This week, I continue previewing the NFL playoffs.
AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
PITTSBURGH 20, BALTIMORE 17
This kind of game defines playoff football. Two great teams. Two rugged defenses. Two offenses with more than enough firepower.
Buckle up. And don’t forget the chinstrap. Be sure to have the massage therapist ready for the post-game rubdown, too.
These teams are evenly matched. They split their two games during the regular season. Both have good running games, led by backs Ray Rice of Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall.
Both have talented wide receivers. Both teams have battled-tested quarterbacks.
Got defense? Oh yeah. There is plenty of it in this game.
The Steelers led the NFL by allowing only 14.5 points per game. The Ravens were third, surrendering just 16.9 points each time out. Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu has been banged up but should play. That will be huge for Pittsburgh. He is a big-time difference-maker.
The other big-time difference-maker is Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The guy can carry his team when he has to. He has the ability to win a game through the air. Saturday, he might have to do just that.
I want to pick the Ravens. I know they are good enough to win. But I just cannot do it.
Pittsburgh is at home and is coming off a bye. I’ll take the Steelers to win. But it won’t be easy by any means.
NEW ENGLAND 31, NEW YORK JETS 17
The verbal bluster coming out of New York recently has been embarrassing for the Jets. Seriously, you don’t have much to gain when you talk smack before playing the Patriots. It just isn’t smart. But then again, we are talking about the Jets.
The Patriots have won eight straight games. Quarterback Tom Brady has that Super Bowl look in his eye and, more importantly, is playing at a championship level.
The Jets’ defense has been outstanding all year. But New England just has too many weapons. Beyond Brady, the Patriots average 123.3 yards rushing per game, 9th in the NFL during the regular season.
And I don’t think I have to say much about the production of the Pats’ air attack.
The Jets have had a great season. But it will end on Sunday. Come one, we’re talking about playing the Patriots in Foxboro after a week off. No team is playing better than New England right now. Give the Pats a week of rest and plenty of time to game plan and the chances are you’ll be watching the rest of the playoffs from the living room couch.
It’s time for the Jets to settle in and get comfortable. Come Monday, they’ll be warming up the couch.
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
GREEN BAY 23, ATLANTA 20
Call it a hunch. Call it a roll of the dice. I’ll take the Pack on the road against the top seed in the NFC.
I should be more convinced by the Falcons’ terrific season but I am simply not a believer yet. Yes, Atlanta was fifth in the league, averaging 25.9 points per game. Yes, they have a talented young quarterback (Matt Ryan), a bruising running back (Michael Turner) and a game-breaking wide receiver (Roddy White).
But the Packers aren’t exactly lacking explosive players on offense. In addition, they are coming off a road win over the Eagles. Green Bay held Philadelphia to 81 yards rushing, 64 yards below the Eagles’ average entering the game.
Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy and playing really well. He’ll be the difference as Green Bay marches on.
CHICAGO 22, SEATTLE 10
I learned my lesson last week. I won’t pick the Seahawks to get blown out. I won’t pick them to win, either.
This time around, Seattle won’t have the emotional lift of a home crowd. Seattle won’t fool the Bears by its under-.500 record during the regular season.
I am hardly ready to jump into the driver’s seat of the Bears’ bandwagon. But Chicago will have more than enough to dispatch the Seahawks, especially on defense.
Now is the time for the Bears’ defense to earn its money. Last offseason, Chicago invested a lot of money on the defensive side of the football. The Bears did that for times such as these. And for one week at least, the investment will pay off.
The Bears gave up only 90.1 rushing yards per game (2nd in the NFL) and 17.9 points per game (4th). The Seahawks simply do not have enough offense to overcome that kind of defense.
Seattle’s feel-good story ends in the Windy City.
What are your predictions for this week’s playoff games? I’d love to find out what you think. Thanks for reading and posting.