If Hollywood likes sequels, then the movie moguls will love today’s NFL divisional round matchups. Both are rematches of regular season encounters and replays of two of the more eye-opening results of the 2013 season.
San Diego at Denver? The Chargers are the only team to beat the Broncos in Denver this season, taking a 27-20 victory on Dec. 12.
San Francisco at Carolina? The Panthers went into San Francisco on Nov. 10 and handed the Niners a 10-9 defeat. The 49ers’ only other home loss was to the Indianapolis Colts.
Last weekend home field proved no advantage to the Bengals, Eagles and Packers. Since 2002, at least one home team didn’t make it to the conference championship game. Home teams have a 29-15 record in the divisional round of the playoffs, not counting Saturday’s outcomes.
A look at today’s games:
Chargers (10-7) at Broncos (13-3)
TV: Ch. 4, 4:40 p.m.
The line: Broncos (-9)
The scoop on the Chargers: San Diego and Denver have met 108 times since 1960, but never in the postseason. Most teams seem to be beat before they even take the field in Denver’s Mile High altitude. The Chargers play there every season though and seem to have no fear. In fact, San Diego has won four of the last five times its played there. ... The Bolts are starting to get that Team of Destiny feeling again, just like 1995 when San Diego made its only Super Bowl appearance, after upsetting the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That’s because quarterback Philip Rivers is having perhaps his career year. He threw for 32 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions in the regular season and toyed with the highly-respected Bengals defense in Cincinnati with a conservative game plan (only 16 pass attempts) which he ran to perfection. San Diego attacked Cincy with a three-pronged running game – Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown. Rivers’ new favorite target is rookie WR Keenan Allen, who had 71 catches for 1,046 yards in the regular season including two TD catches in the win at Denver. TE Antonio Gates (77 catches) led the Chargers in the regular season, but TE Ladarius Green had the go-ahead TD catch against the Bengals. San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano likes to come with waves of defensive linemen and that proved effective against Cincy. ... One San Diego concern is a banged-up offensive line. Center Nick Hardwick (neck concussion) left the Cincinati game with his injury. Rookie RT D.J. Fluker and RG Jeromey Clary are both banged up. The LG is Bills castoff Chad Rinehart.
The scoop on the Broncos: Everyone knows the Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points in the regular season with Peyton Manning at the helm. Manning has had his share of postseason disappointment, especially if he can be frustrated early. San Diego intercepted him once and sacked him once and limited his longest completion to 22 yards in Denver last month. ... One key to beating Denver seems to be withstanding the Broncos’ opening salvo, especially at Sports Authority Field. Denver scored touchdowns on seven of its opening drives in the regular season, including the loss to San Diego. In seven of 16 games, Denver never trailed. The Broncos were behind only 20 percent of the time in the regular season. ... Knowshon Moreno led the Broncos with 1,038 yards rushing and scored 10 times. DeMaryius Thomas, who had three TD catches in Denver’s win in San Diego, led with 92 receptions, 15.5 average, 14 TDs. Also, Denver expects to have a reasonably healthy Wes Welker, who has 69 postseason receptions but no championships. Welker broke into the NFL as a undrafted rookie with San Diego in 2005, was cut and picked up by Miami. ... Denver’s sack leader is LB Shaun Phillips, also an ex-Charger.
Outlook: Hard to go against Manning and the Broncos at home, but the Chargers and Rivers are mentally tough enough to make it a fight to the end. Denver, 38-36.
49ers at Panthers
TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.
The line: 49ers (-1)
The scoop on the 49ers: Outside of Seattle and Indianapolis, the two NFL quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers and Cam Newton of the Panthers) who make plays with both their arm and feet will be on display in this one. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers couldn’t develop a scheme to contain Kaepernick and it ended up costing the Packers. Now, it’s a problem for Carolina coach Ron Rivera and his DC, Sean McDermott. ... In their Week 10 meeting the Panthers sacked Kaepernick six times, intercepted him once (on the Niners’ last play) and held him to 16 yards rushing on four attempts. The Niners had only 10 first downs, were outgained 250-151 and produced only three first-half field goals. It was a humiliating showing at home. San Francisco, however, did not have WR Michael Crabtree in that game and he was a key contributor (8 catches, 125 yards) in the win at Green Bay last week. Also, TE Vernon Davis was limited to one catch in the first Carolina game and Anquan Boldin averaged only 7.7 yards on three catches.
The scoop on the Panthers: If Carolina is to advance in the playoffs it will need a defensive performance close to the one that silenced Kaepernick and Co. in November. Easier said than done. LB Luke Kuechly led the Panthers with 11 tackles in the win at San Francisco. Of Carolina’s six sacks on Kaepernick, two were turned in by former Bills DT Dwan Edwards. Kuechly, OLB Thomas Davis and a defensive line led by DEs Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are the strengths of Carolina’s defense. ... Newton passed for 24 touchdowns and ran for six more. Besides 3,379 passing yards, he had another 585 on the ground. The Panthers use a true fullback perhaps more than any NFL team. Mike Tolbert carried 101 times for 361 yards besides blocking for DeAngelo Williams (843 yards) and catching 27 passes. Newton’s leading receiver was tight end Greg Olsen with 73 catches. A knee injury may hamper long-time Panthers standout Steve Smith. ... Ted Ginn Jr., an ex-49er, seems to get himself involved in important plays in the postseason and is a return threat.
Outlook: Hard to believe Carolina is a team that lost to the Bills. Panthers have grown up a lot since then. However, the Niners with Crabtree back and Aldon Smith returning to his best form, have to be seething over their embarrassing performance in regular season meeting. Niners get their revenge, 20-10.
Saturday’s results: 2-0 outright, 0-1-1 versus spread.
Season’s record 138-107-1 outright, 119-119-8 versus spread.