The intensity is ratcheted up, the games are bigger, the hits more fierce, and the trash talk escalated. The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is not for the faint of heart.
Last Week: 2 – 2 – 0
Playoffs: 2 – 2 – 0
Saturday, January 15 (4:30PM ET)
(5) Ravens at (2) Steelers
The annual bloodbaths between Pittsburgh and Baltimore are two of my favorite games of the year, so naturally I’m excited about a third meeting. My Steeler friends don’t share my enthusiasm. They made it clear last Saturday the one team they didn’t want to face in the second round was the Ravens. While I understand facing a division opponent for the third time in one season is never fun, I couldn’t care less. I wanted a rubber match. Thankfully, we got it.
Last year, I compared the physical toll of a Steeler-Raven game to a car wreck. A postseason Steeler-Raven game is more comparable to a head on collision between runaway trains. Or, as Terrell Suggs called it, “Armageddon.”
Even before the wildcard round of the playoffs, I already picked Pittsburgh to advance to the AFC Championship game. Mainly because Baltimore has continually struggled to solve Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to escape pressure and make plays, but also because the Steelers seem more clutch. While I don’t expect the Steelers to play poorly, I have a gut feeling the Ravens pull this one out… because of Joe Flacco. No, that’s not a joke.
As Dick Vermeil would say, Flacco takes off the diapers this weekend. After all, now is as good a time as any. Last week the Baltimore defense proved it can still carry a team. However, the speed of Jamaal Charles exploited the slower Raven front seven. While the Steelers don’t have an explosive back like Charles, they have speed elsewhere (Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders) that could terrorize Baltimore’s defense. For that reason, I expect a higher scoring game than most, and as a result, Flacco, not the Raven defense, will need to win the game in order for Baltimore to advance. I believe he’s up to the task. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens +3.5
Saturday, January 15 (8:00PM ET)
(6) Packers at (1) Falcons
I’ve refused invitations to jump on the Falcons bandwagon for the past four months, so it would be hypocritical of me to jump on now. However, all the love and attention being heaped on the Packers has me concerned. Let’s not forget, the Falcons are the number one seed in the NFC. That top seed didn’t come by lottery or freak accident. The Falcons are good, really good.
Two weeks ago, I picked Atlanta to lose this weekend because of the pressure that comes along with being the top seed. Now that the Packers are the sexy pick to win, most of that pressure is gone. Atlanta is now the “No one believed in us” team despite being the top seed and playing at home where they’re nearly unbeatable. Needless to say, I’m a billion times less excited about picking the Packers as I was when the playoffs began.
With that said, I can’t chicken out and abandon Green Bay because they’re overvalued. The Packers are still the same team I picked to go to the Superbowl less than two weeks ago. I still like Aaron Rodgers against any defense in the NFL. Minus a fumble, he was perfect in Philadelphia last weekend. If James Jones could catch, the Packers would have won by multiple scores. I’m not saying that because five plus seven equals twelve. If the Packers go into the half up 21-3, the Eagles would have been doomed and Green Bay would have won 34-17 or something like it.
Anyway, I’ll take the Packer defense over any defense in the NFC, including Chicago’s. With the exception of the Head and Shoulders CEO in Pittsburgh, Clay Matthews is the most terrorizing defensive force in the NFL. When I re-watched the Packers-Eagles Wildcard game (don’t ask, I’m a sick man), I was amazed how often Matthews disrupted a play. Chasing down Michael Vick, blowing up a running play, sniffing out a screen; Matthews did it all.
I know there are a hundred reasons the Falcons should win this game, i.e. Matt Ryan’s record at home, a pounding running game, Roddy White, a stout defense, etc…, but I can’t change my pick. Besides, Matt Ryan’s playoff record in the Georgia Dome currently stands at 0-0. If this sounds like I’m convincing myself to stay with the Packers, you’d be right. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers +2.5
Sunday, January 16 (1:00PM ET)
(4) Seahawks at (2) Bears
I don’t like my options. I would love to refrain from picking. I haven’t been a fan of the Bears and Jay Cutler all season. The Seahawks did everything I said they wouldn’t against the Saints. Who do I pick?
The case for Seattle is pretty slim. Pete Carroll outcoached Superbowl champion Sean Payton last weekend, so outcoaching Lovie Smith should be a breeze, or so one might think. Matt Hasselbeck could duplicate his greatest postseason performance, but that’s doubtful against Chicago’s defense. I don’t expect Marshawn Lynch to run over the NFL’s second best run defense, either. On the other hand, Seattle did beat the Bears in week six, in Chicago nonetheless. Can they do it again? Can they continue an unimaginable run with a rookie coach, aging quarterback, and one of the league’s worst defenses? Maybe. Let’s look at the Bears.
The Chicago defense finished among the NFL’s top ten and was extremely consistent with two exceptions; the shootout against the Jets, and the embarrassing loss to New England. The defense also ranked 4th in points allowed (17.9), so even if Jay Cutler and the offense struggle, the defense should keep the Bears close enough to rally. Also, it’s been nearly four years since Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs last played a playoff game. Both are in their thirties and entering the twilight of their respective careers. I don’t expect them to take their opponent lightly, even if it is the Seahawks.
As for Cutler, flip a coin. Good Jay will lead the Bears to a blowout win. Bad Jay could send the Seahawks home to host the NFC Championship. Against Seattle’s defense, Cutler should be fine. And so should the Bears. BEARS If I were Charles Barkley; Bears -10
Sunday, January 16 (4:30PM ET)
(6) Jets at (1) Patriots
Considering Antonio Cromartie can’t remember all the names of his children; he should be applauded for remembering who quarterbacks the Patriots. I question his sanity, though. Calling out one of the NFL’s greatest postseason performers isn’t the best way to pull an upset. I can’t confirm this, but I don’t think Tom Brady gets intimidated by mediocre cornerbacks. Regardless, I’m glad Cromartie decided to open his mouth because I can’t wait for Tom Brady to relentlessly pick on him. I also can’t wait for Brady to point at the New York sideline. It must be a lousy feeling when you spend an entire week calling out the opposing quarterback for doing something you don’t like, and then he does it anyway…while sending you packing for the offseason.
Seriously, Tom Brady is the greatest competitor of his generation… in any sport. He’s Michael Jordan playing quarterback. What’s the point in riling him up? Do you kick a bee hive before extracting the honey? The Jets are entertaining. I’ll give them that. They’re also really dumb.
Here is where I would normally point out the Jets’ advantages and how they could possibly win. I’m not even going to bother. The moment I heard, “F*%$ Tom Brady” exit the mouth of a New York Jet; I knew the game was decided. Therefore, I’m going to study my kid’s name so I won’t forget it when a TV show asks me to name my children. PATRIOTS. If I were Charles Barkley; Patriots -8.5
Last Week: 1 – 3 – 0
Playoffs: 1 – 3 – 0