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Divisional-round predictions: San Francisco 49ers earn road win

Week 17 was largely spectacular. Wild Card Weekend? Even better. So what does the divisional round have in store for us?

At the very least, this weekend's pro football menu offers a bevy of delicious matchups. And if recent history's any indication, we could be in for at least one stunning upset. Think: The Ravens' Mile High Miracle last January, or the Giants taking out the 15-1 Packers in the 2011 playoffs. (Yup, both those spoiler teams did indeed go on to win the Super Bowl.)

Yes, Noreen. While some people might find it odd that you root for brothers, I find myself pulling for Britton Colquitt now that Dustin Colquitt can't bring home the trophy for the Chiefs. May Britton's boots sail far and high versus the Chargers.

Here's one other interesting note on Chargers at Broncos (as well as Saints at Seahawks): Since the 2005 playoffs, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 versus No. 1 seeds. Wrap your brain around that tidbit.

As for the rest of the games, below are some predictions around which you can wrap your arms tightly. We did take one road team, although it's hard to call it an upset. Feel free to share your thoughts ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it.

Elliot Harrison went 1-3 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, giving him a record of 163-97 this season. How will he fare in the divisional round? His picks are below, with home teams listed second. To make your own predictions on this week's games, click here.

We're predicting almost the exact same score as last week for the 49ers (which, by the way, we got exactly right). Cam Newton and the Panthers are going to make this a tough road assignment for the hottest team in pro football. San Francisco enters this weekend on a seven-game win streak, but it should be noted that Ron Rivera's group beat these 49ers -- in Candlestick Park -- back in Week 10. His defense was suffocating, and Colin Kaepernick did not have his best day throwing the football. Of course, Michael Crabtree wasn't available -- what a difference his return has made. And what a difference a little pass protection would make against a big-time pass rush on Sunday. How the Niners fare against Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy -- and, conversely, how well those Carolina edge rushers keep contain on Kaepernick -- could decide the outcome. Kaepernick has run for the most yards by a quarterback since he took over under center in Week 11 last season. By far.

 **Road Warriors:** Why is San Francisco as good on the road as it is at home? 

1) Jim Harbaugh stays committed to the run, yielding fewer turnovers and silencing the crowd.

2) The front seven is as strong as any in football, keeping opposing offenses from making the kinds of big plays that get the home folks fired up.

3) Solid kicking game.

4) The confidence that comes with winning important road games time and again, like last week in (well below) freezing conditions at Lambeau Field.

5) Perhaps most importantly, the 49ers don't ask Kaepernick to change plays at the line very much. Teams that do that with their quarterbacks -- like the Chargers and Saints this weekend -- are susceptible to mixing up their signals in loud road environments, where not everyone can hear the QB. #SFvsCAR

You've heard all week how the Chargers were the last team to beat the Broncos (in Denver, to boot). Here's the deal: That was a month ago. The season changes so quickly, and it's difficult to gauge how this game will go based on what happened on Dec. 12. That said, San Diego might be better than it was back then. The Chargers use their running backs brilliantly, and Philip Rivers just isn't making the kinds of mistakes that give opposing offenses short fields (or allow them to get back on the field quickly to face a tired defense). Rivers is 5-4 (including 2-0 in the postseason) in career matchups against Peyton Manning. Moreover, the Chargers' defense really stepped it up last week in Cincinnati.

On that last note, though: Peyton's clearly a different animal than Andy Dalton, who was inaccurate, pressed too much and had to deal with a wet ball in the late going last Sunday. The Bolts should try to mix coverages, but not just play straight coverage -- i.e., as much as you hear about how Manning destroys the blitz, he truly devours the non-blitz ...

 *Blitzing situations:* 60.1 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, five interceptions. 
 *Non-blitzing situations:* 70.8 completion percentage, 42 touchdowns, five interceptions. 
 **Agents Orange:** Two guys I will be watching a lot in this game are 
 Knowshon Moreno and Orange Julius, er, 
 Julius Thomas. I expect Moreno to have a big day, particularly in pass protection and when catching the ball out of the backfield. Former 
 Titans defensive back Jordan Babineaux told me the other day he's looking for Thomas to be a factor. ( 
 You can see that here.) Man, does Manning have toys. 


Coincidentally, minutes after that famous Saints-Seahawks 2010 playoff game ended, the Colts proceeded to get locked up in an equally exciting matchup with the Jets. That day, Peyton Manning was under center for an experienced club that made regular postseason appearances -- and their opponents were led by a second-year pro in Mark Sanchez, who brought his team back in the late stages. Sound familiar? In his second season, Andrew Luck has grown an Abe Lincoln beard (pre-presidency), brought his team back in exciting fashion and, uh, is better than Sanchize. (Hide your shock over that last statement.)

While Luck was nothing short of spectacular down the stretch vs. Kansas City last Saturday, let's keep in mind that part of the reason he had to be was because of his own mistakes early on. He simply can't afford to turn the ball over three times in New England. The Pats have forced 170 turnovers over the past five years, the most in the NFL. The last thing the Colts want to do is give Tom Brady short fields -- or get behind 38-10.

 **Steve Perry ... or the other guy?** While 
 Journey sorts through front men, we're still trying to figure out which 
 Colts front seven is going to show up. Over 
 the last three games of the regular season, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's unit allowed 3, 7 and 10 points. Last week, it coughed up 44. What if the 
 Chiefs hadn't 
 lost two running backs and a wideout? Indy's defense must stop the ground attack, as the Pats have run the football 77 times over their past two games. Unfortunately, this isn't a 
 Colts strength, as evidenced by their 
 No. 26 ranking in run defense during the regular season. 

So who doesn't remember Marshawn Lynch going all Beast Mode? I love me some NFL history, and I'm telling you right now: That was one of the coolest plays in the past 30 years of pro football. Like this weekend's Saints- Seahawks playoff bout, that 2010 wild-card matchup was the early Saturday game. Seattle was the underdog that day, a 7-9 club that won the NFC West in Pete Carroll's inaugural season at the helm. New Orleans, meanwhile, was attempting to defend its Super Bowl title from 2009.

This season, everyone has fancied the Seahawks as contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. A big part of that is how well they play at home, where they've dropped one game this season after a perfect 8-0 run in 2012. The 'Hawks have allowed 13.75 points per game at CenturyLink Field during the 2013 campaign, the best mark in the NFL. That includes just seven points from the Saints in Week 13. Can New Orleans do better this time around?

 **Sackless in Seattle:** 
 Sean Payton is not going to put 
 Drew Brees in as tough a spot this weekend. Thus, don't expect another 
 strip-sack touchdown. Instead, count on New Orleans pounding the rock at least 30 times. When these two teams met in December, Payton called just 17 running plays, which totaled 44 yards. 
 Last week in Philadelphia: 36 for 185. Still thinking the 
 Saints will lose this football game ... but it's going to be close. 

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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