What to Watch in the “Other” NFL Divisional Round Games
While part of my brain refuses o acknowledge that there are any other games being played this weekend BESIDES the Bears/Seahawks on Sunday at noon, I would be remiss if I did not mention SOMETHING about these games. After all, they will determine who the Bears will face in the next two games, right? So here are some factors that I think will be a determining factor in this weeks ‘other’ games:
The first game Saturday afternoon will be the Ravens at the Steelers. These games are maybe the closest thing you will get to the old NFL rivalries of the 70’s or 80’s. When these 2 teams collide, there always seems to be an abundance of big hits. The guy at the NFL office who is in charge of doling out the fines for illegal hits probably feels like a kids on the night before Christmas tonight. In the meantime, there are 2 big matchups to watch in this game:
1) Ravens’ RB Ray Rice & TE Todd Heap versus the Steelers’ LBs in the passing game. The Steelers like to blitz James Harrison, and also like to let SS Troy Polamalu roam around and try to make big plays. This puts alot of pressure on the ILBS of Pittsburgh to cover Rice out of the backfield, and Heap across the middle. The Chiefs play 3-4 defense too, and those two combined for 15 catches for 150 yards. Heap had 10 catches alone.
2) WR Mike Wallace versus the Ravens’ secondary. The weak link of the Ravens defense is anyone in the secondary NOT NAMED Ed Reed. Arguably, no one is better at extending plays from the QB position than Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger; and WR Mike Wallace loves to go deep on those plays. I am not sure that Baltimore has anyone on their team that can keep pace with Wallace going straight down the field.
My prediction? I have a hard time betting against Mike Tomlin and the Steelers at home in the playoffs. But I think it will be close. Steelers 20, Ravens 16.
The Saturday night game is Packers at the Falcons. Honestly, I would prefer to watch both team buses drive off of a cliff. The Falcons are at home, where allegedly they are unbeatable; and they own the best record in the NFC, which is actually pretty easy to do when you get to play the Bengals, Browns, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, and Panthers twice. Last time Aaron Rodgers played indoors, he left with a concussion, and the Packers lost TO THE LIONS. In this game:
a) do the Falcons have enough secondary guys to cover all the Packers’ WRs? Quick—without googling it—name two guys in the Falcons’ secondary. Exactly.
b) Can the Packers stop the Falcons’ run game? The Falcons own one of the best run games in the NFL. They have one of the best running backs in Michael Turner. The Packers have on of the worst run defense in the NFC, ranking 5th out of the 6th playoff teams.
My prediction: Aaron Rodgers versus Matt Ryan? Matt Ryan has never had to win a shootout. Put my money on Rodgers. Packers 28, Falcons 21.
Finally, the Sunday late game is the Jets visiting the Patriots. The Jets decided the Patriots did not have enough motivation to beat them already, so have been talking all week long about Brady and the Pats, giving them enough bulletin board material for a lifetime. Why would you want to ruffle Brady’s feathers? I don’t know either.
1) You can put Revis on Welker; and Cromartie on Branch. But who covers Green-Ellis and Woodhead out of the backfield? Or the two rookie TEs, Hernandez and Gronkowski? Brady put 45 on this team when they played a little over a month ago.
2) LT and Shonn Greene are the key for the Jets. The teams that beat the Patriots can beat them up with the running game. The Jets need those two guys to carry the ball. Alot.
Prediction: Lets say both team have equal talent. So it comes down to Brady and Sanchez. I know. Patriots 24, Jets 14.