By: Shawn Davis
Isn’t the “Divisional Playoffs” the lamest name in sports right now? I wish the NFL would christen the second round of playoff weekend as Wild-Card: Week 2. Do you like that? I do! As for last week’s games, I don’t have many nice things to say about vile-card weekend. Do you? Boy is it quiet out there.
The knockout round began with the Bengals-Texans game – a rematch of last year, which ended with the same result – and it was something to see, I must say. In a game that neither team wanted to win, I didn’t want to watch. Postseason football usually ignites my inner chef where I compose a pretty savory spread for the action, but for some strange reason I wasn’t excited to walk into my kitchen. Maybe I should have viewed that as a sign. I didn’t. My baked ziti came out….blah. There was sauce, a nice cheese blend, noodles (Need those, maybe?) and some expertly seasoned lean, ground turkey. What’s the problem with that you may ask? I didn’t buy enough meat and I wasn’t going back to the supermarket because, really, I just didn’t care. I ate it because it was there. Wild-card weekend was just there.
As I expected the final game of last weekend between the Seahawks-Redskins was like the butter-almond ice cream I had after the ziti: just what I needed. While it couldn’t wipe the other three games from my mind, it allowed me to look back with a grin.
Looking ahead to Saturday:
Baltimore @ Denver
Since this is the first game to air this upcoming weekend, the butterflies are turning into dragons in my stomach. It’s all because I have the Broncos winning the whole thing – and thinking of a Peyton Manning led team disappointing in the postseason. (His career playoff record is 9-10.)
The key for most teams to have success against a great offense and defense (the Broncos possess both as they sit in the top five in both categories) is to run the ball when you have it to soften up the defense for the play-action facet to present itself. On defense you need to blitz, wisely, but mostly remain as disciplined as possible in order to keep everything in front of you – to eliminate the big play – while hoping the quarterback makes a mental error that you can capitalize on.
Joe Flacco is going to have to step into another realm in the event both defenses have an off day, especially if his Ravens cannot slow the Broncos. As with most crucial games for the Ravens, Ray Rice must get 20-25 touches and if he does that they should be able to limit the time Manning is on the field while also giving them a chance to dictate some pacing of their own.
Manning has the Broncos playing phenomenally, and unlike his Colts teams, they shouldn’t have to worry about being out of rhythm because they didn’t pack it in and rest for the last two or three weeks of the regular season.
My pick: They’re my Super Bowl winner so I’m taking the Broncos over the Ravens, 30-24.
Green Bay @ San Francisco
Is it destiny for Green Bay and Seattle to have a rematch?
I’ve straddled the fence for this game more than any other on this upcoming weekend. I just don’t know where to look for the advantage. Now, yes, it is simple to look to Aaron Rodgers (beeeeelive me I have) and say “Aha!” but is that the true answer? Where does the edge belong? Which team has it?
Some wish to point to the 49ers win over the Packers in the opening week of the regular season, 30-22, as something to pay close attention to. Throw that out for two reasons: it was a regular season game and Alex Smith was the quarterback in that contest. Today, the 49ers are a completely different offense – not necessarily better, in my opinion – with Colin Kaepernick taking the snaps. We know the dual threat he presents for a defense but the Packers seem to be healthy on that side of the ball. Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and the infinite amount of good, young defensive backs they always seem to have at their disposal are primed to combat Kaepernick with speed, solid tackling and the ability to convert turnovers into touchdowns.
My pick: As my NFC representative in the Super Bowl, I’ll stay with the Packers winning 27-24.
Seattle @ Atlanta
Matt Ryan and Mike Smith are 0-3 for their respective careers in the postseason, thus far. They are the top seed in the NFC and are hosting all-comers in their dome for the duration of the time they survive, yet there are so many doubters. Facts are facts. The Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook lists them as a less than a field-goal favorite to win the game. Vegas is expecting a close one – and so am I.
The best pass rushers on each side (John Abraham and Chris Clemons, respectively) could be out but at least Abraham – with a severe ankle sprain – is being designated as “limited” so at least he’ll be able to dress for the game. When two of the best defenders on each side are hurt you could look to the scoreboard if you wish to see a light show; points should be abundant, right? Maybe.
Once it was established that these teams would meet I wasn’t the least bit surprised when so many went with the road team. Do the Falcons really deserve the level of apathy they’ve received…all season? They’re one of the least respected 13-3 teams that I can remember and the analytic sector – namely Football Outsiders – views them as one of the “weakest” teams to have such a gaudy regular season in terms of wins and losses. Okay.
The talking heads don’t believe in them because they haven’t won a playoff game with Smith and Ryan despite their success (during the regular season) under their tenure. I see that point but wasn’t Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and countless others criticized until they strung together some postseason victories? The same was said about Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez before they brought their batsabers and wrecked havoc along the way to championship runs (with Bonds falling two or three blown managerial moves away from a ring). All Mr. Ryan needs to do is win a game or two – or three (God, no) to shut all his critics the hell up. Can he do it? Of course he can. Will he? Hmm…
Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas are a formidable set of pass catchers and I’m excited to see how they match up with the fantastic Seattle secondary. I could make a compelling case for either team just like I can see both teams winning but only one can. (Duh!)
My pick: They better not make me regret this but I’ll take the Falcons over the Seahawks, 23-20.
Houston @ New England
My brain is telling me to completely ignore what happened the last time these teams were in Foxboro; a 42-14 Patriots victory. For the most part I have, for the most part. The Texans have tape on what NOT TO DO from that game.
You know what was missing from that tape? The presence of Rob Gronkowski because he was out recovering from a fractured forearm; yeah, he’s playing in this one.
My pick: Patriots over Texans, 34-27.
Last Week: 4-0
Regular Season: 164-92