel Weary Niners - San Francisco will be playing its third straight road game in its third different time zone. Head coach Jim Harbaugh must guard against his team fading in the second half.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 4:40 p.m. (ET) on CBS
• Stopping the Point Machine - Denver averaged 37.9 points per game this season, but San Diego held the Broncos under 30 twice: a 28-20 Denver win in Week 10 and a 27-20 Chargers triumph on Dec. 12. Denver must get its high-powered offense rolling so that momentum doesn't swing to the underdogs.
• Fiery Philip - Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers is his team's unquestioned leader. If he is flustered by the Broncos' pass rush, his temper could be a concern around a team that is still learning how to win games.
• Ghosts of Playoffs Past - It almost seems silly to discuss Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's failures given the numerous NFL records he holds and his Super Bowl ring, but he has lost his last three post-season games. Manning also lost to San Diego in both the 2007 and 2008 post-seasons while with the Colts.