NFL Divisional Round Playoff Picks

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November 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (left) shakes hands with Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (right) after the game at Candlestick Park. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 10-9. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

Sunday, 12:05 PM CST, Fox

Line: Niners -3, O/U 42

Here’s a classic clash of ex-Bears players – Ron Rivera and his Carolina Panthers vs Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers.  This ought to be a defensive struggle, just like their Week 10 matchup when San Fran was coming off their bye but had the Panthers come into their house and beat them 10-9 .  Now the tables are turned and the Panthers, coming off a first round bye, host the Niners.

The Niners have an added dimension in this re-match, with Michael Crabtree back healthy.  He was big in the Niners’ 23-20 win over the Packers last week, with 8 catches for 125 yards.  That’s what makes the difference for the Niners, who are on a 7-game roll.

For the Panthers, it looks like they’ll be without wide receiver Steve Smith, who is nursing a bum knee.  Smith is one of the few Panthers regulars with any significant playoff experience, while the Niners went to the dance last season.

Prediction: Niners 19 – Panthers 16

San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3)

Sunday, 3:40 PM CST, CBS

Line: Broncos -9, O/U 55

Nov 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) talks with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) after a Broncos win at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos won 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos have been setting records all season long, with Peyton Manning shredding up the league since Day 1 of the regular season.  This is the second season, where Manning has been relatively ordinary, earning only a 9-11 record including 8 one and done trips to the postseason.  The Broncos only lost three games in 2013, but the three teams they’ve lost to still remain in the postseason, the Colts, the Patriots and the Chargers.

Meanwhile, the Chargers have been in playoff mode for the better part of a month, riding a 5-game winning streak into Denver, including a road win in Cincinnati in the Wild Card matchup last weekend.

The Broncos have been held under 30 points just three times this season and the Chargers did it two of those three times.  Maybe head coach Mike McCoy, who was the Broncos’ OC last season, has the secrets to slow down Manning?

The Chargers may be hot, but it feels like something special is going on Denver this season.

Prediction: Broncos 34 – Chargers 24