by Ryan Meehan
Last week I went 3-1 with my picks, and as lame as it is for me to say now after the fact something tells me I should have picked the Seahawks to begin with. To me, this weekend is Christmas or Mardi Gras or whatever silly holiday it is you celebrate with your family. I absolutely love divisional playoff weekend because it provides us with the highest quality of playoff teams and features four games which are usually pretty awesome. I can’t wait for Saturday afternoon, and even though I was sick as a dog this week that’s not going to stop me from doing picks. It’s my hope that my partner in crime Coach Ryan will be back with me to analyze both of the conference championship matchups next week.
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) +9.5 at Denver Broncos (13-3)
The Ravens will be coming off a playoff win which is momentum like no other in the NFL. Denver is an example of a team where having a week off sort of bites because there’s nobody that was hotter than they were a week ago. Ray Rice said during media day Wednesday that what he likes about the playoffs is that “regular season records don’t mean anything and you never know what can happen”.
Now, there is the very distinct possibility that Denver’s stud linebackers will be rushing from the ends and give up the middle to Rice for a few plays. Other than that, his little rallying speech may fall on deaf ears. The Ravens can have all of the motivation in the world, but the reality is they are going in to the most severe home field advantage situation in all of sports due to altitude. Ray Lewis might have been able to pump up the troops in Baltimore, but in Denver things will be much different. Without being able to come out of the tunnel to tens of thousands of screaming fans and spigots that shoot fire into the air, Lewis is going to realize how quick his career is about to end.
And as for Rice, keep in mind that during his team’s 34-17 loss to Baltimore in Week 15 he only had 38 yards on 12 carries. In that game, Peyton Manning went 17 for 28 but they didn’t really need him to do much better. Rice on the other hand will have to have a monster day to even keep this one close, and keep in mind he fumbled twice last week. And I think we can all argue that facing the Colts defense at home is going to be a much more severe challenge than facing the Broncos on the road a mile above sea level. Although the Ravens were missing several key players in that matchup, I doubt that the outcome would have been all that different.
Returning to the Broncos, this will be Peyton’s first playoff appearance since two years ago against the Jets in which the Colts lost 17-16. This eventually would become his last game in a Colts uniform. This time he has a couple key targets to work with – one being Brandon Stokley (whom with he collaborated in Indy), and the other being Eric Decker who has had a monster year. He has the confidence of having a great defense behind him, something that he really didn’t have in all his years with the Colts. The Broncos defense (led by Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller) is good enough that they will give him plenty of opportunities to score on an aging defense that contains Ed Reed, who may very well follow in Lewis’ retirement footsteps. In addition to that, that Broncos defense has allowed less than 240 total yards during their recent six game home winning streak. It just seems like too much on both sides of the football for the Ravens to compete with.
It’s my belief that this indeed will be Ray Lewis’ last NFL game. This is the way I’ve put it together – If you really think that the Ravens will be able to win this game, all or most of the following things will have to happen: Joe Flacco is going to have to outduel Peyton Manning in his own house, the Broncos’ defense is going to have to not show up at all at home, Manning himself is going to have to throw at least two interceptions, Anquan Boldin will have to have an ever bigger day than he did in the third quarter of last week’s game against the Colts, and Ray Rice will have to have the game of his career. More than one of those things don’t happen and it’ll be all Broncos. I’m giving them only a ten point deficit because that’s near what the line is and I believe they may rally late after the game has been decided.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Ravens 21
Green Bay Packers (12-5) -3.0 at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
Week one of this season provided us with a great matchup between these two teams, whom everyone was expecting to play each other in the NFC Championship game last year. Since then, the San Francisco 49ers have had a little bit of a quarterback controversy. Alex Smith went down with an injury about 2/3rds of the way through the season, and Colin Kaepernick was inserted in his place as if to fill the void. He did a pretty impressive job, and was awarded the position. It’s sort of a “Catch 22″ as it’s hard to give away a guy like Alex Smith’s spot away when he’s done such a spectacular job, but then again with a guy like Kaepernick who opens up the field so much it’s hard to imagine not doing just that.
That being said, the Packers look just as good as any team in the NFL right now. They are still playing with a chip on their shoulder, and that chip is due to a loss to another NFC West team that also just so happened to be the worst call in NFL history. Instead of curling up into a ball and believing that there was some sort of conspiracy towards teams in small markets, they simply chalked it up to poor officiating by the replacement refs and went ahead and knocked off some of the better teams in the NFL in the weeks that followed. Remember how well the Packers played two years ago during their Super Bowl run, and don’t forget that Aaron Rodgers has his guys healthy and headed in the right direction. Their defense has played better and also been able to force turnovers, which is something they struggled to do in the games they lost this year. But going through those games, there really aren’t too many that were bad other than the Giants game. Other than that, they didn’t get smothered all year. And last week against Minnesota they held Adrian Peterson to under 100 yards, which was a key objective of that game regardless of who was starting for the Vikes. If they can stuff Frank Gore early, it gives them a huge leg up here.
The basic decision that you need to ask yourself while predicting this game is: Who will be more consistent? And of course, the answer is Green Bay. While the 49ers have absolutely leveled some teams this year, they played the Rams twice and did not beat them once. I guarantee you there is no other team in the league that got a first round bye that can match that. The Packers did have their issues early in the season, but since then they remained true to their game and I was very impressed with how they played since the New York loss. The Vikings game in week seventeen really showed me a lot because they had absolutely nothing to play for in that game, and they still put up 34 points and only lost by a field goal. To make matters even sweeter for Packers fans, they kept the Bears out of the playoffs.
The Niners on the other hand still have bouts of insanity. They still have entire quarters where they can’t get anything done, and even when Kaepernick is getting it done, I can’t help but think of how they buckled in the second half of the New England game. I think in that one they really showed some of their true colors. Some experts will tell you that the true test of a team is how they play while they are getting their face kicked in, I believe it’s the opposite. I think that your true character (especially in the NFL and NBA) shows how you manage the game once you’ve flown ahead by about 20 or so points. Also, it’s very important to notice how little Vernon Davis has been involved with their game plan since Colin took over as starter. He might be a different guy than the one you saw Singletary to hit the showers a few years back, but he can always return to being that guy at a moment’s notice.
So staying true to form, I am picking the Packers to win by the same margin by which they were defeated in week one and just for shits and giggles I’m going to call it the same score but flipped. I realize that these two teams are much more closely matched than that, but I also understand that they are very prone to mistakes, and I could see at least three points being scored in this one that are due to some sort of freak mishap. I’d also like to add here that the fact that Kaepernick being from Wisconsin and Rodgers being from Green Bay is a storyline that the media has already beaten to death, and I don’t want any part of it.
Prediction: Packers 30, 49ers 22
Seattle Seahawks (11-6) +2.5 at Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
As I said at the end of the wild card wrap-up, I honestly believe that of all of the visiting teams this weekend, Seattle has the best chance to win. They are looking very good and have an incredibly poised quarterback who believes that no matter who they play they can win every week. The Falcons on the other hand lead me to believe that they are the highest on the NFL’s BS meter. They have had playoff opportunities in recent history where they are the clear favorite, home team, or both and got smacked around by their opponent. Matt Ryan’s playoff resume is not the best looking, and you can see why there are some who might consider him to be bit of a fraud when it comes to the postseason. For me, it’s a little bit more than that.
Sports websites that do nothing but crank out statistics to explain who might or might not win a particular game have the tendency to annoy the shit out of me because anybody can look up stats on ESPN.com and numerically determine who is the better team. For me, it’s more of a “feel” thing. I don’t feel like there’s anything different about these Falcons. Yes, they picked up Asante Samuel which helped tremendously in the passing game. But, Michael Turner was just as good in years past and does Asante Samuel really help anybody who’s playing the Seahawks? Wilson is going to avoid him like the plague.
Believe it or not, the Seahawks made one of the smartest pickups in the year prior to this game. They signed ex-Green Bay Packers kicker Ryan Longwell and conveniently enough I have the Seahawks winning this game by two points. Although it’s hard to imagine a kicker making that much of a difference, they saw that they had a problem and they went out and fixed it so that problem wouldn’t carry over into next week. And you have to respect the organization for making sure they got it done, especially when you consider how much a douchebag Pete Carroll is.
As stated plenty of times before, I’m taking the Seahawks to win this game by a small margin, and for Falcons fans to wander out of the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon once again wondering where it all went wrong. Remember how earlier I had mentioned that sometimes the team with the bye week is at a disadvantage because they lose their rhythm? Well, let’s just say that you can look at these picks and tell that I think the 2012 Atlanta Falcons are not the 2012 Denver Broncos.
Prediction: Seahawks 29, Falcons 27
Houston Texans (13-4) +9.5 at New England Patriots (12-4)
Simply put, the Texans don’t have a chance at winning this game. Their defense is centered around JJ Watt, who is one of the most athletically talented big men in the game. Just by simply sticking his hand up, he has the ability to bat down passes at every angle, giving the Texans an assumed advantage against pass heavy teams like the Patriots. So in a way this should be a no brainer for the Texans to win easily, especially when you compare the way these two teams looked early in the year. Sounds simple enough, right?
Not really, because it won’t be passes of some kid or some washed up backup. This is three time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, and the same guy who worked over the Texans 42-14 just a month back. It’s also important to remember in the playoffs momentum is everything, so anything that happened early on in the year is meaningless. That includes the Patriots’ 20-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, who became the NFL’s worst team shortly thereafter.
It will be a great matchup to watch for us as fans – This unstoppable force of a Pats offense pitted against a Texans defense that can make any other team in the league go 3 and out in the blink of an eye. But I think in this case the Pats have a huge advantage because they know how to pace themselves whereas I can see Houston being really aggressive for a couple of series and then running out of steam.
There’s going to be a hearty sense of “we’re not going to let you build your franchise here” machismo going down for the Pats, and picking them to win by three touchdowns doesn’t seem weird. Belichick is going to outcoach Kubiak to a degree that will look very ugly on national television. I expect the beginning of this game to move rather slowly, but midway through the second quarter I can see New England pulling away.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Texans 13
I do get that I am picking against my two Super Bowl teams this week, but as you well know when it comes to picking games things change throughout the season. I have seen both the Texans and the 49ers really cave in recently, so that is why I’m going against my previous picks. You might notice that all of my picks but the ATL-SEA game favor the home team once again, that’s for two reasons – I still think the home teams should be heavy favorites, and there’s no way I’m getting brunt by the Seahawks again.
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