Friday, January 14, 2011

Divisional Playoff Predictions

We have another four NFL games this week and all of them are regular-season rematches, while both AFC games are division rivalries. 2011 is shaping up to be one of the better divisional rounds in recent memory.


Seahawks at Bears:

Back in Week 6, Seattle beat Chicago 23-20 on the road and the game was only that close because of a Devin Hester return touchdown. But Pete Carroll is on record saying he plans on kicking to Hester, which most NFL coaches know can be a disastrous decision.

Both secondaries are beatable in this game and coming off a great week against the Saints, Matt Hasselbeck may be able to turn back the clock for another week. But if Jay Cutler has time to throw, I expect to see a lot of Johnny Knox and Devin Hester running open down the field, much like their game against the Jets a few weeks ago.

I went with four road teams last week and only missed with the Seahawks. I still can't believe they beat the Saints and while I think New Orleans is better than Chicago, home-field advantage might end up being the difference here like it was last week. Bears 23, Seahawks 17.

Packers at Falcons:

Green Bay got to play Michael Vick's current team and by beating Vick, now gets to play his old team. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have been dominant at home in recent seasons but the Saints proved they can be beaten in Week 16. Green Bay lost by just three points at Atlanta late in the season and while I like the Falcons, I've been riding the Packers bandwagon all season.

People know I'm a big Aaron Rodgers apologist and for all those who hate on his sub-.500 record in close games and the fact that he's never won a big game, understand that this is just his third season as an NFL starter, the same number as his counterpart this week in Ryan.

It may seem to go against conventional wisdom, but I'm taking Green Bay here. The Packers were close in Atlanta without a running game and if James Starks can even reach half of the 123 yards he had against Philadelphia last week, it will open up the play-action passing game even more for Green Bay. I think this game will produce the Super Bowl representative from the NFC and I'm going to call it Packers 24, Falcons 21.


Ravens at Steelers:

Did the Ravens win last week or did the Chiefs lose? Either way Baltimore rolled the AFC West champs and now get to play Pittsburgh for the third time this season. Both teams won by three on the other's home turf, so forgive me if I'm not putting too much stock into the fact this game is being played at Heinz Field.

I also think Baltimore is a better football team. I know Pittsburgh has two-time champion Ben Roethlisberger, a stifling defense and playmakers on offense but so does Baltimore. The Steelers' offense has moved in slow motion from time to time this season despite all the talent on that side of the football and after a week off, I wouldn't be surprised to see a slow start from Big Ben and company.

This will be a close game (likely three points or less) and if I was a betting man, I would take Baltimore and the points (spread is 3.5). I would also take them straight up to win which would yield much higher profits, but I don't waste my money betting against Vegas. This game may even come down to which Pro Bowl safety (Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed) comes up with a big play. Ravens 20, Steelers 17.

Jets at Patriots:

I said Jets-Colts was the game of the week last weekend and it lived up to the hype, with New York advancing on a field goal with no time left on the clock. I think Ravens-Steelers is the divisional game of the week and while the Jets have more a chance here than most people expect, I think if this game is played three times the Pats win twice.

The Jets will need to beat Tom Brady like they beat Peyton Manning; by keeping him on the sideline. The loss of run-blocking stalwart Damien Woody on the right side will hurt the Jets but if LaDainian Tomlinson looks as fresh this week as he did in Indianapolis, the combination of he and Shonn Greene could cause serious problems for the Patriots defense.

Two key statistics for the Jets this week will be carries and time of possession. If Tomlinson and Green combine for 40 rushes and the Jets hold the ball for at least 35 minutes, they have a legitimate chance to win this game. If both of those numbers are closer to 30, the Jets will need to make big plays on defense to win and Brady hasn't made very many mistakes this season.

The Jets have been talking a big game this week, which surprises nobody. I like it when Rex Ryan does it because it seems to take the pressure off the players, but when guys like Antonio Cromartie come in chirping that's a bad sign. If the Jets don't dominate the line of scrimmage this weekend, they're toast. It can happen, but don't bank on it. Patriots 27, Jets 20.

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