Now it’s time for a divisional round filled with rematches, divisional or rematches of games in the regular season. This could be a fun weekend, and I’m here with my late analysis.
5 Baltimore Ravens @ 2 Pittsburgh Steelers 4:30 PM Saturday CBS
This maybe the hardest hitting, toughest rivalry in the NFL today, and they’ll meet again early Saturday. Can the Ravens edge the Steelers on the road unlike the 2009 AFC Title Game?
Baltimore Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense:
Last week, the running game for the Ravens was held in check until the end of the game by Kansas City, but Joe Flacco made all the throws in order to generate a spark. Other than the fact that we know that Baltimore will have trouble doing this again, they have to at least try to establish themselves with a physical presence on the ground, or start with swing passes to Ray Rice in order to keep the offense from sputtering. The Steelers will have Troy Polamalu, so that may quickly negate any sustained offensive momentum the Ravens could gain. Cam Cameron will have to call a slightly better game than he did in Week 13 (that fumble by Flacco to give the Steelers the lead), and the Ravens will have to play pretty much a flawless game to win, which against the Steelers is a tough sell. Therefore, the Steelers D gets the check, albeit slightly.
Pittsburgh Offense vs. Baltimore Defense:
The Steelers offense didn’t have the greatest of games against Baltimore in their 2 meetings either. Big Ben gets a broken nose, and the Steelers didn’t get true momentum until their final drive in the Week 13 game. The Ravens D has been prone to giving up big pass plays, despite last week the Ravens locked that down. Mike Wallace is fast enough to get past the corners and attack the safeties if they’re over to help. The Steelers did the run the ball decently in their 2 matchups with the Ravens, but I don’t think that will decide offensive success for the Steelers. If Ben Roethlisberger can make the throws when he has to, and can stay on the field, then the Steelers can dictate tempo offensively. They get the check here, but again, not by much.
Intangibles: The Steelers are at home, where the have lost 3 times this season, once to the Ravens, and another time to essentially Ravens mark 2, the Jets. The Ravens had a short week to prepare, and the Steelers have had 2 weeks. I think the Steelers are well rested, while Baltimore is still a bit nicked up from Kansas City.
Player to Watch: Ray Rice
If he doesn’t have a big game, either on the ground or catching screens and similar passes, than it will be a long day for the Ravens offense. He is the key for them to relieve some pressure and open up throws down the field for guys like Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, and Anquan Boldin.
Why them you may ask? I gave the advantage for everything to the Steelers. Yes, but this game is one that is so close, that it’s essentially a pick ‘em game. I think this is the chance for Joe Flacco to put a stamp on his early career with a big win like this one, and so I’ll take him and his Ravens (and not because I have them in the Super Bowl)
6 Green Bay Packers @ 1 Atlanta Falcons 8 PM Saturday FOX
When these 2 teams met up in Atlanta back on Thanksgiving weekend, it was decided by a field goal in the last 10 seconds. Will this game be the same?
Green Bay Offense vs. Atlanta Defense
Well, the big thing for the Packers on Sunday wasn’t their passing game; it was James Starks, the rookie running back out of Buffalo. The Packers attempted to run plenty last week, and it worked very well. In the first meeting between these 2 squads, Aaron Rodgers threw for 344 yards and a TD. If he didn’t fumble on the 1 yard line, then the Packers would have likely won. The Falcons have to contain Aaron Rodgers to a degree, in order to have any chance of stopping him. The way to do that will be from their pass rushers, John Abraham and Kroy Biermann. If Atlanta gets a consistent pass rush, then they may be able to stop Aaron Rodgers. But, I just don’t see that happening.
Advantage: Green Bay
Atlanta Offense vs. Green Bay Defense
Matt Ryan, remember, lost his 1 and only other playoff start, but that was 2 years ago in Arizona. He has only lost 2 times in the Georgia Dome as a starter, and trust me it gets loud in that dome. The Falcons ran the ball very well in the 1st meeting, as Michael Turner ran for 114 yards. He’ll have to do that again in order to set up the throws for Matt Ryan. The Packers D was great in stopping Mike Vick last Sunday, and they’ll need another good outing to stop Matt Ryan and all of his weapons. The Packers didn’t let the Eagles dictate tempo with their running game, and they’ll have to do the same against Atlanta, as they run to set up the pass. In games where the Falcons have to set up the run with the pass, they don’t do very well. Despite the fact that the Packers can do that, I don’t believe they will.
Intangibles: Atlanta doesn’t lose too often in the Georgia Dome, but that loss to New Orleans did help them out plenty with saying that we can’t take opponents too lightly when they come here. Green Bay is beatable on the road, so I’ll take the dome field advantage.
Player to Watch: Michael Turner
Like Ray Rice is to the Ravens, Michael Turner is to the Falcons. If he is able to establish a good ground game for the Falcons, then the Falcons offensive options can triple. If he doesn’t start well, Green Bay can pounce on a vulnerable Falcons team early, and often.
Even though I did have Green Bay going to the Super Bowl, I just think Atlanta is a slightly better team, with a great home field advantage. They are consistent, not streaky, and the Packers have been a bit streaky this season. I like Atlanta here, but not by much.
4 Seattle Seahawks @ 2 Chicago Bears 1 PM Sunday FOX
Yes, even I was a bit shocked that Seattle won last Saturday against the Super Bowl Champs. Do they have enough in them to take down the Bears?
Seattle Offense vs. Chicago Defense:
I have to admit, why did I think Charlie Whitehurst would start for the Seahawks last weekend? Matt Hasselbeck had a fantastic game, where he reminded me of the Matt Hasselbeck that took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl once upon a time. In their first meeting, Hasselbeck threw for 252 yards and a TD, in what may have been Mike Williams’ coming out party. The Seahawks also ran the ball decently, and that is something they’ll have to do again. But, one thing has changed. The Bears defense then is very different from the Bears defense now. The Bears have played badly in 2 of their last 4, but mind you that was against New England and the Jets. The Seahawks didn’t have the best offensive game against Chicago in Week 6, so therefore against a rested Chicago D, I like the Bears D to win out here.
Chicago Offense vs. Seattle Defense:
Here is where the Seahawks won in week 6, with sacks. They had 6 of them. With a very potent team of pass rushers in Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, they’ll look to again stifle Jay Cutler with a good pass rush, against a suspect offensive line. If the Seahawks get that kind of pass rush again, then look for Jay Cutler maybe to reform into the gun slinger Jay Cutler that threw all of the INT’s in 2009. It would help if the Bears were able to run the ball better than they did in Week 6; they only ran for 61 yards. They’ll have to do better than that, and they can, because Mike Martz’s ego isn’t as big now as it was then. The run will set up the pass, and if game manager Cutler shows up, the Chicago offense will be hard to stop. I didn’t assume the Falcons would get a big enough pass rush to truly fluster Aaron Rodgers, and I’m continuing the precedent here. I don’t think the Seahawks will get enough of a pass rush to turn Jay Cutler into the one Bears fans don’t want to remember.
Intangibles: What does Seattle have left in the tank after they expended all of that energy last Saturday? That is a good question, and I think that they are a bit spent emotionally. The Bears will easily be able to pounce on that.
Player to Watch: Jay Cutler
A bit cliché, I know, but remember the two Jay Cutler’s I had mentioned before. If the good one shows up, the Bears are awfully tough to beat. If the bad one shows up, or the good one doesn’t get offensive line help like in week 6, then the Bears offense will struggle, and Seattle can pounce.
Despite all of the great things Seattle did last week, I just don’t think they’re enough to carry them here. The Bears D and special teams are super bowl caliber, but will the offense get there in this game? I think they will.
6 New York Jets @ 1 New England Patriots 4:30 PM Sunday CBS
Round 3 of Jets/Pats, and what a fun game it will be. Will the Jets be able to back up their talk again, or will New England do what it does so well, win at home in the playoffs?
New York Offense vs. New England Defense:
It can’t be stated enough how many strides the New England D has made this season, from being the weakest link and potentially a serious problem, to now being a focal point for teams. It isn’t the Steelers or Jets D just yet, but it still is pretty good. Still, it has had its problems. They don’t stop the run particularly well, and that is what won the game for the Jets last Saturday. The Patriots know they have to stop the run in order to win, or at least in order to give the Jets O some problems. Where the Jets will win or lose this game potentially is on the arm of Mark Sanchez. He had a pretty bad game last Saturday, as he was constantly overthrowing receivers, and making some bad decisions. They all didn’t matter in the end, but they will matter on Sunday. Sanchez will have to use Dustin Keller, and guys like Santonio Holmes to his advantage, and make good decisions. I think they’ll do just enough to get the advantage.
Advantage: New York
New England Offense vs. New York Defense
Now, I honestly don’t think that the Jets will play a passive defense again this Sunday, do you? The Patriots tear apart that kind of D and they probably will again if the Jets try it. We know how good Tom Brady is, and what he can do, but the key for New England is to run the ball well. The Colts didn’t do it, which allowed the Jets to send enough guys in coverage to play all of the Colts’ weapons. The Patriots can run the ball better than the Colts, and if they do, the Patriots will have the balance that they need to effectively attack the Jets. The question is, which Jets D shows up? The week 2 or week 13 D? I think it will be a mix of both, and that bodes well for the Patriots. If that happens, the Pats can truly take a stranglehold of the game. I think the Patriots offense will have a good enough game here.
Advantage: New England
The Patriots are playing at home, where they simply don’t lose. Tom Brady has lost 1 home playoff game, and that was last year against the Ravens. I don’t see the Pats falling flat on their face like that again.
Advantage: New England
Player to Watch: Mark Sanchez
Is there anyone else with the spotlight burning brighter on him than Sanchez? He has to play much better than he did last weekend, and he needs to be at his best in order to keep up with the New England offense.
Pick: New England
Can you go against the Patriots at home? Especially when Tom Brady starts at home in the playoffs? I can’t. Even though the Jets will keep it close, I don’t see the Jets doing enough to pull it out, so Rex and his Jets can’t back up their talk.
There you have it, hope I’m better than the 2-2 picking record last weekend.