By: S. Davis
The tournament may now commence!
Final note about the last 17 weeks: It will never sit comfortably with me when a team closes the regular season with double-digit victories and doesn’t receive a postseason invitation – Philadelphia Eagles – while division winners don’t even get to 8-8 or 9-7…yet host a playoff contest.
This is the first year in a while that I have absolutely no rooting interest in how the next month of football will sort itself out. With the New Orleans Saints killing my prediction of earning a confetti shower and the Denver Broncos falling short the last two years, I’ll be watching in harmonious objectivity…and I welcome it.
Arizona @ Carolina
The Cardinals have played great this year, battling injuries to key defenders and their top two quarterbacks specifically. They’ve been outstanding on defense most of the year and just good enough offensively.
However over the last four weeks they’ve scored 17, 12, 6, and 17 (going 2-2 in the last quarter of the season). An average of 13 points no matter how good your defense happens to be is no recipe for a long postseason journey. Think of the level of pressure hovering over the heads of the defenders. They know that if they surrender one touchdown, it’s almost a “game over” situation and if they were to give up 10 or 14 – and cannot create a defensive touchdown themselves…what do they do? Drew Stanton may return (or he may not) but it doesn’t make much of a difference at this stage although he can push the pace similar to Carson Palmer; remember I said similar and NOT the same.
As for the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers, well, they won a division in a season where they didn’t win a game for two months. Crazy times, indeed.
I would love to see the Cardinals with a healthy Palmer in this game but that’s not medically possible, I think. Look, the Cards depend on their defense to keep them competitive but they have to move mountains to light the scoreboard while the Panthers field a defense just as good – and they can get touchdowns.
My pick: Panthers over Cardinals, 20-16.
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
Is Le’Veon Bell’s knee going to hold up during the game? That is the key for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown can carry the load but with the dearth of options among the running backs behind Bell – who is such a dangerous weapon – they should be worried. Ben Tate was just singed off the market as Bell looks to be ruled out – and his value will be proven as a pass-blocker, mostly, and receiving threat out of the backfield. Tate can really make himself a popular guy entering free agency if he can just do the little things in this game.
The Ravens find a way to keep detractors filled with ammunition while just managing to do juuuuust enough to squeeze into the knockout round. I’m not saying they’re going to make their way to Arizona but I’m watching them closely. They have a smell of out-of-nowhere Super Bowl participant coming off their bodies.
Joe Flacco is good for about 3-4 majestic aerial attempts per game just to test out opposing safeties and corners – and boy did he luck into a great bunch to throw against this week. Remember how bad Rahim Moore looked two years ago in Denver? There could be a few Steelers flailing at the feet of Ravens’ receivers once Flacco decides to let his arm dictate the action.
This won’t be the defensive bloodbath these teams are known for having. The page has turned on that and these rivals now determine their future by offense, first, second and third.
My pick: Steelers, 30-26. I don’t like any team winning – in Pittsburgh – against Roethlisberger in the knockout season.
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
What will be the narrative of this game?
You have the Bengals – and their beleaguered quarterback Andy Dalton – trying to overturn their recent playoff struggles. In the other corner stands a Colts team that’s either a true contender or one that’s only as solid as Andrew Luck.
The fashion in which the Bengals have competed – for most of the season – cannot be overlooked. One of the few teams that can be explosive on both sides of the ball, and on special teams, once you ignore the media vitriol towards Dalton a dangerous team will be marching into Lucas Oil Stadium. Simply put if they played themselves into the AFC Championship, I would not be surprised at all.
Is Andrew Luck the band-aid for the Colts?
Will Andy Dalton finally lead the Bengals to a playoff victory – and gain some mainstream respect?
I find the initial inquiry the most intriguing because the Colts cannot run the ball at all. On most weeks it’s as if they don’t even try to threaten opposing defenses with a ground focused attack. (Is Trent Richardson already done in the NFL?) Luck is one hell of a cure-all but the primary issue with that is that in trying too much he will gift the other team a few interceptions. That’s not the same as being careless with the football, which I don’t feel that he is, it’s just that in trying to make plays out of nothing he forces the ball in places dominated by players wearing different color jerseys.
Secondly, I don’t think Dalton pays any service to what’s being said about him. I’m sure he’s aware of if but it doesn’t drive him, negatively or otherwise. The only way to take control of the outside noise is to get wins.
Can the Bengals stage a massacre like Browns victory, 30-0, or when they bullied the Broncos? Will the Colts look to the Week 7 contest between these two when they hung a 27-point evisceration for the world to see?
My pick: This could really go either way and even if A.J. Green plays, Vontae Davis can take him away. I’ll take the Colts, 24-20.
Detroit @ Dallas
Put me in the camp of those that don’t understand how Ndamukong Suh will be playing in this game instead of watching from the bench. He backed up and stepped on Aaron Rodgers’ leg…twice – and got his appeal overturned because he said he didn’t feel anyone underneath his feet because they were “numb.” I’ll pass on that explanation and I’m sure he got reinstated because the league wanted him to be. After all the NFL is a business entity; never forget that.
Looking towards the game, I’m not too sure Suh can do enough to influence the outcome in a way that will change the final score.
My pick: Cowboys over Lions, 31-20. I don’t know the Cowboys’ ceiling but they look formidable in such a way that I feel confident that they’ll be playing next weekend.
Regular Season: 174-82