Friday, January 14, 2011

JC's Take: NFL Divisional Round Preview

JC's Take: NFL Divisional Round Preview

Hello everyone. Welcome back for my preview of the NFL Divisional Round Playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Dog Fight. Backyard Brawl. Knock-Down Drag-Out Affair. Whatever you use to describe a battle between two teams or people that don't like each other you can use to describe this game. These two teams absolutely hate each other. They split the season series, with each team winning on the road. Five out of the last seven games between these two have been decided by 3 points. In their Week 13 battle, Ben Roethlisberger had his nose broken and Heath Miller was knocked out by a questionable hit. If you can only watch one game this weekend, I would say watch this one. It may not be high-scoring, but there will be plenty of hard-hitting and trash-talking in this one. Here are 3 things to watch during the game:

1. Can the Steelers Offensive Line Protect Big Ben?
The Steelers offensive line has been their biggest issue all year. It's been riddled with injuries and been forced to practically hire people off the street to protect Big Ben. Jonathtan Scott and Flozell Adams are big question marks on the outside. Adams is also a penalty machine. If you blow by him, there is a good chance he will hold you. The Ravens defense was able to pressure Ben in their last meeting, and it shouldn't be any different this time. Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs will cause fits for this offensive line. Somehow, Scott and Adams, and the rest of the o-line as well, will need to find a way to hold up against the Ravens Front 7.

2. Can Joe Flacco Lead the Ravens to Victory?
He's done it before in the playoffs on the road, but Flacco still struggles against the Steelers. Flacco has 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in seven games played against the Steelers. Those aren't good stats. He'll need to play better in order for the Ravens to win. The Steelers will most certainly key on stopping Ray Rice and forcing Flacco to win this game for the Ravens. He has the receivers to help him. The Ravens will need to take a page out of the Patriots handbook on how to beat the Steelers: short, intermediate passes. Then go for the home run throw when they least expect it.

3. Who Blinks First?
The first turnover may be key to this game. Who throws the first interception? Who surrenders the first fumble? I think it is key for the Ravens to get the first turnover in this game. If Flacco throws an INT, especially early, it could mean big problems for the Ravens. The Ravens can't get rattled on the road in a hostile environment. If they can come up with a big turnover early it could silence the Steelers faithful, especially if they can convert it into points. The Ravens can put as much pressure on Big Ben as they want, but if it doesn't result in turnovers, then it doesn't help at all.

This one will be low-scoring, no question about it. It won't turn into a shootout, these two defenses are just too good. The Ravens have won on the road in the playoffs before, so that is no problem for them. The Steelers are rested and have had plenty of time to prepare for a potential rematch versus the Ravens. Can the Steelers o-line hold-up? I don't think so. The Ravens defense is ready and I think they will shut down the entire Steelers offense. It'll be a dog fight til the end but the Ravens pull it out.

Baltimore 17  Pittsburgh 13

Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons
When these two teams met earlier in the year I thought it could be an NFC Championship preview. Now they get to square off in the divisional round. Even though the Packers are the #6 seed in the NFC, I still think they are one of the top two teams in the NFC, with Atlanta. Going into the playoffs these two were my favorites to come out of the NFC, and now one of them gets taken out.

1. Can Matty Ice Be Stopped At Home?
Just how good is Matt Ryan at home? He is 20-2 there in his short three year career. This seasn, Ryan's 3,705 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions were the best stats of his career. Ryan certainly looks like the QB Atlanta thought he was when he was drafted by them #3 overall in 2008. Ryan also has Roddy White at his disposal. White has become one of the best, if not the best receiver in the league. The Packers defense will need to confuse Ryan with their looks and hope that he gets a tad over-excited for his first home playoff game.

2. Is James Starks A Flash-in-the-Pan, or Can He Perform Well Two Weeks in A Row?
Did you hear of James Starks before last week? I have, but only because he played his college football at the University at Buffalo, my hometown. Starks rushed for 123 yards last week against Philadelphia. I'm sure the Eagles didn't do too much scouting on Starks, but you bet the Falcons will be. Starks has that extra burst of speed that Brandon Jackson lacks. The Falons ranked 10th in run defense during the regular season, but did give up an average of 4.6 yards per attempt, which ranked 25th in the league. If the Packers can establish a run game early, it will open up more opportunities for Aaron Rodgers.

3. The Special Teams Factor
In their regular season meeting, special teams was a huge factor in deciding the outcome. After the Packers tied the game, Eric Weems returned the kickoff to the 36, but an extra 15 yards was tacked on thanks to a facemask penalty. Eric Weems has turned into a valuable asses for the Falcons return game. He is capable of breaking one loose at any time. Both teams also have two very good field goal kickers. The Falcons Matt Bryant and the Packers Mason Crosby are two kickers that are very reliable and clutch when they need to be.

It's very tough to pick against the Falcons at home. They are so good there. But the Packers are a team riding a hot streak right now. Aaron Rodgers is making a case to be considered one of the best QBs in the league. While the Falcons are a good team, I think they just can't overcome the Packers defense. Their secondary is playing some of their best football of the year, and Clay Matthews makes a living in opponent's backfields. This one will be another close one, but Aaron Rodgers and Company pull it out in the end.

Green Bay 27  Atlanta 21

Seattle Seahawks vs Chicago Bears
At the beginning of the year we all had these two teams in the playoffs right? And of course we had them meeting in the divisional round as well! Both of these teams are surprises to be here. The Bears overcame a rough final four games to clinch the #2 sees in the NFC. I didn't think they would even make the playoffs at the halfway point. The Seahawks silenced any doubters about belonging in the playoffs after last week's upset victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks won in Chicago early in the year.

1. Devin Hester
Yes, one man can be that much of a factor in a game. Hester is the best kickoff and punt returner in the league. He can break one off like it's nobodies business. Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll already said that they will kick to Hester. That means that the Seahawks better have a good plan of attack to stop him. One Devin Hester tocuhdown return could change the whole outlook of the game. The Seahawks defense is vulnerable, so they need to have their special teams do everything they can to not give up good field position.

2. Which Jay Cutler Will Show Up?
Jay Cutler is capable of being a good QB. But the problem is, he is also capable of being inconsistent. In their regular season meeting, Cutler was sacked six times by the Seahawks. In the game after that, he threw four interceptions in another home loss to Washington. This is also Cutler's playoff debut. I'm sure he will be experiencing some jitters. Cutler needs to go into the game calm and not let any early pressure or mistakes get to him.

3. Can Best-Mode Create A Sequel?
By now we've all seen Marshawn Lynch's amazing TD run against New Orleans. As a Bills fan, I'm still not upset we traded him. Just wait until the off-season until he does something stupid again. Lynch only ran for 44 yards on 17 carries in the regular season match-up, but it was also his first game as a Seahawk. But it will be tough for Lynch to do it again. The Bears ranked 2nd against the run in the regular season. If the Bears can shut down Lynch, it will force Matt Hasselbeck to win the game for Seattle. That's not good news for Seahawks fans.

The Seahawks had a great game last week. They surprised everyone. But their run ends here. The Bears defense is just too much for Matt Hasselbeck to overcome. Yes the Seahawks won in Chicago in Week 6, but this will be a different atmosphere. All playoff games are. This could be ugly at times, but the Bears win those types of games. I like the Bears here with Jay Cutler being able to find open WRs all day against a bad Seahawks secondary.

Chicago 31  Seattle 21

New York Jets vs New England Patriots
Can this game just be played already? There has been so much trash talking, mostly by the Jets, in the last week that I just want these two teams to play the game. These two teams don't like each other, it's as simple as that. They split the season series, but the Jets got destroyed in their last outing losing 45-3 in New England. That loss alone should be enough for the Jets to shut their mouths, but that is not the case.

1. Can Mark Sanchez Put Together A Good Game?
Even in last week's win against the Colts, Sanchez did not look good. He threw an interception to end the first half, and a lot of his throws were high which made his receivers jump for passes. Sanchez looked dreadful in the 45-3 loss, throwing three interceptions and only for 163 yards passing. The Jets need better out of Sanchez if they want any shot of winning this game. Sooner or later, Sanchez needs to prove he can be a consistently good QB that can win on a regular basis.

2. Can Tom Brady Be Stopped?
This is what the Jets are worried about. Brady has looked like a man on a mission the last two months of the regular season. Hell, you could argue he has looked like that all season. No matter how much you hate the guy, there is no denying he was the best QB in the league this year: 3900 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, 4 interceptions. Brady has been finding open receivers at will. The Jets secondary has looked a little shaky since they lost safety Jim Leonard for the year. If Brady stays away from Revis Island, he should be able to find his otheer WRs with ease.

3. Can the Young Pats Defense Hold Up?
The youth in the Patriots defense was very evident early in the year. They were getting thrown on and run on like you've never seen before from a Bill Belichick defense. But they improved drastically by the end of the year. In the last 5 games of the year, other than giving up 27 points to Green Bay, the defense allowed a total of 20 points in the other 4 games. The secondary looks much better, with safety Patrick Chung stepping up his game. Jerrod Mayo leads a good young group of linebackers, and Vince Wilfork is the anchor up front. If they can do what they did to Sanchez in their last meeting, their confidence will grow even more.

I don't think this will be the blowout it was the last time these two teams played. The Jets will be more prepared and focused. But you have to think the trash talking will come back to bite them. The more the Jets open their mouth, the more the Patritos get mad. And when you get Brady and Belichick mad, they get more focused on finding all the ways possible to beat you. Tom Brady has looked too good this season to bet against at this point. I'm taking the Patriots here.

New England 28  New York Jets 16

That's all for this week. I'll be back with the usuals next week.

Until next time,
Justin C

1 comment:

  1. Hey Justin,

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