INDIANAPOLIS – With the NFL playoffs starting Saturday, Colts.com has targeted six public figures, insiders who cover the league and former quarterbacks to predict the course of post-season play.
Len Pasquarelli has served as an NFL writer for more than 30 years, working in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Atlanta for daily newspapers and national websites.
One of the top insiders, Pasquarelli has covered 34 Super Bowls and has held a Pro Football Hall of Fame vote for 14 years.
Here are Pasquarelli's predictions:
Indianapolis over Kansas City: The Colts are beaten up, but the Chiefs aren't the same team that started 9-0. They have lost five of the last seven, aren't taking the ball away as much or creating nearly as many sacks.
Cincinnati over San Diego: I love Philip Rivers and Chargers as a "sleeper." But the Bengals have cranked it up on offense, especially at home, where they averaged 34.4 for the season and 41.6 in the last five games. The Chargers can't match that pace.
Philadelphia over New Orleans: The Saints are kind of like the NFL's "hothouse tomatoes" or orchids, and aren't the same away from the Superdome. The Philly offense gets all the publicity, but coordinator Billy Davis has done a great job with a defense that he converted to a 3-4 after a long stretch of a 4-3 scheme.
San Francisco over Green Bay: Have to pick one of the road teams, right? OK, just call it a hunch that, even in what figures to be frigid conditions, the 49ers' surge, in which they've been one of the NFL's most physical teams, continues. Yeah, even with Aaron Rodgers, a Bay Area guy, back for the Pack.
Denver over Indianapolis: The Colts' great quarterback from the past out-duels the Colts' great quarterback of the present. Certainly don't think there's any "revenge factor," just feel like it is Peyton's year, and Indianapolis might not have enough weapons to keep up with highest scoring team in NFL history.
New England over Cincinnati: It won't be easy. Remember, the Bengals won during the season, 13-6, on Oct. 6, and held the Patriots out of the end zone. But teams don't usually beat the B&B guys, Belichick and Brady, two times in a row. And Cincinnati and quarterback Andy Dalton are sort of enigmatic on the road.
Seattle over San Francisco: Definitely an NFC West bloodbath between two teams and two coaches (who also faced each other in the Pac-12) who don't like each other very much. It'll be a lot closer than the regular-season meeting in Seattle, and the styles of the teams will make for a low-scoring contest. Two great defenses, but the Seahawks simply don't lose much at home.
Carolina over Philadelphia: After a 1-3 start in which Ron Rivera's future was in doubt, the Panthers' coach has loosened up some, but his team still plays tight defense and will bottle up the high octane Eagles. Cam Newton is playing much more under control, and the offense makes just enough plays. The feel-good story continues for one more week with the Panthers.
Denver over New England: Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. Geez, where have we heard that one before? The Pats won at home over the Broncos during the season, and the home-field will make some difference in this one. But the bigger factor is that Manning simply has more playmakers, including former Pats' star Wes Welker (how's that for a subplot), than Brady does.
Seattle over Carolina: The Panthers can gain some confidence from the fact they held the Seahawks to just 12 points in season-opening loss at Seattle. And they play almost as physical a style as the Seahawks do. But Seattle is a rugged, resourceful bunch on both sides of the ball, has lost at home just once under quarterback Russell Wilson, and will win a close game.
Super Bowl XLVIII
Denver over Seattle: Simple, after claiming his fifth MVP crown, Manning finally gets his second Super Bowl ring. The Seattle secondary in particular is challenging, but give Manning two weeks to prepare, and he'll know the Seahawks coverages even better than they do.
Check back in 60 minutes for another playoff prediction from a celebrity, insider or former star quarterback.